One of my favorite things about blogging is that it gives me excuses to go far outside my fields of supposed expertise, to read widely about other disciplines and other fields within history. For example, his recent death from liver cancer made me realize how little I’d read from Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. So I checked out a copy of his 2012 collection of essays and poems, No Enemies, No Hatred.
Mostly, I was interested in Liu’s complicated view of Western civilization, since Donald Trump’s speech earlier this month in Warsaw had reopened old debates about the West. If you’re interested, my Anxious Bench post this morning put Liu’s comments on Western civilization in a kind of conversation with Trump’s.
But even if you don’t especially care whether the West exists or is worth defending, I’d encourage you to consider the closing section of that post, on Liu’s admiration for Jesus.
Now, Liu doesn’t seem to have converted to Christianity, but he was clearly fascinated by Jesus — in particular, what he called “the miraculous triumph of Jesus over Caesar.” That led me into the Anxious Bench post’s conclusion:
Writing from a labor camp in 1998, Liu extolled Jesus with words that seem particularly timely for Western Christians tempted to make alliances with contemporary caesars for the sake of “our civilization”:
Jesus is a model of martyrdom because he withstood the temptations of power, wealth, and glamour, and remained steadfast even when threatened with crucifixion.
Most important of all, Jesus exemplified opposition without hatred or the desire for retaliation; his heart was filled with boundless love and forgiveness. Completely eschewing violence, he epitomized passive resistance, serenely defiant even as he meekly carried his own cross.
No matter how profane and pragmatic our world is, we will have passion, miracles, and beauty as long as we have the example of Jesus Christ.
Of course, I primarily had Trump in mind: scarcely a day goes by in which we’re not reminded how a lifetime of indulging “the temptations of power, wealth, and glamour” has formed his character, nor that the alliance between him and certain members of my religious tribe is as profane as it is pragmatic.
But as a critic of the president and his evangelical enablers, I know full well how far short I fall of that second paragraph from Liu. Thinking about politics these days doesn’t inspire in me a desire for physical violence, but I’m afraid my heart is more easily tempted to hatred than to meekness.
Christ, have mercy on us all.