Real Jesus Vs. Republican Jesus?

The comic above–titled “real Jesus vs. Republican Jesus”–was posted on Facebook recently by one of my friends. In addition to criticizing Christian Republicans (I take it that the “Jeezus” on the right is suposed to be symbolizing that group.  I don’t know who else it would be aiming at.  Plus, that’s the title my friend gave it, so seems like he got the message, at least.) for being out of touch with what the Bible says on certain issues, it advances certain ideas about religion, politics, and the interaction between the two.  Is the challenge it offers and the ideas it puts forth sound?

You’ve probably guessed that I wasn’t amused.  I get that in the comic genre, we give writers some leeway when it comes to caricaturing and the like.  However, this comic takes it to extremes.  Going through it all would take all night, but let me catalogue some of the reasons why I wasn’t amused by addressing the overall way the comic author advances his ideas, and by examining a few of the ideas themselves:

For starters, notice the way in which it argues that certain ideas are “Christian:” by simply quoting a Bible verse…emphasis on verse.  This is a tell-tale sign that the author started with a pre-conceived notion of who he thinks Jesus was/is, and he cherry-picked some verses to fit that pre-conceived notion.

With this way of reasoning, you can make any piece of communication say anything you want.  That is not a mark against whatever text you are using; it’s a mark against you.  Were I to use the same methods of this author, I could make Barak Obama sound like Sarah Palin.

With these sorts of methods, its quite easy to make Jesus sound like he eschewed any and all moral judgment (except the judgment of left wing secularists…that’s legit), thought sexual activity outside of man/woman marriage (including homosexual behavior) is completely fine, held single payer health care to be a moral obligation of any democratic society, thought all religions are equally valid, held any and all war to be automatically immoral on its face, that increasing the size and scope of the state is always the way to go when attempting to usher in utopia (and: utopia was what he was shooting for anyway), and similarly, that communism is the rational form of government to bring about human flourishing.

Lest anyone think I’m singling out left-wing views, the same goes for pet projects of some on the other side too: incredibly easy to make Jesus say that all he wants is “your best life now” and that his number one agenda was/is to make you materially prosperous.  Yeah, it bugs me when its done in Christian circles too.  Point is: I’ve heard it all when it comes to Jesus.  That’s not a fault of Jesus or the Bible, it’s the fault of those who forget that meaning in a text flows from the whole to the parts, and the fault of those who look at Jesus as if looking in a mirror.

So no, just by quoting some verse somewhere and insinuating a conclusion, the author’s work is not done.  I am not impressed.

A simple case of the tail wagging the dog here.  I’ve seen time and time again where those on the left and/or secularists do this in regards to Jesus and their pet views, though its also quite common in Christian circles too.  Usually when this happens, most of what follows is junk.

Where else in do we reason like this?  Answer: nowhere.  There are certain rules of communication that we all take for granted when trying to infer what a piece of text–written or otherwise–means.  Context, genre, et al are all important, and we all automatically utilize those rules when it comes to communication, however, for some reason, those rules fly out the window when otherwise intelligent people address the Bible.

I simply remind PI readers that the Bible is no different than other communication, and you do not get a pass from using the rules of inference when determining its meaning.   It is not made of silly putty.

The point here isn’t that the author is wrong for simply supposing to know what Jesus said/thought, etc.  I do that in my own arguments so it would be hypocritical for me to take him to task for that.  Rather, I object to the method used–starting with a Jesus-of-his-own-understanding, and playing fast and loose with the Bible to justify that Jesus and argue against some folks he doesn’t like.

Of course, this observation alone doesn’t mean the author is wrong.  He could have gotten it right despite his sloppy methods.  You know what they say about broken clocks and blind squirrels.  But: its a red flag, and just by glancing at the comic, I’m on alert.

Armed with that as the background, let’s take a look in detail at one of the rows.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  This is a quote from the famous passage in John where Jesus comes to the defense of a woman caught in adultery.  The Pharisees want to stone her, and use her to try to catch Jesus in His words.  Jesus stops their quest by noting they are all standing in hypocritical judgment of her.

The author of the comic contrasts the supposed non-judgmentalism of Jesus with the intolerant attitude of Christian Republicans, who supposedly “hate fags.”  What idea is the author advancing?

It is this: those that are truly loyal to Jesus would not judge, ie, would not pronounce anything–at least in the area of sexuality–as morally wrong. Why? Because everyone–including those loyal to Jesus–are fallen and sin themselves, and by this they relinquish their footing on which to stand and make moral judgments.

Never mind that in the passage, Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to “leave (her) life of sin,” and never mind that plenty of times elsewhere in the Bible He makes plenty of moral judgments as to sexuality (and other areas) and commands His followers to do the same.  Therefore, using this one verse to suggest Jesus recommended an attitude of non-judgmentalism (defined as, “you should not say anything in X area is wrong”) towards sex or any other area is quite off.

