Wright, R. 2007. An easter sermon. New York Times. April 7, 2007. Available online: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/tsc.html?URI=http://select.nytimes.com/2007/04/07/opinion/07wright.html&OQ=_rQ3D1Q26pagewantedQ3Dprint&OP=62b582bfQ2FQ26Q24XnQ26)d.00)Q26Q23Q5EQ5EQ2BQ26Q5EYQ26Q5EQ2BQ2603jHj0HQ26Q5EQ2BQ24.jNQ7B)wQ7B)Q5Dt.
Eddie of Hidden Unities (who is currently cut off from the blogosphere because of naval censorship) kindly sent me an article by Robert Wright entitled “An Easter Sermon.” The article is a perfect example of the phony devotionalism that is currently in vogue on the left.
Jesus knew viral marketing.
In the Gospel of Mark, the disciple John complains that nondisciples are selling bootlegged copies of Jesusâ€™ miraculous powers. â€œTeacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.â€
Jesus tells John to quit obsessing about the intellectual property and to focus on getting the brand out. â€œDo not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.â€ Jesus adds, â€œWhoever is not against us is for us.â€
Fast-forward two millennia. Weeks after 9/11, George Bush says roughly the opposite. His famous â€œYouâ€™re either with us or against usâ€ means that those who donâ€™t follow his lead will be considered enemies. The rest is history. Today, Jesus has more than a billion devoted followers. Mr. Bush has … well, fewer than that.
One gets the feeling that if Mr. Wright was an antisemite he would randomly open the Torah, by chance flip to Numbers, and proceed to criticize the Judaism as nothing more than a religion of accountancy.
The accusation of Bush saying “roughly the opposite” is Jesus is aggrevating because Bush said nearly the same thing as Jesus. For instance:
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. *Matthew 12:30-322
Certainly, one may criticize Bush for using rhetoric intended to condemn “blasphemy against the spirit” to instead condemn states that sponsor terrorism. But to say that Bush uses antibiblical rhetoric is bizarre — it misses the entire point of Bush’s rhetorical style and displays a too-arrogant-to-even-google view of editorial journalism.
I mentioned to Eddie upon reading this that “saying ‘Robert Wright is a pharisee fraud’ would be too kind. The pharisees at least knew the text of the scriptures.” Certainly that’s true.
More is below the fold…
The religious left â€” yes, there is such a thing â€” complains that Mr. Bush ignores the Bibleâ€™s moral injunctions.
Of course there’s a religious left. It’s largely identical with so-called Mainline Protestantism. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) boycotts Israel. (Likewise the PCUSA amended its constitution in 1981 to make it harder to independent churches to leave. For centuries the Presbyterians remembered their roots in the reformation and emphasized the importance of spiritual freedom. Not under the religious left.)
Now, the fate of the religious left appears to be the same as the fate of Mainline Protestantism generally: decline and death. While the Episcopalians take pride in their declining numbers and approaching excommunication from the Anglican Communion, they are hardly a force anything like the size Rob Wright would want.
Consider a teaching of Jesus that seems on its surface devoid of strategic import. â€œYou have heard that it was said, â€˜You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.â€™ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.â€
Bob’s point is that love is a political weapon, and it’s true. Indeed, as I wrote in 2005:
“Jesus and Paul understood that the Roman Empire was a hyperpower. It was undefeatable in any meaningful sense. Even areas “liberated” of the Roman military (like Germania) quickly fell into the Roman economic and cultural orbit. Further, as Jesus lived a day’s walk from a town that had been butchered in a reprisal by Roman troops, and Paul had been a secret policeman for a State Church, both respected the Roman security system…
As long as Christianity could avoid becoming existing, supporting the state was a methodical route to Christian victory. The Empire. To see how this worked, imagine the Roman power structure as a table.”
Anway, back to the “Easter Sermon”:
Of course, Mr. Bush is more in the shoes of the Roman emperor than of Paul. America isnâ€™t a small but growing religious movement. Itâ€™s a great power threatened by a small but growing religious movement â€” radical Islam. But the logic can work both ways. Great powers, by mindlessly indulging retributive impulses, can give fuel to small but growing religious movements. If you want to deprive jihadists of ammunition, make it hard for them to persuade others to hate us.
The discussion of Islam promises to be interesting. It’s a good contrast for the Christian way of victory (“It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise., &c). As I wrote before:
“Muhammed ibn-Abdullah was clearly aware of Christian victory over the Romans. Muhammed changed two basic strategies of Christianity, by transforming it into a strict monotheism and optimizing it for victory in chaotic conditions. Yet these are details compared to his grandest innovation. Muhammed focused his faith not on the Most High or on His Son, but on a Rule-Set. Islam is, at its core, is not Muahmmed and is not Allah. Islam is the Holy Koran.
Muslims were the first “People of the Book” in all history. The earliest Semites were tribalists who wished for their gods to protect their families, and Judaism falls into this category. Jews may be thought of as People of their Father and Mother. The land of the Jews is given to them because of descent from Abraham:“
But Wright doesn’t pursue this line of reasoning. Instead he jumps back to the dawn of Christianity and makes a basic mistake:
Right after Paul espouses kindness to enemies, he adds: â€œBe not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.â€ Sounds like naÃ¯ve moralizing until you look at those Abu Ghraib photos that have become Al Qaeda recruiting posters…
The ultimate in viral marketing was Jesusâ€™ ultimate sacrifice. Deemed a threat to the social order, he was crucified under Roman auspices. But the Romans forgot one thing: If you face a small but growing movement that threatens the imperial order, you shouldnâ€™t attack the men in ways that help the memes.
Rome’s attempt to detatch Christians from civil society by provoking them to violence was an attempt to process Christianity like Rome processed those other rebellions: the Britains and the Zealots.
[* Note the asterick by “exactly wrong.” That’s because like all lazy writers, Wright qualifies his words to make them impossible to attack as such. He says “in ways that help the memes.” What does this mean? “In ways that are ultimately beneficial to one’s enemies”? If this is the intended meaning, it’s a truism that can’t possibly be argued. Instead, in the above paragraph I assumed that Wright was intellectually honest, and actually meant to write “who themselves spread the memes.” ]
Related: Razib points out the inanity of a different NYT article.