Gary Kamiya writes: The Republican strategy — loudly proclaiming one’s Christian faith, while attacking Obama as an agent of secular evil, if not actually Satan himself – is right out of the Fox News playbook. As the voice of the American far right, the ultimate undeclared super-duper-GOP-PAC, Fox News has embraced the cracked “birther” movement and generally done everything within its latitudinous definition of “fair and balanced” to portray Obama as a fake-Christian, foreign-born, America-hating Muslim. (Fox’s “War on Christmas” rants appear with such clockwork regularity at Christmastime that I use them as reminders to open my Advent Calendar.)
The only GOP candidate who has not openly pursued this strategy is the front-runner, Mitt Romney. Romney has avoided the subject because as a Mormon, his own Christian credentials are suspect. But as the ultimate political panderer and opportunist, he would play the Christian card if he could. Like all the GOP candidates, Romney has tried to paint Obama as an alien Other, elite, mysterious, malevolent – in a word, slightly satanic. And also like them, Romney presents his free-market, anti-government ideology as more “American,” and by implication more “Christian,” than Obama’s.
As someone who has spent many happy hours studying Christian theology, from Origen to Hans Kung, as well as modern scholarship about Jesus, I supposed I should be pleased by this eruption of holy fervor among the Republican candidates for the highest office in the land. But there’s just one little problem.
Jesus would have been appalled by the whole pack of them.
We do not know very much about the historical Jesus. But everything we know indicates that the carpenter from Galilee would not have been pleased to learn that this pack of coldhearted, sanctimonious, wealth-exalting politicians were claiming to be his followers.
I’m not saying that Jesus would have been a Democrat. Anyone who pretends to find support for specific political policies or ideologies in the Bible is delusional. Scholars cannot agree if Jesus was a social revolutionary, a tortured mystic, or something altogether different. Even what Jesus himself believed about the most essential aspects of what was to become “Christianity’ – a religion founded not by him, but by his disciple Paul of Tarsus — is unclear. As leading biblical scholar Bart Ehrman noted in “Jesus, Interrupted,” some of the most important Christian doctrines, including the divinity of Christ, the Trinity and the concept of heaven and hell, were not held by Jesus himself: They were added later, when the church transformed itself into a new religion rather than a Jewish sect.
Ehrman told me that the authors of the four Gospels portray Jesus in such contradictory ways that there is no intellectually honest way to reconcile them. Mark, for example, depicts Jesus as doubting and despairing on the way to the cross, while Luke portrays him as calm. Ehrman argues that such contradictory accounts can only be reconciled by creating, in effect, a bogus “fifth Gospel” that does not exist.
But having said all that, we still have the evidence of the Bible itself. And one does not need to believe in the infallibility of that document to see that the Jesus who is depicted in it was implacably opposed to authoritarianism, warmongering, contempt for the poor, exaltation of wealth, conformity, and sanctimoniousness – in short, everything the contemporary Republican Party stands for.