For those of you who live under rocks, today is quite an important day in the Christian calender. On this significant day for Christians all over the world, I think about all those Jesus enthusiasts in the United States who claim to follow the moral message of this Galilean Jew. More specifically I reflect on how their ideologies are totally incompatible with this figure. I’m not Christian and I won’t pretend to be, but this article will not be me endeavouring to trash the message of Jesus. Rather, it will be a critique of American conservatism and how it is incompatible with the lessons of Jesus Christ.
Because most Christians in the United States are some variant of Protestant I’m not going to comment on the large number of Catholic viewpoints that differ with Christian teaching as Protestants would dispute these teachings as a inventions of flawed humans. Also its plainly obviously that the modern-day Catholic Church is basically a front for a paedophile racketeering gang, and Jesus, if he was divine, probably hates them anyway.
One of the most often spoken phrases by priests and pastors is that something is done “in the name of Jesus”. Don’t get me wrong, whether or not Jesus was divine or even existed is kind of irrelevant; it is the message he promoted that has sustained the Christian faith for around two millennia. As a result let’s focus on scripture to debunk the key tenets of modern American conservatism. I’ll be using the 2009 edition of the Sunrise Good News Bible from the publisher Collins for all the Bible quotes I use so you can feel free to check that I’m not making anything up.
The GOP doesn’t have many philosophers that support their ideology. They have people that they identify as intellectuals like Milton Freidman, and for some reason they also claim ownership of the Founding Fathers. But the only philosopher that they claim to be their own is the novelist Ayn Rand. Indeed the influence of this philosopher is spoken about by figures such as Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz; indeed the Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has this novelist to thank for his forename. One of the key philosophical points made by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged is the focus on individualism and the idea that altruism is inherently immoral as it is not in one’s self-interest.
However in Matthew 19:20-23 it is written that: “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else do I need to do?” Jesus said to him, “if you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in Heaven; then come and follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I repeat: it is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”.
This doesn’t really require much analysis but I’ll spell it out anyway. To venerate Ayn Rand whilst claiming to follow the message of Jesus Christ is simply doublethink. Jesus in this passage is lamenting ownership of material possessions with the solution was giving all of your wealth to the poor. Ayn Rand’s philosophy calls altruism unequivocally immoral.
Moving away from more libertarian strands of this ideology the next criticism is of neo-conservatives. For example George W. Bush identified himself as a Christian so much so that he established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Yet Bush, when Governor of Texas, presided over 152 uses of the death penalty making his governorship the number one in prisoner executions until it was surpassed by his successor Rick Perry. The same man was a huge proponent of war, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This attitude to human life and vengeance doesn’t seem to fit in with the message of Christianity either. In Luke 6:27-31 it is written: “But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who ill-treat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. Do for others just what you want them to do to you.”
In more a specific reference to war, Jesus says (Matthew 5:7-9): “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!”. Even if you are a Christian, you have to admit that in this specific area Jesus was incredibly clear; he was quite big on non-violence.
The third and final example I will talk about is those on the far-right who identify as conservatives but are hostile to immigrants. This is particularly in reference to comments by leading presidential candidates in the GOP about Muslims and Mexicans, however there has been a long history in America of upstanding Christian members of the community opposing waves of immigration.
It is written in Mark 12: 29-31 that Jesus said: “the most important [commandment] is this: ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength’. The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love you neighbour as you love yourself’. There is no other commandment more important than these two”. If Jesus is literally saying that the most important thing for people to do, other than loving God, is to be kind to people, demonising immigrants and inciting violence against these people is really not in keeping with Christ’s message.
Unlike conservative ‘Christians’ I have not cherry picked pieces of the Bible that support my viewpoint. Throughout this piece I have been careful not to use Biblical passages that are both hard to misunderstand and that were in no relation to Jesus. To clarify, if you call yourself a Christian then you surely follow the message of Jesus Christ, and if Jesus contradicts another bit of the Bible he’s the trump card because he is also God (somehow). Indeed in Matthew’s telling of the ‘turn the other cheek’ passage, he specifies that Jesus says to ignore what has come before (Matthew 5:38-42). The main assumption I have made is that if Jesus says it then it must be part of Christianity.
If a conservative reads these passages and says ‘oh I can ignore that because in this part of the Bible it says something different’ then I would say that they aren’t a Christian. If we go by nomenclature alone then they would be a Biblist(?). If you are a capitalist that thinks that charity is immoral and that revels in revenge and war, then by definition you are not a Christian. As I said I’m not a Christian so I don’t really care if you say you’re a Christian or not, but surely its intellectually dishonest to call yourself a follower of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and support torture and the capital punishment.
All I’m calling for is consistency, and if these conservatives insist on calling themselves Christians then they must do one of two things. The first thing they could say is that they disagree with what they believe to be the literal words of Jesus, who they also believe is God incarnate; essentially they have to argue that God is wrong. The other thing that they could say is that, having read what Jesus’ message actually was, they renounce their support of violence, selfishness, and materialism.
Again, I don’t care what they decide but I must insist that they have to make the choice. Some of my closest friends are Christians and they help the poor and aren’t materialistic, kind of like what Jesus said they should do. You cannot, in this atheist’s opinion, be a conservative capitalist and be a Christian. Something’s gotta give.