For many people the relating of rebellion to religion will be a hard truth. It brings with it the final paradox. In religion, it is not the sycophants or those who cling most faithfully to the status quo who are ultimately praised. It is the insurgents. Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person. Socrates was a rebel, and he was sentenced to drink hemlock. Jesus was a rebel, and he was crucified for it. Joan of Arc was a rebel, and she was burned at the stake.
Yet each of these figures and hundreds like them, though ostracized by their contemporaries, were recognized and worshiped by the following ages as having made the most significant creative contributions in ethics and religion to civilization.
Those we call saints rebelled against an outmoded and inadequate form of God on the basis of their new insights in divinity. The teaching that led to their deaths raised the ethical and spiritual levels of their societies. They were aware that Zeus, the jealous god of Mount Olympus, would no longer do . . . They rebelled against [a malformed] Yahweh, the primitive tribal god of the Caananized Hebrews . . . In place of him came the new visions of Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah of the god of love and justice. Their rebellion was motivated by new insights into the meaning of godliness. They rebelled, as Paul Tillich has so beautifully stated, against God in the name of the God beyond God. The continuous emergence of the God beyond God is the mark of creative courage in the religious sphere.
Whatever sphere we may be in, there is a profound joy in the realization that we are helping to form the structure of the new world. This is creative courage, however minor or fortuitous our creations may be.
~ Rollo May, The Courage to Create (p. 34-35)
[Art: Scarsellino, “Driving of the merchants from the temple” c.1550]