What Kind of Christianity is This?

This piece — which ran recently in several of the newspapers in my conservative congressional District — illustrates what the idea of the previous entry about
“the Spirit of the Lie.”

In the past several decades, a major force has entered the American political arena under an explicitly Christian banner. I’m talking about the Christian Right, which has aligned itself with the Republican Party.

Has this alliance advanced the values that Jesus taught?

Jesus advocated for the poor and the outcast, and castigated mostly the privileged and the mighty. Today’s vociferous Christian political force supports the party that cuts programs to feed the hungry and to lift up the downtrodden, while protecting the interests of the fabulously wealthy.

When I hear Republicans talk about the poor in derogatory ways – lazy, slackers, etc. – I wonder, where in the Bible does Jesus show any such attitude toward the poor?

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. But the party with which this Christian force is allied has made our politics into a kind of warfare. They disdain compromise, they treat their opponents without respect, and they fight even against ideas that they originated, once the other side proposes them.

At the heart of Jesus’ teachings was an ethic of love.

I’d like to ask the good Christians who support today’s Republican Party: When was the last time your leaders have inspired you to love anyone or anything — except for an “Us” arrayed against a hated “Them”?

In the most powerful scene in which Jesus deals with issues of wrong-doing and punishment, the emphasis of his teaching is directed at the crowd that’s ready to stone the adulteress. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” he says to the crowd, and then turns to the woman to deliver the caring message, “Go, and sin no more.”

In the Republican dealing with issues of crime and punishment, can anyone point to a spirit of compassion and humility, rather than harsh punitiveness? Can one find “blessed are the merciful” in the main Republican attitude toward impoverished people who have sneaked across our borders?

I was not brought up in a Christian household, but got my first vivid sense of the Christian spirit from images in spectacular movies during the 1950s. These films – like Quo Vadis, The Robe, and Ben Hur – presented sharp contrasts between the brutality of the Romans and the beauty of spirit in the followers of Christ.

The Romans in these films were all about power. They were harsh, contemptuous of those who did not live by the sword, taking pleasure in dominating and even in inflicting pain on the vulnerable. When the scene switched to the Christians, the spirit changed to gentleness, forgiveness of those who trespassed against them, generosity of spirit, and humility.

I took an interest in seeing what this teacher, Jesus, had said to bring forth such beauty in the human spirit.

Now I wonder how anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus could also follow even for a moment someone like Rush Limbaugh. Practically his every word violates what Jesus taught (Matthew 5: 22) against expressing contempt for one’s brethren.

Something has gotten dangerously switched around, turning up into down and light into darkness.

When I was a candidate for Congress (2011-12), I traveled all around Virginia’s 6th District, speaking with citizens of all kinds. In the process, I was privy to a variety of strains and disagreements and antagonisms in the District’s body politic. But among all these, one stood out dramatically.

There was one actor – one power — in the District that was regarded by some good and solid citizens in a way like no other, with a kind of deep dread and elemental revulsion I’d never heard expressed in America before. The object of these extraordinary feelings was Liberty University, the Christian institution of higher education in Lynchburg, Virginia.

What does it mean for a Christian institution to be experienced that way by its neighbors. It hardly seems possible that following Jesus’ teachings –“Love they neighbor as thyself”—could give rise to such feelings.

And what does it mean for an institution built to advance Christian values to be aligned with the Party that serves the mighty powers of Mammon, and that regularly preys on the lowly and vulnerable?

Many good Christians seem to have been led to believe that if, they give their support to politicians who oppose abortion and oppose recognizing rights for people with a different sexual orientation, they are serving the cause of Christian values in America.

But even if he’d agree on those two issues – and he had precious little to say about such things– his message was so much bigger. His teachings bore upon the entire spirit that infuses human affairs.

It has long seemed to me that the world would be a much better place if people acted according to the spirit Jesus taught.

What would Jesus do? One thing seems clear to me: in America today, he would not vote Republican.

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23 Comments

  1. Really loved this, Andy. One of the best rebuttals to the Christian right that I have read. Haven’t read much of your posts lately, but really followed you in the past. Miss you in Renesan, Santa Fe. This is one of you best articles I have read.

  2. You are correct! Jesus railed against the Pharasies (read Limbaugh, etc) NOT against the poor and the “so called, Bad girls” and tax collectors. Somewhere along the way that attitude got LOST!! The Crusades and the Conquistadors are prime examples.
    Whit

  3. You’re right on target, Andy. (And generally so, also.) As for the teachings of Jesus, it’s always interesting to remember that the charming Ayn Rand, heroine of the Republican leadership, often repeated her dislike of Jesus and of Christianity!

