Sedition of Christian Right
“If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace, let it be punished in the same manner and no otherwise as it had happened in a fair or market"
- Thomas Jefferson
For a long time the people of Christian persuasion were telling me that I would not be able to understand Christianity unless I became part of Christianity. Following that advice I read the Bible to cover to cover and involved myself for several years in a Bible church and as a volunteer for Christian charities. Here is my response to some of what I have heard.
One frequent interpretation of Pontius Pilate's statement "I see no fault in this man" is claiming that Jesus was sinless. That interpretation is incorrect. The meaning of Pilate's statement is that Jesus was not guilty of any crime according to Roman law. The Roman law was that of religious tolerance, and there were any number of people in Roman Empire who claimed that they had divine knowledge, that they were miracle workers, or even that they were gods. Jesus claiming that he was the son of God was not against Roman law, and the enforcer of Roman law that was Pontius Pilate was speaking the position of Roman law on this matter.
In eyes of Jewish law, the situation was different. According to law of Moses, blasphemy - of which claiming oneself to be God would have been the worst possible form - was the worst crime in the book. "Thou shalt have no gods before me" is the first commandment. The behavior of the Jews toward Jesus was thus strictly in accordance with Biblical law. That they let off a murderer from the crucifixion but insisted on crucifying Jesus was a result, not of any kind of wickedness of Jewish people, but of applying the law of Moses. And their behavior could in no way be used to see them as wicked - unless of course the same is to be said about the law of Moses, which they were precisely following in demanding the execution of Christ.
Furthermore, if it was Jesus's God-given destiny to die on the cross, then God bears sole responsibility for the death of Jesus. If Jesus's God-given destiny was to die on the cross, then the Jews, like the Romans, only did their part according to God's plan. To blame Jews, Romans, humanity or the world for death of Jesus is a misplacement of responsibility. If Jesus was the "lamb of God," then the death of Jesus was ordered by God; and if anyone is to be blamed for the death of Jesus, it is God, and not Jews or Romans or "humanity" or "the world."
Much Christian doctrine consists of glorifying the suffering of Jesus. This stance is logically wrong. If Jesus was God, then nothing that mere humans could do to him would have been able to seriously harm him, and there is no more sense in glorifying his suffering than there is in glorifying a mosquito bite on my arm. If however Jesus was not God but claimed to be God, then many people have died more horrible deaths for much lesser wrongdoings. In either scenario it makes much more sense to glorify the suffering of, say, Spartacus, who died on the cross for leading a righteous slave revolt against Roman conquerors - who spent three days on the cross rather than only six hours - and who was not assured of paradise, resurrection or even historical mention - than there is in glorifying the suffering of Jesus on the cross. For that matter there is more sense in glorifying the suffering of thousands of people who were burned alive during Middle Ages, all again for much lesser sins than claiming themselves to be God.
A frequently heard statement is that Jesus has died on the cross "for you." Well no, he did not die for me; he neither knew me nor asked for my permission. Imposing help is an aggressive act, especially when such is neither wanted nor welcome, and it is made more so if the price of receiving that help is surrendering control over one's life. If the mission was not only to save the world but also become everyone's Lord by spending six hours on the cross, there would be millions of people from all around the world who would be contending for the honor. And there have been many people through history and are now who have done far more demanding and difficult things for the benefit of other people, including people they did not know and people from whom they stood to expect nothing in return, than spending six hours on the cross.
One argument made to distinguish Jesus's suffering from those of everyone else is that unlike everyone else, Jesus was sinless. That again is not the case according to the Bible. The Gospels provide an account of Jesus violating the fourth commandment - dishonoring his parents at age 12 by staying behind in the temple for three days without telling his parents where he was. And if the response is that Jesus's true father was God, whom he was honoring more than he was honoring his stepfather Joseph, nobody disputes that Jesus's mother was human and that she would have been worried and stressed by her son's behavior.
