“The warnings I offer here do not come out of a superior religion but out of a failed religion“
Marcus Peter Rempel’s book, “Life at the End of Us vs Them,” is a seriously thought-provoking view of Christianity and its place in our “strange, endtime world.” Drawing on René Girard and Ivan Illich, Rempel presents a view of the Cross that necessarily undermines any power structure that would try to build on it.
The crucifixion of Christ, he argues, is not best seen as a judicial act of substitutionary atonement. Instead, it is something like God identifying with the most marginalized individuals, the most hated outcasts, the people who society crucifies. “It is by taking on the viewpoint of those it marginalizes that Cross-formed culture comes to be accurately mapped, and more justly remade” (13). Rempel takes this understanding, and applies it to his relationships with “those who are his other: women, queer folk, refugees, Muslims, atheists, and Indigenous people.”
Here’s what I like about this view of the Cross: it reminds you of everything at once. It reminds you that you are part of the system that crucifies innocents. At the same time, it offers to forgive you. And it bids you pick up your cross, and follow in that way of looking at the world–that the “least of these” is, somehow, the Christ. It shifts the view from Us-Them to I-Thou. Frankly, it reminds us that Jesus never meant to convert the world. Yes, he meant for his Way to go out into all the world, but not to colonize it. Not to become the oppressor.
The Cross will always glare accusingly at any system or person that tries to use it as a tool of oppression. It undermines all sacred violence. It perpetually strips the sacred cloth from the temple, showing it to be empty. The violence we thought we did in God’s name was actually against his own son. All persecution persecutes the Christ. Christianity as a religion, Rempel argues, has failed insofar as it has been complicit in violence.
At least, that’s how it could work. From what I read on the Internets, I don’t see a reconciliation between Church and the vulnerable anytime soon. If it’s possible, though, for follows of Christ to sit with the very marginalized instead of always being seen beside the oppression, this book gives clues on how it will be done.
I heartily recommend this book to people who want to take the Bible seriously and are troubled by the dissonance between Church and Christ. If you believe that substitutionary atonement is the only correct way of understanding the Cross, you will probably balk at a lot of what Rempel has to say. Consider, though, that both Scripture and Church have cast the Cross in different lights to glean fresh insights from that wonderful tragic event. Rempel offers a light that the Church today would do well to meditate on, even if she can’t swallow the whole thing.