Pious right-wing Republicans smear the name of Jesus and ravage the image of Christianity
By Nick Paccione
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 26, 2006, 00:53

There was a brief period during the early seventies when Jesus Christ was on the way to becoming a totally bitchen, hip and with-it cultural icon in America. He was climbing the Billboard charts as the subject of several songs including �Jesus Christ Superstar� in 1971, �Put Your Hand in the Hand (Of the Man Who Stilled the Water)� in that same year and �My Sweet Lord� in 1970 (Granted this George Harrison song was more about Krishna but the general public didn�t really see it that way. If you were Christian this song was about Jesus Christ).

In his 1973 hit �Why Me,� Kris Kristofferson sang �now that I know that I�ve needed you so; help me Jesus -- my soul�s in your hand.� The Doobie Brothers crooned that �Jesus he�s my friend� in �Jesus is Just Alright� circa 1973. Judy Collins had a hit record with �Amazing Grace� in 1971. �Prepare yourself, you know it�s a must; gotta have a friend in Jesus� came from Norman Greenbaum�s smash hit �Spirit in the Sky� from 1970. �Day by Day� had regular airplay in 1972 with a chorus that proclaimed �Oh dear Lord three things I pray: To see thee more clearly; love thee more dearly; follow thee more nearly -- day by day.� These were not Carrie Underwood cornball-country hits about Jesus driving an old Ford Fairlane on a rural icy road and they weren�t restricted to Christian radio either. They were 100 percent mainstream Billboard Top 40.

John Lennon was the most popular spokesperson in those years for the spirituality that told his audience to imagine a world without war, hatred and greed; a world in which we were encouraged to give peace a chance and to love one another. He provided a platform for Jesus� greatest hits in an extremely endearing and popular package and many hundreds of pop stars have followed his lead without directly mentioning religion or Christ. (The message of loving one another is at the poetic heart of all the world�s religions.)

In 1973, Hollywood produced a movie based on a Broadway hit called Godspell (Columbia Pictures) which depicted a contemporary version of the gospels, opening with John the Baptist calling young New Yorkers to follow and learn from Jesus. In the movie Jesus� followers develop a nomadic entertainment troupe that enacts the parables through song, dance, comedy, and mime. With thoughtful symbolism we see Jesus crucified in a junkyard and then resurrected by his apostles so that he can enter the world of the living on the streets of New York City. Franco Zefferelli weighed in with his more literal interpretation of Christ�s life in �Jesus of Nazareth.� And the rock-opera �Jesus Christ Superstar� was given the full Hollywood promotional push as a major motion picture release with heavy-weight Norman �In the Heat of the Night� Jewison directing for Universal Studios.

Jesus� popularity during this period was a natural offshoot of the hippy movement. Let�s face it; the hippies of the sixties were a lot closer to being Christ-like than today�s Evangelical Christians who as a voting block believe that capitalistic, jingoistic, pro-war, anti-immigration politicians and televangelists are the be all and end all. Yes the hippies were too idealistic and some just pretended to believe in the whole �love-one-another� groovy vibe so they could take advantage of the free love aspect of the movement. And yes, that probably led to the record number of sexually transmitted diseases of present times. But the heart of the hippy was usually in the right place with the idea that many of them found love and peace at the heart of Jesus� message -- a sadly na�ve and seemingly overly sentimental notion among Christians in the USA of today.

Evangelical Christians have hijacked the concept of Christianity and turned it into something far less innocent and nauseatingly political. If they can�t be stopped, Jesus may never be hip again. Sure they�ve had their hits with their own circle of zealots that see Jesus� life and death as some literal physical sacrifice as depicted by Mel Gibson in �The Passion of the Christ.� Films like this one are not reaching too many people that don�t already have the Jesus fever. In my circle of acquaintances I knew many more people turned off by Gibson�s bloody circus play compared to a tiny handful of believers that liked it and felt inspired by it. It made buckets of money from church groups but it certainly wasn�t inspirational in a way that would touch the sane non-believer.