The other side of this argument - to claim that everyone is a sinner, and that for this reason any crime against them is justifiable and any suffering they encounter is deserved - is the true moral outrage. To believe such a thing is to abet and encourage any abomination under the sun. To believe that people are sinners and thus deserving of whatever suffering comes their way is to not only abet but to incentivize the worst possible crimes. To believe further that people are born in sin, or that reproduction is sin, or that human nature is sin, or that the world is Satan's, is to criminalize life itself and to work for its extinction - a grand-scale destructive narrative that culminates, according to its logic, in foreseeing and hoping for destruction of life itself. There is no future in this; the future in this is complete destruction of everything and everyone on the planet; and it is time that more people see this and work for a better future than Armageddon in our lifetime or the world run by the people who hope for such a thing.
A related claim frequently heard is that Jesus was "lamb of God." One person interpreting this is as follows: God sacrifices his son to himself in order to appease himself. If one is God - an omnipotent entity - then one needs nobody's sacrifice. If one is an omnipotent entity, then one can do anything that one wills to do. If an omnipotent God wanted to save or to damn anyone, then he would be able to do so at will and without requiring anyone's sacrifice - especially without requiring anyone's sacrifice to himself.
There are other statements in the Bible that give picture of a far less than divine intelligence. One is the continous dissatisfaction expressed by God in human beings. A true creator would understand fully the nature of his creation and would be far beyond such sentiments. If people are made in God's image, as Bible asserts, then people will have the same propensities as does God - a being which does not obey but creates. To express anger at people for having propensities that are there by one's design is entirely not in character to an intelligent creator. To create something that has 3 trillion cells and structures as complex as cerebellum and the immune system, one would need to possess a profound and intricate understanding of what it is that one is bringing into existence. A creator capable of such feats would have far more insight into the nature of his creation than such sentiments demonstrate. And while Nietzsche's response to such statements is that expressing dissatisfaction in one's creation shows bad taste, a non-judgmental, merely rational, argument is that such sentiments are out of character with the character and the intellect that God would have needed to have in order to create human beings and thus cannot be the work of a universe-forming intelligence.
There are some in Christianity who explain away these and related implications by referring to New Testament statements that Satan is the father "of the flesh." To this there are two obvious responses. One is that, if Satan has created something as complex as the human body, with 3 trillion cells and structures as complex as the cerebellum existing in homeostasis and remaining alive for 80 years, then Satan must be an exceptionally fine creator - a quality that is not in line with the character ascribed to Satan as a being that creates nothing but only steals and deceives. The other is that Genesis states clearly as day that God, not Satan, created people. Therefore the portrayal of Satan as the father of the human body does not accord with the Bible - either with its description of Satan's character or with the Genesis. One improbable direction into which this statement has been taken is the Satanists claiming that Satan had genetically engineered people and that God then stole the credit. Interpretations of this sort, however ridiculous they may be, are a logical result of statements made in the Bible, and for them the authors of such statements, not Satan, are at fault.
Another such less-than-divinely intelligent sentiment is the frequent portrayal of Jewish people as stiff-necked and stubborn. Once again, that reflects lack of insight - a lack of insight that would not be found in an all-knowing creator God. If Jews were in fact the chosen people of God, then them being stiff-necked and stubborn was necessary for their role and their purpose. One must be extremely stiff-necked and stubborn in order to be the people of God. People who are not stiff-necked and stubborn would not be able to be people of God for long and would assimilate into whatever is practiced by people around them. People who are not stiff-necked and stubborn would respond to a history of pogroms and holocausts by deciding that the rest of the world had more power than they do and that they should adopt its ways. It takes an exceptionally stiff-necked and stubborn people to stick instead to their national and religious identity through thousands of years of persecution. It takes a far less than divine intelligence to understand that the stiff-necked and stubborn character that is being decried in these statements is necessary for the role of being God's chosen people. And it likewise takes a far less than divine intelligence to understand that the quality that strongly works in God's favor when expressed by believers will work just as strongly against God's favor when it is expressed by people who aren't believers or by the people who believe in something else.