  4. Richard H. Randall

    Three sources from Christian thinkers (2) which take on the literalism, racism, and fundamentalism of the Bible, both new and old Testaments are listed below. They are easy to read, though the fundamentalists hate them and have even prayed that one of the authors would die in a plane crash. That was Bishop Spong, whose work,’ Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism’ shows clearly why literalism, enerrancy, and fundamentalism are not only epistemologically wrong, but they work against an appreciation from the people who appreciate scripture for it’s moral value, if it were not for the ridiculous willful ignorance and hatred the fundamentalists, with their GOP brethern have tried to foist on us. Spong notes, that this information from the pulpit reflects little, or no knowledge gained about the Bible in the 20th century.
    Another important modern thinker was Clayton Sullivan, a preacher and teacher at the University of Southern Mississippi, for many years.
    The two books I am familiar with amongst his numerous output, are ‘Rescuing Jesus from the Christians,’ and ‘Rescuing Sex from the Christians.’
    These are both short, readable with information and analysis similar to Bishop Spong. Both men strongly opposed the misogyny inherent within all conservative religions including Judaism and Islam as well as Fundamentalist Christianity. Sullivan details Augustine’s and Paul’s views. Sullivan says “Taking the long view, for two thousand years Christianity has maintained a disapproving attitude toward human sexuality…taking the long view again, he church has intruded time and again into areas it should not have entered….in areas where it had no expertise.’
    I mention these writers, because they were, like myself, believers. My personal thoughts are that along with what spiritual wisdom one may find in religion, there is always the cultural milieu which can dominate the message, or trivialize it as the case may be. The fundamentalist message, is often misanthropic: I see no value in this.
    And Andy, I’ll agree that the Roman Empire, as well as the early Roman Republic, could be militaristic, cruel, unjust and unfair. But I’d suggest that it was at times the greatest fount of wisdom and progressiveness, for many, many years. (I dislike the pacifism of Jesus.) They made mistakes, which we seem intent upon repeating, especially in the social-economic sphere. It will soon create a crisis we have never faced before.

  5. I have called this the cognitive dissonance of the Christian Right. Use Jesus’ name but act diametrically opposite of what he said. The Message of Jesus is incompatible to the accumulation of wealth so some of the protestant churches had to find a way to make it acceptable as did those who wished to accumulate great wealth and still appear to be Godly men/women.

    I have noticed that many who post right wing diatribes and quote scripture often, almost exclusively draw from the Old Testament. Even there, they pick and chose what is convenient. I am not even quoting scripture although I could. It’s not necessary because it is a common set of knowledge of most in this country. I have read most but not all of the Bible myself. I have also read parts of the Upanishads and some works of the Buddha. I am currently reading the “Other Bible”, biblical verse that was chosen not to include in the Catholic Bible. I have also read of Indian beliefs, the true first discoverers of this continent on which we live. All have so sort of live meekly or treat other well and take care of your neighbor, especially those less well off.

    The Christian message of Jesus Christ has taken about 50 years to subvert and it started, in my humble opinion, just after the Johnson’s War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act passed during his Administration. It was a time of fear of Communism and escalating war in Vietnam. A time of the domino theory of international politics. There were other movements that got it started well before then, but those two programs focused the hatred of many and provided the genesis for the quickening of the subversion of the message of Jesus Christ.

    It’s kind of funny, I don’t necessarily consider myself a Christian any longer, in part because of the use of Christ by the Christian Right to justify so many un-Christian values and virtues. I do believe that Jesus Christ did exist as a person and was as much an elightened individual as the Buddha and likely many other singular religious figures of the past, many of whom have been forgotten in the mists of time.

  6. Richard H. Randall

    Well said, Robin.Spong’s book which I referred to above, shows how fundamentalists pick and chose their examples, e.g. to support racism, and male dominance. These were big issues as I grew up in the South.
    Whilest I have never been a Catholic, I always appreciated their belief and practice of the ‘Social Gospel.’ Many Protestants did as well. The ‘right’s injection of sub rosa Libertarianism and Ayn Rand’s ‘Objectivism,’ have subverted much main line thinking to anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-knowledge, anti science and anti-humanist hysteria. As for Ron Paul and his outfit, they are racists from the word go, and opponnents of the U.S. government at nearly all points.
    My belief regarding Jesus, and other historical figures, is that they were avatars of that Spirit which those who have written and preached/led as a value, their intuition of God/ess.