Keep in mind that there are thousands of Christians who embrace Jesus� message of love, compassion, kindness and mercy. We just rarely hear from them over the airwaves. So how did Jesus get co-opted by his present-day vociferous followers? I blame it on the wing of Christianity that thought they could make their greatest impact by intertwining their Christian beliefs with politics. And for what? So they could make abortion illegal and keep gays from marrying. They are so blinded by these objectives that it�s as if nothing else matters. Worse still, they�ve trusted the mantle of their dreams to some of the biggest conservative hypocrites in U.S. history. These aren�t the corporate fiscal conservatives of the seventies. These are the anti-social-program, moral conservatives that preach about family values and win over the religious voter by taking a firm stand on hot-button social issues while destroying the planet through disastrous environmental policies, pro-gun laws and deadly unnecessary wars. It�s a certainty when we�re all killed by the policies of these fanatics, there will absolutely be no abortions or gay marriages.

Take a look at the most popular spokespeople and most beloved politicians embraced by fundamentalist Christians over the last few decades. It would be impossible to calculate the level of damage that they�ve done to the name of Jesus by using him for political profit and other financial rewards.

Rush Limbaugh owes a great deal of his success to Christian conservatives who eat up his no-nonsense approach to �liberal excesses.� He condemns gays, abortion, feminists and barely veils his racism. But modern-day Christians do not do service to Jesus� name through their glaring hypocrisy concerning Rush. Christian fundamentalists use literal readings of the Bible to condemn gays but ignore the literal words of Jesus regarding divorce. Limbaugh has been divorced three times although Jesus states: �The law of Moses says if anyone wants to be rid of his wife, he can divorce her by giving her a letter of dismissal. But I say a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery if she marries again. And he who marries her commits adultery� (Matthew 5:31-32). In Mark 10:11-12, Jesus says that anyone having sex in a second marriage is committing adultery over and over again. Their sexual union is no better in biblical terms than a gay union which, by the way, is never condemned directly by Jesus Christ. I say divorce is a necessary option but don�t condemn gays with a literal reading of the Bible and ignore divorce.

As long as Limbaugh opposes abortion and gays, Christians don�t seem to care about his �adulterous lifestyle� and in many cases they aren�t even familiar with Jesus� quotes concerning divorce because that�s not a big money maker for Christian ministers. Limbaugh is a frightening Christian idol on other levels. They don�t seem to care about his drug abuse thathas myriad implications from hypocrisy to illegality to sexual promiscuity. Few noticed the implications of his latest confrontation with the law when he was questioned for possessing Viagra that had been dispensed to him under his doctor�s name. From a Christian point of view, what is a divorced man without a spouse doing with Viagra while on vacation in the Dominican Republic? If the Christian right won�t denounce him with the same fervor that they denounce gays in a St. Patrick Day parade, their credibility has got to seriously suffer. And who suffers most? Jesus! He is misrepresented and marginalized by this continuing hypocrisy.

Other pundits that Christians have lionized are not much better. William Bennett, who tells us all how to live a virtuous life through his �Book of Virtues,� has admitted to an addiction to high-stakes gambling, one of the most destructive vices in family history. His comments about aborting black babies to lower the crime rate in America should have pricked up a few ears in the Christian community but not a word was spoken. Popular conservative television entertainer Bill O�Reilly is their current go-to man because he has fought the hard fight of keeping �Christ in Christmas� against the �heathens� in the ACLU. Of course this noble family man and defender of all things traditional will never talk about Andrea Mackris, the former producer of �The O�Reilly Factor,� who sued him for sexual harassment after he allegedly made sexually explicit statements involving a loofah and a falafel. Mackris' case was settled out of court when O'Reilly agreed to pay her an undisclosed sum.

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay is another darling of today�s Christians even after being indicted twice in one week for conspiracy and money laundering. �God is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for a biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me,� says DeLay.

Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian Coalition from 1989�1997, appeared to be a regular little Christian cherub until he thoroughly disgraced himself through his ties to Conservative Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff who has been sentenced to over five years in prison for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. This wasn�t Reed�s first run-in with the law. In 1996, the Christian Coalition's chief financial officer, Judy Liebert, "went to federal prosecutors with her suspicions of overbilling by Ben Hart, a direct-mail vendor with close ties to Ralph Reed.� Reed resigned soon after and he was never charged with any crimes. He capped his shady career in 2006 with his losing bid to be the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.

During the Terri Schiavo controversy, Fox News� coverage was led by Catholic fanatic and rabbid conservative Sean Hannity. With typical melodramatic flare and expected religious pandering, Hannity camped in front of the hospital where Schiavo lay dying after her feeding tube was removed. All of the Fox News mouth breathers -- Brit Hume, Bill O'Reilly, Neil Cavuto, and John Gibson -- stated opposition to the feeding tube removal and claimed that the cries for Schiavo�s right to die came entirely from secular Americans and Democratic politicians. Poll after poll confirmed overwhelming public support among "mainstream Protestants" for the tube's removal. Even a majority of Republicans supported removal of the feeding tube as if it was anyone�s business.