Jesus actually does say plenty about hypocritical judgment, and judgment that is done with an intent of hatred/lack of compassion towards human persons.  He had strong words about that kind of judgment, but that is a far cry from the suggestion implicitly made in this comic.

Let me put it this way: if I were to slam homosexuals on Facebook with my pet Bible verses, but then I left my computer and went cruising, and I found nothing wrong with my crusing, that would be hypocritical and the kind of contradiction Jesus condemmed.  Likewise if I were to speak against homosexuality as a way of showing my own superiority, without regard to the well-being of those who identify as gay and/or live a homosexual lifestyle. That, too would be condemned by Jesus.

Well, there’s plenty of that to go around in Christian Republican circles, right (think: Ted Haggard)?  Sure, but its there aplenty on the left too, so I don’t know where this would get you.  Seems to be a critique against human nature, sure, but cannot be used to argue against a political view.

The author’s got one thing right: at least when it comes to me, I’m fallen.  Actually, he probably doesn’t know the half of it: I’m much worse than he probably thinks.  So any moral judgments I make are made in the context of my own falenness, not because I want to parade any supposed moral superiority around.  I am simply convinced by the arguments that the views I embrace are true and thus conducive to human flourishing.

Though it is possible I’m mistaken, I argue based on principle and conviction, not any supposed hatred, and there are plenty of Christian Republicans out there who are in the same boat.

Are there those who claim to be Christian who “hate fags”?  Yes.  Are there even Christians who “hate fags,” or who at least have an improper attitude towards gays and lesbians?  Yes.  Are there those who vote Republican who have that attitude?  Yes.  The author of the comic, therefore, should address those groups.  It is completely out of bounds to paint all Christian Republicans (keep in mind the target of the comic, as referred to in the title: the Jesus of the Republicans) with that brush.

This is a problem in addition to the problem earlier mentioned, namely, that the author is just making a plain silly suggestion: that no one should judge at all (at least in the named area) because we’re all fallen.  Such a position is unsustainable.  Afterall, the author himself is fallen, yet has no problem making moral judgments (namely, that guys like me are wrong).  I guess when I, as a Christian Republican, make judgments, I’m intolerant, but when he makes moral judgments, he’s just right?

What’s more, if an action harms people and is not conducive to human well-being, then to pretend its not isn’t tolerant: it’s cowardice.

Perhaps the author could respond by pointing to things that are more commonly held by Republicans.  “You guys are for traditional marriage,” he could say, “you think the only valid marriages are those between one man and one woman.  You are discriminating against gays!  Most of you Christians also think homosexual behavior is wrong.  See!?  You do hate fags!”

This brings up arguments for and against same-sex marriage, and the reasons why many Christians and conservatives hold homosexual behavior–as well as all other sexual behavior outside conjugal marriage (and some inside it!)–to be immoral.  Some reasons are biblically based, some not.  I can’t get into all that here, so I’ll simply refer you to links here and here for those interested I do want to venture a few comments that are directly relevant though.  First, notice that the response equates a moral point of view with hatred.  In other words, if you don’t accept homosexuality as a completely legitimate form of sexual expression, you are a homophobe and you hate gays.

Such an assertion is common enough, but think about it for a minute: just because I’m against a certain lifestyle, or hold something to be wrong, etc etc, does that mean I hate those who do it?  Obviously no.  I’m glad my parents didn’t take that attitude in raising me, for one.  They understood that growing up, certain things I did were wrong, harmful to me and others, or both, and they staunchly stood against such things because they loved me, not because they hated me.

Of course, the author could respond by saying that the difference here is that being glbtqia_ _ _ _ is part of “who one is,” ie, biological, or at least part of one’s makeup akin to skin color.  To question the behavior is then to question one’s very being.

This is very controversial and needs to be argued for, not asserted.  I don’t know how the author would proceed himself, but it’s typically asserted based upon feelings or some notion of “s/he just knew.”  If studies are mentioned, usually they are mentioned without regard to a full scope of the literature on the topic, and those who mention the studies take huge liberties with what the studies actually show and prove.

Sexuality is simply more complicated than that, and more to the point, one’s desires are not his destiny, and is does not mean ought.  One thing that separates us from the animals is that we have the capacity to take stock of our inclinations and say no to them, especially when such inclinations are harmful or wrong in themselves….just ask anyone (like me) who has been a part of a 12 step group at one time or another in their lives.  Doesn’t make it easy, but it’s doable.

So, bottom line: I simply don’t buy the assertion that moral objection to a certain lifestyle means we “hate.”  It’s especially laughable to suggest our moral objections mean we use the derogatory slurs referred to in the comic.

The rest of the comic is just as–if not more–confusing.   Are drug and alcohol consumption justified by mere reference to Matthew 15:11?  What can we conclude about Jesus’ attitude towards them from that verse?  I have no idea.

