Christ vs. Conservatism: A Serious Conflict
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for their's is the kingdom of Heaven.
The Sermon on the Mount
From the Gospel According To Matthew
It's amazing, isn't it? Right-wingers tend to go absolutely bonkers when it comes to the Ten Commandments. They want it carved in to the walls of our court houses, our schools, everywhere! What I can't figure out is that, as Christians (and most conservatives are, after all, self-described Christians), one would think that their main point of emphasis would be on the New Testament. The Ten Commandments is from the Old Testament and Jesus is not even mentioned there - Not once! Don't get me wrong; It is a very good set of rules to live by - in fact I recommend it over any book ever written by Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity or any body else, for that matter. The fact that far too many conservatives are unable to detect the irony in the words, "Thou shalt not kill" has always somewhat puzzled me, given their overall support of the death penalty and the obscenity that their government is now committing, at this very minute, against the children of Iraq. But why they hardly ever focus on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ just doesn't make any sense to me!
Or maybe it does make sense. Maybe it makes perfect sense....
Tell you what you can do: The next time one of these foolish conservative congressmen advocate the placing of the the Ten Commandments on the wall of a public building somewhere, call his office and tell him you're willing to compromise. Tell him that, as good and decent Christians, we should have the actual words of our Lord and Savior on that wall. Ask him if he'll agree to having the Sermon on the Mount etched, for all time, onto the marble instead. I'm willing to bet you anything that he won't go for that idea at all. Why? Because Jesus' words in that particular sermon are totally at odds with the goals of the main stream conservative movement . You don't believe me? Go ahead! Read it again. I'll wait.....
[PAUSE FOR EFFECT]
....Now do you see what I'm talking about? Were you able to detect just a teeny weeny, itsy bitsy contradiction between the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the nasty, public face of the right wing? It couldn't possibly be any clearer, could it? And here's another bit of irony for you: George W. Bush, the man who is called by many people (with straight faces, no less) "our most Christian president", is, in reality, the least Christ-like chief executive we've ever had.
One does not have to be a theological scholar to see the shameful hypocrisy in this man when he uses the name of Jesus Christ to justify what is, without a doubt, the most blatantly corrupt and murderous agenda of any administration in American history. Do you remember the republican primary debates in the spring of 2000 when he named Jesus as his favorite "philosopher"? When I watched that debate on C-SPAN I remember thinking, "Wow! I knew this guy wasn't the brightest bulb on the porch but he can't even tell the difference between philosophy and theology"? At that moment I summarily dismissed any chance of his ever making it to the White House. "The American people just aren't dumb enough to fall for this fool", I thought, "They can't be"!
What was it that P.T. Barnum said about never going broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public?
The unavoidable fact is this: Progressives can and must reclaim Jesus as one of our own. Just look at it this way; Do you think for one moment that, were He to return today to our troubled planet, He would be praising the deeds of the Bush administration? Do you think even for a split second that He would make a pilgrimage to the campus of Liberty University in Lynchberg, Virginia to congratulate Jerry Fallwell for all the jaw droppingly mean and stupid things that he has said and done in the past in Jesus' name? The only way I can fantasize Him coming onto the set of Pat Robertson's 700 Club would be in order to give that boy a good tongue lashing or maybe even a well-deserved ass whipping. Do you remember that scene in the gospel when He physically attacked the money changers who He felt were desecrating His temple? Yes, the Big Guy was capable of losing His temper and on at least one occasion He did. I can just see it now: He'd wipe the floor with these knuckleheads!
The greatest Christian thinkers of the past one hundred years could hardly be described as conservatives. Just look at the evidence - Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton (after whom I'm named, by the way), Martin Luther King, Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II - And while it would be disingenuous, if not down right dishonest, to say that these good and devout people embraced all ideas left of center (they most certainly did not), it's not an exaggeration to say that they had more in common - a lot more in common - with the goals of Tom Hayden than of Tom DeLay (or even this Tom, for that matter!) That's not just my opinion, that's a proven, undeniable fact.
Even Billy Graham's message has less to do with the agenda of these ultra-right wing crazies then it does to that of the left. For sixty years now, his emphasis has been on love; Pure, untainted and unconditional love. While many progressives have tended to scorn him for his ties to the Nixon White House, since the 1940s he has actually raised, at the very least, a billion dollars for charity while he himself has always lived modestly. There has been an unfair tendency among some people in recent years to throw him in with the Jimmy Swaggarts and the Jim Bakkers. To do so is nothing short of slanderous. The truth is that he is really one of the good guys.