  7. I think that the most anyone knows today of the teaching of Jesus centuries ago is from the Bible. Did the Jewish religious leaders of that day hate goodness ?

    The same Bible has related to people now for several centuries that they never supported him and finally had him killed -crucified.

    Did it ever occur to you that the same spirit now is in the media and in much of the money supporting politics and institutions of ‘higher’ learning?

    Maybe look at what is influencing American thought long before they go to the polls.

  8. Yes, David R., if it isn’t the same spirit as the Pharisees, it’s a kindred spirit subverting the words of Jesus which is really all we have of him now. In my bible the actual supposed words of Jesus Christ are written in red. I believe I’ve read them all as they are the most important words if you are a Christian. I almost believe that many who claim to be Christians must not have read those words because their acts proclaim them to have not read those words or, even worse, not understand them.

    Considering so many on the right are protestants of one stripe or another, I would have thought they would have at least read the words of Jesus Christ.

  9. Richard Randall, sorry I read David R’s post first and was moved to reply. Excellent post on your part. Most of what I have concluded has been on my own with various readings on the web and my actual reading of the source documents of various religions. By the way, in my opinion, Jesus and God himself doesn’t want unthinking faith but faith that is thinking deep issues and questioning faith otherwise how can your faith be honed to a strength and sharpness if it isn’t questioned in the forge of competing ideas.

    I hope you don’t object to my use of metaphor above but I think it is appropriate and reflects the way I feel. I always thought the protestant reformation was caused by the reading of the Bible by the laity, where in the Catholic faith it was reserved for the Priests and the Church Hierarchy and the Monks were often the deep thinkers of liturgical thought.

  10. Andy, I hope you can hear my applause. It is time to deflate the myth that somehow Republicans are the “party of God.” Your article pops the bubble. How do those in the far “Christian Right” persuade themselves that they are followers of Jesus? These folks would be the first to crucify Christ if he returned today. It’s quite revealing how Rush Limbaugh turned on the new pope once he read the pope’s recent encyclical. Beforehand, Rush had quite a bromance with the new pope. But after reading the pope’s comments about the poor and the trickle-down economy that keeps them poor, Rush called him a socialist. The Right has perverted the Gospel and gotten away with it for a long time. Bully for those with the courage, like yourself, to call them out.

  11. Richard H. Randall

    Well, David R, where the hell to start? Over the years I and others have attempted to educate you over many subjects, to help you understand the modern world. Part of my posts today dealt with the FACT that there is a good deal of new information on the writing of the Bible, and the politics and the books which made it in, and the ones which didn’t. This has been known since the early 1900’s. Of course most people including yourself could give a rat’s ass less about a view which challenges the idea that 1)men and women wrote the Bible. 2)That the Bible, while perhaps inspired by God-that is my view-it is still embedded in cultures which pile all kinds of stuff-some morally sound, some atrocious-and that there are manifestly huge errors in the book about things. A few weeks ago, you were holding forth about unquestionable truths, as if the information from the Bible could not be questioned, or doubted. If you would take the trouble to understand why the Jews and Romans were upset at Jesus’ work, you might think twice about making broad indictments of all Jews. Jesus was a Jew, and many of his ideas reflected his respect (as did the Prophets)of that tradition.
    (And yes, you are correct when you opine that the media is controlled by this vicious spirit—the major media is all focused around their advertising, i.e. the overrated idea that the business model is the one to run all institutions on the planet. I say overrated but it has it’s place. it has it’s place: it should be banned from the fields of medicine, education, the military, politics,and any other field where choices about humans and the earth really matter. )
    And as to looking at what is influencing votes, an open mind as others have
    pointed out above does not appear to include your ability to even respond to offered facts, or even opinions. Why not check out other sources from the same tradition, and then give an educated opinion.

  12. The Economist Magazine has what must be some of the best or most expressive cartoonists in the World.

    I wish they would do one, do one for this.
    Let’s see . . . a motley crew of ‘progressive’ professors, atheists, homos, lesbians, abortionists, evolutionists, welfare queens and illegal immigrants in a mob outside some ‘fundamentalist Christian’ Church with their signs and placards
    and chanting “Hypocrites, hypocrites they vote Republican “

    • This response, David R., is really not worthy of you. It is pure attitude, devoid of even the suggestion of an argument. If there were something hypocritical about your “motley crew” — and there is no indication of that — then your comment might have some idea buried in it.

