Palimpsest Jesus

Some reporters from Vice crashed a UKIP meeting, and photographed and interviewed attendees. Normally that’s a fine idea to help humanize the opposition — there has been a lot of effort to make people recognize that gays and atheists are their next door neighbors, for instance — but somehow, when it involves really fringey ideas, especially British ideas, everyone comes out looking like participants in a Monty Python skit.

I’m not picking on the UK. The same phenomenon happens with the American Tea Party, we just lack the convenient surreal television referent.

Anyway, it’s full of weird stuff. The religion of capitalism poisons everything, and when you combine it with the religion of religion, you’ve got a hopeless case.

Two people who probably weren’t caught out by booze over the course of the weekend were Sally Grant and Philip Foster, members of Christian Soldiers in UKIP – a group who claim to be "Fighting through Christ for deliverance from EU tyranny". I asked Philip why God hates the EU so much.

What lies behind capitalism and Adam Smith are basic Christian principles of personal liberty, the right to property and respect for honesty in dealings. A free market only works with an unlevel playing field. If we’re all evened out, you won’t have anything I need, and I won’t have anything you need. The European Union is not a free market. It’s a customs union, which is quite a different thing. It’s a level playing field that’s held like that by regulation. They destroy free trade. Adam Smith would be tearing his hair out.

And there he is! Palimpsest Jesus! Once you spot him, he’s everywhere. There is no real Jesus — there’s only this blank screen on which people project their imaginary ideals. So Philip Foster sees Jesus as a property rights warrior, a kind of investment banker in robes who thinks inequity is a wonderful thing (Matthew 5, Philip, or Luke 10:30).

And then I spotted him in this interview with Sarah Silverman.

And to me, I love the symbol of Jesus. It’s so odd to me that so many people on the far right use his name to justify terrible things that I can’t imagine he’d approve of.

And I just want to say to Silverman that he was a first century Jewish rabbi: he probably would have been horrified at openly gay couples, or worse, women speaking and living independent lives. At least she said “the symbol of Jesus”, the tolerant and loving myth, when the reality of Jesus was a man of his time (see Matthew 21 and 25:46).

But Jesus has become this foggy dead mysterious authority figure that you can trot out for just about any cause you care about — he’s a regular mercenary who serves any cause, on the left or the right, and can happily serve them at the same time. Abolitionists and slave-holders, pro-choice and anti-choice, capitalist or socialist, he’s right there, manning the barricades and storming them. I tune out any argument that invokes Palimpsest Jesus any more, even ones where I may agree with the side using his name.

By the way, while I criticize her silly Jesus views, the Silverman interview otherwise earns her some respect. Standing up for liberal political causes has been some sacrifice for her.

Do you worry by being so public with all of this that you’re alienating a section of your fan base?
Oh, this is terrible for my career, make no mistake. This is not good for my career, and it definitely lost me an entire kind of audience. For networks that are selling soap, I can’t imagine that it would behoove them to hire me.

First of all, I don’t let myself read the comments. I need to protect myself, because when I’ve done that I’ve found myself trembling, scared that I’m gonna get killed. People on Twitter can be really, really scary. They always have avatars that are really scary cyber monsters. The bio is always like, “Family, Jesus, America.” It’s so odd. My friend told me she wants to write a book called “Jesus Would Hate You.”

Good work, and boy, that sounds familiar.

But really, Jesus would hate everyone.

Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    So, caveat up front, I’m not quite a mythicist, but if you forced me to place a bet, I’d bet against a Historical Jesus. Therefore, all references to Jesus in this comment are to the Biblical Jesus.

    But Jesus has become this foggy dead mysterious authority figure that you can trot out for just about any cause you care about — he’s a regular mercenary who serves any cause, on the left or the right, and can happily serve them at the same time. Abolitionists and slave-holders, pro-choice and anti-choice, capitalist or socialist, he’s right there, manning the barricades and storming them.

    You really can’t use the Biblical Jesus as a capitalist icon, no way about it. That’s actually one of the only things that Jesus was really quite consistent about: :Fuck the rich, the poor are awesome.” Perhaps even pathologically so (there are plenty of not-so-blessed poor people, too, after all).