A frequent justification made for the destruction by Israelites of tribes adjacent to Israel is that they had disobeyed God. This is also untrue. These tribes were never visited by God in the first place. They, like most populations, had their own religious beliefs. According to the Bible, the God of Israel had chosen Israelites and kept revealing himself to Israelites. In the Bible, God never revealed himself to these tribes, which means that they were not given a choice as to whether or not to obey God.
Another obvious irrationality in the New Testament is the claim that all authority is there by the will of God. If that was true, then Stalin and Mao were there by the will of God, and the Christian thing to do was to obey them rather than fight them as did American Christians. According to such statements every bad government, every genocidal regime, every corrupt kleptocrat, every tinpot dictator, every incompetent boss, is there because God wants them to be there. And that gives God the blame for malfeasance of every villain in history; but what it does in real-world terms is justify wrongdoing by anyone in any position of any kind of authority under the claims that their actions, being in all cases humanly motivated and subject of myriad human sins and human follies, are rather the will of an all-good, all-loving, all-righteous God.
With regard to any number of people believing that God is working through them or that God wants them to do one thing or another, the obvious response is that an omnipotent entity would not need people to do his work. An omnipotent entity can do anything, at any time, and for any reason. If God wanted to destroy a nation or punish people for their sins or convert people to Christianity or Islam, then God would be easily able to do so himself without requiring human assistance. There is nothing that one can do for an all-powerful indestructible being that such cannot do for himself. Whereas there is much in physical world, in nature, and among human beings, that is neither omnipotent nor indestructible, that is of necessity or beauty or merit, and that urgently requires real-world human attention lest it be permanently destroyed.
The most destructive claim to have come through Christianity is that all good comes from Christ, and that all else is the work of the Satan. And yet every present-day Christian, with exception of a few isolated communities, daily makes use of work that was done either by non-Christians in Western civilization or was borrowed from non-Christian civilizations. According to this logic, people should give up their guns because gunpowder was invented in non-Christian China; people should give up mathematics, technology and engineering because the numeric system was invented in non-Christian India and geometry in pre-Christian Greece; people should give up their computers because personal computer and Windows operating system were developed by non-Christians Steven Jobs and Bill Gates; people should give up eating tomatoes, potatoes, coffee and corn because they were first cultivated by non- Christian Native Americans; people should give up representative democracy because it is a brainchild of non-Christian deist European Enlightenment intellectuals; and people should give up the bulk of their conveniences because they were either based on work of non-Christian Western and Jewish scientists or involved non-Christian Chinese workers in being mass-produced.
Similarly wrong is the stance of blaming modern Jews, none of whom were alive in Biblical times, for crucifixion of Jesus; of blaming modern women, none of whom were alive at the time of the garden of Eden, for the alleged actions of Eve; or of blaming people now living for either of these actions and treating them accordingly. If this was a rightful stance, then Germans should forever be seen as Nazis and sent to concentration camps; Russians should forever be seen as Stalinists and sent to labor camps; the English and the Spanish should forever be seen as colonial imperialists and colonized by the Africans and the Native Americans; Americans should forever be seen as slave-traders and enslaved; and Australians should forever be seen as destroyers of the Australian Aboriginal race and wiped out. These actions did not occur according to choice of anyone now living, and it is both illogical and hypocritical to pin the blame for them on anyone now living or to treat anyone now living according to that blame.
