Who would Jesus tow?

We expect our killers to be reverent.*
“I believe the fact that I've accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” —from American Sniper, Chris Kyle's autobiography

I know that religion can be used for personal betterment as opposed to personal gain, so my complaint here isn’t so much with Christianity (although I have plenty to say about that too) as with the way it is used to justify whatever America wants it to justify. It
’s sad but true that if you take the Bible’s actual words on any number of topics and offset them against Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” you can justify rape; slavery; racism; classicism; theocracy; imperialism; xenophobia; the inequality of women; the murder of Moslems, homosexuals, atheists, and disobedient children; and pretty much anything else you want to justify. However, there is a theological problem with this. Namely, Jesus put love for neighbor second only to love for God and acted accordingly even if it meant disobeying a commandment. The impetus of the New Testament is clearly away from authoritarian obedience and toward assertive love, but few people are able to rise to such a standard.

Here in America, we subscribe to a doctrine that amounts to patriotism on steroids. It’s called “American Exceptionalism,” and if you don’t believe in it, don’t bother running for president. What it means is that we are God’s favored nation, that he wants us to lead the world morally and militarily, and that he supports our endless wars. I can find no evidence that Jesus supported patriotism, and as for killing people, his following words seem clear enough:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you…” “Do not resist the one who is evil…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 

What’s more, he said,

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.…”

How, then, can a Christian justify resisting evil through the courts, the military, or the police? Churches have signs threatening to tow anyone who parks on their property, but I ask you, who would Jesus tow?

So it is that American Christianity rests upon various myths and contradictions, American Exceptionalism being but one of them (Manifest Destiny was its lying, thieving, and slaughtering forebearer). A second is that a man who lived 2,000 years ago was really God in a bag of skin; and a third is that the way Jesus wants us to behave is the opposite of what he said. America wanted a deity, and Jesus was simply the one it inherited, so just as the early church appropriated pagan holidays, so has America appropriated Christianity itself. It was easy. For example we wanted a deity that was nationalistic and warlike, but since Jesus was neither, we rewrote him in the image of a Viking war god. The rewrite doesn’t stop there. We also claim that Jesus supported something that we fondly call “family values,” although if a living guru said the things that Jesus said, it would scare the daylights out of families. Take the following exchange:

“Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”

Just as all cult leaders seek to separate their followers from their families, so did Jesus:

“No one can be my disciple without hating his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” “Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’”

He said these things, but since America’s Jesus is unrelated to the Biblical Jesus, parents can safely encourage their children to follow him, that is unless their children join some group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are silly enough to actually do the things that Jesus commanded.

Then there’s the swearing of oaths. Jesus objected to oaths, but except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other “nut groups,” America’s Christians love oaths; they just want to be sure that jurors and politicians say them while holding their hands upon the very book that forbids oaths. Here’s what Jesus said in that book:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple yes or no. Otherwise you will be condemned.”

So how do Christians get from that to not only taking oaths but insisting on oaths? By ignoring what Jesus said, and rewriting him as they want him to be. When Obama was sworn-in, the rumor was that he did so on a Koran, the problem not being that he violated Christ’s commandment but rather that he did it on the wrong book.

One of the stranger things that Jesus said was: “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Maybe it’s just as well in this instance that
America’s religion doesn’t give a rip about what Jesus said because what would we call our fathers? I guess I would have called mine Tom, but what would I answer if someone asked who Tom was? I imagine the following:

“Tom was the guy who impregnated my mother.” “Uh, you mean he was your father?” “No, Jesus doesn’t want me to use that word, and it wouldn’t be right to substitute a word that means the same thing, so I just say that he impregnated my mother. When I fill out a form, and it has a space for father, I cross out the word father, and write ‘guy who impregnated my mother.’ People look at me funny, but at least I know I’m pleasing Jesus.”

Jesus also said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth,” but who ever heard of an American Christian begging God’s forgiveness for investing in an IRA and a 403b? Indeed, Americans love money, and millions of us think that by giving more of it to the rich through tax breaks and economic incentives
while denying the same breaks to everyone else (along with basic health services), we too can get rich through a bit of magic called Trickle Down Economics.

Speaking of money, Jesus never asked for a donation, but it isn’t an example that America’s preachers are likely to follow. And while they don’t consider it politic to criticize such sins as their flocks are actually likely to commit—divorce, gluttony, and consumerism, to name a few—Jesus railed against the people he was preaching to, calling them snakes, children of snakes, hypocrites, white-washed sepulchers, and  fools (this despite his own warning: “And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire”).

