By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Illustration by Winston Smith
Jesus has been appropriated by false prophets and infidels, and I want Him back. Other liberals talk about taking back the flag or wresting control of the country’s identity from the greedy little fists of the neocon state. I want to reclaim Jesus.
Not that I’m a Christian, exactly — at least no more than I’m a Jew or a Sufi or a Tantrist — which is to say that, in some ways, I’m a very good Christian: Like C.S. Lewis, I have no need to deny other faiths to bolster any of my own; like the titular hero in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, I have not failed to find the beauty in any religious doctrine I’ve paid more than a month’s attention to. I have reveled in the Talmud, memorized a little Sanskrit and thrown the I-Ching for guidance when my life was in shambles; I have come close to converting to Catholicism (1969), Judaism (1977 and 1999) and Sufism (2001). But I have also been saved (at 12), sung in a Lutheran church choir and memorized more hymns — because I just happen to like them — than some of my more devoutly raised peers. And I can say this with a straight face and without reservation: Christianity suits me.
I’m aware of how this sounds. “Jesus? You can have him,” spat a left-leaning journalist at a left-leaning fund-raiser when I confessed my wish, even while a man of the cloth standing behind him talked about his work at Planned Parenthood. Christianity has become so perversely associated with intolerance and small-mindedness that many freethinking Americans will do anything to avoid calling themselves Christians. So they call themselves “spiritual not religious,” or identify as Buddhists or Hindus or Taoists, never recognizing that the Taoist recipe for abating conflict — let evil consume itself — is precisely the same as what Jesus advises in Matthew 5:39, “Resist not evil: Whoever will smite you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” The Christian faith has been recklessly abused as a cover for imperialist ambitions ever since the newly Christianified Emperor Constantine gathered his bishops at Nicaea in 325 to decide exactly what the faith should mean. From that came the Nicene Creed (“I believe in One God, the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .”), the conviction that Jesus offered the only path to salvation, missionaries. But none of that was Jesus’ doing. Jesus preached tolerance, abhorred greed and rewarded humility. Jesus encouraged dissent. Opposed war. Believed a woman who washed His feet with her hair deserved more honor than the government official plying Him with food and drink. Jesus was not a patriot.
Nevertheless, we hear from people in high places these days that we are a “Christian” nation. Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, became briefly famous for declaring it so last October before an audience of the Oregon faithful, and sharing with another audience the superiority of Christianity over Islam: “I knew that my God was bigger than his,” Boykin said, referring to a Muslim warlord. “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has implied that he has been summoned to do God’s will in the legislature. Meanwhile, the president, according to Stephen Mansfield in The Faith of George W. Bush, has been found down on the floor of his office, praying with a fervor that marks him as a bona fide born-again Methodist, as opposed to a fraud who converted during the Reagan era merely to capitalize on the electoral might of fundamentalists.
None of these people, however, refer much to anything Jesus actually said. In fact, they don’t seem to know what Jesus actually said. “Christ changed my heart,” says onetime presidential candidate Gary Bauer. “There is no king but Jesus,” declares John Ashcroft. “I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior,” says Bush. But no one ever says, “Well, you know, as Jesus Christ once said, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.’” Or, “As it says in Matthew 6:2, ‘Don’t sound a trumpet when you give alms!’” Or, “In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, ‘Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great.’” In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush’s speechwriters had him coin the phrase “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” a rough paraphrase of something Jesus said in Matthew 12:30. But the ninth chapter of Mark has it different: “Whoever is not against us,” Jesus assures His disciples, “is for us.”
Even Herobuilders’ Talking Jesus Action Figure, made by the Vicale Corporation in Danbury, Connecticut, can’t bring itself to utter anything so Christ-like as “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Pull the string 10 times, and you instead get the Ten Commandments, each of which were conveyed by Moses.