A Cross at the Top of the World

This essay is just another example of how a narrative actually builds a culture and creates meaning. We hold certain ways of understanding our world and how we should live in that world as opposed to others. And we come to believe these ways are TRUE as opposed to false. And we mean it in a way that is more significant than saying 2+2=4 is true also, and that is what a narrative does if powerful enough.

A person can be right about 2+2=4 but wrong about humility. In other words he could be right about his math but be a complete jackass in the doing of it and how he parades his “rightness” around. Thus, he is wrong in a sense that far outweighs his rightness in number gathering.

We can thank the Judeo-Christian narrative for that sensibility.

But just as astonishing as the early description of Jesus as “God” is the fact that these first Christians could in the same breath say (or sing) “God” and “cross.” The idea that any great individual, let alone one “in very nature God,” could be associated with a shameful Roman crucifixion is just bizarre.

Contemporary Christians may find the thought easy enough, but that’s only because of two thousand years reflection on this narrative. Western history is now utterly “cruciform” – shaped by the event of Jesus’s crucifixion.

What we read in the above text is evidence of nothing less than a humility revolution. Honour and shame are turned on their heads. The highly honoured Jesus lowered himself to a shameful cross and, yet, in so doing became an object not of scorn but of worship and emulation:

My point is not that Christians alone can be humble; rather, as a plain historical statement, humility came to be valued in Western culture as a consequence of Christianity’s dismantling of the all-pervasive honour-shame paradigm of the ancient world.

Today, it doesn’t matter what your religious views are – Christian, atheist, Jedi Knight – if you were raised in the West, you are likely to think that honour-seeking is morally questionable and lowering yourself for the good of others is ethically beautiful.

That is the influence of a story whose impact can be felt regardless of whether its details are believed – a story about greatness that willingly went to a cross. Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.

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