‘Tis the season to make the point, I suppose. Harold Meyerson brought us this little gem in Wednesday’s Washington Post:
As Christians across the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s a fitting moment to contemplate the mountain of moral, and mortal, hypocrisy that is our Christianized Republican Party ….
…. My concern isn’t the rift that has opened between Republican political practice and the vision of the nation’s Founders, who made very clear in the Constitution that there would be no religious test for officeholders in their enlightened new republic. Rather, it’s the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the preachings of the Gospel’s Own Party that has widened past the point of absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party proceeds apace.
There is a spectre haunting American Christianity, and in the grand American tradition it is a Devil of their own making. Satan himself might rise and declare, “I accuse”; the faithful, for all their dependence on this ancient symbol given by their belief the power of flesh and blood, would be deaf to the call.
Meyerson concerns himself with national politics, which is indeed a fitting object for examination. He targets the White House, the House GOP, the Republican presidential candidates. The indictment, on the surface, seems to describe just another day in American politics. Contrasted against the religious faith alleged at the core of GOP support, though, and juxtaposed to the rhetoric of so many Republican politicians, it is a damning accusation, and if the Devil of Christian lore has nothing to say about the course of things, it is because he is so very pleased by what he sees. Any pro athlete will tell you: don’t mess with a winning streak.
The idea of a group so dedicated to Christian expression as to childishly reiterate supremacist ideology a few years ago when the court considered the Pledge of Allegiance seemed odd enough at the time. Treading at the edge of absurdity is the idea that such a Christian expression should reject what Jesus said in order to take up, in a twist nearly infinitely ironic, a superficial jihad: the last thing these “Christians” will do is turn the other cheek. Rather, they would pretend America blameless, assert that no hostility toward our nation and its people could ever be justified, and proceed to fight back until aggression ceases. It’s like the bully who grabs your face and slams the back of your skull against a locker at school. When someone finally hauls off and punches him, he pretends innocence. “I never hit him,” says the bully. And it’s true. Instead, he merely extorted, pushed around, tripped, harassed, threatened, insulted, kicked, vandalized, and stole. None of those actually describe the closing of a fist and throwing of a punch. And in a way, I am brought to recall any number of schoolyard fights where the aggressor would shove his target, and the intended victim would not have it. “I’m gonna kick your ass,” the bully would sneer. “So go on. Throw the first punch.”
In retrospect it seems almost perverse, but bullies are human too, and will presume themselves innocent and oppressed. After all, psychologists will tell you that few bullies are actually psychopaths; the vast majority of bullies are simply redirecting other conflicts, many of which originate at home.
To a degree, then, we do owe the bullies a measure of sympathy. But how far should that sympathy extend?
It is a valid question because one thing terrifies Americans more than death itself. (And why should death be terrifying, since a majority of Americans, by their Christian faith, look forward to the end of the world?) Generally, Americans are frightened senseless at the notion of being called bigots. Even the bigots don’t want to be seen as bigots. They recognize that their hatred is foul, so they pretend to be holy warriors, righteously xenophobic victims beset by hordes of evil outsiders. Among Americans, everyone, including obvious aggressors, fights defensively. It is tactically wise and politically effective, even and especially when that defensive stance is counterintuitive. One might look at laments coming from various Christian quarters of late and wonder, How can you be oppressed when you’re in charge?
Although the situation seems blatant, the players clearly identifiable in the age of modern media, understanding the factors can be a bit challenging. Ideological currents running back to the early twentieth century, or into the nineteenth, make for discussions unto themselves; speak nothing, then, of those enduring nearly two millennia. Indeed, grasping the logic exercised by modern
profiteers prophets can be a tricky issue, as the faith of personal prosperity appeals to contemporary American greed, borrowing as it does from the Calvinism so closely tied to the roots of the nation’s history.
What we must remember, at the outset, is that redemptive monotheism is an appeal to greed. In declaring an abstract concept that cannot be demonstrated true—e.g., the immortal soul—the most important, most valuable, most cherished thing in the whole of existence, redemptive monotheism essentially bribes (at best) the faithful with unverifiable promises. This idea, alternately described as a bribe, extortion, or a gift, is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager. It is not entirely irrelevant to consider that in the hands of twelfth-century theologian Peter Abelard this wager, then called the Slave’s Wager, was considered the weaker argument since it was offered by a theoretical devout Jew.
We should not be surprised, then, that greed is a recurring theme throughout the history of one of the greatest wild-eyed promises ever made. There is in history a coherent story of how we came from rumors of Christ to the present condition, but it is neither easy, friendly, nor definitive. And almost any rational consideration of such a tale would describe it as a tragedy. I say almost because we simply cannot know everything, and someday we might discover or recognize something that changes this measurement of the outcome.