Mother Theresa's absolute devotion and dedication to the poor and down-trodden was a positively radical stand! I don't know the exact amount in contributions she raised for her flock over the years, but I'm sure it was well in excess of one-hundred million dollars. Do you think that she spent one penny of those charitable donations on a diamond mine in South Africa (ala Pat Roberson)? Do you believe that she used the money to promote gambling casinos on Indian reservations (ala Ralph Reed and the so-called "Christian" Coalition)? Do you seriously think that she donated one farthing to the campaigns of Newt Gingrich or Bill Frist or even fellow Catholics, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy? All of it went to the poor while she lived in poverty. She was a saint.
That is what we mean when we say that someone is "Christ-like". This is what we don't mean when we use the term, "Christ-like":
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth". Cutting billions from government programs that were put in place to ease the pain and suffering of the poor and dispossessed - the meek - is anything but Christ-like. That is pretty much of a no-brainer. Trust me on this one. Under the current administration, the meek have been getting the shaft.
Handing out a hideously bloated tax cut to people who already have more money than they know what to do with, while it may very well be satanic behavior - you'll get no argument from me there - it is hardly Christ-like.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy". In a 1999 interview with Tucker Carlson, Bush (in a feeble attempt at being "funny") mimicked the condemned Karla Faye Tucker pleading for her life. Hmm, call it a hunch but I've got a funny feeling that that wasn't very merciful. And don't forget that it was Bush who also sent over one hundred and fifty people to their deaths as governor of Texas - more than any other governor in American history. He would refuse to commute the sentences of people of questionable guilt - He wouldn't even review their cases! The 2000 presidential race was coming up and he just had to prove to the public that he was tough on crime. That's not very merciful either. As the late, great Lenny Bruce once observed, "Thou shalt not kill means just that"!
Here's an interesting question to ponder: Was Jesus "tough on crime"? It's really hard to say. But I think it bears mentioning that He was, in fact, sentenced to death for His "crimes" against the government and that, in His dying moment, He implored God to take pity on His executioners.
"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do".
No. Sending one-hundred and fifty human beings to their deaths is not, to be sure, a very Christ-like act. They would have had better luck had they been stem cells.
Abraham Lincoln was a blessed and merciful man who, though not a true Christian in the strictest sense of the word, was, in reality, our most Christ-like president. He was known to go out of his way, finding loopholes to avoid executing a deserting soldier during the civil war. (Fortunately for Bush, capitol punishment for desertion was a thing of the past by the time he went AWOL from the Air National Guard in 1972) Any plea for mercy for the condemned man from a distraught mother or father never went unrewarded. Like Christ, Lincoln would end up being executed by the enemies of righteousness. At his first inaugural on March 4, 1861, he pleaded with the rebelling southerners to be guided by the "better angels" of their nature. Can you just imagine Dubya under the same circumstances?
"BRING 'EM ON"!
Now admit it! It makes you sick just thinking about it, doesn't it? C'mon, BE HONEST!
Finally: manufacturing cooked-up evidence in order to frighten a quarter of a billion people into signing on to a war that has easily slaughtered over one-hundred thousand men, women and little children, the sole purpose of which was to seize the second largest oil reserves on the planet and grease the coffers of a handful of well-connected corporate cronies may be a lot of things - In fact, it is many things - But it is not Christ-like. Not even in the least. Again, this is a no-brainer.
And as an admittedly flawed Catholic, let me remind my fellow members of the Church of Rome that the Vatican has twice, under two different popes, vehemently condemned America's incursion into Iraq in the strongest language possible. Any Catholic who supports this war should hang his or her head in shame.
I know that it is wrong to speak the mind of the Lord and I won't even attempt to do so. But it is a fairly easy call to say that He is not looking down and smiling at the carnage that has been inflicted on this troubled planet by this sick and sickening administration. This ain't rocket science, kiddies. This is what is known as, "Christianity 101".
I really have only one great fear. Do you want to know what it is? Going to hell. I'd like to get to Heaven but I'm not all that sure I will. I'm almost certain that, at the very least, I'll probably do some serious time in Purgatory. For many years, I smoked and drank to excess and for a few of those years I used drugs. I was at times careless, even thoughtless with respect to my relationships with women. Although I've spent the better amount of my time in recent years trying to make amends, I'm not at all certain that I'll ever be allowed to walk through dem ol' pearly gates.
But of this, I am absolutely certain: If, at the end of my life when I'm standing on the threshold of eternity and I find that I have been condemned to eternal damnation, it won't be because of the very public stand I took, from day one, against this disgusting administration. It will be in spite of it.
Pray for peace.
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
by Thomas Merton
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