I’m a political Christian!

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I realise I offended some Christians last week with my pledge and many people felt that I “crossed the line”. I don’t accept that and would argue that my target in such things are people who wallow in the politics of identity (on which long time readers will appreciate I am an equal opportunities offender) not Christianity itself.

In light of the fact that Richard Dawkins has today outed himself as a “cultural Christian” allow me to go one step further: I’m a political Christian. Or more precisely, I’m a Jesusite.

Speaking personally, I find the historical figure of Jesus compelling. He was a true radical and deserves to be recognised as such. My reading of the Gospels is that his mission was primarily political, not religious (although since even Mark was written at least 30 years after his death, things got given a religious twist later), and his main target was hypocrisy. You won’t hear a peep of criticism from me for his turfing the money changers out of the temple, which is ironic given the fact that most Christians seem to have far more trouble with his opposition to usury than I have.

The narrative I see in the Gospels is of a man who strongly opposed the pharisaism and exhorted as an alternative a way of life based on values and core principles rather than rules. His was a liberation theology. The problem was that after his death, others including Paul – a pharisee – turned his message into the founding stone of a religious cult and in turn reinstated the rotes of laws that Jesus spent his life attacking.

This is of course a massive oversimplification and ultimately little more than speculation. But it is this tension between the liberators and the legislators that been the source behind much of the struggles within the Christian church and Western society in general. I happen to think that secularists ought to reclaim Jesus the politician as one of their own. Much of my contempt for Christianity is directed at those who see it as little more than bells, smells and conspicuous piety, and this contempt is shared by many believers.

Complaining about Christianity being taken out of Christmas is a case in point. It is ultimately a pagan ritual and Christmas was an attempt to subvert this (although to what extent Christianity subverted paganism and paganism subverted Christianity is a moot point). There is very little to be proud of here, and all the foot stamping demanding that we remember Christianity at this time of year is frankly insulting. If the Church and the religious are so keen for us to remember Christianity at this time of year how about spending it talking about its message and reaching out to people from where they are are rather than denouncing us as all politically correct secular extremists? That is how Jesus would have dealt with the situation and I suspect he would have resented what has fast become an annual finger wagging ritual being done in his name at this time of year.

At the heart of this Graeco-Roman death and genitalia obsessed sun god cult there is a powerful message which has resonated almost in spite of the vessel that has carried it for 2000 years. All too often I get the sense that so-called Christians would be happy if we forgot this fact so long as we kept up the nativity plays.

8 thoughts on “I’m a political Christian!

  1. You really must read (oh no! don’t you just hate it when a sentence starts like that? What “must” I read NOW, for all love?) Robin Lane Fox’s “The Unauthorised Version: truth and fiction in the Bible”. Or in particular skim the first few chapters where he reconstructs the codicology of how the supposedly untouchable holy canon was put together. It’s fascinatingly random. Even without the obvious point that whole thing was written over six centuries, there were ultimately four gospels chosen from up to eleven (from memory), at least two sets of conflicting laws, two versions of creation, some history, some palace records, a weepy historical novel, they even shoved an erotic poem in there. And even after the basic canon as we know it had been decided upon around the fourth century AD some versions were still made “wrongly” for several hundred years! That is one crazy book.

  2. And as an opponent of money-changing, Jesus would have supported the Euro. Ahem, sorry.

    But I think becoming relaxed about usury is one of the better moves that Christianity has made. Arguably dropping the demands for zero interest and “fair prices” is what made the Protestant economic miracle possible.

  3. James

    A great piece and as a Christian I haven’t been at all offended by you. Frankly those Christians who bang on about Christianaphobia completely miss the point. As a product of the evangelical tradition I sometimes despair at the narrowness and judgementalism of those who claim to follow the man who, as you point out was a radical who was far more interested in challenging hypocrisy than constructing a narrow tightrope of religious observance. And, it has to be said, my attraction to the man Jesus is very similar to yours.