    On same-sex relationships, too, I think it’s murky — not because B. Jesus wouldn’t have disapproved, but rather because his disapproval of opposite-sex relationships was already so powerful that it’s hard to contrast. Jesus really was an enemy of traditional marriage, in a very literal sense.

    I think you got it closer to the mark in your last line. B. Jesus is a radical far left psycho shaman with some absolutely bizarre ideas about relationships, government, etc. He would truly hate just about everyone.

  2. Louis says

    Re: UKIP:

    This:

    When all the piss-taking is done, it’s a sign of how low our opinion of professional politicians has sunk that these eccentrics have become a serious force in British politics.

    UKIP partially thrive on the Great British tendency to thumb a collective nose at groups that piss them off. Parliament fucked up, support UKIP! It’s deeply “rational”.

    What’s that? Is it time to start drinking heavily already? Why yes it is. UKIP does that to me. They are a deeply disheartening force in the country.

    Louis

  3. wonderpants says

    I have the same reaction when people start burbling on about god being love. It’s trite and just tells me that they haven’t read the Bible.

  4. zenlike says

    What lies behind capitalism and Adam Smith are basic Christian principles of personal liberty, the right to property and respect for honesty in dealings. A free market only works with an unlevel playing field. If we’re all evened out, you won’t have anything I need, and I won’t have anything you need. The European Union is not a free market. It’s a customs union, which is quite a different thing. It’s a level playing field that’s held like that by regulation. They destroy free trade. Adam Smith would be tearing his hair out.

    Wow, so much stupid packed in such a small text, it’s amazing. False/wrong statements I could find (there are probably even more):
    1/ Personal liberty has never been a Christian principle.
    2/ Right to property has never been a Christian principle.
    3/ Respect for honesty in dealings is not a unique Christian principle, but is a principle needed to have any sort of good-funtioning trade economy.
    4/ Capitalism is not neceserely based upon Christion principles.
    5/ Adam Smith does not appear to be directly influenced by Christianity.
    6/ A free market can work perfectly with a level playing field.
    7/ Even if everything is ‘level’ are evened out, people still need things form other people.
    8/ The EU is a free market.
    9/ A customs union can at the same time being a free market or not, there is no link between the two. However, a customs union implies a larger unified market, which means international trade is more free then when each market with be separated.
    10/ The EU is not a level playing field whatsoever.
    11/ Citation seriously needed that the EU destroys free trade.
    12/ Adam Smith would be quite happy that international barriers are torn down and thus international trade is encouraged.

    Bonus: seriously, what is it with right-wing free market types that they always call out to Adam Smith when they prove by their words that they have never even read anything written by him? I think most of them would be unpleasantly surprised when they would actually read ‘Wealth of Nations’ (presuming they understand it).

  5. says

    Smith was professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow for what that’s worth (and was reputed never ever to have given anyone a ‘Glasgie kiss’)

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Wouldn’t it be fun to get Penn Jillette and the UKIP gang together for an evening in a pub? (Assuming one had a seat very close by the door – the furniture would start flying before the third round … I hope.)

  7. Sastra says

    Palimpsest Jesus walks among the scholars, too:

    “It can be argued that the many recent attempts to delineate an historical Jesus, one whose portrait can be drawn convincingly as ‘a marginal Jew’ (John P. Meier), ‘a Mediterranean peasant’ (John Dominic Crossan), a Galilean hasid (Geza Vermes), a Zealotlike revolutionary (S.G.F. Brandon, Robt. Eisenmann), a folk magician (Morton Smith), shaman (S.L.Davies, Gaetano Salomone), a Qumran Essene (Barbara Thiering), or a Cynic-like sage (Gerald Downing, Burton Mack) are themselves so many attempts to historicize the mythic-seeming figure of Jesus who meets us in the Gospels. Each book attempts to show that the story looks a good deal less fanciful if one re-explains it in immanent historical-cultural terms.” (Robert. Price)

    A lot of people seem to think that the best way for nonchristians to deal with Christians is to grant that Jesus was a fine and noble character, the ideal man, a perfect humanist — but too many Christians don’t behave like Christians. Oh, if only they would be more like Jesus! Religion poisons everything.

