One of my Facebook friends posted a link to a Huffington Post article called Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus by Phil Zuckerman and Dan Cady. The article was actually written back in 2011, but since it’s still being cited by atheists today I figure it’s worth responding to.
The article (which is relatively short to read) makes the claim that Evangelicals hate the Jesus of the Bible. In fact, it makes many claims, but does not actually offer any proof or argumentation whatsoever, which makes it a bit difficult to adequately respond to. In science, there’s a concept that when you present something that doesn’t even begin to fit into the rules of scientific methodology that it’s “not even wrong” because such a “hypothesis” isn’t even a hypothesis to begin with; this article fits the “not even wrong” portion in theology. While claiming that Jesus taught differently than Evangelicals believe, the authors manage both to A) not define a single term being used, and B) not quote a single passage of Scripture.
Let’s examine this paragraph, which is the closest (it appears to me) to providing any kind of “argument” in this article:
Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.
So let’s start with the first part: “Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness.” It would be nice to know what the authors think “mercy and forgiveness” are. Especially when we see that followed up with: “And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty.”
The death penalty, when used appropriately, does not violate mercy or forgiveness. Indeed, civil punishment does not get erased simply because God forgives a sin. We see that in the Old Testament law repeatedly. Consider this passage:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty” (Leviticus 6:1-7, ESV).
Now I quoted this whole passage to demonstrate some important facts:
1. The law is here dealing with sins between people. The crime is one of robbery and oppression. Thus, a sin between individuals, and not just a sin between man and God.
2. The law provides a means of restoring the relationship between God and the sinful man. Thus, there is a sacrifice and the priest “shall make atonement” and “he shall be forgiven.”
3. Nevertheless, the man still had to pay restitution. The restitution is quite separate from the sacrifices offered for forgiveness.
When humans sin against other humans, there is a debt not only to God, but also to the victims. When God forgives, that forgiveness does not wipe out the just penalty that is still owed between individuals. If I steal $100 from you, the fact that I ask God for forgiveness, knowing He will fully forgive, does not mean I do not need to pay back the $100 plus restitution to you.
Now here’s the thing about capital punishment. It is solely used for murder cases in America. This fits perfectly with the concept above, because in order for full restitution to occur, a murder is required to resurrect the victim and then give up what he took (i.e., his own life is forfeit). Now, since only God can resurrect people, the first part is impossible, but the second part still stands.
Only the victim can forgive the person who victimized him. If Adam kills Bob, Charlie cannot forgive him for that; only Bob can. And, being dead, Bob cannot do that. Thus, from the civil perspective, capital punishment can justly be meted out. All of this is perfectly consistent with a view that God has forgiven Bob (assuming Bob repents).
Moving to the next phrase, the authors of the Huffington Post article say Evangelicals support “draconian sentencing”. This is undefined, so it’s impossible to know what precisely is considered to be “draconian.” Thus, lacking definition, this particular complaint is meaningless.
The article continues: “punitive punishment over rehabilitation”. Again, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Personally, I believe in restitution. Restitution does have a punitive aspect, since it is punishment; yet restitution is the only way that I can see whereby someone can actually be rehabilitated. You don’t get rehabilitated if you face no consequences for your crimes against other people.
The article likewise continues: “and the governmental use of torture.” Again, “torture” is undefined. I assume the author is thinking of waterboarding and the like, but there is a debate as to whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the government actually are defined as “torture.” It is disingenuous to assert they are torture and then claim that Evangelicals support that (even though many Evangelicals do not support it at all). To give an example that takes out the emotionalism of the word “torture”, suppose that Evangelicals say they are opposed to eating dessert before the main course, but they do not believe that key lime pie is dessert and therefore say it’s okay to eat key lime pie before the main course. Given this belief, it is disingenuous to claim Evangelicals believe in eating dessert before the main course without first proving that key lime pie necessarily is a dessert.
Thus, if the authors wish to make this claim, they have to prove that whatever techniques they are referring to are actually torture. They don’t just get to assume that it is, and then claim that any Evangelical who supports those techniques supports torture.
The article next claims: “Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world.”
First, the Evangelicals I know support the right to own weapons because they are interested in self-defense. Secondly, the support for the various wars has always been linked directly to the fact that those countries have sponsored terrorism against us. Now, even if you believe that the war in Iraq was based on lies, the fact is that someone being misled by lies is vastly different from someone wishing to conquer everything in sight.
In any case, self-defense is not only permitted, but in certain circumstances it is required. Those circumstance are when you are responsible for the welfare of someone else. For instance, if someone attacks me, I can decide whether I will defend myself or let the attack happen. But if someone attacks my daughter, I am morally obligated to defend her. Only she is able to decide to let someone attack her (and she is too young to morally make that choice).
Weapons, being necessary for self-defense, are perfectly permitted for that use. It is only those who “live by the sword” (i.e., that is, not using it as self-defense but instead as their main tool in life) who will “die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
The article continues: “Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor.” Here’s a perfect place where actually quoting Jesus would be relevant. Because while the pursuit of wealth, instead of God, is inimical to the Kingdom of God, nowhere does Jesus say the rich are to be condemned. Furthermore, one specific person was told to give all his money to the poor because, as the passage makes clear, his wealth was his idol (see Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus always has you give up your idols to follow Him, and most people do have money as an idol. This is why He says “only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven” (notice the difference between saying something is difficult and saying it’s impossible, though).
The article claims: “And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children.”
First, no one outside of characters in Oliver Stone movies says they support corporate greed. Secondly, these authors apparently believe capitalism is ipso facto “excess”, when it is not. Furthermore, being opposed to “institutional help” is not equivalent to being opposed to helping the poor. When the institution is causing poverty, you cannot fix poverty by enabling the institution.
Now, it’s perfectly fine for the authors to disagree on politics. It is not fine for them to assume, without any argument, that their view is correct, and therefore Jesus must agree with them too and then use that to condemn those who disagree. That is merely begging the question.
The article says: “They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do.” Of course, the authors ignore that thousands of Evangelical charities that have been set up to help those in need, and seems to believe that having the government take money by force from one group to support another group is somehow morally superior to Evangelicals willingly giving money, time, and compassion to people. The fact that Evangelicals want to do this instead of having the government do it is actually a good thing.
I can oppose government “care” (which only keeps people oppressed) while still actually helping those in need. This is not a contradiction.
Given all this, we see just how empty the article really is. It assumes a worldview (a seemingly socialistic worldview at that), imposes it upon Jesus, and then claims that Evangelicals hate Jesus. Yet all of this without a single quote of Scripture to back up what they claim Jesus taught, and without even bothering to define words.
I can only believe this was intentional, because as soon as you define words and show the limits of meaning entirely rational people will say, “Wait, I don’t agree with that.” If you leave the words vague it’s easier to get people to agree:
“Jesus was opposed to corporate greed!”
Yes, yes, down with greed!
“Jesus was opposed to allowing people who invested all their time and money in a company to barely scrape by, who are now responsible for hundreds of employees getting a paycheck, to keep some of that money for themselves!”