XFiles ++Friday: Jesus at the NAEOctober 10, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
It’s been a long time since Geisler and Turek have even attempted to pretend they’re proving that atheists have more faith than Christians, and by Chapter 14 they seem to have forgotten their theme completely. We’re in full-on Sunday sermon mode now as they devote an entire chapter to telling us that we should take their word for it that we should take the Bible’s word for it that we should take Jesus’ word for it that we should take the Bible’s word for it. There’s not the slightest tinge of any consciousness of the circular reasoning involved in using Biblical accounts of Jesus’ alleged endorsement of Scripture as the basis for claiming the reliability and authority of the Bible. God said it, they believe it, that settles it—and therefore it takes more faith to be an atheist. QED.
They begin with an unintentionally funny hypothetical scenario, in which a 7th generation descendant of George Washington addresses Congress and denounces them as a gang of hypocrites and evil-doers, using language taken from Jesus’ attacks on the Pharisees, as recorded in Matthew 23. Bear with me here, but you guys need to read this:
Woe to you, egotistical hypocrites! You are full of greed and self-indulgence. Everything you do is done for appearances. You make pompous speeches and grandstand before these TV cameras. You demand the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats everywhere you go. You love to be greeted in your districts and have everyone call you “Senator” or “Congressman.” On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness! You say you want to clean up Washington, but as soon as you get here you become twice as much a son of hell as the one you replaced!
Woe to you, makers of the law, you hypocrites! You do not practice what you preach. You put heavy burdens on the citizens, but then opt out of your own laws!
Woe to you, federal fools! You take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but then you nullify the Constitution by allowing judges to make up their own laws.
Woe to you, blind hypocrites! You say that if you had lived in the days of the Founding Fathers, you never would have taken part with them in slavery. You say that you never would have agreed that slaves were the property of their masters but would have insisted that they were human beings with unalienable rights. But you testify against yourselves because today you say that unborn children are the property of their mothers and have no rights at all! Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed in this country. You snakes! You brood of vipers! You have left this great chamber desolate! How will you escape being condemned to hell!
Their point is that if some descendant of Washington made such a speech to Congress, it would cause national outrage—and yet, that’s exactly how Jesus talked to the leaders of his own day.
What? Sweet and gentle Jesus? Absolutely… Contrary to the spineless Jesus invented today by those who want to be spineless themselves, the real Jesus taught with authority and did not tolerate error. When religious people were wrong, he made righteous judgments and let everyone know what those judgments were.
Right. All that stuff about “lamb of God” and “Prince of Peace” and “a bruised reed he will not break“—that’s just the modern invention of a bunch of spineless liberals. And, just as an aside to anyone who thinks I sometimes speak too harshly to those who preach falsehoods, here’s the precedent I’m following. If it’s wrong to follow Jesus’ example, then just say so, otherwise let’s not pretend I’m out of line.
There’s lots of unintentional irony in Geisler and Turek’s opening to chapter 14, not the least of which is the number of congressmen and women who were voted into office by conservative, evangelical Christians like Geisler and Turek. Hey, if you don’t like hypocrites who smooth talk their way into office by paying lip service to Christian vocabulary while passing laws that oppress the poor and helpless (i.e. minorities), then stop voting for them so damn much! If you want to deliver a rant to a real hypocrite, find a mirror.
Then there’s the part about swearing to uphold the Constitution and then nullifying it by allowing judges to make their own laws. Speaking of hypocrisy! Evidently their Jesus surrogate isn’t any more honest than the politicians he’s denouncing, and is just as prone to thoughtless demagoguery. Yes, judges do issue rulings on laws, and nullify the ones that violate the Constitution. Read the document: that’s their job. It doesn’t nullify the Constitution for judges to fulfill their Constitutionally appointed role as reviewers and arbiters of the laws.
If you want to rail about politicians nullifying the Constitution, how about taking them to task for using the so-called “Patriot” Act to castrate the civil protections of the Fourth Amendment? Or the huge number of relentless attempts to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States, in blatant violation of the First Amendment?
A much greater irony lies in how far conservative Christians have come since the days of Jesus, in terms of reversing their political priorities. Where the first century Christians believed and practiced Jesus’ teachings regarding paying taxes (“render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”) and giving priority to caring for the poor, the widowed, and the helpless, including tolerance and benevolence towards social pariahs, the modern American Christian has become a pawn of the Republican National Convention, bought and paid for by support for Robertson’s and Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and similar political ministries.
In the modern conservative Christian lexicon, the poor widow is no longer the saintly giver who dropped a small coin in the church offering, she’s a “welfare queen,” a parasite, an undeserving drain on the resources of honest, hard working folk. The poor are no longer especially beloved by God, as Jesus taught, they’re lazy, wicked, and un-American. Helping the poor is no longer a service to God, it’s an apostasy, a reversion to socialism or communism, or an outright attempt to destroy America.
Wealthy businessmen and industrialists have their own news outlets, which Christians flock to, unaided by any spiritual wisdom from above. By paying more hypocritical lip service to Christian teachings (without actually practicing what Jesus taught), these propaganda channels spread rumors and slanders and falsehoods that Christians unquestioningly absorb and spread, thus thwarting laws, policies, and candidates that might otherwise threaten the flow of money and power away from the common people and into the assets of the privileged few.
Geisler and Turek had to do some extensive editing of Jesus’ remarks in order to make them fit their conservative Christian political agenda. What’s ultimately the most ironic about this whole section of their book is how little of Jesus’ original speech would need to be changed, were he to suddenly appear before the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, or the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or any other organization of conservative Christian leaders in America today. Read what Jesus actually said, as recorded by Matthew, and ask yourself, is he really speaking only to the Pharisees of 2,000 years ago? Or are his words just as relevant and appropriate when applied to the religious leaders of today?
[You] do not practice what [you] preach. [You] tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but [you yourselves] are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Everything [you] do is done for men to see: [You] … love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the [churches]; [you] love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call [you] ‘Teacher.’ …
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘[We believe in religious freedom and women's rights, but if a woman becomes pregnant against her will, she is less than a slave, having no right to decide what is to be done with her own body, because of the fetus].’ You blind fools! Which is greater: [the fleshly body which is being prepared to become a living soul, or the soul one who is already a child of God? You also say, "Thus saith the Lord," yet nowhere in the Scriptures is it written that a woman may not choose to end an unwanted pregnancy, nor is it written that the fertilized egg, the zygote, and the fetus are all human souls. You unrepentant materialists, who reduce human spirits to the mere flesh of a body that is not yet even formed!]
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your [luxuries]. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind [evangelicals]! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! …[Y]ou say, ‘If we had lived in the days of [religious wars/the Inquisition/the Salem witch trials/the Holocaust], we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the [innocents].’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the [innocent]. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Yeah, like Geisler and Turek I did update the middle part with a more current debate. I think my portrayal is a bit more consistent with Jesus’ views on the dichotomy between (and relative priority of) the spiritual versus the material, don’t you? Plus my Jesus is more truthful than Geisler and Turek’s Republican Jesusoid.
It’s not entirely clear what any of this has to do with the title of Chapter 14, which is “What Did Jesus Teach About the Bible?” But it was kind of a fun diversion. Next week, we’ll watch Geisler and Turek dig themselves a hole, and jump into it. Stay tuned.