Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

I really like this column:

What would Jesus filibuster? The question is bizarre, of course, but the fact that many prominent religious and political leaders believe that there is an answer surely marks our time as pretty strange.

How quickly it has all happened — that the media, particularly television, has convinced itself that Christianity is little more than a Republican political action committee. When the pope died, CNN's Wolf Blitzer introduced former Clinton aide Paul Begala and right-wing pundit Robert Novak this way: "Bob is a good Catholic; I'm not so sure about Paul Begala." At the bottom of the screen, CNN ran an informative factoid for the audience: "Many Catholic doctrines are conservative."

Gosh, WWJD? It makes me wax nostalgic for the days when people wore those bracelets and asked the question, "What would Jesus do?" At least people said his name then and pondered his ideas, using the question as the beginning of an engaged moral debate. Few would have appreciated those bracelets as much as the man himself — Jesus, who preached a new way of thinking about religion. Instead of taking orders from temple chieftains, Jesus provoked his followers into thinking for themselves. His preferred media outlet? A literary genre called the parable. It's a style of Q&A wherein the teacher doesn't give the answer but challenges the listener with a half-finished story that forces him to think through to the answer by himself. The radical right has swapped out this genius preacher for some easy listening. They insist that everything will be fine if we just nail the Ten Commandments above every courthouse.

Curious. Jesus updated the Ten Commandments in his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount. In it, one finds the Eight Beatitudes. Why don't we ever hear about nailing those somewhere? Here's why: It's not simply the law in the Ten Commandments that attracts fundamentalists. Rather, it's the syntax. The authoritarianism of so many "Thou Shalt Nots."

The syntax of Jesus' Eight Beatitudes is not so easy (Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are the peacemakers). These words invite the kind of hard questions that Jesus loved to tweak his followers with. How are they blessed? And why? It's just like Jesus to leave us with questions instead of answers.

But that Jesus is nowhere to be found on our televisions or in our newsweeklies. Ironically, mass-market Christians rarely cite or emphasize the living Jesus, the Jesus who speaks. They like their Christ dead. Or nearly dead, as in Mel Gibson's movie. In that film, the entire Sermon on the Mount — the most important words Jesus spoke — is relegated to a few seconds of flashback.
You should read the whole thing.

Al Franken has a joke - If you cut out of the New Testament all the parts where Jesus spoke of helping the poor and less fortunate, you'd have an excellent book for Rush Limbaugh to smuggle his drugs in. Splitting up families to send our soldiers off to die in a war of choice is NOT a family value. Keeping people permanently indebted to their creditors with no chance of finding their way out is NOT a family value. Forbidding gay couples to care for foster children so those kids have to remain in their abusive households is NOT a family value. Supporting Wal-Mart and the like not paying their employees a living wage, forcing them to work two and three jobs and never seeing their children is NOT a family value. Maintaining obscene pollution levels and coal burning plants so the water that children drink and the air they breathe is dangerously unhealthy is NOT a family value.

What would Jesus do, indeed.

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