Likewise, Jesus opposed superfluous spending: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life…” but it would be the death-knell of American capitalism if America’s Christians obeyed him. I find it supremely ironic that America not only rewrites Jesus as a superpatriot but also as a capitalist, making his birthday the biggest spending event of the year and his resurrection an occasion for buying new clothes.

Why the pretense? For example, why go to the wall to force public prayers on everyone who attends a government sponsored meeting, this despite Jesus
’ commandment to the contrary:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men... But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret...
And in regard to religion, why this resolve to: put the Ten Commandments in every government park and building; name the Bible America’s national book; fight like banshees against abortion, evolution, gay marriage, global warming, stem-cell research, and universal health care; be content to live in a state of eternal war against Moslems; ignore laws of habeas corpus; support the torturing of prisoners for information (i.e. enhanced interrogation); claim that God’s true followers vote Republican; openly violate laws against political campaigning on the part of churches; and demand respect for Christianity while penalizing those who practice other religions. Not only do America’s Christians refuse to do almost anything that the New Testament actually commands, they do the opposite. Such verses as: 

“Whoever does not love does not know God,” “…if I have not love, I am nothing,” and, “ let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 

...are ignored in our national dialogue, while hatred, oppression, and the denial of medical care are promoted as Gods will. For example, for years now, I’ve heard Republican politicians disparage Obama—and people like myself—but never once have I heard them say they loved us.
The Bush administration explained the 9/11 attack by saying that terrorists hate Americans because we’re good. Likewise, America’s dominant Christian community imagines that non-Christians and liberal Christians oppose them because they’re good. Well, no, it’s because they substitute hatred for love and claim that Christ wants it that way
. As long as they have their luxuries, their flag to wave, and their “American Way of Life,” the rest of us could fall in a lake and drown, and they would praise God for “smiting the wicked.” When I reflect upon what Christ means to such people, I recall H.L. Mencken’s warning, 

“When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”

I’m far from saying that American Christianity doesn’t make sense in its own perverse way, because if it takes an enormous amount of “faith” to imagine that someone who lived 2,000 years ago was God wrapped in skin and that he wants you to do certain things, how much more faith does it take to do the opposite of what he said while claiming that he commands it? I had a family member who believed that Jesus wanted her to own a gold bracelet with the letters WWJD on it. She also believed that Jesus wanted her to have a new Cadillac every three years. Then, God be praised, her preacher realized that Jesus wanted him to buy one of her old Cadillacs. God truly does work in mysterious ways because I can’t find any place in the Bible suggesting that Jesus valued a life of luxury (although I can find several verses in which he trashed rich people), but maybe Jesus only reveals his will to those who believe in him, and that doesn’t include me and, sad to say, Peggy, although we were both “brought up right.”

Just yesterday, we were listening to Vivaldi when the “Gloria in Excelsis” was played. I asked Peggy if she knew the words, and she said she did not, so I recited them. She first thought I was making them up, but when she realized that I really did know them, she put her fingers in her throat and made barfing sounds (now that the Catholic Church is into exorcisms again, maybe I should take her to a priest). Some of you have probably wondered what it is that we atheists do with the time we save by not praying, and this is but one example. I’ve been told that I don’t know a damn thing about religion, so I should keep my mouth shut. My thought is that I have important things to say to Christians because I
feel no need to rewrite Jesus’ words to reflect my own opinions. The Bible says the following about the religious establishment of Christ’s era, and I believe that such people remain the dominant face of religion in America today.

“You say, ‘I am rich and have many things. I need nothing.’ You do not know that you are in trouble and need help. You are poor. You are blind. And you have no clothes to wear.” And again, “You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!” Indeed, America endlessly crosses land and sea in an attempt to force people to imitate us, yet what are we but earth-devouring parasites?

Unfortunately, when it comes to national politics, people who oppose the status quo have no electable options. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president kills the innocent everyday, yet he is supposed to be a liberal. Meanwhile, his conservative opponents would like nothing better than to pass religious defamation laws so that people like myself could be imprisoned for attacking their perverted version of Jesus. They insist that they alone are God’s chosen, and that those who disagree put America at risk of God's wrath in the form a terrorist attack, this because they think we say “fuck you” to the deity that they created in order to justify their greed. They are right. The dominant religious face of Christianity today is the same as in Jesus
time, and he warned his followers against it in these words:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

What are the fruits of American Christianity? Love? No, there is no room for love in the hearts of people whom, in the name of the Prince of Peace, devote their lives to war, wealth, oppression, nationalism, and every form of frivolous indulgence, and so it is that I ask you: what does America's prosperity gospel have to do with the words of an itinerant preacher who emphasized love at the expense of all else and who described his life as follows:  

...Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus, I can respect as being a man who was flawed but sincere and well-meaning. What, though, am I to respect about America's rewrite of his religion?

