The Dominionist Christ Isn't the Christ We Know
mick arran printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Nov 24, 2005 at 08:56:36 PM EST
Lorie Johnson has written an important post to remind us that '[o]ne of the hallmarks of Dominionist Christianity is the need for an enemy to struggle against.' Very true. That simple sentence answers many of the questions people often ask about the tenacity and extremism of the religious right.

But Johnson's hope that pushing the agenda of the Christ as a way of forging bridges between us assumes that Dominionists share the same Christ we do. They don't.

The New Testament Christ has for 2000 years been defined in mainstream Christian churches by his doctrines of forgiveness, tolerance, and brotherhood. That is the Christ we know, the Christ we have always known. It is NOT the Christ of the fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist Christ has been re-imagined and re-defined through the prism of the Old Testament. He is a Fire-God of anger and revenge, the opposite of everything we used to think Christ stood for. He has little time for the poor, tolerates only the narrowest possible definition of 'Christian', seethes with righteous hatred of outsiders, is intolerant of those with different views, and despises wimps--he will come the next time clutching a sword in one hand and a .45 caliber automatic in the other.

The fundamentalist Christ is essentially built from an Old Testament perspective. He is everything the Christ we know originally came to overturn. He is the vengeful son of a vengeful god, and he demands obedience to his strict regimen with eternal punishment the price for disbelief. He is a muscular Christ, not that weak-kneed, lily-livered liberal icon from the old mainstream. This is not a Christ who would ever turn the other cheek. It is a Christ who would throw the one who slapped him to a pack of ravenous wolves and consider it a righteous act.

It's hard to overstate the enormous gulf between the centrist Christ and the fundamentalist Christ (what I call the 'NT Christ' and the 'OT Christ'). They have virtually nothing in common. They are, in fact, each other's polar opposite. If you look at the Christ depicted in the Left Behind series, you'll get a pretty good idea just how severe the difference is.

The fundamentalists' version of Christ is a natural result of their orientation toward the Old Testament. They quote OT passages with relish and largely ignore the NT altogether. When they do quote the NT, they re-define the meaning of whatever passage they're quoting with OT verbiage--what used to be called 'fire and brimstone'. In other words, they 'spin' it so it's in line with OT revenge values rather than NT forgiveness.

None of this means I'm against Johnson's suggestion that 'perhaps we can find and use Christ's words as a way to reduce the level of anger and hate, and find a peaceful common ground.' On the contrary, I think that may be the best possible approach to try.

But it won't be easy. We'd be going up against a simple, powerful icon that can be described and defined by comic book images with a complicated message that's a lot more nuanced and harder to explain than a tv sit-com. You can't get the full import of Christ's message in 22 minutes plus commercials.

We would also, like Christ himself, be going up against the Old Testament, and that's not a project to be taken lightly.

Took a look at "Ethel The Frog", and really enjoyed it. I think that the more people who talk about the Dominionist threat, the more it will start to leach into the mainstream.

You are very right about the "warrior Jesus" of the extreme right. He is almost like some cartoonized idealism of the Vengeful God, spitting swords and standing 100' tall. It's an ugly image.

I did a bit of digging around for other references to this bigger, badder Jesus as presented in the "Left Behind" series, and found this article from The Age describing the transformation from lamb to lion you speak about.

It is good to understand the difference between the traditional Jesus and his 21st Century evil twin. They are two totally different characterizations. Understanding this is another key to defusing the threat of Dominionism- if people understand that this vengeful monster is the Jesus they believe in, they might not be as accepting of their apocalyptic vision.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Nov 25, 2005 at 09:41:01 AM EST

But how did you find EWF? That's not the one I put on my page.

I'll be writing more about this. I don't think people understand yet how weak the New Testament is in fundmentalist churches. In the Scopes Trial, for example, the scripture Bryan quoted all the way through was from the Old Testament, not the NT. The scripture Dobson, Robertson, et al always quote to justify their homophobia, misogyny, and lust for revenge is from the OT. It's like everything that Christ fought against has returned under his banner.

I have no idea how far you'd get with a real fundie trying to point that out. They're totally committed to the warrior Jesus, as far as I can tell. I'm not even sure how far you'd get with a Christian rightist leaning in their direction. Their comic-book Jesus is very attractive. Have you seen the video of that woman on Trading Spouses or whatever that show is? I've known those people in real life, and you might as well talk to the nearest fireplug. That's a powerful image they've force-fed their brain: unbeatable strength for people who are afraid, a protector for people who feel weak, a simple rulebook for people in confusion, and most important of all, zero possibility that they could be wrong or have made a mistake. When they have doubts (and they do, despite appearances), the doubts themselves become the enemy that must be vanquished--questioning is the devil at work.

The process the fundies have been going through is almost completed. They're very near the point of having pushed the society to accept the brutality of the 'evil twin' as the way it's supposed to be, that he's the real Jesus. As we enter the next stage, it's going to get a LOT nastier. If they get even part of the power they're aiming for, 'nasty' will start to look like the easy way out.

I think you're absolutely right: mainstream Christians have to a) understand what they're actually up against, and b) attack the 'evil twin' image directly, contrasting it to the message of the real Christ. And that means we have to be ready to fight Christ's battle all over again. It's a daunting prospect.

- mick -

by mick arran on Sat Nov 26, 2005 at 02:05:35 AM EST

What a delightful find. It will take weeks for me to read all the articles that interest me. The titles are wonderfully provocative, and as a liberal prelate in a "mainline" Christian denomination, it is important to feel completely comfortable in sharing more.

Suffice to add, the "fundamentalists" have their adherents in both the Credal sacramental faith systems as well as those discussed in this particular thread.

These individuals have padlocked the Holy Spirit in an "arc of their own covenant". He is frozen in both time and space, and indeed, the Christ of the NT is nowhere to be found, and the church of the new covenant and promise is held hostage.

I have brothers in Christ who are patriarchal and homophobic. Some arrive at these prejudices "honestly" while many learned them as defence mechanisms to hide either their latent or overt behaviours or orientation.

Well, I may not post often, or post again quickly. There are so many "delicious" topics to whet my appetite. Must be careful. Gluttony is still a sinful act. It may require the fullness of Holy Orders that I possess.

by LIBERAL CROZIER on Sat Nov 26, 2005 at 03:18:10 PM EST

Mick, you are right on about how the dominionist Christ is not the Christian Christ.  Not, in fact, Christ at all.  There is one detail of your post, one connection you draw, that I think begs a little teasing out.

It is a fairly typical mis-reading of both the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures ("new" and "old" testaments) that the Christian scriptures describe a loving, forgiving, compassionate God and that the Hebrew Scriptures describe a vengegul, angry God.  This is a stereotype.  Probably with anti-Jewish roots springing from some fetid cyst on the church's underbelly.

In fact, the loving kindness and steadfast love of God we find in Christian scriptures is a re-presentation of those same concepts in Hebrew Scriptures.  And Christian scriptures don't "spare the rod", being filled with its own share of vengeful, angry imagery.

I would argue that dominionists are professing belief in a god that is neither Christian nor Jewish.  A god that you cannot find in the pages of scripture unless that god is named Ba'al.  The god of the dominionists behaves like the gods of pharoah, not Moses.  Of Caesar, not Jesus.  

"New Testament Christ" and "Old Testament Christ" are metaphors that rely on flat, stereotypes of Christian and Jewish scripture.  It also creates a false dichotomy between the God of the "Old" testament and the God of the "New."  No such dichotomy exists.
Jesus knew how to throw a party. We'll try to hold up our end of the bargain.
by jedwards on Fri Nov 23, 2007 at 02:14:08 AM EST

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