To claim that America's tradition is Christian is just as fallacious. Of America's founders, none would be regarded by Christian Right as being true Christians. Benjamin Franklin was a deist, who believed that God's truths could be found through nature and reason, rejected the idea of the divinity of Jesus, and saw most religious dogma - both Protestant and Catholic - as corrupt. Thomas Jefferson rejected Hell, Trinity and divinity of Jesus, aggressively challenged Biblical teachings, and introduced and fought for the separation of church and state in order to prevent religious tyranny that was the order of the day at the time and that Christian Right is attempting to impose now. James Madison, the writer of the Constitution, saw religion as mentally debilitating and stated that the effect of Christianity was "pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." Thomas Paine rejected all faiths. A document ratified in 1797 stated that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
To the related claim that most of America's settlers were Christians, the obvious response is that nearly all white people at the time were Christians, and that none - including Protestant Germans and English - enjoyed the rights and liberties that are had by Americans as a result of European Enlightenment ideology on which America's founding documents are actually based. Another is that Western Europe, the bulk of whose population at the time of America's founding was Christian, does not identify Christianity as its doctrine and looks toward the future rather than towards the past. Far from being intended as some Christian haven, America was intended as the last best hope for humanity - a nation where people, freed of the shackles of European Christian tradition, could go to build meaningfully free lives. To claim America to be intended as a Christian country is a lie. And given the aggressive disrespect that the Christians through all of history have shown for the thousands of ways of life and societies that they wiped out, there is no logical basis for Christianity to demand everyone's unconditional respect for its traditions or to demand everyone's unconditional adherence to them.
As a subset of this, also wrong is the universal imposition on people of a man-led nuclear family under the claim that this is God's will or that this is Christian tradition. If this was God's will, then most men of God were terrible sinners. David and Solomon both had many wives and many concubines. Abraham had a concubine and a wife. In both the Old Testament and the New Testaments, prostitutes - Rahab and Mary Magdalene - played positive roles. Many of the Israelites in the Old Testament got their wives by slaughtering men of neighboring tribes and taking their wives to themselves. Apostle Paul was himself never married and, not having been married, was in no position to tell people what kind of relationships they should have. The nuclear-family-for-everyone idea is not even Biblical, and forcing it on people is not even true to the Bible. And this is especially the case when this is done in a country that is intended to be free.
There are many who see Bible as being beyond rational scrutiny as many figures in it have shown miracles. There have been many people outside of the Bible who have shown miracles as well. In Hinduism there is a whole tradition of people known as swamis, who did exactly what Jesus had done and died and resurrected, and a number of whom performed greater feats than walking on water or changing water into wine. Buddha preached much of what Jesus preached 600 years before Jesus. At the time of Jesus on the territory of Roman Empire there was a worship of Mithra - a son of the sun-God who died, resurrected after three days, and will come back to judge the living and the dead. And at about the same time there is a record in India of a man named Issa who came there from the West to study their practices. The line of many in Christianity on these things is that they are all work of Satan. Which means that the line is totalitarian and seeks extinction of everything other than itself.
One typical way of dealing with such obvious irrationalities is to demand that the creed be adopted on faith, regardless of anything else that is known. One may as well be demanding that people adopt Satanism on faith. A creed that claims that only it is true and that all else is the work of the Satan is exclusive not only of all work that has been done by intelligence, but exclusive also of all other spiritual work and spiritual activity that people have done and of all other revelation that has come and that continues to come to people. It is not the question of "there being something more" or "there being something greater." It is the question of either there being only Christian spirituality and everything else - rational and spiritual - being evil, or the far more defensible stance of there being many different spiritual values of which Christianity is but one.
In a tolerant religion such as Buddhism, one does not need to spend much energy revealing its errors. Its practicioners do not hurt anyone who does not choose to be part of their creed. But in an intolerant religion like Christian Right or Jihadist Islam it is essential to make these errors visible or see totalitarianism imposed upon one's country by its practicioners. Religious freedom means freedom not to practice Abrahamic religions as much as it means freedom to practice Abrahamic religions. And for as long as aggressive Christians and Muslims keep pushing their ways on others, it is a service done to the country to expose the errors in their creeds.
The attack by the Christian Right on people's rights, liberties, and fact has reached a level that Jefferson would have described as seditious, and it is time that it be seen and treated as such.
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States