“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
“Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”
In biblical verses such as the above, Jesus lists the moral duties of Christians, which consist entirely of matters of personal morality and public compassion. Notably absent from these lists are injunctions for Christians to take over the state, to outlaw abortion, or to restrict gay marriage. Yet somehow, those seem to be virtually the only issues of concern for today’s right-wing Christians. Consider the following open letter to James Dobson, by one Dave Daubenmire, encouraging Christians to abandon the Republican party and start their own political movement (HT: Slacktivist):
In an attempt to build a big tent, the Republican Party has become a conglomerate of special interests. Christians are now standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a party that supports homosexual candidates, pro-abortion candidates, and those who support homosexual marriage.
Notice that this author, in an attempt to list the moral duties of Christians, draws a blank and starts repeating himself after only two items. His complaint is not that the GOP has failed to minister to the poor or feed the hungry, but that they have not hated gays and reproductive rights activists with sufficient intensity for his satisfaction. The actual directives from the Bible have, apparently, vanished from his mind in favor of the set of right-wing political talking points that modern evangelicalism has become.
Since this author seems unable to think of anything else modern Christians care about, I will help him out by listing a few other things: blocking or weakening the teaching of evolution; outlawing contraception and pornography; banning Internet gambling; forbidding stem-cell research; denying euthanasia to the terminally ill; placing coercive state-sponsored religious displays in schools and courthouses; supporting the war in Iraq; and cutting taxes for the rich. These items are not just high on the priority list of today’s religious right, but seem to constitute its entire priority list. When it comes to the priorities endorsed by the Bible, the religious right is at best negligent, and worst actively hostile, considering Republican politicians’ frequent votes to cut funding to social programs for the poor and needy (unless, of course, those programs are provided by a church that is legally permitted to discriminate in its hiring decisions, to blend social services with religious messages, and to force applicants to endure the latter as a requirement of receiving the former).
More so, today’s right-wing Christians are not above playing politics with human lives to ensure the passage of laws favoring their beliefs. Take this recent editorial from the New York Times regarding right-wing congressional Republicans delaying passage of the $500 billion defense budget until an amendment allowing military chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at non-sectarian, secular ceremonies was passed.
There is a detectable thread running through all these demands, and it is not the ideal of quiet virtue promoted by at least the better parts of the Bible. On the contrary, the distinctly noticeable unifying theme of religious right politics is their loud, pushy and aggressive desire to control the lives of others. Even private, individual behavior that harms no one and affects no one’s life but the person doing it, if it clashes with religious right ideas of personal morality, becomes a target of their savage hatred. On the other hand, they are eager for the opportunity to build their opinions about personal morality into the lives of others through the coercive power of government. They have advanced proposals to dictate every stage of everyone’s life: the times and circumstances of your birth, the time and manner of your death, who you can love, who you can marry or have sex with, how you can spend your leisure time, which religion you practice, and others. There is not a single policy item of the religious right that does not, in one way or another, stem from this all-consuming desire, and they are not in the least bit shy about steamrolling other people’s rights and opinions to get what they want, no matter the cost.
In light of these trends, which are glaringly apparent to even a casual follower of the news, the greatest irony is that some Christians now seem puzzled why so many people do not like them. Here is Philip Yancey:
How can people who inhabit the same society have such different perceptions? More ominously, what have we evangelicals done to make Good News – the very meaning of the word evangelical – sound like such a threat?
Or from the April issue of Christianity magazine, whose editor suggests it is time for Christians to cease referring to themselves as “evangelical“:
“Now to the unchurched and people of other faiths – evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people’s opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorised version scripture verses into every situation, or ‘happy-clappy’ simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe.”
…Buckeridge says that he is “tired of being tarred with the identities of men with megaphones who shout ‘hell’, ‘wrath’ and ‘damnation’ at passers-by and fail to say, ‘love’, ‘grace’ or ‘forgiveness’.”
I have some timely advice for Christians such as this: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” People increasingly identify evangelical Christianity with arrogant, bullying, hateful right-wing politics because that is what it now is. For all intents and purposes, the two have become synonymous, and evangelical Christianity in America has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party (or vice versa). Small surprise, then, if people who do not share that narrow-minded and domineering view of the world also want nothing to do with the religious beliefs that stand behind it.
Not all Christians are expressing alarm over this development, naturally. Some seem quite smug about it, viewing it as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Christians will be hated by the world, and do not seem to realize that this is a completely self-fulfilling prophecy and is due to their own behavior. Some even seem entirely oblivious to its causes, such as apologist Josh McDowell, whose pamphlet More than a Carpenter confidently asks the following:
“Why don’t the names of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius offend people? The reason is that these others didn’t claim to be God, but Jesus did.”
McDowell’s self-congratulatory reasoning fails to explain why people are not similarly offended by the names of Zeus or Osiris or Ahura Mazda, other legendary figures who are also claimed to have been divine. The real reason, which would be obvious to anyone who took the time to think about it, is that Buddhists and Confucians are not loudly lobbying to force their views into the lives of others, the way Christians are now doing in most of the Western world. Most religious people are content to live and let live, and it is small wonder that the ones who are not meet with scorn and hostility from people not of that belief system. Christians like Yancey and Buckridge grasp this, but many others do not.
Regrettably, the Christians who understand how the aggressive drive for secular power is rotting their faith’s foundations from the inside out seem to be outnumbered by those who regard it as an unmitigated good. If liberal and moderate Christians cannot or will not effectively oppose their religion’s accelerating slide into indistinguishability from just one more plank in a political platform, then it is up to the nonbelievers and atheists to stand up and fight back. There can be no question that we have both the facts and the law on our side. Nor do we lack the courage and passion that is needed to defeat the hordes of the Dark Ages. We have all the tools of victory we could possibly ask for, and we have them in abundance. All we need, and all we must create, is the organization and the will to effectively assert ourselves.