Christian leadership—meaning clerics and commentators of both the Catholic and Protestant varieties—all too often reveals itself to be of the world.
Speaking as a practicing Roman Catholic, this is a sobering truth with which to reckon.
But it’s true all of the same.
Between genuine Christianity and what I will henceforth refer to as Big Christianism or, alternatively, the Christianism-Industrial-Complex (CIC), there is all of the difference.
For at least three reasons, “Big Christianism” is an appropriate term for the phenomenon under consideration.
First, Christianism, being an ism, is an ideology, a theoretical abstraction designed to impose upon the ever-flowing currents of everyday life a straightjacket of sorts comprised of its own principles and dogmas. Unlike Christianity, which is a way of life inasmuch as the Christian’s love for God is supposed to inform every thought, word, and deed, Christianism is a set of principles or rules, of proverbial boxes to be checked by its adherents.
Second, the intellectual construction that is Christianism is a political ideology. It is essentially but a version of our contemporary secular culture’s prevailing Zeitgeist. That is, it is Political Correctness. It is leftism, specifically, what is commonly referred to as “Cultural Marxism,” but with this crucial difference: Christianism supplies to the reigning orthodoxy a theological pretext. As such, a “good” Christianist is one who subscribes to Politically Correct positions on those issues to which leftists attach significance.
Christianism, to put it simply, is of the world.
Third, precisely because Christianism is ubiquitous, with untold numbers of clerics, academics, and writers from across the denominational divide deriving from it enormous benefits in affluence, fame, and, crucially, the semblance of virtue, it is indeed “Big,” an industrial complex.
So, how can we distinguish a Big Christianist from a Christian? The list of features below is admittedly impressionistic, but it suffices to bring into focus a picture of the Big Christianist, the purveyor of the Christianism-Industrial-Complex.
(1)Fundamentally, Big Christianism has little use for the Bible. Granted, he or she will make selective references to Scripture when it is thought that such passages could be spun in such a way as to advance, or at least not impede, the leftist agenda for which Big Christianism provides theological cover. Yet, generally speaking, the Bible, precisely because it is among the most politically incorrect books that has ever existed, is clearly not a thing to which Big Christianists want their constituents paying particularly careful attention.
Because the Bible, in affirming the creaturely status of the world, affirms the existence and omnipresence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, it just as resoundingly underscores the objectivity of value: good, evil, truth, beauty, justice, piety—these are real features of the world. They are neither subjective experiences within the eye of the beholder nor the conventions of culture.
This means that the cosmos, courtesy of the Supreme Person that authored it, is intrinsically “discriminatory.” The universe, nature, or whatever other terms we choose to ascribe to reality discriminates.
This is unacceptable from the standpoint of the Big Christianist, for being that Big Christianism is but another species of leftism, the Bible, given its normative, theocentric vision of nature, threatens the left’s agenda to fundamentally transform Western, Euro-Christian civilization. The inclusivity to which Big Christianists pay rhetorical homage and for which they push at the cost of relativizing (at least in practice, if not necessarily in theory) the differences in belief and conduct between individuals and cultures is impossible to reconcile with the Biblical portrait of reality.
The Bible also affirms, or at least permits, other things, like slavery, patriarchy, war, and nationalism that Big Christianists prefer not to acknowledge. It condemns homosexuality, to say nothing of insisting that marriage is an inherently heterosexual union. And the Bible leaves no doubts that: (a) there really are wicked people; (b) God despises the wicked; and (c) God reserves the ultimate punishment for the wicked.
God, far from being inclusive, is resolutely exclusive when it comes to, not those to whom He extends the invitation of eternal life, but those upon whom He will ultimately grant it.
These are viewpoints that Big Christianists either ignore or attempt to reinterpret away.
But for as scandalous and politically intolerable as these perspectives are for the Big Christianist, none is as unacceptable, none is as big of a threat, as the Biblical portrait of Christ.
(2)The Big Christianist’s (ad hoc) approach to Scripture is, in effect, implicitly Marcionist. Marcion of Sinope lived during the second century in Rome, and the heresy that has been forever named after him is the doctrine that the God of the Old Testament is a fundamentally different God than that of the New. The True God, he maintained, is the God of Jesus Christ.
Big Christianists hold something like this view. Only the God of the Christianism-Industrial-Complex is a gross distortion of the God that is revealed in the pages of the New Testament. The Jesus that it has created—a nonjudgmental, passive, live-and-let-live, unconditionally accepting 1st century liberal hippie who was crucified for no reason other than that he preached universal love—is a politically-advantageous fiction that permits the CIC to achieve three goals:
First, such a Jesus—let’s call him “Fake Jesus”—is wholly vapid. As such, Fake Jesus permits Big Christianists to make any number of uses of him for their own purposes. For example, since Fake Jesus never discriminated against or passed judgment upon anyone, and since we are supposed to emulate Fake Jesus, this means that those of us who inhabit the West should allow to settle within our countries theoretically limitless numbers of human beings from anywhere on the planet, and irrespectively of whether their customs and traditions are antithetical to our own.
Or, since Fake Jesus unconditionally accepted everyone, regardless of how they conducted themselves, and because we are supposed to be like Fake Jesus, the creators and sustainers of reasonably decent, safe, and clean communities must permit the construction of “homeless” shelters within those communities.
When a proposition, like the proposition regarding this fictional depiction of Jesus, is sufficiently vague, it can all too easily be conscripted into the service of any number of policies.
Second, Fake Jesus is so boring that it is utterly impossible for him to lend offense to anyone who may consider occupying a place in any Big Christianist churches. Big Christianists, after all, don’t want to scare off any potential tithers. They believe, understandably, that Fake Jesus is their insurance against this occurring.