    It’s an accomodationist-style argument which often works, in that it usually gets Christians smiling and nodding at the atheist who makes it — which is the usual point of accomodationism.

    Many years ago, right after I’d just graduated with a degree in English lit, I decided to finally tackle the New Testament of the Bible. I was going to try to read it with the same focus I gave to any literary or historical text. But unlike many other texts, I wasn’t approaching it completely neutral; I was only a reasonal-bit neutral. I was expecting to be — if not blown away — then at least impressed by the main character. In other words, I was favorably disposed. Of charitable frame of mind.

    Jesus fucking Christ, but I was disappointed.

    You really do need filters to discover what you want in Jesus. If you actually look at the entire context, you get some snippy religious leader who’s obsessed with giving up this life for another. That is, where he’s not contradicting himself. When I later read Bart Erhman and discovered the fractured nature of the historical gospels and their cobbled and overwritten messages, I was not surprised.

    One of my pagan friends took a discussion course on the Bible at a college and later said that the thing which impressed her the most about Jesus was his happy nature and sense of humor.

    WTF?

    When asked to provide an example — any example — she was startled. Apparently this was taken as a given. After a lot of demurring she came up with the time Jesus asked that the little children be brought to him. Apparently, they would not have come if he hadn’t been smiling and laughing.

    Oh, right. Because back in the ancient Middle East small children were given total autonomy and were so routinely cherished that they rightfully expected their authorities to treat them with the sort of attenuated attention you find in kiddie show hosts. An unhappy religious leader without a bunch of joyful quips and puns on his lips would have startled the wee tikes into rebellion and their concerned parents would have jumped to their rescue. Suffer the little children.

    Truth is, you could in theory mentally hear many of Jesus’ words spoken in scorn. Sometimes you even have to. It’s not what I was hoping to find — but I didn’t allow my hope to run rampant over the interpretation of the text. Jesus is not an admirable humanist at heart: he’s a fanatic.

    The Bible is a Rorschach test, and Palimpsest Jesus fits nicely into it.

  8. raven says

    And there he is! Palimpsest Jesus! Once you spot him, he’s everywhere. There is no real Jesus — there’s only this blank screen on which people project their imaginary ideals.

    Well said. Jesus doesn’t exist. He is just a blank screen. There are many, many jesus’s.

    Here is a popular current version.

    h ttp://www. addictinginfo.org/2013/10/23/tea-party-jesus/
    Tea Party Jesus
    Author: Justin “Filthy Liberal Scum” RosarioOctober 23, 2013 10:08 am

    Tea Party Jesus is the dimwitted illegitimate child of Republican Jesus™ and a roll of tinfoil from Ayn Rand’s kitchen cabinet. He was midwifed by the Koch brothers and Alex Jones. The whole affair was quite sordid and I’ll leave the icky details to your disturbed imagination. Suffice to say, Tea Party Jesus is a deep embarrassment to Republican Jesus™.
    delete
    So what’s so different?

    Well, herein lies the problem. Republican Jesus™ is full of hate. It’s what he thrives on. But Republican Jesus™ doesn’t really hate any of the things he claims to hate. All that anti-gay, anti-black stuff is for the suckers at the voting booth. Republican Jesus™ knows that hate sells and it sells well. If his anti-this or anti-that rhetoric reaches the point of diminishing returns, Republican Jesus™ drops it like a hot potato. But not Tea Party Jesus.

