[Y]es, there is a direct lineage from Christianity to Marxism; yes, Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade.
~ Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 2.
Two revolutionaries [Gk: lestes] were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left.
~ Mt 27.38 (cf. Mk 15.27; Lk 23.32-33).
It is interesting to note that, when the sons of Zebedee come to Jesus (with their mother!) and request to be seated at the places of honour next to Jesus — one on his right and one on his left — Jesus first asks them if they will be able to drink the cup that he is going to drink (cf. Mt 20). However, even after they answer in the affirmative, and even after Jesus affirms that they will drink of the same cup, Jesus refuses to grant their request. Now, where this gets interesting is that, in the Gospels, we do not see the sons of Zebedee, or any of the other disciples drinking from the same cup as Jesus (the “cup,” in this passage refers to Jesus' upcoming crucifixion, the climax of his “messianic woes”). Rather, when the time comes, the disciples all abandon Jesus. So who is it that we find situated at the places of honour and drinking from the same cup as Jesus? Two rebels, two revolutionaries, two terrorists(!), martyred for their opposition to Roman rule (the traditional translation of the word lestes as “robbers” in most English versions of the Gospels is something of a misleading translation, as several scholars have noted).
Further, some scholars have gone on to suggest that this is no mere coincidence; Jesus' placement in the middle of the rebels, highlights his sympathy and solidarity with the cause of those who would recognise no King but God alone. Although they differed on the use of violence (Jesus refused to engage in violence, while most — but, note, not all — of the rebels engaged in violence), both Jesus and the Jewish revolutionaries recognised that faithfulness to God led them into conflict with an empire that recognised no King but Caesar. Consequently, both Jesus and the rebels find themselves “on the same side of the barricade,” dying outside of the city walls together.
(If we accept what these scholars have to say then we might well conclude that the company we keep while dying is just as significant as the company we keep while living. What, I wonder, is the significance of the observation that most of us wish to die peacefully, in our sleep, in our comfortable beds, in our comfortable homes? On which side of the barricades does such thinking place us? Or rather, on which side of the barricades does such thinking reveal that we have been living this whole time?)
With these reflections in mind, it is easy to see the validity in Zizek's statement that Christians and Marxists should fight together, rather than fighting against one another. Indeed, I am fascinated by the ways in which Marxists — like Zizek, Agamden, and Badiou — have been exploring Jesus with Paul. Unlike those who have appropriated a “revolutionary” Jesus and discarded an “institutional” Paul, these scholars desire to maintain the integrity of the New Testament witness and find revolutionary potential in both Jesus and Paul. Therefore, where once Christian theologians were recognising the liberating potential in elements of Marxism, now Marxist scholars are recognising the liberating potential in elements of Christianity! Although the weapons of Christians and Marxist can be very different, they are united in a common cause. Christians and Marxist both voice a resounding “No!” to the Powers that perpetuate processes of oppression, dehumanisation, terror, enslavement, consumption, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, although the hope of Christians and the hope of Marxists are rather different, they are both hopes that subvert and challenge the current state of affairs while inspiring action against that state of affairs.
Unfortunately, the Christian perception of Marxism has been so warped in N. America that it is often impossible for N. Americans to recognise who their allies are. That we have so easily accepted such a caricatured picture of Marxism suggest to me that perhaps our sympathies aren't really with the oppressed, the enslaved, and the dehumanised. Perhaps we are on the wrong side of the barricade.
(This language of “allies” and “sides” may make some uncomfortable since it seems to suggest an “us” vs. “them” mentality. To say that we have “allies” suggests that we also have “enemies” and many of us are ill at ease with such language. However, it should be noted that Christianity never suggested that we do not have any enemies. Rather, Christianity says that we do have enemies, but we are to love those enemies and treat them as our friends — even if they continue to live as very real enemies.)