After all, what remotely decent human being could take offense by a character, like Fake Jesus, who only preaches unconditional love and who will eagerly, happily embrace anyone and everyone irrespectively of what they’ve done, what they continue to do, and whether or not they repent of their sins? In fact, Fake Jesus isn’t concerned about repentance of sin simply and solely because he doesn’t acknowledge the concept of sin.
Sin is a religious notion. Fake Jesus, however, hasn’t any use for “organized” or “institutionalized religion.” He is, at best, “spiritual.”
As such, Fake Jesus makes everyone feel good about themselves—irrespectively of how wretched they are.
Thirdly, Fake Jesus enables Big Christianists to not only fatten their coffers, but to accommodate the world in that he provides them the opportunity to ignore the real Jesus.
While Jesus did indeed instruct His disciples to cultivate the supreme excellence of agape, of love for all, between the Carpenter of Galilee and the imposter that Big Christianism has put in His place there exists an unbridgeable gap.
Jesus demanded of His followers that they “love one another,” but this injunction needs to be understood in light of, not just the context provided by the New Testament, but as well that of the Old Testament.
Jesus was anything but the “meek and mild” nice guy—Fake Jesus—that Big Christianists, non-Christians, and anti-Christians make Him out to be. He wasn’t nice at all. In fact, if Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be and who the Apostolic Fathers insisted He was, then Jesus was the most obnoxious of jerks, a man whose ego was as immense as His psyche was deluded and His temperament was volatile.
Jesus repeatedly self-identifies as the God of the Bible, of the Hebrew Scriptures, the same God that demands undivided allegiance from the human beings who He created and upon whom He has visited unrelenting, homicidal, and, in some instances, genocidalviolence for turning away from Him.
The God who flooded the Earth, destroying the vast majority of people and animal species, is the God that became a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
The God of the Old Testament who annihilated whole cities, and who ordered the annihilation of still other cities—of men, women, children, and livestock—is one and the same God who was born of the Virgin Mary.
When God became a man in Jesus, He did not cease being the “jealous” God feared by the Israelites and Israel’s enemies. No, if Jesus’s demands could be said to differ from those made by Yahweh it is only to the extent that they were arguably more austere than those issued by God in the Old Testament:
Whereas God spoke mostly to the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Christ He puts Jew and non-Jew alike on notice that either they accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or else… they die.
Big Christianists are apoplectic over Donald Trump’s tweets (while, tellingly, maintaining a deafening silence in the face of the toxic sewage that daily spews forth from not just mostly black rap “artists,” but as well from Democratic politicians and anti-Trump activists who have normalized obscenity and even violence against the President and his supporters). Yet the manner with which Jesus dealt with His opponents makes the roughest of the President’s tweets sound like Mr. Rogers.
With unmitigated conviction and white-hot passion, Jesus not only referred to His adversaries in the ugliest of terms, but blasted them with the severest of charges to their faces. He also promised them—indeed, threatened them—with eternal damnation, agonizing pain and suffering without end.
And He did so routinely.
Jesus also likened a woman who came to Him for help to a dog, for she was a non-Jew, a Gentile, and, from His perspective as a Jew, non-Jews were inferior as Gentiles to Jews. That the woman’s faith in Jesus ultimately prevailed upon Him to heed her request does not change two politically-incorrect facts regarding the God-Man:
(a)Jesus recognized distinctions between, not just individuals, but groups: Jesus, in other words, practiced discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion;
(b)He was willing to suspend His “ban” on Gentiles, but if and only if they were willing to “assimilate” themselves to Him. Only if “the dogs” were willing to abandon those of their beliefs that were at odds with the Truth of which Jesus claimed to be the Incarnation and embrace Him as the only alternative to eternal perdition would He rescue them. If not, then He would follow the course of action that He would later prescribe to His disciples for when their testimony to the Gospel fell on deaf ears: Jesus would shake the dirt off of His sandals, move on, and never look back.
Yet it wasn’t just Gentiles who Jesus took to task. He eviscerated His fellow Jews qua Jews, hurling epithets, allegations, and threats of unprecedented violence, of “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” that would be sure to secure a place today for anyone who said so much as an iota of this on one of the “Hate Watch” lists of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jesus, like His Apostles who placed the lion’s share of guilt for His crucifixion upon the collective shoulder of “the Jews,” can only be viewed as the most virulent of “anti-Semites” from the vantage point of these Hate Seekers.
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However, Jesus could be pretty merciless toward His closest friends, prospective followers, relatives, and…well, pretty much everybody.
Jesus regularly pulled no punches when chastising His apostles for their weaknesses in understanding and faith, exhibited what can only strike us as stone-cold indifference to the pain endured by a man who didn’t want to follow Him until after he buried his dead father, and in effect denied His own family.
Jesus used force to drive the money-changers from the Temple and commanded His disciples to obtain swords.
The God of the New Testament, like the God of the Old—i.e. Jesus—is violent.
The Carpenter from Galilee, in featuring such activities as war and slavery in His parables, never condemned these universal institutions. Nor, for that matter, did He condemn “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “Islamophobia,” “xenophobia,” “nationalism,” “misogyny,” “global warming,” and whatever other unforgivable isms and phobias can be found in the leftist’s catalogue of mortal transgressions.
It is undoubtedly because of this that Big Christianists prefer to drop Him down the memory hole and, instead, promote a fictional character, Fake Jesus, that is more conducive to the ends of the Christianism-Industrial-Complex.
Jack Kerwick [send him mail] received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture.