As a former evangelical now agnostic, I am alert to how ignorant alt-right evangelical Republicans are of the person they claim as the supernatural founder of their movement. I am referring, of course, not to Donald Trump but to Jesus of Nazareth.
Contrary to a recent faddish claim of self-styled “experts” on the internet, Jesus the man almost certainly existed. Ancient scholars largely regard people who deny this with a similar suspicious disdain that Shakespearean scholars regard Antistratfordians, that is, people who claim that Shakespeare didn’t really write his own plays.
In order to appreciate how preposterous both propositions are — that Jesus didn’t exist and Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays — you have to go through the rather unpleasant exercise of actually knowing what you’re talking about. Otherwise ignorance and bliss are alive and well and together again on the internet, as usual, and Antistratfordians and Jesus deniers are almost all ignorant, rank amateurs. To the endless exasperation of such amateurs, I prefer the opinions of the real experts.
But it makes no particular difference whether Jesus existed or not for me to appreciate some of his more agreeable and even beautiful sayings. In any case, affirming the opinion that he existed is not the same thing as affirming he said all the things attributed to him.
With those preliminaries out of the way, I will have to confess that I find the sayings of Jesus of Nazareth often brilliant, occasionally puzzling and sometimes horrifying. “Let he who has no sin among you cast the first stone,” is an example of the first. “Give no thought for tomorrow for tomorrow will give thought for itself, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” is an example of the second. “I come not to bring peace, but a sword,” is an example of the last.
So when I take my wisdom from history, whether it be from Jesus, Socrates, Shakespeare or Confucius, like most people I pick and choose what works for me. But there is absolutely nothing in the best words of Jesus of Nazareth that fit in with Republicanism, absolutely nothing. And much in Republicanism that is antithetical to everything Jesus stood for.
In fact, I cannot see how anyone can be both a Christian in the literal sense of the word, “follower of Christ,” and a Republican. The only way I can see how those two ideologies might fit under the same banner would be when they are couched together in a direct lie. As in, “I am a National Socialist and a supporter of the Jewish people.”
For example, Jesus had much to say about the proverbial “rich man,” and none of it was good. Republicans seem positively to live for the rich man and no one else, and when I say “man” I mean white male. Paradoxically, the non-white and poor and homeless Jewish immigrant from Nazareth wouldn’t be welcome in a Republican church.
How Republicans shamelessly scrambled to put together a 1.5 trillion dollar tax break, 80% of which benefited the richest one percent! They wouldn’t even allow a single reading of the hastily, greedily assembled bill. Had Jesus himself walked into the Senate chambers to demand they stop, there is not a doubt in my mind they would have had the Sergeant-at-Arms throw him the hell out of there. And that includes the purported Republican “saint” John McCain, who voted for that disgusting bill in lockstep with his fellow Republican “Christians.”
It isn’t only that it’s merely “harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is to pass a camel through the eye of a needle, but with God all things are possible,” Jesus drew a line in the sand when he said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Since Republicans are all about serving great dollops of mammon all of the time and little else, their way of dealing with this paradox is to ignore it, apparently. Anyway, it’s easy to ignore God when he’s invisible, harder to ignore Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell when they’re watching your every move and one of them is hate-tweeting. God’s biggest problem is he lacks a Twitter account.
When Jesus admonished the young man to “sell all of your things and follow me,” he was essentially calling for the man to repudiate the status and trappings of wealth and be humble, if not content to be actually economically poor. That doesn’t exactly square with private jets and multimillion dollar McMansions and Rolex watches. So how to make it fit?
Experience tells us that some people can pretty much be relied on not to think about it. The glaring contradiction between how Republicans live and what Jesus said turns out to be a contradiction that’s really quite easy to sustain, particularly as evangelical Republicans have their ultimate moral bogeyman in the so-called Pro-Life movement to distract everybody with.
Let’s be clear on something right here. Republican evangelicals don’t give a crap about unborn children any more than they give a crap about born children. They have no interest in caring for someone else’s child born to poor, single parent households, they just want to lay sanctimonious trips on anyone who dares to try to avoid bringing such a child into the world. They want to keep such people poor and helpless. Once the kid is born he or she is 100% the mother’s problem, and Republicans take their sanctimony on to their next victim. Never mind that Jesus promises them a millstone around their necks and that they be cast into the sea in return for such behaviour.
That remains their modus operandi until they find themselves suddenly in a fix and in need of an abortion themselves. Credible evidence exists that their other Lord and Savior Donald Trump paid for at least eight abortions, for example. When Republican evangelicals need an abortion then by God they get an abortion. For everyone else it’s pearl-clutching sanctimony and counterfeit outrage all of the time.
It is hardly surprising that Jesus had nothing to say about abortion but he had plenty to say about hypocrisy. As I’m confining myself to the sayings of Jesus I will only mention in passing that the apostolic part of the New Testament is mute on the subject of abortion as well. So Republican evangelicals making abortion their number one topic was a work of true hypocritical legerdemain.
As I say, if Jesus has nothing to say about abortion, he has a great deal to say about hypocrisy, Phariseeism and the evils of ostentatious outward displays of religiosity. Republican evangelicals like to put on a show of religion in the same way they like to put on a show of patriotism. Trump gassing peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters so he could thump a bible in front of a church across from the White House is just the kind of thing Jesus would have made a whip of cords and driven him out of the temple for.
To be sure, Jesus sometimes lets the side down. You don’t go up to a homeless person and admonish them to “Consider the lilies of the field,” even if you’re also homeless — as Jesus almost certainly was. The homeless need food and shelter, not airy fairy promises that a benign God will always clothe them as beautifully as he does those selfsame field lilies, or Solomon for that matter.
But when he gets it right he gets it right. The Good Samaritan wasn’t a member of the Main Tribe. He was a compassionate foreigner helping a fellow creature injured on the side of the road, without an eye to glory or profit, without paranoia or suspicion, without concern for who the stranger was or where he was from. Jesus didn’t suggest that the Samaritan should have had his children taken away, he didn’t wonder what the Samaritan was doing on that side of the border, he didn’t degrade Samaria and suggest it was a shithole country. Oh the things Republican evangelicals could learn from the man they propose to love and follow!
Whatever Republicans are, they are not Christians, certainly not in the sense that they are “followers of Christ.” They find false equivalences between white supremacists and people who think universal healthcare is a human right — and dub them both equally “radical,” while nurturing a secret fondness for the white supremacists.
Republicans aren’t Christians and we should never sit still and let them claim otherwise. We can even tell them that we get our authority to reject their conceit that they are Christians from the very same man who didn’t suffer hypocrites but did suffer the little children to come unto him— children of all nationalities, races, genders and colors. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.