One of the main proponents of continuing the tube feeds was Randall Terry, a notorious figure in Christian conservative circles best known for his often violent acts and his calls for the murder of abortion doctors and activist judges.

A Republican "talking points" memo authored by Senator Mel Martinez suggested ideas by which the Republicans could use the Schiavo tragedy for political gain. Fox News personalities immediately attacked the memo and claimed that liberals had forged it. When the memo was proven to be legitimate, Fox News never apologized or admitted their error. As usual, the side arguing in Jesus� name is proven to be smug, sleazy and unrepentantly opportunistic.

No question that Evangelist Billy Graham has mainly stayed above the fray. He has never preached hatred and he has avoided the hideous scandals that deservedly destroyed staunch Christian TV personalities Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker -- world-renowned as comic punchlines and disgraced charlatans. But Graham did give the world his son, Franklin, who holds his own as as wannabe Christian nutjob. After the September 11 attacks Graham referred to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion� and called for the U.S. to unleash its most powerful military weapons against these forces of evil as if they were all gathered in one convenient location. Furthering his scramble to be a contender among the Christian crackpots, Graham travelled to Iraq to conduct a Good Friday service nine days after Baghdad �fell to American military forces.�

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI added to the cacophony by quoting a Byzantine 14th century emperor�s words stating that Muhammad had introduced �things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.� Benedict, in the same speech, held up Christianity as �the profound encounter of faith and reason.� The president of Germany's central council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, continued the war of words by saying that Catholicism's murderous and compromised history left it with no moral leg to stand on to criticize other religions. "After the blood-stained conversions in South America, the Crusades in the Muslim world, the coercion of the church by Hitler's regime, and even the coining of the phrase 'holy war' by Pope Urban II, I do not think the church should point a finger at extremist activities in other religions." The truth is that no one wants their religion of choice to be judged by the actions of a handful of extremists. Jesus said, �Blessed are the peace makers.� Does Benedict believe that his words are those of a peace maker?

As for our presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were too open about their religious convictions and there�s no doubt that their claims of piety were part of a plan to win votes from the Bible Belt. But Ronald Reagan is to blame for bringing the hypocritical version of Christianity into mainstream politics through his unholy alliance with the Christian Right and the so-called Moral Majority under the leadership of religious madman Jerry Falwell.

And in a separate category of Christian grandstanding sits George W Bush, the most mind-boggling of all the Christian political idols. He appeared on American television and declared that he was born again after years of abusing alcohol and drugs and he�s automatically confirmed as their guy to fight the gays and abortion-rights crowd. He is so far removed from the Christian ideal that is laid out in the Bible that it�s more frightening than laughable. He has lied to Americans repeatedly. He has started an unprovoked war that has led to thousands and thousands of deaths. He is destroying the earth through his arrogant pro-business environmental policies. And he continues to employ Karl Rove who never met an ends that didn�t justify the means through vicious, spiteful, despicable political smears and maneuvers.

And that brings us to the heart of darkness: Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and the Southern Baptist Convention under the leadership of Dr. Richard Land. These are our country�s most popular Christian spokespeople and they are huge supporters of George W Bush and he of them. With the power they wield, they should be winning their cultural war but, in reality, this will prove to be the beginning of the end for this fire and brimstone brand of conservative Christianity. Simply put, they are the most destructive forces working against the very image of Jesus Christ and there is already a toll to the credibility of all Christians because of them.

Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission or the political wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, is also the host of �For Faith & Family� and �For Faith & Family's Insight,� two nationally syndicated radio programs. How has he affected our lives? He was the primary author of the Land Letter, an open epistle sent to President George W. Bush by leaders of the religious right in October 2002, which outlined a "just war" argument in support of the subsequent military invasion of Iraq. Everyone else with any intellect and integrity including Pope John Paul II denounced Land�s justification. Bush went on to make this garbled twisted logic the Christian cornerstone for his unprovoked war with Iraq and since then every reason for this �just war� has been debunked.

And it�s the Southern Baptist Convention that calls for boycotts of companies like Disney because they provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners or allow a so-called �Gay Day� at Disney World. Do these fundamentalists have a clue as to the sexual orientation of most of the young men skipping and waving at them from the Disney Park parade floats? These Christians are so pathetically out of touch as not to know that the songs that their kids are singing from �The Lion King,� �Beauty and the Beast,� �The Little Mermaid,� and �Aladdin� were all co-written by openly gay men (Elton John for �The Lion King� and Howard Ashman for the rest).