      As it is, all your comment does is snarl back at people for whom you have no respect or regard. And your depiction of this motley crew seems not only made up of an attitude of contempt, but to draw its contempt out of the well of bigotry.

      I know there are better angels of your nature that you could express instead.

  13. David R. if you read my postings above I do not indicate that all Christians are hypocrites, just those who are hypocrites. I know many who are not hypocrites and I know may who are hypocrites.

    • Jesus understood well the problem of hypocrisy in people, particularly in certain kinds of elites and certain kinds of self-righteous people. He also understood well the difference between true piety and the kind of piety that announces itself loudly, making a big show of preying.

      And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

  14. I think a cartoon is a remarkable snapshot of a reality. Re the cartoonists in Economist- although I realize it is now a biased publication(I guess like maybe all(?) and I read it with a smile, I think the cartoons are awesome in surpassing argument to tell the story (or to make the case)

    Now do I have good long time associations with folks who are first of all just ‘people’ as we all are BUT part of whose outlook, disposition or predilection gender wise is off center ? Yes

    Do I give thousands a year directly and through agencies intended to help the currently homeless and to prevent other from arriving at that state -it’s no body’s business!- but yes. And this very day will be working with a HUD Agency
    as a ‘last ditch’ effort to keep a family with three children in their home.

    To my surprise I have found truly good hearted attitudes about some things
    in whores(not for money) and lesbians and some of the best ‘discussionists’ are Aquarians and Aries some of whom turn out to be homos. And I have seen AIDS take its ugly toll and the lesbians run into their problems.

    I have long term relationships with a few Negro friends, have sometimes helped AND been helped and sadly been to a couple of funerals. I remember attending a Segovia concert at Fisk with a brother back in ’54 and I think we were the only white faces there.

    I have stingy ‘Christian’ acquaintances and generous Jewish friends.

    This thing called life is a mix.

    I have been involved in politics and delegate to State Conventions and had direct contact with known players and fund raisers and at one time with the then governor of my state.

    I have learned first hand the reality and practical rudiments(carnality) of things that Liberals -and maybe most young people-want to see idealistically.

    Fortunately there is a foundation of and for TRUTH and I had my own Nebuchadnezzar experience at an early age and found out that God is.
    As for the broad world I found I knew nothing and couldn’t understand why everyone else couldn’t SEE. And wisely OR foolishly I prayed to be sent out into the world to find out but surely to bring me back and I promised both to serve him and to help others the rest of my life.

    Well, over time I found myself in an occupation that led to most of these encounters and experiences. And my search among the ‘religious’ -and they are many and varied- has been amazing to me. Now I process about everything I see and hear through the crucible of personal experience and spiritual understanding.

    A great deal of the good in the world comes through the traditionally religious
    and they are everywhere individually scattered here and there as the salt in the earth, in social service, prison ministries, homeless rescue, government agencies, medical and nursing, even in Law, agriculture, publishing, honest workers and service people maybe everywhere.

    I see the progressives of these days as human just as everyone else but living mostly imaginary ideas and mostly talk.

    I excuse myself commenting as being a discussion addict.

  15. Thanks Andy, that is one of my observations as well. Public prayer is a sign of hypocrites and those who are using a corrupted form of Christianity to gain earthly rewards. I also seem to recall a passage explaining what a Christian Church is, i.e., no massive buliding with a steeple, although this isn’t precluded if approached properly, but just just wherever a few Christians meet, in a room or in a grove or anywhere where they gather to be together in love of God and Christ.

  16. Thriller writer Barry Eisler has a blog, “Heart of the Matter” which often brings up controversial issues. Here is his advice for people who comment there:

    “There are a lot of terrific blogs out there on the world of writing, but Heart of the Matter isn’t one of them. HOTM primarily covers politics, language as it influences politics, and politics as an exercise in branding and marketing, with the occasional post on some miscellaneous subject that catches my attention.

    HOTM has a comments section. Sounds simple enough, but as even a cursory glance at the comments of most political blogs will show, many people would benefit from some guidelines. Here are a few I hope will help.

    1. The most important guideline when it comes to argument is the golden rule. If someone were addressing your point, what tone, what overall approach would you find persuasive and want her to use? Whatever that is, do it yourself. If you find this simple guideline difficult, I’ll explain it slightly differently in #2.

