Saturday, August 13, 2005

From Constantine to Bush Power Has Needed To Stifle A Revolutionary Message

From Constantine to Bush, power has needed to stifle a revolutionary message.

By Giles Fraser (The Guardian)

Every Sunday in church, Christians recite the Nicene Creed. "Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures." It's the official summary of the Christian faith but, astonishingly, it jumps straight from birth to death, apparently indifferent to what happened in between.

Nicene Christianity is the religion of Christmas and Easter, the celebration of a Jesus who is either too young or too much in agony to shock us with his revolutionary rhetoric. The adult Christ who calls his followers to renounce wealth, power and violence is passed over in favor of the gurgling baby and the screaming victim. As such, Nicene Christianity is easily conscripted into a religion of convenience, with believers worshipping a gagged and glorified savior who has nothing to say about how we use our money or whether or not we go to war.

Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire with the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 312, after which the church began to back pedal on the more radical demands of the adult Christ. The Nicene Creed was composed in 325 under the sponsorship of Constantine. It was Constantine who decided that December 25 was to be the date on which Christians were to celebrate the birth of Christ and it was Constantine who ordered the building of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. Christmas - a festival completely unknown to the early church - was invented by the Roman emperor. And from Constantine onwards, the radical Christ worshipped by the early church would be pushed to the margins of Christian history to be replaced with the infinitely more accommodating religion of the baby and the cross.

The adult Jesus described his mission as being to "preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty those who are oppressed". He insisted that the social outcast be loved and cared for, and that the rich have less chance of getting into heaven than a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle. Jesus set out to destroy the imprisoning obligations of debt, speaking instead of forgiveness and the redistribution of wealth. He was accused of blasphemy for attacking the religious authorities as self-serving and hypocritical.

In contrast, the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross gives us Christianity without the politics. The Posh and Becks nativity scene is the perfect tableau into which to place this Nicene baby, for like the much-lauded celebrity, this Christ is there to be gazed upon and adored - but not to be heard or heeded. In a similar vein, modern evangelical choruses offer wave upon wave of praise to the name of Jesus, but offer little political or economic content to trouble his adoring fans.

Yet despite the silence of the baby, it should be perfectly obvious to anyone who has actually read the Christmas stories that the gospel regards the incarnation as challenging the existing order. The pregnant Mary anticipates Christ's birth with some fiery political theology: God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty", she blazes. Born among farm laborers, yet worshipped by kings, Christ announces an astonishing reversal of political authority. The local imperial stooge, King Herod, is so threatened by rumors of his birth that he sends troops to Bethlehem to find the child and kill him. Herod recognized that to claim Jesus is lord and king is to say that Caesar isn't. Christ's birth is not a silent night - it's the beginning of a revolution that threatened to undermine the whole basis of Roman power.

Little wonder, then, that influential US Christian commentator Jim Wallis created a storm earlier in the year when he penned an attack upon "Bush's theology of empire", helpfully illustrated with a picture of Bush made up to look like the emperor Constantine. "Once there was Rome, now there is a new Rome," argued Wallis.

Constantine was converted to Christianity by a vision that came to him on the eve of the battle of Milvian Bridge: "He saw with his own eyes, up in the sky and resting over the sun, a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, 'By this sign, conquer' ". Soon the cross would morph from being a hated symbol of Roman brutality into the universally recognizable logo of the Holy Roman Empire. Within a century, St Augustine would develop the novel idea of just war, trimming the church's originally pacifist message to the needs of the imperial war machine.

Like Constantine, George Bush has borrowed the language of Christianity to support and justify his military ambition. And just like that of Constantine, the Christianity of this new Rome offers another carefully edited version of the Bible. Once again, the religion that speaks of forgiving enemies and turning the other cheek is pressed into military service.

The story of Christmas, properly understood, asserts that God is not best imagined as an all-powerful despot but as a vulnerable and pathetic child. It's a statement about the nature of divine power. But in the hands of conservative theologians, the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross is a way of distracting attention away from the teachings of Christ. It's a form of religion that concentrates on things like belief in the virgin birth while ignoring the fact that the gospels are much more concerned about the treatment of the poor and the forgiveness of enemies.

Bush may have claimed that "Jesus Christ changed my life", but Jesus doesn't seem to have changed his politics. As the carol reminds us: "And man at war with man hears not the love song that they bring, O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing."

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford giles.fraser@btinternet.com

The Christian Paradox
How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong.

What it means to be Christian in America [An excerpt].
Originally from Harper's Magazine - August 2005. By Bill McKibben.

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.

And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.

* * *

Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.

But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it’s that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And it’s not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were “food insecure with hunger” had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.

This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits?

Do you need to ask?




Hello & Welcome -

Jesus Is A Liberal! Jesus was a Liberal because He brought a radically Liberal theology to the Orthodox believers of his time. Jesus IS a Liberal even today because now more than ever, His principals align with the very core of Liberal Beliefs. Not a Democrat, certainly not a Republican, but a Liberal.

Our Mission is to promote our belief and understanding that Jesus IS a Liberal, and to their very core His teachings outline a Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, Loving, open minded, holistic, and sustainable vision for our World.We are starting this Blog as a natural off-shoot to our website:
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We get asked: Why do we say that Jesus was and is a "Liberal" and why did we create that website and this website and Blog? Because we believe the historical, Biblically documented teachings of Jesus Christ clearly show that Jesus is a Liberal. His philosophy, based in compassion, equality, inclusion, forgiveness, tolerance, peace and - most importantly - love, is 100% Liberal.

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Fundamentally ;-) what Jesus said in the Bible is far more liberal than what is usually quoted on TV evangelists, the average protestant pulpit, and certainly far more so than the politically infused radically conservative new Pope.

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You also can find news and professional articles - written by popular spiritual writers and friends alike at
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While not Biblical scholars, our common sense understanding of His lessons as philosophically and politically Liberal is founded upon Jesus' own words (see quotes below), modern interpretations of Liberation Theology, and in the positive, loving and compassionate application of His teachings - from the many early Saints to Mother Theresa and Liberation Theology.

Certainly, if you see Him in the context ofhis day and the society he lived in, Jesus brought a radically Liberal theology to the Orthodox believers of his time.Jesus was and IS a Liberal even today because now more than ever, His principals align with the very core of Liberal Beliefs.

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Peace -

Paul




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