Pat Robertson has done more than his share in delivering votes for Bush. He�s done even more in his inadvertent efforts in smearing the name of Jesus Christ by claiming to speak in his name. In a truly unChristian manner Robertson attacked a number of Protestant denominations with this statement: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." More memorably, Robertson has stated that feminism is a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." Ask yourself where Jesus might fit in this equation?

During the United States' involvement in the Liberian Civil War in June and July of 2003, Robertson supported Liberian President Charles Taylor on his 700 Club program. Would it have mattered to his Christian followers that Robertson has an $8 million investment in a Liberian gold mine? Taylor had already been indicted by the United Nations for war crimes and prosecutors claimed he had harbored members of al Qaeda allegedly responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. Robertson explained with a straight face that the gold mine was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia. What would Jesus do? If Jesus actually threw the money changers out of the temple, you can be sure that he�d boot Robertson�s ass out of the temple and into a steaming pile of jackass dung.

Robertson all but begged his followers for cash donations to Operation Blessing which he said would support airlifts of refugees from Rwanda to Zaire. It was later discovered, by a reporter from The Virginian Pilot, that Operation Blessing's planes were transporting diamond-mining equipment for the Robertson-owned African Development Corporation. An investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements� and they called for a criminal prosecution against Robertson. However, the Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley -- die-hard Christian and zealous Republican -- intervened and halted the prosecution. Does anyone care that Mark Earley�s largest campaign contributor two years earlier was Pat Robertson?

Then there�s the inimitable Jerry Falwell who is, at best a regular embarrassment to all that Jesus represented and, at his worst, a true provocateur of hatred and evil. In February of 1999, an article in Falwell's National Liberty Journal stated that Tinky Winky of Teletubbies fame was a stealth symbol of homosexuality because the character was purple, had an inverted triangle on his head and carried a handbag. After the September 11, 2001, attacks Falwell had this to say: �I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say �you helped this happen.�" He later denied this statement seemingly unaware of a new-fangled miracle known as videotape that had captured his hate and venom for posterity.

In a radio interview on March 4, 2002, Falwell criticized former President Jimmy Carter with these unforgettable words: "His message of peace and reconciliation under almost all circumstances is simply incompatible with Christian teachings as I interpret them. This 'turn the other cheek' business is all well and good but it's not what Jesus fought and died for. What we need to do is take the battle to the Muslim heathens and do unto them before they do unto us." Okay, I guess Jesus actually did say something like that; didn�t he?

In 1994, Falwell released a video called "The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton." Falwell's infomercial for the 80-minute tape is best remembered for its images of Falwell interviewing a silhouetted journalist who was afraid for his life. The journalist stated that Clinton ordered the deaths of several reporters and personal confidantes who stumbled across the horrific crimes of Bill and Hillary. It was later revealed that the silhouetted journalist was Patrick Matrisciana, the producer of the video who admitted he was not a journalist and that Jerry had thought up the silhouetted interview for dramatic effect. Falwell also admitted, "To this day I do not know the accuracy of the claims made in 'The Clinton Chronicles,'� though he has never condemned the poor research and false statements that smeared and maligned little Chelsea�s parents and the elected president of the United States of America. (If you criticize Bush and his war, these Republican Christians are among the first to call you unpatriotic. But Clinton was fair game because, after al,1 they didn�t vote for him. It�s not only hypocritical and unpatriotic; it�s downright seditious.)

But Doctor James Dobson is even more dangerous than these other right-wing Christian screwballs because he hasn�t generally been known for any blatantly silly missteps, like Falwell�s Teletubbie pronouncement or the obvious pilfering committed by Robertson. Like Doctor Laura, if you listen to him occasionally he sounds normal and at times insightful. Dobson�s alleged declaration that SpongeBob SquarePants is a homosexual was proven to be a misquote by a handful of media outlets that were overly anxious for a Falwell-style humiliation.

Dobson has a huge Christian following and he is a true power broker for the Republicans, delivering even more Evangelicals to the voting booths than Falwell and Robertson combined. Many observers give him the credit for the Bush-Cheney victory in �04. There�s no question that he�s a saner strain delivering the same brand of nonsense with his questionable views on corporal punishment, homosexuality and feminism. He denounces �tolerance� and �diversity� as �buzzwords� that are part of a hidden agenda to promote homosexuality and he endorses the idea that fathers should show off their penises while showering with their pre-pubescent sons as a means for reinforcing their masculinity.

