What a Friend We Have in Jesus!
In their struggle against the right-wing theocrats, the progressives'
strongest ally is Jesus of Nazareth.
May 24, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The
Face it: progressive Americans are in a desperate struggle with
religious-right fundamentalists. Moderate Christians and Republicans
should join this struggle, for the survival of our democracy is
Certain of their possession of "eternal truths," these fundamentalists
have no use for compromise or accommodation with non-believing (ergo,
eternally damned) fellow citizens. They can not be persuaded by
science or reason. What they believe to be The Word of God trumps
the will of the American majority, established law, and the Constitution
of the United States. In short, they have no use for democracy.
There is only one voice that might speak to the fundamentalists
and persuade them to re-evaluate their ethical norms, their moral
behavior, and their political agenda. That is the voice of Jesus
Read the presumed words of Jesus in the Gospels, and you will
find that the Jesus depicted there was a liberal, in the original
sense of that now-abused word.
If we quote his words and cite his teachings with special attention
to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), over and over,
we just might get through to some of our fundamentalist compatriots.
Not their leaders, Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, et al, for they are
beyond redemption. But without their supporters ("disciples") they
Many, perhaps most, of these supporters are good, decent, people
who have been seduced by the modern-day scribes and Pharisees. Reintroduce
these good Christians to the ethical teachings of their Lord and
Savior, and enough may come to their senses to disarm the threat
of the religious right to our republic.
Yes, yes, I can hear the secular progressive's rebuttal, even
as I put forth this proposal: "That's all we need - still more Bible-thumping,
playing in the fundies' ball park according to their ground rules.
This is a tactic that is bound to fail."
Not so. I am not proposing a "battle of the Bibles," for which
only competing factions within Christianity are qualified to engage.
The contest is open to all - Christians, Jews, Moslems, and adherents
of no organized religion. I identify myself in that final category
- as a secularist who is nonetheless fully entitled to confront
the fundamentalists with the moral teachings of Jesus.
I am what one might call a "secular Christian." I admire and endorse
the moral teachings of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels, although
I am unpersuaded by the Christian theology. More precisely, I endorse
the presumed teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. The
actual words and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are unknown and
I affirm the moral teachings of Jesus, but with the critical eye
of a professional moral philosopher - not without some reservation,
and occasional disagreement. I do so, not because I believe them
to be the infallible words of the Almighty, but because with my
scholar's mind's eye I recognize their validity, as I find them
in all the great world religions.
I do not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. Instead
I regard it as an anthology of texts emerging from the fog of ancient
history, written between the Seventh Century BC and the Second Century
AD by various and generally unknown authors, and with a contradictory
assortment of moral instructions.
The fundamentalist will, of course, totally reject this secular
and scholarly view of The Bible. No matter. The teachings of Jesus
remain powerful weapons, for believer and non-believer alike, in
the political struggle against the religious right.
While most Americans, including, I daresay, most professed Christians,
believe that the Bible contains myths, errors, and morally unacceptable
rules of conduct, the essential point is that the fundamentalists
believe the Bible, from start to finish, to be the inerrant Word
of God. And that conviction is the gentle trap that their Bible
has set for them. They can, and no doubt will, emphatically reject
any scientific, empirical, rational and historical arguments. But
they can't ignore or dismiss what they proclaim to be the authentic
words of their Lord and Savior.
Read the Gospels carefully and critically, and you will discover
that the religious-right fundamentalists are not, strictly speaking,
"Christians" - at least not in the moral sense. Contrary to the
teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, they endorse warfare,
they condone and seek the acquisition of great wealth, they are
merciless, they are unforgiving, they are not compassionate. (See
Would Jesus Vote?")
To be sure, fundamentalist preachers are skilled in "verse-picking"
in support of some of their outrageous doctrines. Even so, they
would be hard-pressed to find in the gospels, any condoning of warfare
and personal wealth, or any excuse for hypocrisy. For example, while
Jerry Falwell's article, "God
is Pro-War." cites the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation,
there is not
a word in that piece attributed to Jesus in the Gospels in support
of this blasphemy.
