Friday, April 20, 2012

Crucifiction

David Sirota:

These findings are important to America for two reasons. First, they tell us that, contrary to evidence in the United States, the intersection of religion and politics doesn’t have to be fraught with hypocrisy. Britain is a Christian-dominated country, and the Christian Bible is filled with liberal economic sentiment. It makes perfect sense, then, that the more devoutly loyal to that Bible one is, the more progressive one would be on economics.

...Meanwhile, the organization Faith in Public LIfe has highlighted new academic research showing that even in America there is growing “correlation between increased Bible reading and support for progressive views, including abolishing the death penalty, seeking economic justice, and reducing material consumption.”

Of course, many Americans who cite Christianity to justify their economic conservatism may not have actually read the Bible. In that sense, religion has become more of a superficial brand than a distinct catechism, and brands can be easily manipulated by self-serving partisans and demagogues. To know that is to read the Sermon on the Mount and then marvel at how anyone still justifies right-wing beliefs by invoking Jesus.
Yes, it's yet another one of those "Jesus would so totally have been a progressive Democrat" hack pieces that Salon specializes in. Put on your hip waders; the bullshit's flowing thick and fast, and we're going in.

"The Christian Bible is filled with liberal economic sentiment." Uh... well, I guess you could say it was somewhat forward-thinking to use two hundred Philistine foreskins as currency for buying a wife, and I guess thirty silver coins was a pretty fair price for a slave, but I suspect Sirota is actually referring to the occasional generic call for people to care for the poor, though why we're supposed to take those verses seriously while coughing politely and ignoring the far more numerous examples of primitive barbarism permeating the Bible, our theologian-for-hire doesn't say. 
Anyway, I realize that economics is not actually a science, but still, I think it's just a tad unfair to those who attempt to engage in rigorous analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services to equate their discipline with moral commands whose only justification is an appeal to divine authority (which I thought was kinda anathema to classical liberal thought).

Okay, seriously. Let's be as plainspoken as we can here. If you familiarize yourself even a little bit with biblical scholarship, you will realize that you simply cannot read the Bible as a straightforward, modern narrative, ignorant of the historical context in which it was written. Jesus, as a literary character, is hopelessly incoherent by our standards. Some verses make him seem like a peacenik hippie. Some make him look like a typical authoritarian cult leader. Neither view is wrong, technically. You can selectively read the Gospels and come away with the impression that what matters most is blind faith in authority and enforcing an inflexible moral code among the community. You can also selectively read it and come away with the impression that we're just supposed to be excellent to each other, peace out. Both views require turning a blind eye to the other.

I mean, for fuck's sake, Bart Ehrman has been a bestselling author for more than a decade now, and he hammers on this theme repeatedly: after three centuries of scholarship, the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship is in unanimous agreement on the basics and has been for decades. The most fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist and the most liberal Unitarian learn the same things in seminaries and divinity schools: assuming there was a historical figure such as Jesus, he would have been just another apocalyptic
 Jewish prophet. You simply cannot make sense of his ramblings and seemingly schizophrenic character if you don't take into account that he seriously expected and desired the violent end of the world. He may have thought that it was a good thing to take all you have and give it to the poor—because he thought the world was about to end and you wouldn't need it anyway. He may have urged you to consider the lilies of the field in lieu of preoccupying yourself with worldly concerns—which is good advice for someone who doesn't have much of a future to worry about. He may have offered up a bunch of toothless platitudes about the meek, the peacemakers and the justice seekers—but their reward for believing was going to arrive with the apocalypse, not in some future liberal welfare state. He didn't want to create a stable, equitable society for future generations—he wanted to destroy the one he lived in.

What I am saying is that inhabiting this mindset radically reorganizes one's priorities, and that if you don't believe that the end of the world is something both imminent and desirable, perhaps you should ignore this jabbering lunatic and look for sage advice elsewhere.

Also, as Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks have noted before, I'd like to point out the amusing fact that the death penalty is, ah, kind of an integral part of Christianity; after all, they use an instrument of execution as the very symbol of their faith.