Sunday, April 09, 2006

Garry Wills: "Christ Among the Partisans"

Garry Wills is one of my favorite authors. I was first introduced to him via his book "Nixon Agonistes" while a student at the University of New Orleans back in the 1970s. An essential part of Wills' argument about Nixon was that Nixon was actually "the last liberal" when it came to foreign policy. He used "liberal" in the classical, Wilsonian sense of an interventionist America willing to use its military to right what it perceived to be the world's wrongs.

Using that framework, one could argue (accurately, I believe) that George W. Bush is also a liberal, despite all his posturing. In fact, many conservatives are actually coming to see this Bush administration as liberal (or at least the antithesis of conservatism) in the way it has launched foreign wars, grown the size of government, as well as the reach of government into the lives of the citizenry.

Wills has a great op-ed piece in the Sunday edition of the New York Times in which he argues that Jesus is beyond the reach of the politics, despite the persistent attempt of the political parties (particularly Republicans) to pose as the party of the religious.

Kevin Phillips, in his new book, "American Theocracy" argues that the Republican Party has become the first religious party in American history. I agree. But, Wills distinguishes between the "institutional Jesus" and the Jesus of the New Testament whom, Wills points out, "is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality."

What I love about Wills the writer is his how his research and knowledge enables readers to gain new insights and understanding of even "familiar" figures like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, St. Augustine, or, in his most recent book, Jesus.

Wills' body of work is worthy of the attention of any serious thinker.


Anthony Fazzio said...

Great piece, Mike. Today, Jesus the rebel would have be accused of violating the Patriot Act.

Nick said...

And the ACLU would sue to prevent him from preaching in the public square or on the courthouse steps.

Anthony Fazzio said...

Jesus would never confuse what is spiritual with what is political:

"He said to them, 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'” Lk 20:25.

Jesus was the first to advocate separation of church and state.

And, Jesus was also careful not to confuse "pray" with "display":

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites... but when you pray, enter into your closet and pray in secret... and when you pray, do not use vain repetitions... after this manner therefore, pray... (Matthew 6:5-9ff)."

There arn't many football fields with closets, are ther?

Jesus knew that when any government (Roman, Jewish, American) gets a hold of religion, they make it the opium of the masses. When religion becomes the opium of the masses, then the message of Jesus becomes: pray, obey and pay.

That's why conservatives don't like the rebel Jesus.

By your statement, I can tell you still haven't read Thomas Paine. We need a rule that says you call yourself an American unless you read Thomas Paine’s “Right’s of Man,” after all he was a founding father.

Nick said...

Um...yeah, rules like that would be "great." But that's fine, as a result, you also ought to not be able to vote then, if you can't pass a simple test:

1. Name the 3 branches of gov't.
2. Name the president and VP.
3. What is the name of the 1st Ten Amendments to the Constitution.
4. How many states are in the Union.

3 out of 4 correct means you get to vote. That would sure get rid of the MTV idiots who vote for whomever MTV, Hollywood, and musicians then them to.

Jesus still preached in public. I don't think the ACLU would like that, especially if He sat with everyone on the courthouse steps. In regards to football fields, I still don't see what is so wrong with a generic prayer to a higher being asking to protect athletes from injury.

Either way, I don't think Jesus really cared about politics, which is why I can't stand it when people use him to say their political views are the right ones. Our country was founded based on the same basic principles as the 10 Commandments. Don't steal, don't purger, don't murder, don't cheat on your husband or wife. I still can't see what's wrong with those laws.

Nick said...

Though, to say someone's not worthy of being American without reading a book is can I put this...Jim Crowe of you. Good job.

Anthony Fazzio said...

Wow, you’ve said a lot.

The MTV crowd would be most of the youth, which is rather rough in view of your age.

I don’t know any people for Hollywood and on a few musicians, so I can’t comment their intellectual abilities.

Jesus never preached at anyone, other than organized religion:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (Mt. 23.15) . . . You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23.24).

“Generic prayer to a higher being asking to protect athletes from injury.” It doesn’t have to be generic; it can be every denominational; it can be every second of the day; it can be in the middle of the public square; it can be while your teacher or professor is speaking; it can be anywhere, anytime you want it to be – if prayer is what you really want. But of what value is it if it’s for your neighbor to think well of you. So which is it: to pray or display?

Jesus probably wouldn’t have sat at a courthouse step since the only evidence we have of him on a step in the step of a Synagogue:

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business.
15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.
16 And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (John 2:13-22)

At his trial he remained silent:

“Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Well, aren't you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?’ But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I demand in the name of the living God that you tell us whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’" Matthew 26:62-63

But, you’re 100% correct “Jesus [didn’t] really cared about politics.” And, “when people use him to say their political views are the right ones” it amount to political simony.

The 10 commandments are not peculiar our country, nor to the Christian or Jewish faith. It’s the height of arrogance to presume that we, as Americans or worse yet Christians, somehow have a monopoly.

Mike Stagg said...


You should look beyond the easy stereotypes and at the facts. You are completely wrong about the ACLU! The ACLU is the staunchest defender of First Amendment rights in this country. They have defended the rights of Christians, Nazis and others to express their views without government sanction. What the ACLU has fought, persistently and consistently, is the attempt to create state-sponsored religious expression for the precise reason that state-sponsored religious expression is what the First Amendment is exactly about.

So, the ACLU would have defended Jesus's right to preach in the public square. It would have fought him had the government offered to pay for his microphone or otherwise sanctioned him as its official spokesman or espouser of some preferred point of view.

The problem with religion when it comes to politics is the certainty of faith. That is, faith fosters beliefs that are absolute, regardless of evidence or the rights of others. Combine the certainty of faith with the power of the state and you've got an all-powerful state that is certain of its claim to the truth. This is, ironically, what the case was with Communism. That is, the godless state of the Soviet Union laid claim to a monopoly on the truth (it was, in its own way, based on the faith of Marxist-Leninism) based on the infallibility of its leaders based on their fealty to that 'faith.'

What the ACLU has fought — and what the Founders of this country opposed — was state-sponsored religion. The Founders recognized the need for a separation of church and state.

We ignore their wisdom at our own peril.

Does the theocracy of Iran not raise any alarming parallels? It is precisely that combination of the certainty of faity with the absolute power of the state that is at the heart of the problem there.

As an American, you should be grateful that the ACLU has been working to protect your right to dissent from those who would impose a political or religious orthodoxy on your -- or anyone else.

Nick said...

I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to believe that any organization that works so staunchly to protect sick, criminal animals such as NAMBLA and child predators is a good organization. Why did they sue Janet Reno for making internet child porn illegal? Why are they fighting to keep convicted molestors from having to register with neighborhoods and local governments when they move? Why do they defend the right of a group to exist whose sole purpose is sending out material expressing how grown men can lure young boys?

The idea of an ACLU is great. However, this ACLU does more harm than any good.