The Barabbas Conundrum

People around me often wonder why liberals think one way and conservatives another.

Well… that’s not entirely accurate. Honestly, people around me usually hate the whole liberal/conservative framework since it posits a binary reconstruction of society that doesn’t actually match lived experience.

But that’s a different story.

Perhaps I should state that the media around me loves to question why liberals are this way and conservatives are that way. My answer? (well… at least today’s answer) I’d like to take it all the way back to Barabbas.

Source is the christian bible. Setup is Jesus has been condemned to death for blasphemy by a trial of his peers, which is what happens when you piss off the high holy priests of the day. Then along comes this one day where the Romans let the populace pardon a person of a capital crime.

Not a capital crime against Rome, of course, but a capital crime among the people they conquered. It’s more of a commute-to-life-sentence kind of thing, but they’re okay with that.

This Jesus fellow is a pain in the ass but relatively harmless, chatting people up to be nicer to one another, challenging some social aspects the Romans don’t give two figs about. He’s pretty popular. The Roman-in-Charge, Pontius figures that it’s a lock that Jesus will get set free.

Imagine his surprise when the crowd chooses Barabbas. A murderer.


Why did the crowd do this?

This is the Barabbas Conundrum.

Jesus is well documented. He questioned the church of that era, fought against the commodification of spirituality, challenged the social norms, and proposed unique ways to deal with governmental oppression.

Barabbas, though; Not much is known about him. At a cursory glance, he was a murderer, but it’s highly likely he didn’t commit something specifically against the Romans (see: Romans don’t pardon crimes against them above). A couple of the gospels indicate Barabbas was in a riot. It’s likely that action ended in the death of a non-Roman. Maybe even someone the crowd thought was a collaborator with the Empire.

It’s likely that there was a debate regarding Barabbas as to whether the killing was deliberate or something committed in the heat of passion. This is important because the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Murder” created a prohibition against premeditated murder but not against crimes of passion.

Why am I breaking this down? Because it allows for some wiggle room. It allows for justification for the crowd’s decision. Here we have two different kinds of activists. One is challenging the social system of traditions and religious elders that emboldens the Roman oppression. The other activist–the murderer–blames individuals.

And Barabbas was freed because conservatives, those bastions of tradition and order, found that wiggle room enough for them to pardon him so that they wouldn’t have to face the truth: that their system was currently rotten to the core.

Matthew 27:24-25 is the only gospel that lays the blame at the feet of the people “His blood be on us and on our children!” Anti-semites used this passage for centuries to justify racism across the world, but it’s never been about the Jews.

It’s about the people who supported the Pharisees. Those who set up shop in the temple courtyard because ‘somebody would take advantage of it sooner or later’. The same folks who showed up to stonings because that was how it was always done and you had to maintain law and order, otherwise the Romans would do it for you, right? The ones who quietly decided it wasn’t worth their time to question the status quo.

The conservatives.

Conservatives selected Barabbas for a pardon because that was the only thing that conservatives could fall behind. Because Jesus pointed out the holes in the system and Barabbas didn’t. Jesus highlighted that this was part of an entire system that they had developed and that they could change. Jesus contradicted the conservative worldview. The conservatives killed Christ for that

And they are doing it again today.

This system that we live under does not work. By divorcing ourselves from the world, through capitalism or communism or feudalism (etc.), we have created a society that is unhealthy, unnecessarily cruel, and openly on the road to failure.

However, since we created the system, we can un-create it. We can invent new things. We can, as Matthew 6:26 spoke of, be as the birds and trust in the world. And we can change.

But to do so first entails that we admit that what we’re doing right now is wrong, that it’s endemic to the fabric of our society, and that we’ll need to tear it down despite so much time put into supporting it.

We’ll need to forgive ourselves. We’ll need to forgive our Jesus.

But the conservatives? Will they do that? Can they do that? In that, they share a connection all the way back to that fateful day, with the choice of Jesus and Barabbas.

And as they are now, they will choose Barabbas every time.


  1. I think it’s one bird with the same wings on opposite sides. I find the entire bird tasteless and hasn’t l gamey.
    When the liberals and the conservatives spit and shout the same nasty HATEFUL rhetoric towards each other… it just looks like hypocrisy to me. Hatred is Hatred even if folks think their hatred for others and all who disagree with them, makes their hatred justified.

    • That’s a good point. It’s funny; reading your comment I had this visual of the conservatives being the ones who put Christ up on the cross, but the liberals being the ones who came down to watch the crucifixion. Some sad, some angry at the injustice, some thinking the people on the cross must have done something wrong, but no one willing to stand up and actually take folks off their crosses. I suppose in the end I’m trying to find ways to express how hate manifests. So many people think it’s easy to spot or the ones with hatred are just evil when the truth is far more invasive and insidious.

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