Our Christian in Chief

DailyCamera.com (Colorado), July 6, 2003 (Opinion: Clay Evans)

Jesus is a big book, and despite the glib pronouncements of fundamentalists, he can be read in contradicting ways.

And that’s just based on the 27 books of the New Testament now accepted as the inspired word of God as it relates to Jesus. How weird that today’s Protestant fundamentalists are so fist-poundingly insistent about the literal, complete veracity of that same New Testament. After all, the men at the First Council of Nicea, 325 A.D., who decided which of dozens — some say hundreds — of books would be included in the New Testament … were a bunch of Catholics.

Many people of faith argue, of course, that the decision at Nicea was divinely inspired, and proceed from there. Other, more skeptical believers, who find great wisdom in discarded books — the Gospel of Thomas, for example — suspect there was at least some human meddling 1,700 years ago.

But let’s just stick to the New Testament. Fundamentalists say it’s simple: Accept “Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” and everything else will follow. Catholics (my tradition) tend to believe that works must complement faith, and eschew facile notions that goodness automatically follows salvation.

President George W. Bush takes great pride in his Christian faith, crediting it with saving him from a life of alcohol abuse (and perhaps more sordid, if less public, sins). Previous presidents have been men of strong faith, but none have been so confident of their purported hot line to God as Bush. Now comes word out of Israel (the respected newspaper, Haaretz) that during their recent meeting, Bush reportedly told Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.”

If true — and they fit Bush’s beliefs — those words shouldn’t surprise, but should concern, every American, Christian or atheist, Jew or Buddhist. Bush’s certitude is frightening because it implies that he will do as he pleases, confident that God is steering him, no possibility for error. Of course, that’s what Osama bin Laden thinks, too.

And Bush’s interpretation of Christianity is hardly definitive.

Jesus holds a decided skepticism toward Bush’s pals, the rich. In Matthew 19:23, for example, Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (It’s fun to watch the hilarious contortions of rich, American Christians trying to wriggle out of that one.)

What about war? Jesus used fighting words on occasion, but more often he took the way of peace, counseling his followers to “turn the other cheek” and urging his disciples to “put away (their) swords” when soldiers came to arrest him.

And it’s sure hard to believe that Jesus would have endorsed these remarks by the pious Bush, as reported in Time magazine: “F*** Saddam, we’re taking him out.” Or consider this funny li’l joke he made in 1993 (post-conversion) when asked what he would say to Israeli Jews: “You’re all going to hell.” Or when he mocked murderer Karla Faye Tucker, who was born again in prison, just prior to her execution: “Please … don’t kill me!”

Funny guy, God’s own president. But would Jesus laugh?

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday July 12, 2003.
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