Faith and politics on Christmas morning
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.