Their doctrine of The Rapture, popularized by the Left Behind
novels and the religious-right broadcasters of the "Teleban" is
found nowhere in their supposedly inerrant Bible, but is instead
an invention of mid-nineteenth-century American preachers. (See
While they post a "rapture index" on the Internet, predicting the
time of Christ's second coming, they conveniently forget that Jesus
said, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the
angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mark
Most importantly, right-wing fundamentalism is not "Christianity,"
it is one of many versions of Christianity - and a minority faction
at that. To put it bluntly, it is more a cult than a religion. And
many of the precepts of this cult appear to reflective individuals,
including most Christians, to be morally repugnant.
For example, the theocrats would have us believe that the scoundrel,
who on his deathbed confesses that Jesus is his personal Lord and
Savior, has earned himself a ticket to paradise, while a courageous,
just and virtuous unbeliever must burn in Hell for eternity - that
even at this very moment, the souls of Socrates, Gautama Buddha,
Muhammad, Thomas Jefferson, Mohandas Gandhi, and Andrei Sakharov
are roasting in Hell.
In short, the fundamentalists expect us to believe that "God so
loved the World" and the billions of souls that have dwelt and will
dwell within, that He has chosen to damn to eternal torment the
99-plus percent of humanity who do not agree with Jerry Falwell.
Anyone who can believe that this is to be the fate of virtually
all of humanity is likely to feel that the lives of non-believers,
e.g. the Iraqi Moslems, are of little value. Accordingly, the fundamentalists
have little compunction about promoting and supporting warfare against
the unbelievers, including their women and children. And, certain
in their possession of "eternal truths," the theocrats have no use
for compromise or accommodation with non-believing (ergo damned)
fellow citizens. (See my "One
Nation, Under God, Divisible.")
These were not the teachings of the Nazarene "Prince of Peace."
Instead, he told us to "love one another." He repeated The Golden
Rule (in fact, taught by all the great world religions), "Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you." He instructed the rich
young man to sell all he had and give to the poor. He told the parable
of The Good Samaritan. And he summarized his moral message in a
few, simple rules:
Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the Gospels for that matter,
do we find these precepts followed by the words: "Except when..."
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of
Finally, Jesus directed his greatest condemnation to the hypocrites:
Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites... This people
honoureth me with their lips but their heart is far from me.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour
widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer; therefore
ye shall receive thy greater damnation. (Matthew 23:14)
The fundamentalists ask: "What
would Jesus Do?" The plain and simple answers are provided in
the Gospels, and most notably in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew
5-7). Nonetheless, having been supplied their answers, they
then choose to disregard these teachings of their master as they
proceed to wage war, seek to acquire enormous wealth, exploit the
poor, ignore the misery that they cause. All the while they proclaim
that they are the only authentic Christians, and that they are in
exclusive possession of God's eternal truths.
Herein lies the potential downfall of the theocrats and an opportunity
for their adversaries - moderate Republicans, secular Libertarians,
progressives and, to be sure, the majority of Christians - together
a solid majority of American citizens. In your confrontation with
the fundamentalists, forget about science, reason and empirical
evidence, for they will count for nothing. Don't bother sharing
your innermost moral feelings and convictions; the fundamentalists
are not interested, for they are convinced that you preach false
doctrine and are damned in the eyes of the Lord.
Instead, confront them with the received teachings of Jesus. Regardless
of whether you are a liberal Christian, a Jew, a Moslem, an agnostic
or an atheist, these words are your strongest weapon. Like myself,
you may not believe that these are actual words of Jesus contained
in inerrant Holy Scripture. But the fundamentalists do believe
that these are the authentic commandments of the Lord God Almighty.
Persistently confront the fundamentalists with the teachings of
Jesus. Josef Goebbels famously spoke of "the big lie" which, when
repeated endlessly, eventually is believed to be true. Even more
powerful is "the big truth" which likewise must be repeated over
and over until it finally begins to sink in.
So when you are approached by fundamentalists, eager to save your
immortal soul and to sell you their political agenda, stand your
ground and cite what they believe to be the authentic words of their
Savior. At the very least, they will shut up, walk away, and leave
you at peace. And who knows, they just might, at long last, pause,
reflect, and begin to take those words seriously.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website The
Crisis Papers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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