*Movie poster from American Sniper


stephen Hayes said...

As I see it, religions are all based on lies and mistruths, created to manipulate people and exorcize control over them. The only authentic spirituality I see is in nature. I no longer look to religions for anything positive, but I am curious what Pope Francis will say to our Republican controlled Congress later this year. He is not in lockstep with the Republican war on the poor. Take care, and see you in three weeks when I return from vacation.

Elephant's Child said...

Our current Prime Minister leans heavily towards 'American Christianity' though he calls it Australian values.
He is gung-ho about war, while deploring it. Loves trickle down economics though isn't fond of the trickled down apon. And is quick to put Christianity into our schools at every opportunity. All of which I find distressing and frightening.

Charles Gramlich said...

I well remember some of the martial hymns we sung when I was a kid, such as Onward Christian Soldier.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I regularly read a blog called "Internet Monk: Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness" which was started several years back by Michael Spencer, a Baptist who is now deceased; it has continued under the leadership of an ex-evangelical turned Lutheran.

Anyhoo, please read the two most recent posts, one some words from Michael himself, and the other the latest of the regular feature Saturday Ramblings.

Sundays With Michael Spencer: May 17, 2015"

Saturday Ramblings, May 16, 2015

You may discover we are not so far apart as you seem to think. The major difference is I am a believer and you are not, but we both put our pants on the same way, one leg at a time. What we are is human -- that is, opinionated, confused, often wrong, hopefully forgiving of others.

PhilipH said...

America, but not all Americans, is far more 'religious' than the UK. Very scary I think.

Religion has caused more deaths than the plague, Spanish 'flu, cancer and all other ills. However, this sad world will never be free from the grip of religion, unless and until the human race is no more.

As long as humans inhabit this planet some nutcase will create a new religion. S/he will have followers and believers in the creed, maybe only a few dozen or a few billion, but followers will submit to the doctrine.

I believe there IS a god. This god gives us life, food and warmth. The SUN is the only god that matters on this earth.

All others gods are bull-crap! Amen.

Snowbrush said...

“As I see it, religions are all based on lies and mistruths, created to manipulate people and exorcize control over them.”

I would distinguish between organized religion and the religious impulse. The latter is very strong within me, but my atheism makes me unwelcome in church where towing the party-line is non-negotiable. Ironically, I would be very comfortable among the liberal theologians who are members of the very churches in which I’m not welcome. People will shun me, but then pay $20 or more to go listen to them, although I’m saying the same things they are.

“The only authentic spirituality I see is in nature.

I love and need time in nature, but I never forget that the friendly face I see there is dependent upon having a warm bed and cooler full of food.

“Our current Prime Minister leans heavily towards 'American Christianity' though he calls it Australian values.”

Here, it’s called American values, clearly implying that if you’re not a conservative Christian, you’re at best a marginal American, and that you need to remain silent when that version of Christianity is being pushed in your face.

“I well remember some of the martial hymns we sung when I was a kid, such as Onward Christian Soldier.”

There was a lot of marching imagery for sure.

“America, but not all Americans, is far more 'religious' than the UK. Very scary I think.”

Yes, but the ranks of the unaffiliated have risen from 16.1% to 22.8% in the last eight years (http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/nerdscreen-rise-religiously-unaffiliated-n360216). America looks more religious now that at any time in my life, but this is largely due to evangelical aggressiveness, Congressional Republican support for religion, and a Catholic-controlled Supreme Court advocacy of religion. The fact is that nothing they can do will matter unless they can turn their numbers around. As I reflect upon why they’re losing ground, I can but think that Moslem violence is creating bad PR for all religions. The funny thing is that we keep pretending that Islam is a “religion of peace.” Even the prosecutor in the Boston bombing trail said that that attack had nothing to do with Islam, no matter that millions of Moslems disagree.

Snowbrush said...

“please read the two most recent posts,”

I read, enjoyed, and commented on both. I’m like leprosy to blogging preachers, so this discourages me from visiting them, but you recommended this blog, and it is a good one. Here are my responses. I include them because they are relevant to this post.

