April 08, 2006
|Elvis Didn't Do No Drugs!||Humor & Fun Religion|
Penn & Teller take on the Bible (via The Atheist Jew):
Fair warning: contains rational thought and, uh, profane language.
They do a great job of demonstrating their
intellectual supiorioity, putting themselves above
believers. As political strategists understand,
this plays perfectly into the right's agenda.
This video will fly around the Christian blogoshpere
as evidence of the kind of people they are up
Cleverness is wonderful, and I enjoy it, however
these are pivotal days and the Bible is playing
a crucial role in the future of the Earth, like
it or not. It's not going away.
I wish there was more visibility to the fact that
Jesus is presented in the Bible as more socially
radical than any other activist before or since.
Instead of debunking the Bible (easy to do) and
driving believers away (easy to do) I wish the
conversation would be about the messages of peace,
love and justice for the poor. That conversation
could threaten our current power structure, Penn
and Teller reinforce the status quo by playing
into the stereotypes which have been meticilously
I find the left's lack of interest in Jesus to be
stunningly wrong-headed. Mel Gibson's movie is
blasted by the left. After 90 minutes of torture,
what did Jesus say?
Forgive them, they know not what they do.
If anything was an indictment of the right, that
is, yet the left scorns it.
Jesus repeatedly stressed that the most important
people are the most disadvantaged. Why does the
left try to distance themselves from that?
I can't think of the right analogy, but it's along
the lines of this, they have Muhammed Ali on their
team, we have Bobby Fisher, and we insist that
the contest should be a boxing match, when they
want a chess game.
Posted by: at April 9, 2006 08:22 AM
I would never watch Penn & Teller expecting something politically astute. The one cogent point here is that the bible is constantly being used to prove litterally anything even though it is not what you could call consistent or accurate.
It's not about Jesus, it is about religion in general. Religion has caused so much pain and intolerance in the name of what? As a non-practicing Jew, I strongly object to the left co-opting Jesus to further their point of view. Seperation of church and state was a good idea...
If I want to reach middle America, which has been
brainwashed by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson,
I would expect to get further quoting Jesus than
What constitutes co-opting?
What is required to qualify as a student of a
teacher such as Jesus, Noam, MLK, the Dali Lama etc?
Posted by: at April 9, 2006 03:37 PM
Kent, I love you, brother, but this idea that Democrats and progressives need to march under Jesus’ banner is something I just don’t buy. If you’re a believer and a progressive – a Jim Wallis – then fine, go for it. But for the rest of us, putting on a mask of religiosity as a political ploy is not only dishonest, I think it’s politically naïve.
Let’s look at this in terms of the Democratic Party. What’s the great complaint against the Democrats these days? It’s that they don’t have core beliefs, that they don’t know what they believe and they blow whichever way the wind blows. If Democrats were to suddenly get religion, do you really think people wouldn’t see through that? It would only serve to confirm their belief that the Dems are chameleons who are just trying to get elected. Worse, it would validate the religiosity of the Republicans.
Bill Clinton and the DLC thought the way to win elections was to move rightward and pick off all the voters in the center. It worked briefly, but by moving the Democratic Party to the right they redefined the “left” and made it possible for the Republicans to move even farther to the right. Look where that has brought us.
If the Democrats were to adopt “Christian” rhetoric to pick off moderate Christian voters, the outcome would be similar. The result would be to validate the notion of religious political parties in America. It would make it possible for the Republican Party to become even more explicitly a party of Christian Fundamentalism. And what of all the progressives who aren’t Christians, who may be Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, agnostics, atheists, etc.? What are they supposed to do while the Democrats court Christians?
I’m all for pointing out to self-styled Christians what it is that Jesus actually taught, which is why I’ve referenced the Sermon on the Mount repeatedly in past posts. But I am under no illusions that doing so is going to make a measurable dent in electoral terms. Fundamentalist “Christians” have been ignoring Jesus’ message for as long as there have been Fundamentalist Christians. Progressives can talk about Jesus until they’re blue in the face, and that’s not going to change the mind of a single Fundamentalist. There is no getting through to someone who believes, in defiance of all reality, that the world is six thousand years old, that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, that Noah put all the world’s species on a boat and then somehow redistributed them around the world when the Flood ended, etc., etc. Forget them; they're not the people we need to be talking to. They're not listening.
Penn & Teller’s style is certainly in-your-face, but their quarrel isn’t with Jesus’ moral teachings; it’s with all the supernatural nonsense that too many people treat as literal truth. Penn & Teller could have been more tactful, sure, but their point is an essential one here in the 21st century. In the days leading up to the 2004 election, I did phone canvassing for Kerry. One man I talked with at some length told me that there was no point worrying about oil because God could put more oil in the ground any time He wanted. This guy isn’t unique. Lots of Americans doubtless believe that global warming, too, is under God’s control, and if it happens, well, it’s God’s Will. That kind of supernatural superstition isn’t just anachronistic, it’s dangerous. It can get a lot of people killed. It can get my children killed. It needs to be challenged.
