What a Friend We Have in Jesus!
In their struggle against the right-wing
the progressives' strongest ally is Jesus of Nazareth.
"Most people are willing to take the Sermon on
the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder
by which to steer."
Oliver Wendell Holmes
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 at stake.
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 of Nazareth.
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
If we quote his words and cite his teachings (with special attention to
the Sermon on the Mount -- Matthew Ch. 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 are nothing. 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
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 unknowable.
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
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
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 religions 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 my
"Suckers for Jesus").
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
“God is Pro-War.” cites the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation,
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 "inerrant" Bible, but is instead an invention of
mid-nineteenth-century American preachers. (See
and Lyons). 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 13:32)
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 in 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
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
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:
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be
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 God.
Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the Gospels for
that matter, do we find these precepts followed by the words: "Except
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. (Matt. 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. So they are "stuck" with them.
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.
Copyright 2005, by Ernest Partridge