  4. I was not offended by the joke about nails and planks. I was offended by your suggestion that Christians have no right to express a concern that sometimes they are misrepresented in our society, and that now they are a distinct minority their right to live their lives as they wish, or even to be understood for what they are rather than for what those who dislike them portray them as, may need some public defence.

    You are, by the way, completely wrong on Paul. Far from reinstating the role of laws, the main point of Paul’s letters, particularly the key one, the Letter to the Romans, was a rejection of the idea that salvation in religion comes from following ritual laws. This was the thing which changed Christianity from a Jewish sect to a separate religion. There was a problem with this approach, in that one way of viewing it was that not only was the piling up of ritual law rejected, but so was the idea that how we treat our neighbours was of some relevance. Hence the very necessary riposte to Paul in the Letter of James.

    It was Martin Luther’s reading of Romans which led to the foundation of Protestantism, with its keypoint being “Justification by Faith alone” i.e. a rejection of “justification by works” the idea that our behaviour is what we will be judged on. Again, while its positive aspect was scepticism about the piling on of religious ritual, its negative aspect was a rejection of any idea that we have a duty of care to our neighbours – Luther hated the Letter of James, and wished it could be removed from the Bible.

    This basis of Protestantism is perhaps why it tends to be more favourable to the economic right, and why it has moved to support the “religious right” in the USA for example, while Catholicism has tended to be more left-wing in its economic approach.

    Your use of the phrase “bells and smells” is to criticise the Catholic wing of Christianity (including the Catholic wing of the Anglican Church, with which this phrase is particularly associated). There is in fact no correlation between a liking for more ritualistic and decorative forms of worship and lack of concern for the social aspects of Christianity. Or, if anything, the correlation is the opposite of what you suppose with your comments. Anglo-Catholicism has a long and honourable history of social action.

  5. David, if God exists then communicating with Him must be subject to the Data Protection Act. Therefore I refuse you permission to pass my personal details onto Him.

    I hope you always seek permission from people before praying for them or you could be liable for a hefty fine.

  6. Matthew,

    My issue with Cristine Odone, which I spelt out to you time and again but which you continue to reject, is that she was claiming discrimination and citing examples that were at best factually wrong and at worst downright lies. That is ultimately all I had to say on the matter, although I will admit to teasing you as you continued to fail to engage with that basic underlying point.

    Give me some actual evidence that Christians are being actively discriminated against in this country. Ultimately the argument that dismissing Christians who claim to be discriminated against is itself discriminatory is tautological at best.

    Regarding Paul, I think there is a difference here between The Law and laws. There are plenty of rules in Pauline writings, they just aren’t the same thing as what the Jews recognise as such. I will accept that he didn’t go as far as the pharisaisim that he rejected, just the little bits of pharisaism kept poking through.

    Perhaps I’m wrong to single him out however. It is almost inevitable that a small cult will form a tightly knit identity around itself in the early years. My beef is ultimately not with the pharisees in the first century AD but the ones which control so much of Christianity in the twenty-first.

  7. No, I saw your point, but I saw Odone’s opinions as a fairly extreme interpretation, quite likely expressed out of frustration (knowing where she comes from) rather than outright lies. They were no more an actual “lie” than the fairly extreme anti-religious comment which seems to be common currency in LibDem blogs.

    Your original article was a prime example of “Christianophobia”. That is, you seemed to be suggesting that Christians have no right to put their case in public, and you jumped to judging them on the basis of negative stereotypes about Christians, based to a large extent on assuming they all fit into the image portrayed of them by unrepresentative but vocal extreme adherents. When this sort of thing happens with Muslims, we use the word “Islamophobia”. I have seen it used in LibDem blogs, and I have not seen anyone complain about it.

    My particular fear is that this kneejerk anti-Christian attitude which now seems to be common amongst liberals is actually having the effect in Christian circles of strengthening conservatives at the expense of liberals, or of pushing liberals into conservative hands.

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