Posted by: Jonathan at April 9, 2006 05:02 PM
I don't think I'm talking about marching under a
banner, or putting on a mask, but speaking in the
language being used for the debate.
Penn and Teller do their thing with great skill
and wit, Pat Robertson is also very successful. Fundamentalists are not interesting here, by
definition they are not going to change.
But most people are in the middle; looking and
listening; searching for the message which
resonates with them.
I can't think of any politician to the left of
what Jesus taught. Yet the left feels they would
be phony to associate with him. This is truly a
story of the success of the right wing think tank manipulations.
I really don't think it would be phony at all to
say "you guys think Jesus was great, so do I.
Let's discuss what he actually said about poverty,
justice etc." How many lefties don't agree with
what Jesus said? But they are phony to quote him?
I'm not talking about courting Christians, or
being exclusionary. The beauty of the Sermon on
the Mount is that it is universal. Why not use it
as a description of justice? Why not hold
Bonhoeffer in esteem as part of political discourse? I think it's also appropriate to
reference Mahatma Gandhi and the Dali Lama,
although they are more easily dismissed by middle
I think that Rich Lang
is right when he says:
We are faced today with pivotal questions
concerning which Jesus will be proclaimed: the Jesus of Martin Luther
King or the Jesus of Pat Robertson, the Jesus who forgives his enemies or
the Jesus who kills them, the Jesus of the Jubilee or the Jesus of “it’s a
blessing to be rich and powerful”? The culture war has been intensified so
that none of us has the option of passively watching the battle evolve.
George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism
For the left to stay out of this debate doesn't
promote separation of Church and State, it just
guarantees that the State will adopt the Church
of dominion, and a lot more children will get
Like it or not, and I don't like it, I think
this is our reality today.
All religons have perverted their teachings in the
interest of empire. I think we should try to
reclaim the teachings, not abandon them.
Posted by: at April 9, 2006 09:39 PM
Beautifully put, Kent. You remind me why I hold you in such high regard. I, too, would love to see Christians take the Sermon on the Mount to heart and turn away from the mega-churches and the worship of worldly "success" and turn toward working for peace and social justice. I.e., to truly be Christians and follow Jesus. I, too, am a fan of Rich Lang (thanks to you, who introduced me to his work). E.g., http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2004/10/the_rise_of_chr.htm. And Bonhoeffer’s message certainly resonated with me, as you know, even though I’m not a believer. http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2004/08/bonhoeffer_part.htm and http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2004/08/bonhoeffer_part_1.htm.
If only we could separate Jesus as moral teacher and implacable advocate of social justice from Jesus as God and magical Son of God. Unfortunately, in most people’s minds Jesus is Jesus Christ, a supernatural being. And therein lies the rub. References to Jesus are of a different category from references to Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, or Martin Luther King. You and I may see Jesus as the greatest of radical activists, but most people have him situated at the center of a whole complex of supernatural mythology. Which makes invoking his name for political purposes, I think, a dangerous business. It reinforces ideas of magical, supernatural agency in the world, which is not what we need right now. And it opens the door to absolutism and jihad.
Perhaps it comes down to knowing your audience. In a discussion with a thoughtful person who loves Jesus as moral exemplar but realizes that all the supernatural mythology is metaphor, then by all means we should point to the radical heart of Jesus’ message. As a broad-based electoral strategy, however (here I’m not referring to what you’ve said, but to what a number of Democratic pundits have recommended in the aftermath of 2004), where your audience is largely people who think Jesus is God Himself, I’m not sure we want to validate the notion that American political parties are now religious parties. We don’t want elections to become a question of which party has God on its side, any more than they already have. Nor do we want to reinforce magical thinking generally and the idea that mythology is a literal description of reality. Somebody has to stand up for grownup thinking in the maelstrom of these times. Reclaiming the message is preferable to abandoning it, I agree. Part of that reclamation, I believe (and here I'm just saying what I believe, I'm not suggesting that you disagree), is stripping away the magical elements. It is enough that Jesus was a human being. It is, in fact, preferable, since it means that you don’t have to be God to be good.
So perhaps, in the end, it comes down to finding a way to bring that story to life: Jesus was a human being, not a god, a human being who loved the peacemakers and the poor, who believed love and forgiveness are the answers to human suffering, and who had the moral clarity and courage to willingly die rather than compromise what he knew to be the moral truth.
Posted by: Jonathan at April 9, 2006 11:52 PM
I wish we could consider the question
'what would Jesus do' when discussing policy
matters. God or man, his teachings are pretty
clear on how he thinks we should treat each other.
I think that question strikes fear into Karl
Rove's heart, it's a base that's hard to cover.
The right currently has the field to themselves,
which frustrates me no end.
Let's see ... it's as if Caterpillar heavy
equipment somehow convinced people that Joe Hill
would align himself with them were he to return.
Posted by: at April 10, 2006 06:35 AM