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Austin Cline

Christians Opposed to Jesus: When Christians Won't Turn the Other Cheek

By March 19, 2007

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It should go without saying that Christians do not all agree when it comes to politics, but the implications of this are not always fully appreciated. Some Christians base their political positions on broad, non-religious, pragmatic grounds basically, their politics can be interchangeable with the politics of Jews, Muslims, or atheists.

Many other Christians, though, seek to justify their politics through Christian traditions, doctrines, and beliefs. In effect, they use their gospels as proof texts for their policies. This is a problem because religious revelations accepted by only some should not become a basis for public policy. This is also a problem for Christians themselves because people on opposite sides of an issue both try to lay a claim to the truly and genuinely "Christian" position.

In the right circumstances, this can lead to the interesting sight of Christians attacking Jesus...

Via, Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, I found this press release from the Institute on Religion and Democracy criticizing a recent Christian peace march in front of the White House:

Mark Tooley, IRD's UM Action Director, commented:

"It is important to note that the march's organizers are not merely opposing U.S. involvement in Iraq. In their promotional literature they advocate 'the principles of pacifism upon which Jesus based his life and ministry.' Quite simply, these groups oppose U.S. military action of any kind, no matter what the circumstances. This is a pacifist rally and an anti-U.S. rally, not an anti-Iraq War rally."

Stop and let the above words sink in for a few moments...

Christians like to describe Jesus as the "Prince of Peace," yet they can only do so on the basis of Bible passages in which Jesus promotes peace and pacifism over violence and anger. When Christians try to proclaim their religion as a necessary or even just an extremely helpful basis for morality, these are the verses they are most likely to point to.

Right above, though, we see a Christian expressing criticism of these verses. The tone and manner in which Mark Tooley quotes the march organizers makes it sound as though the marchers were all united around the philosophy of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky rather than Jesus. Tooley is condemning a pacifism that is based on teachings attributed to what he regards as his Lord and Savior indeed, he's condemning a political policy based on the commands of his god.

Now, as an atheist I can't personally argue too strongly against that. I don't want American political policies to be based on anyone's religion, anyone's religious scriptures, or what anyone thinks their god has been telling them. And, as much as I will condemn war, I also don't think that any nation should adopt pacifism as policy even if it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there exists a god who actually prefers such a policy.

My point here is a bit more subtle. The Christians marching for peace and promoting pacifism may regard their religion as fundamental to their own morality, but I suspect that they aren't likely to insist that morality is impossible without their religion and their god. I don't think that the same is true of Mark Tooley, however. Conservative Christians like Mark Tooley are typically on the forefront of those proclaiming their religion as the only possible basis for morality, rights, and law.

At the same time, though, some of these conservative Christians will attack the use of their religion to promote moral, social, or political positions they disagree with even when the arguments they are attacking are historically, logically, and ethically consistent. Where would Jesus be in this debate? The fact is, anyone who treats the teachings attributed to Jesus seriously will be much more inclined towards pacifism than belligerence but it's the belligerence which some of these conservative Christians are trying to pass off as exemplifying their perfect and godly morality.

If this sounds backwards, it might help to note the fact that the Institute for Religion and Democracy is the far right-wing religious organization (primarily Catholic, it seems) attempting to split apart liberal and mainline Protestant churches by injecting fundamentalism into them. This same press release describes the IRD as an organization trying to reform churches to bring them in line with "biblical and historic Christian teachings." There's nothing about Mark Tooley's attacks that are in line with gospel teachings, but they are in line with some historic Christian teachings specifically those most popular during the Crusades and the Inquisition.

As long as Christians remain a political force in a nation, then the debates that occur within Christian churches will matter, even to non-Christians. When a Christian tries to tell an atheist that Christianity, religion, or theism are necessary for morality, one possible response (aside from pointing out the bigoted and fact-less nature of the claim) is to demand a demonstration from the claimant. Do they support or oppose the use of torture? Do they support or oppose wars of aggression? Do they support or oppose "extraordinary rendition"? By their fruits ye shall know them...

March 23, 2007 at 3:19 pm
(1) Sheldon says:

Nice article Austin

It apparently doesn’t occur to these people the contradictions of their belief. If one sincerely wanted to sincerely follow “Christain morality”, one might find themselves deeply confused about what that morality requires. Especially if you want to take it from the entire Bible, i.e. both testaments.

March 24, 2007 at 12:27 pm
(2) John Halloran says:

Agreed: a measure of confusion is all but inevitable. This is because there is so much in the Bible, both Hebrew and Christian portions, that dedicated and clever partisans can construct a plausible argument for a potpourri of positions.
As ever, “you can prove whatever you want from the Bible.”
And, though it may be easier to construct a Jesus who generally supports non-violence, it is also quite possible to portray one who forcefully affirms and exemplifies the rightness of certain, and especially of “Divinely-ordained”, violence. A purely pacifistic Jesus is very much at odds with many scriptures, especially in Revelations/Apocalypse.

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