Here’s the worst of it: the author insinuates that Jesus never spoke of abortion.  Correct.  What should we conclude from that?  What follows?  Certainly not that Jesus had nothing agaisnt abortion, certainly not that Jesus thought it was no big deal, certainly not that its ok in and of itself.  That is a clear non-sequitur.  Need I point out that Jesus also never spoke of incest, sex slavery, or rape?

Next row: what should we conclude about war from the mentioned verse?  What was its context?  What was the situation in which Jesus said it, and what issue was He addressing?  What’s more, how does it fit in with other verses in the gospels and the Bible as a whole that pertains to war and the role of government?  Should we be out and out pacifists?

It doesn’t get any better.  What can we conclude from the verse offered about the separation of church and state?  That phrase is a very loaded one anyway with all sorts of ideology that doesn’t come from the consitution, and who knows what it means, but really: I see how the verse applies to giving taxes per se, and to other things that rightly belong to the government in the first place, but therein lies the rub.   Jesus doesn’t really say in that verse what, exactly, belongs to the government.  The verse has nothing to say about limited vs. big government, what amount of taxation will lead to economic flourishing, or about the role of religious motivations in forming public policy.  It doesn’t even say anything about the role of religious arguments (as opposed to motivations…the two are different) in the public square.

The last row is somewhat intelligible.  I see how it is a critique against some televangelists’ practice of using patron donations to make themselves rich.  What makes it confusing is putting it in the context of an attack against Christian Republicans–in other words, making a political point.  Maybe he intends it as an attack against many Republicans’ friendliness towards capitalism, or the notion that we’re fans of the free market, or even as an attack against policies of de-regulation in the free market.  I have no idea.  If so, it’s a strange juxtaposition, and the verse used falls prey to the same critique all the others do.

In sum, 1) if the author wants to attack the attitude of certain groups or individuals who call themselves Christian Republicans, fine, but he should address those particular groups or individuals, not the whole lot of us.  2) If the author wants to attack certain public policies or views held by Christian Republicans, fine, but use actual arguments, not half-hearted eisegesis.  3) If the author wants to argue that the views held by many Christian Republicans are out of step with what Jesus thought and/or what the Bible teaches, fine, but do so with passages that actually pertain to the issues and with arguments that make sense, rather than utilizing random verses and coupling them with insinuations that only confuse rather than clarify.

4 responses to “Real Jesus Vs. Republican Jesus?

  1. Well said.! Most liberals that attempt to use Scripture(see Al Gore) immediately expose their ignorance of it….

  2. “The author of the comic contrasts the supposed non-judgmentalism of Jesus with the intolerant attitude of Christian Republicans, who supposedly “hate fags.” What idea is the author advancing?”

    One factual problem with this line of argument is that the “God hates fags” folks from the Westboro Baptist Church are Democrats. Fred Phelps has run for office as a Democrat, and there’s a great picture of Al and Tipper Gore with Fred.

    Perhaps it would be a better plan for the author to research his subject prior to writing/cartooning about it.

  3. For the record, the cartoonist in question is a guy named Tim Kreider. He wrote an extensive comment about this work on his website in 2005.

    I think the image in the cartoon is far more successful than the text. There are plenty of people we know who are perhaps neither Republican nor Christian in the strictest sense but who believe in the “Jeezus” myth. The caricature on the right (heh) isn’t far off from the pastoral portraits I’ve seen hanging on the walls of some homes I’ve been in (usually of an older generation) and while the flag and rifle aren’t part of the image, those icons are well-represented elsewhere in the home. I’m not quite old enough to know this first hand, but my impression is that the Christian Conservative as a political agent is largely the result of cynical manipulation by politicians to engage those who belong to the Christian tradition in the US. In other words, I believe quite a lot of “Christian Conservatives” themselves probably have a cartoon character view of the “Jeezus” that represents their beliefs that is as based as much on their actual ignorance/cherry-picking of scripture as is the selective view of Jesus represented on the left column that liberals tend to promote.

    That said, I’m with you 100% on the way Kreider misrepresents Jesus as apparently liberal (notwithstanding his own commentary linked above) as a poor argument against either Jesus or “Jeezus.”

  4. Pug,

    I really appreciated this post. Very well done. There were some very excellent quips and turns of phrase, not to mention good arguments and substantive criticisms.

    Just last night I was re-reading the part of Lewis’s Mere Christianity entitled “Christian Behavior” and in that part, I think it was chapter 3, he talks about the Christian view of “social relations”, essentially justice issues. He paints what he thinks would be the looks of a Christian society, i.e., one in which individuals became Christians and, by and large, followed its teachings. He makes the point that none of us would like it all, there’d be bits and pieces members of various parties would like, but no one would like all the bits. Nevertheless, we’d all choose to live in such a place!

    The two parties here, coming from modern philosophical presuppositions must always err. Coming to the middle of “the” spectrum of right-left is no solution, either. That’s where the flow is with which the world goes. Can I be, sometimes in domestic issues, sometimes fiscal, sometimes so-called ‘moral’ issues, be on the radical left as well as the radical right? Or is that some sort of infringement of logic?

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