(1) “Rhymes with Plague" referred me to this post because it's much like my last one if you can except the fact that I’m coming from an atheist perspective. Unlike you, though, I’m a determinist, so I have no thought that anything I say is going to influence anyone in the slightest by that person’s choice. I know I could no more choose to be a supernaturalist than I could choose to be gay, and I think this is probably true of everyone who accepts any form of religion. Whether it’s religion or atheism, people come to it when they’re “ready.”

I’ve read Spong, and am now onto Robison’s “Honest to God,” but it’s very hard for me to find the difference between non-theistic Christians and atheists. They insist they’re not atheists, but then so do pantheists. If making religion a purely subjective matter isn’t atheism, it’s the next thing to it. It hardly seems like the kind of belief that a person would die for, but then again, he wouldn’t kill for it either, so that’s something to be grateful for. It’s a heck of a commentary that people who worship the various “Gods of love” are the world’s preeminent killers.

(2) If Pew is going to include atheists and agnostics in their study of "fertile faith," why not include the unaffiliated, which constitutes 22.8% of the population? Who are these people and instead of pandering exclusively to evangelicals, might not politicians devote some of their butt-licking to them? Here’s a good CBS link that will includes another Pew link: http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/nerdscreen-rise-religiously-unaffiliated-n360216

Sparkling Red said...

It's interesting that having a variety of translations of the Bible in English available to all and sundry does not help the average Christian in his/her understanding of what the actual text says. It may as well still be in Latin, for all that people are actually paying attention to the words.

Snowbrush said...

"It may as well still be in Latin, for all that people are actually paying attention to the words."

Good point. My childhood church studied the Bible assiduously, and our motto was, “We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent,” but all any of this really meant was: literalism, hellfire, and almost nothing about love. The same is universally true of fundamentalism.

Nobody really knows what Jesus said, because (assuming he lived) he had been dead for decades before the gospels were written. Their late arrival can seen in the fact that much of what was important to their writers wasn’t important in Jesus’ time. For instance, you might assume from the gospels that the Pharisees were the most powerful group in Judaism because they were Jesus’ primary critics, but they were only a minor force in the Judaism of Jesus’ time, although they became very important years later on when they did indeed represent the primary enemy of the religion that he founded.. Also, the content of Jesus’ message changed in important ways between the time of the first gospel and the last one, especially in terms of his proclamations of himself as the Messiah and the amount of time that he spent talking about hell.

Anonymous said...

Snowbrush, I just left a comment to yours over at internetmonk.

I read your post above. I agree with your take on patriotism and American exceptionalism. Huge problems within the Christian faith, and what I would call the most "acceptable" form of idolatry---but idolatry it is nevertheless and most people are blind to it.

Snowbrush said...

“I read your post above.”

You sure know how to get on my good side. I suspect that I have very few readers who read my longer posts all the way through, partly because they are long, and partly because a great many of my readers just aren’t that interested in religion or atheism, which are subjects that have come to dominate my blog.

“Huge problems within the Christian faith, and what I would call the most "acceptable" form of idolatry”

Such people largely control the political dialogue when it comes to its religious aspects. I left Mississippi for Oregon 29-years ago, but I still keep up with what’s going, and it’s apparent to me that the religious climate is more in-your-face in the South than it was during my 37-years there. I suspect that this aggressiveness is in response to the ever growing number of secularists. Ironically, it seems to be breeding more people who, whatever they think about God, think very poorly of Christianity, and the Republican Party with which its dominant face is allied. To people like me, this is encouraging. To believers—like you, I assume—probably not so much. I keep wondering when the backlash will come from those Christians who resent the fact that their religion is being portrayed in such an unflattering—and undeserving—way. This alliance of God and country necessarily excludes everyone who doesn’t think a certain and that includes many believers as well as nonbelievers.

I hope you will come again.

Snowbrush said...

I just changed the name of this post and added three short paragraphs following paragraph four.

Caddie said...

Two terms come to mind: brainwash and culture rape. Ignorance MUST be bliss; that's my conclusion.

kylie said...

i have read this post a number of times and i am repeating myself but i must say again that the majority of "Christians" seem to be missing the point rather badly

possum said...

Another excellent post. I am not ignoring you... I just have nothing to add to the conversation. Looks like you have it all covered.
I will ask if you have ever studied Justinian and Theodora. You might find them a bit interesting.