Like most delusional types, Dobson believes that he turned out magnificently for many reasons, including, but not limited to, the fact that his own mother hit him with "a multitude of straps and buckles." Dobson implies that spanking is biblically endorsed. (It may not be literally in the Bible, but I think we can all agree that Mary probably had to use the switch every now and then when a willful Jesus would turn his water into Mountain Dew. But Joseph was always nearby to cool things down with a tender show-and-tell, father-son shower.)

But nothing that Dobson has said is as warped as his influential view on stem-cell research. During his �Focus on the Family� radio show on August 3, 2005, Dobson criticized supporters of expanded stem cell research with these words: "In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind . . . You know, if you take a utilitarian approach that if something results in good, then it is good. But that's obviously not true. We condemn what the Nazis did because there are some things that we always could do but we haven't done, because science always has to be guided by ethics and by morality. And you remove ethics and morality, and you get what happened in Nazi Germany.�

This isn�t just an opinion. This is the ranting of a person out of touch with any semblance of compassion, sympathy, intelligence or reality. To compare living breathing thinking human beings who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis to scientific research conducted on the inner mass of a blastocyst is unconscionable. Meanwhile, imperative research to save people currently suffering with Parkinson�s, Alzheimer�s and spinal cord injuries is being compromised by this moron�s influence over the president. It�s a disgrace to Christianity and to the name of Jesus Christ that this thickheaded bore is allowed a profitable venue to speak about any subject concerning morality in light of this stem cell comment!

The Dobsons, Falwells and Robertsons seem to be winning some cultural battle that mostly exists in their minds but make no mistake, they will lose the overall war. As these dinosaurs fade out they�ll probably be replaced by more of the same but time and the grace of a higher power will expose their heinous folly and their numbers will dwindle. Christians that have bestowed such clout on these men and on the political types that are grinding away at Jesus� reputation of love and compassion probably won�t understand the damage they are doing until it�s too late.

But there are distant signs that a shift in the political winds might be underway, while the rank and file evangelical Christians could be discovering a more diverse point of view. A recent national study conducted by Baylor University and the Gallup organization found that nearly 40 percent of evangelicals now believe that the Iraq war was unjustified. Thirty eight percent no longer have a high level of trust in George W Bush. Research is also consistently showing that evangelicals don�t share one simple opinion on the Republican�s tax policies, the death penalty and feminism. Global Warming has even caught the attention of pockets of evangelicals and if this were to gain some traction it will spell disaster for big business Republicans that have counted on single-issue Christians to deliver the Republican vote.

Other cultural guideposts do not bode well for the fundamentalist judgmental strain of Christianity currently plaguing the United States. Because mass media has made the world a smaller more accessible place, kids are developing a more inherent sense of right and wrong based on fairness and common sense. If they are children of fundamentalist Christians, they are likely to come to know that an all-powerful God could never be as petty as the God of their parents. Most college kids can�t be convinced that the Bible is a strict literal document as they learn about evolution and come to the undisputed scientific conclusion that the earth is older than 6,000 years as represented in the Old Testament and through the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels. And Christian kids will draw their own conclusions when they get to know that their gay neighbor isn�t the bad guy and that a Jew, Buddhist or Muslim has every right to their traditions without fear that a warped God would condemn them to hell for following the faith of their fathers.

But in the meantime, Jesus still deserves better than the PR that he�s getting at the hands of his fanatical followers here in the 21st Century. It will be too bad if U.S. Christians awake too late and Jesus� image reaches a point beyond rehabilitation. I believe in Jesus� message that we should feed the poor, visit the prisoner and love our neighbor. I believe the meek will inherit the earth. And I�d rather be associated with the Jesus that the hippies embraced in the early seventies. When people speak of peace and love today, they don�t mention Jesus much. Like many of us they probably fear they could be linked to the wacky, angry Christians that are currently in the spotlight. Elvis Costello asks in song, �What�s so funny about peace, love and understanding?� That�s how bad it has become. But anyone promoting peace, love and understanding is much closer to the authentic message of Jesus Christ than anything uttered by the mean-spirited duplicitous Christian voices of this graceless age.

Nick Paccione is a freelance writer who has written several articles on U.S. cultural trends and politics.

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