Friday, August 03, 2007

Unitarian Judas

Over at Biddies in my Brain, Laura takes an evening to watch Jesus Christ Superstar, which moves her to ask, where does Judas fit into a Unitarian belief system?

She continues,

Judas *fits* in the Christian mythos beautifully... he is understandable... he has a place. ... In Unitarian Universalism, does Judas revert to being a bad guy? Or does he simply not exist? This is a question I have never asked of my faith and it is bothering me tonight because I *do* find a yin-yang relationship between Jesus and Judas in Christianity, a relationship that sets of an eternal dance that seems somehow sacred beyond any divinity incurred on the Christ figure in the standard story told by Trinitarian Christians. ... Judas does not exist in the other Abrahamic Unitarian faiths - he is not part of the canon. And that is fine and understandable - I can accept that, and would be happy if that were the case with my faith. But for some reason for me, tonight, it is important to know what happened to Judas in Unitarian Christianity. Did we rewrite the canon and leave him out?

Great question. I haven't seen any explicit treatment of Judas in the old Unitarian or Universalist literature, but there's an awful lot of it I've never read. Nevertheless, I gave Laura my thoughts there and am re-posting them here:

"Unitarian Christianity sees Jesus as a less-than-divine figure, and his work in restoring us to wholeness with God more as offering an exemplary model than a ritual sacrifice.

"Universalist Christianity is concerned less with the nature of Jesus and the means of his atonement than it is with the understanding that, however the atonement worked, it included everyone and left nobody out.

"However, I don't see how those departures from orthodox Christianity would make a difference in how we perceive the role that Judas plays in relation to him. If anything, it might make Judas more real and relevant to us.

"In a Unitarian view, Jesus and Judas are both archetypes of different ways to put faith into practice. Jesus Christ Superstar, I think, does a particularly good job of exploring the benign aspect of Judas' motives. How many contemporary Judases do we know who do wrong while meaning desperately to do right? How many times have we been that sort of Judas ourselves? Is it too easy to be a Judas in those circumstances? Is it necessarily wrong to be? Regardless, doesn't Jesus offer a better model?

"In Origen of Alexandria's original doctrine of apocatastasis, which was the precursor to our more recent Universalism, God's love is so enduring and powerful that it will ultimately overwhelm all resistance, and ultimately even Satan will give up his rebellion and be reconciled to God. You don't have to accept that cosmology to understand the point of the mythology, though: it is ultimately through love that all differences and wrongs are reconciled."

I intended to add (but I hit "submit" too soon):

"Jesus even forgave the jeering crowd as he hung in mortal agony from the cross. In a Universalist view, it seems to me, the Judas who felt such remorse for his betrayal that he hanged himself must also be fully forgiven and redeemed. If that's the case, the figure of Judas offers us an image of hope as well as ignominy when we, too, err in our effort to do right."

(P. S. I'm pretty sure Laura isn't quite correct to say that "Judas does not exist in the other Abrahamic Unitarian faiths". I'm pretty sure he appears in a similar role as Jesus' sidekick and foil in the scriptures of Islam and Baha'i, i. e., the post-Christian ones. Can anyone confirm that?)