    2. Argue for persuasion, not masturbation. If you follow the golden rule above, it’s because you’re trying to persuade someone. If you instead choose sarcasm and other insults, you can’t be trying to persuade (have you ever seen someone’s opinion changed by an insult?). If you’re not trying to persuade, what you’re doing instead is stroking yourself. Now, stroking yourself is fine in private, but I think we can all agree it’s a pretty pathetic to do so in public. So unless you like to come across as pathetic, argue to persuade.

    3. Compared to the two above, this is just commentary, but: no one cares about your opinion (or mine, for that matter). It would be awesome to be so impressive that we could sway people to our way of thinking just by declaiming our thoughts, but probably most of us lack such gravitas. Luckily, there’s something even better: evidence, logic, and argument. Think about it: when was the last time someone persuaded you of the rightness of his opinion just by declaring what it was? Probably it was the same time someone changed your mind with an insult, right? And like insults, naked declarations of opinion, because they can’t persuade, are fundamentally masturbatory. And masturbation, again, is not a very polite thing to do on a blog.

    Argue with others the way you’d like them to argue with you. Argue with intent to persuade. Argue with evidence and logic. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it? Let’s give it a try.”

  17. I would like to add to my previous comment that in my opinion comments here on NSB tend as a whole to be of far better quality than seems to me to be the norm for most other “political blogs” I have seen.

    I suppose that quality is partially due to Andy’s moderation of comments here. But I suspect strongly that commenters on NSB have generally provided better material than the norm for Andy to moderate in the first place.

    I vote for keeping that tradition alive.

  18. Hmmm … my followup was pretty ironic considering Eisler’s recommendation #3, wasn’t it?

  19. For those who feel a need to display their faith in front of many people so they can feel pious and who exalt the building in which the services take place, i.e., the church, please read this website:

    http://www.jesusfamilies.org/hot_topics/church.htm

    Here is an extract from that website

    And so the term “church” is defined by the Jesus of Nazareth as his collective followers who are called out of the world. And yet christians almost universally refer to “the church” as the building on the corner where they go each Sunday to hear a clergyman give a speech, partake in rituals regarding ‘the last supper’, and sing songs about God. Even at this basic level, there is error. There is no commonality between what the word’s actual definition is (and the context in which Jesus uses it as we will see shortly), and what christian’s say it means. Many christian leaders of sects that say they are careful to follow the bible will say, “oh, no, we know that the building is only the place where the church meets”. But even in these organizations, if you listen to the words of the people as they speak about “the church” during the week, you will find that the normal usage of the term “church” means the building, the clergy, the Sunday meeting, and the programs.

    I recall the same interpretation when I read the Bible in my youth and Jesus Christ was very much about not making a spectacle of your faith. I recall, as I said before that a church is simple a meeting place of the faithful. Nothing more nothing less. No need for a building although a building isn’t precluded either. However, Jesus also did not condone public prayer, here is a quote from Jesus Christ:

    “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6″But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7″And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.…”

    How much clearer can these words be. Those who claim that prayer in public school is forbidden are lying first for you can pray in school. What is illegal is someone leading a group in prayer, i.e., standing and making a scene of your piousness which seems to me to go against the above quote of Jesus Christ.

  20. David R., In response to one of your earlier postings, I consider myself to be a progressive and have adopted a son who, if we hadn’t adopted him,would likely have ended up on the street or in a gang and eventually in a jail. Even now there is no guarantee. I rarely bring this up but your recognition of the religious as being those who do good works caused me to have to rebut. Here is your comment I am referring to:

    “I see the progressives of these days as human just as everyone else but living mostly imaginary ideas and mostly talk.”

    I have also worked in the past to put into place a transition living facility to provide a place for homeless families a place to get back on their feet and get the proper training, if necessary. I also know many progressive liberals who do the talk and walk the walk. Not everyone mind you, just like any community, not all contribute equally. I also give to causes I believe in.

    I realized along time ago that if we get rid of the programs the government has to support the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the downtrodden, there is not enough of the good people out there to make more than a minor dent in the problem and that a greater good is served by a reasonably fair tax across all those who work, and based on what they can bear, to provide those services. I live near an Almshouse Rd. and whenever I drive on it or cross it, I recall that that is the way the poor and destitute received their alms back before the government stepped in to provide more comprehensive services. I have no desire to go back to that model.

  21. Robin,
    Since your reply addressed to me if you look back here later I have something to say. It is late after a hard day and I will not express any further thoughts until another day; maybe tomorrow. It sounds like you have a true awareness and concern for the powerless or needy and willing to do what you can.

    I will post again to you re ‘Progressives”.

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