A friend posted this link on Facebook the other day, a page of quotations from so-called Christians, a collection of verbal hatefulness, ignorance, and arrogance so unmitigatedly vile that I honestly couldn’t get past Jerry Falwell’s, and they were alphabetical by first name, so there was plenty more that I couldn’t bear to read.
I don’t know what happened to these people to make them so hateful, to make them not only willing, but eager to persecute others and condemn them to all manner of misery, not the least of which being the everlasting depths of hell, but they are not Christians. Not if they have any comprehension whatsoever of the biblical Jesus they claim to love and glorify with all their words and deeds. And I think they should stop calling themselves Christians. Or they need to shape up and understand what that really means.
First of all, the chapter and verse they are consistently quoting, or referencing as support for their actions, is not from the Christian gospel, i.e., the New Testament. Fan favorites Leviticus and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (from Genesis) are Old Testament stories. If you want to believe in the Old Testament, by all means, go ahead. Just realize that this makes you Orthodox Jewish, not Christian. Oddly enough, though one shouldn’t be surprised when these same people don’t know what Testament they’re supposed to be reading, a lot of these folks are certain that the Jews are not, and never could be, among God’s chosen ones, conveniently ignoring the fact God chose to make his only son one. Jesus was Jewish all his short life; if he didn’t have God’s ear, nobody does.
If I left it at that, that would be enough for me to not take these people or anything they say seriously. The Christian Bible is the New Testament. If you don’t know that; if you don’t read that; then you cannot with any seriousness call yourself a Christian. You just can’t.
And if you read the New Testament, you would know that Jesus, the man-God claimed as the savior, staunch ally, and guiding force of some of the most backwards, mean-spirited conservatives on His green earth, is someone they don’t understand at all. And I really don’t understand how that is possible if you grow up in Western society. You cannot avoid Jesus here, even if you want to, as he’s permeated the culture for 2013 years now. I was raised Roman Catholic, and we, as a group, are not a people who are heavily encouraged to read and interpret the Bible for ourselves, and I’ve been an atheist for more than half my life now. I am by no stretch of the imagination a biblical scholar, but I know about Jesus.
The biblical Jesus was a man who stood up to the dominant paradigm, who refused to be cowed by conventional thinking and projected authority. The biblical Jesus was interested in feeding the hungry, healing the sick, teaching compassion, kicking the money changers out of the temples, and sacrificing for the greater good. The biblical Jesus spoke of a loving father, not about sinners in the hands of an angry God. The biblical Jesus was not impressed with people who talked a good game, but behaved in ways that lacked compassion, or were hypocritical. The biblical Jesus told people to pay their taxes, as a matter of fact. The biblical Jesus was the guy who said, “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And that person is inimical to their most cherished negative beliefs about humanity, about worthiness, about who is chosen, and who should just suffer and die. Because they judge constantly; they don’t give a shit about the least of their brothers, or their neighbors in most cases, or they have a cramped and stingy conception of what constitutes their neighborhood.
Because it is too often these same people who want to make a big show of going to their megachurches, yet tell homeless people to get a job, or tell poor people that they are not worthy of food, or health care, or tell women and LGBTQ folks that they are not worthy of human and civil rights or legal protection. They’re the people who laugh at the idea that a government shutdown hurts anyone, because their privilege insulates them so well from hardship that it will never hurt them, and they don’t care about anyone else. But from loaves and fishes to Lazarus, Jesus was about compassion, and about taking care of people. Perhaps he wasn’t so interested in bootstrapping because he wore sandals.
And these folks claim to be servants of the Lord, and humble before Him, and yet claim perfect and accurate knowledge of God’s desires for humanity as they wag their fingers at every person who does not live according to their moral code as they’ve created (or misinterpreted) it. And yet when the biblical Jesus tries to speak to them through many people every day, all over the world, trying to remind them about love and compassion and caring for one another, they fight that message with every fiber of their beings. When a new Pope tries to tell them, they fight him, too.
No, these are not Christians. They may call themselves that, but it is clear that they have no understanding of what the man stood for at all; in fact they seem to be diametrically opposed to everything he stood for, and shockingly unaware of this being the case. And for all this group’s claims of persecution, I would bet most folks don’t have a problem with actual Christians who actually live the teachings of Jesus. They tend to be kind, content in their personal relationship with divinity without feeling the need to influence or coerce others in the same direction, comfortable with other people having their own paths, and more interested in living Jesus’ teachings than talking about them in the breach by others; these are the hallmarks of truly spiritual people of all stripes, not just true Christians.
But the truth is, you don’t need the whole New Testament to understand Jesus, or how to act in a way that honors him. For that, you need only go back to the beginning: All you need to know is that once upon a time, a brown-skinned child was born in the Middle East to migrant parents in a strange land where they had no friends or family to take them in, no resources to gain shelter, such that they had to rest in a barn. This child was born to a somewhat ambivalent stepfather, his own father absentee and the circumstances of his conception sketchy at best, consent-wise. (Sending an angel to tell a woman you’re going to impregnate her is NOT receiving her consent; I don’t care who you are.) And whether you call them kings or wise men, the first thing the magi did was hurry west to find this child, this child who had nothing and was sleeping with animals, to truly see who he was, and give him gifts.
At every turn, the story of Jesus, the meaning of Jesus, is one of generous spirit, of giving and helping, of sharing, of making sure there is enough for everyone, of acceptance and protection of the outcast, of compassion and mercy. And if you’re not operating with that as your foundation, and still call yourself a Christian, you’re fooling yourself. Or you’re a liar. And no one is obliged to respect that.
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)