Monday, March 14, 2011

Rejecting Faith as a Weapon

A friend recently emailed me an article, by Phil Zuckerman, entitled, "Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus". If the title isn't enough, it will perhaps give you a flavor of the article to know that it was published on the Huffington Post, an unapologetically liberal news, opinion and gossip site. The piece is not very long, but here is an extended quote, in case you don't feel like reading the whole thing:
Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one's money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation's poor -- especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of "socialism," even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training -- anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What's the deal?
Unfortunately, from my perspective, this is the kind of rubbish that some left-leaning Jews get swept up by, eager as they may be to make common cause with elements of the liberal Christian community they feel more comfortable with, in opposition to elements of the conservative Christian community whose political and cultural influence they fear. Let me be clear, just so that there is no misunderstanding: I am a Jew, not a Christian, and as a Jew, I'm not particularly well versed in inter-Christian eschatological disputes, or eager to comment on them. I sent my friend the following reply, not because I love Evangelical Christians, though many that I know personally are wonderful people, but because I don't not love them either, and living in a society that unfairly disparages groups of people - be they "fundamentalist" Christians or flaming rainbow gays - is something I instinctively rebel against.
I don't see the constructive point of telling a community comprising tens of millions of people what they "really" believe. I mean, what's the argument, that Evangelicals don't mix faith and politics? Aren't they accused of the exact opposite also? That they aren't being true to their faith? As opposed to liberal Christians who promote or turn a blind eye to abortion? What would Jesus say to that? Do we really want to turn theological purity into a political weapon in 21st century America?

Honestly, reading the language of that article, I was struck by it's tone of delegitimization and self-radicalization that I'm very familiar with in Israel-related advocacy. It's essentially saying that Evangelicals aren't real Christians, that they betray the teachings of Jesus. But it's not talking to Evangelicals, it's talking to those who already oppose them, politically. The argument is not meant to sway Evangelicals, but to provide an intellectual and theological base from which to reject their beliefs and perspectives outright, without actually understanding their self-narrative - that's self-radicalization.

Bottom line, and to paraphrase Pirkei Avot (4:5), don't use faith as an axe with which to cut.

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