September 03, 2011

Let's go to the text

Stephen Prothero asks the obvious question, which has somehow eluded the mainstream media until now: what kinds of Christians are these?
I understand the impulse to draft Jesus into your political campaign. At least in U.S. politics, Jesus is good for business. But if you are going to call Jesus to your side, you need to let voters know how that affects your politics. Might you change your mind if you saw that a political position of yours was contradicted by the Bible? Or is the Bible a dead letter, useful for invoking divine authority but never for correction or reprove?

The point is particularly sharp when we take up the case of the poor. Jesus talks endlessly, in all four Gospels, about helping the weak (he was, apparently, an early Rawlsian). Whatever kind of Christian you are, there is no way to read the Gospels without getting the message that you are on the side of the poor.

It also impossible to miss the message that the rich are - if not doomed to damnation - on notice. The famous eye of a needle parable has been parsed with care and no respectable theologian can see how a rich man gets a pass. One commentator in my library dryly notes that a lot of energy has been expended to "find a loophole big enough to fit a rich man through."

This, for me, is the most frightening passage in the Bible, or for that matter any work of religious literature (Matthew 25:31):
[T]he King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

There are a lot of things you could say about this passage, and of course non-Christians are free to disbelieve it. But it doesn't strike me as unclear in any way. In fact, it's about as clear as any religious text I've ever read.

So, what kinds of Christians are these?

1 Comments:

Blogger First Sea Lord said...

This modern development is in my mind the undoing of the Christian religion: that so many Christians are absent or hostile to even the distant political blessing of compassionate action is a terrible indictment.

Does God want to bring to him a bunch of useless, greedy souls of the supposedly saved, whose spiritual surrender is to save their own skin, or worse, to profit in money and power, or would he look upon any act of kindness, foolish or not, as holy? If there was a Christian God of judgement and love, I would have no doubt as to his preference.

Sullivan calls them Christianists. They couldn't be more different from the Christians I respect, even if I don't share their religious views. Take the Salvation Army. The broken, the sick, and lost, the poorest of the poor, the drunk, dirty and forlorn, trapped by their own demons, often forever, they go to them, endure their anger and filth, hoping for gratitude, often finding malice and madness, seeing in the most hopeless, the most wretched, the raiment of Jesus.

September 4, 2011 at 10:13 AM  

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