Sunday, December 25, 2005

Faith and politics on Christmas morning

Thanks to Blue Gal for pointing out GQ's interview with Jimmy Carter (a partial transcript is available online). Quote from the beginning: You call yourself a born-again evangelical Christian, but you draw the line at the word fundamentalist. Can you define those terms?

I define fundamentalism as a group of invariably male leaders who consider themselves superior to other believers. The fundamentalists believe they have a special relationship with God. Therefore their beliefs are inherently correct, being those of God, and anyone who disagrees with them are first of all wrong, and second inferior, and in extreme cases even subhuman. Also, fundamentalists don’t relish any challenge to their positions. They believe any deviation from their own God-ordained truth is a derogation of their own responsibility. So compromise or negotiating with others, or considering the opinion of others that might be different, is a violation of their faith. It makes a great exhibition of rigidity and superiority and exclusion.

I've admired Jimmy Carter for a long, long time. Even though I don't agree with him on every issue, I've always felt his heart was in the right place. Consistently, Carter's actions have mirrored the teachings of his faith . . . unlike certain other politicians whose words and deed are diametrically opposed.

Harper's Magazine is not exactly a fundamentalist-friendly place (see, for example, Jeff Sharlet's Jesus Plus Nothing, a captivating look at the twisted version of Christianity which drives many of today's politicians), so biblical literalists won't be very happy with Erik Reece's December 2005 article, Jesus without the Miracles: Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas. For a critique from a self-described 'theological conservative,' read this post at Distilled Eye.

I don't intend to argue about the miraculous aspects of Jesus' life and resurrection -- you either believe in this as a matter of faith, or you don't, and nothing I say will make a bit of difference. I would like to give you an outsider's perspective. What I find most off-putting about modern American Christianity is its emphasis on the carrot-and-stick damnation/heaven, sin/salvation meme, the obsession with the miraculous aspects of Jesus' life, and, most of all, the de-emphasis on Jesus' ethical teachings*.

That's where the Jeffersonian Bible comes in. Per Reece's article, after Jefferson edited the New Testament, he was left with the following principles (quoting Reece):

  • Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.
  • Treat people the way we want them to treat us.
  • Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.
  • Consider valuable the things that have no material value.
  • Do not judge others.
  • Do not bear grudges.
  • Be modest and unpretentious.
  • Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be repaid.
Although I don't consider myself Christian, I try my best to embrace these principles. Well, I have a lot of trouble with Do not judge others, and the Do not bear grudges thing REALLY gives me fits, but still, I see the value in these teachings. I'd like to point out that these principles, these values, are also (to the limit of my understanding) consistent with Talmudic Judaism. But, like many Christians, modern Jews have a problem living up to the ideals of their faith. That returning violence with compassion bit -- well, Israel and the United States both have a wee problem with that one, don't they? I find it all very depressing. Ordinary people have a hard time living up to those principles, and their politicians do far worse. It's painfully obvious the world would be a better place if this were not so. Can a politician practice these principles and survive? Which brings me back to Jimmy Carter. In trying to resolve the Iranian hostage crisis, he used limited force -- unsuccessfully -- and avoided going to war, largely because his religious/ethical beliefs told him it would be wrong to do so. (I'm basing that statement on his recent interview with Jon Stewart, by the way.) And what did America do? They voted him out of office, first chance they got, and vilified him for years to come. It busts my chops. D. *I'm sure many of you can give me examples to the contrary -- congregations where the ethical precepts are placed first and foremost, individuals and organiziations who really do practice what they preach. No doubt these folks are doing great work, and I don't mean to slight them. But the politically dominant breed of American Christian (the Bushes, Dobsons, Robertsons, and Falwells of this country) not only ignores these precepts, but actively subverts them.


Blogger Blogenfreude said...

And those male leaders ... usually they're really pasty. Incredibly pasty ... and with those funny veins in their ankles.

Just sayin'

12/25/2005 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Anduin said...

Modern day Christianity seems to be such a far cry from what it was intended to be. It is easy to fall prey to all of the promises that the church offers you when you join. You walk around feeling as though you are the perfect and the rest of the world are heathens. Anyone that does not share the church's views are devil-spawn etc. I used to be submersed in the Christian life and deeply dedicated to my pastor and the church. My eyes are wide open now and I'm aware that things are not always what they are made out to be. I love God, I believe in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It's the church I can't stomach anymore.

12/25/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Blogenfreude, your avatar keeps reminding me of how much I miss Peter Sellers. :o(

Yup, Anduin, and the organized church, for centuries, has wanted you to believe that you cannot do it without them.

12/25/2005 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

here's my current favorite bush article.

12/25/2005 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

whoops bit off part of my post. That was linked from Kos.

The point is yes, W does go for the old time religion. Talk about Nostalgic! I mean really old time. He thinks he's the emperor as Louis IVX Sun God sort of rule. W has a direct line from The Big Guy.

A lot of those emperors and pharoahs and whatnot traced their roots back to the immortals. W is old-fashioned, one of the Can Do No Wrong Because I am a Relative of God Rulers.

12/25/2005 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

I liked that article, Kate. Thanks.

12/25/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Beard5 said...

Great post, and thank you for putting up the Jimmy Carter interview. A man I still respect, he's made a great ex-president.
And I'm sorry I missed you in Forward Motion Chat, you must have left just before I came in. Happy Hannukah

12/25/2005 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hi, Beard. Somewhere in that interview, the interviewer quotes someone else as saying that Jimmy Carter "was the only person to ever use the US Presidency as a stepping stone to greatness." When you consider the low profile of most ex-presidents, that statement seems so very true.

12/26/2005 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Gal said...

Just wanted you to know I saw this excellent post. Hope your cat is okay!

12/26/2005 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are JEWISH principles. Jesus was a JEW not a revolutionary. Go to Shul and learn.

9/14/2007 11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Doug said...

I'm not sure I'll ever understand what motivates someone to post an angry message anonymously . . . on the topic of morality.

And a confused message at that. What are you trying to say?

9/14/2007 11:18:00 PM  

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