According to Phil Zuckerman at the Huffington Post, the answer is a resounding,… yes! His recent article “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus“, got my dander up.
I was going to post a comment there at HP, but I realized that my input would get drowned out amongst the other 800-plus comments, so I’ll post my comments here. Phil will never see them, but you will, and I’ll feel better. 🙂
Phil based his article on a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, comparing Tea Party Conservatives and Religious Conservatives. But Phil definitely put his own atheist spin on the poll. The poll doesn’t really say anything that Zuckerman says, but it’s nice to cite a poll before you begin to make stuff up.
I want to dissect some of Zuckerman’s claims, I’ll begin with this whopper: “White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus.” While it’s true that Pew did find that “white evangelicals” do, disproportionally favor Tea Party Politics, the red herring is “the actual teachings of Jesus.”
I love it when an atheist posits on the “actual” teachings of someone that they must also believe was a liar. Phil evidently likes to talk about Jesus, in 2009 he wrote “Who Would Jesus Torture?” – based on another Pew Research Poll, in which he harps on many of the same issues that he brings up in this recent article.
The question becomes, what are the actual teachings of Jesus? This, of course, is pretty hard to summarize in a few short sentences, and it becomes an even broader answer if you believe, as I do, that Jesus was in fact who He claimed to be,… the Son Of God. If He in fact, is the Messiah, then we go quickly to understanding His teaching in a much more thorough light. He cannot simply be “a good teacher” from a small village in Israel. As well, if Jesus is God’s Son, then the foundation for the rest of the bible is supported- meaning… if He is not God, then beyond the historical accounts of zealots, the rest of the new testament is set aside as interesting religious lierature. If in fact, He is God, then the authority of the scriptures, and the writings of Apostles in particular, cannot be discounted when considering what, in fact, Jesus taught. If He was a good teacher who was killed, then yes, a good teacher, but nothing more. However, if He was a man who was crucified and raised from the dead, (as He said He would be) then it’s also credible that He inspired the writing of the scriptures.
For the purpose of this post, I’m gonna stick with Zuckerman’s claims. He says: “Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness” Well, of course He did, Jesus taught us to love one another, He taught us to treat other as we would like to be treated, to not be judgmental, to forgive, and many more great lessons on how to treat our fellow man. Phil uses this generality to argue that evangelicals are for “the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture”… and of course that this would all be contrary to Jesus’ teaching.
On the death penalty… Jesus tells Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above ” This authority to put Jesus to death would be odd if it didn’t also indicate the general power to execute criminals. The Apostle Paul clarified the role of government in Romans 13: “for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
In both cases, the authority to execute criminals is granted by God, to Government. Jesus actually taught this. As far as torture is concerned,… if you harm little ones… water-boarding is nothing compared to what He has in store.
While Jesus teaches individuals to love one another, He also teaches that wrongdoers have need to fear. What Zuckerman does, is simply neuter the biblical Jesus, taking away His right to judge and mete out judgement, elevating his own godless judgement.
Another of Zuckerman’s claims is that “Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor.” Again, he get’s it only half right, wealth is not sin, the love of wealth over God was taught as sin. Jesus taught that clearly, He taught that wealth could be a stumbling block for many. In Luke 18 we have the exchange with the very rich man who wants eternal life. This is the story where Jesus turns him away and tells him to sell everything. I’m supposing this is the basis for Zuckerman’s belief that Jesus hated rich people… again, it’s based on a misunderstanding of who Jesus is, and what is ACTUALLY said. The rich man wanted to do something to gain eternal life, he like Phil, relegated Jesus to being a “good teacher” and was not a believer, he trusted in himself and his possessions, not God. The important instructions Jesus gave this rich man was “sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” It was the “follow Me” that Jesus was after, not the man’s imposed poverty.
Also worth noting is that Jesus had at least one wealthy follower (+) that He did not condemn. Paul said: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” -an often misquoted text… not “THE” root of all evil, but “A” root of all sorts (meaning some).
Zuckerman also asserts that Christians “despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need”, and that “Jesus was a Socialist.” Phil seems to be implying that these government dolled out subsidies are actually somehow compassionate and or helpful, by most reasonable measures they have created a dependent class as much as they may have helped. The problem with the government led “compassion projects” is that they are wasteful and generally ineffective. Marvin Olasky wrote about this in “The Tragedy Of American Compassion” in which he cites the failure of government run programs, compared to the past reliance on programs of the faith communities in America.
As far as what Jesus said, perhaps one of the most offensive things He said, that social justice advocates cannot get their heads around, is… “you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” This was in response to Judas’ wanting to not waste expensive perfume on Him, but sell it to feed the poor. Jesus put a greater priority upon Himself than feeding the poor. Those are actually His words. Does that mean we should neglect the poor? No, they are our neighbors, we need to love them, and give assistance as we are able. Jesus taught us to love God, and love others, in that order. Paul taught his disciples to “work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread,” and, that if a man wasn’t going to work, he shouldn’t eat.” we have to take these teachings into account when considering so-called “compassionate” social programs. Some individual are worthy of assistance, some are not. Either way, one cannot arrive at a true assessment of “what Jesus taught” without considering these verses.
In the end, I don’t think Phil Zuckerman really cares about what Jesus actually taught, he is just using his forum at the Huffington Post to teach what he thinks. I think he’s wrong.