    Tea Party Jesus really does hate. He hates so much, he’s completely forgotten that he’s not supposed to say this stuff out loud. Republican Jesus™ figured out, decades ago, that open racism is bad for business. The same goes for openly treating women like whores and property. Even gay bashing is out of favor among the general public. But Tea Party Jesus doesn’t care. He just can’t keep his mouth shut. Worse, he’s proud of his hate!
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates homosexuals. But don’t you call him a bigot!
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he despises the poor.
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how little he thinks of women’s rights.
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know he thinks rape isn’t really a crime.
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates porch monkeys crackheads n*ggers black people. But don’t you call him a racist!
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much wetbacks drug mules dirty illegals Latinos disgust him. Still not a racist!
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he sneers at the lazy young who only want the same affordable college and job opportunities and pensions and Social Security benefits that HE got. Tea Party Jesus EARNED all that good stuff by being born at the right time to the right family! Get your own!
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates Muslims.
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he loathes contraception in all its forms. If whores have sex, they should pay for it with disease and pregnancy. Just like the Conservative Bible says.
    ■Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates the very idea of government and that’s why you should put him in charge of it.

    Tea Party jesus is funny. In an HP Lovecraft sort of way.

  9. raven says

    The word that comes to my mind is Rorschach rather than palimpsest. But the idea is the same.

    That would work.

    The bible is what is just a giant Rorschach inkblot that says whatever you want it to say.

    And fundie xianity is mostly rightwing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on it for show.

  10. says

    @zenlike in @6:

    9/ A customs union can at the same time being a free market or not, there is no link between the two. However, a customs union implies a larger unified market, which means international trade is more free then when each market with be separated.

    11/ Citation seriously needed that the EU destroys free trade.

    Yes, you’d think that removing customs restrictions between countries is good for free trade. But what they’re probably objecting to are the anti-trust regulations in Europe, like the ones forcing Microsoft to offer other browsers than IE, Google to not give their own services a higher page rank, or setting maximum roaming rates for mobile phone providers. You know, the sort of stuff you do when the free market has eliminated the competition.

  11. says

    Rorschach bible makes an appearance in all the ways right-wing religious folks in the USA are trying to erase separation of church and state.

    David Barton says the three branches of government come straight from the Old Testament. David Barton is a Texas-based pseudo-historian much beloved by the Religious Right. Barton doesn’t actually have a degree in history—he graduated from Oral Roberts University with a degree in Christian Education—but that hasn’t stopped him from posing as a professor.

    Barton is buddies with Glenn Beck, who uses him as “faculty” for online classes that are marketed to gullible people. In 2010, Talking Points Memo actually paid money to view some of the classes. In one lecture, Barton helpfully explained that the three branches of the U.S. government are based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah.

    The Old Testament is full of autocratic kings, not democracy. So where did Barton come up with this notion? You just have to know how to read the book. In case you’re wondering, the passage in question, Isaiah 33:22, reads, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” That pretty much settles it.

    Elsewhere in the video, Barton explained that the separation of powers comes from Jeremiah 17:9 and tax exemption for churches (which, by the way, isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution) comes from Ezra 7:24. […]

    Salon link.

    Note that you can actually make money off this crap, off of this faux education. Glenn Beck and David Barton are raking in dough.

  12. says

    More on the Rorschach bible-reading tactic backing up the religious right as they tear down the wall of separation between church and state, and rewrite history while they are at it:

    Pat Robertson says nothing in the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. TV preacher Pat Robertson holds a law degree from Yale Law School, but you would never know that based on the things he says about the Constitution.

    According to Robertson, “there is no such thing in the Constitution” as church-state separation; that concept is “a lie of the left.” Robertson has asserted that the separation of church and state comes from “the constitution of the communist Soviet Union.” Robertson publications have compared the “wall of separation between church and state”—a metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson—to the Berlin Wall. […]

    “The reason is they have lost their faith in God, they have lost their faith in Jesus Christ, they don’t believe in what the Bible says and the core values of our society have gone away,” Robertson groused. “We’ve done it here in America. We’ve abolished prayer in the schools, we’ve taken out Bible-reading in the schools and little by little by little we’ve eroded the rights—we keep talking about separation and this that and the other.”

    Jay Sekulow says the Ten Commandments symbolize American law. Sekulow, chief attorney for TV preacher Pat Robertson, is a big fan of the Ten Commandments. […]
    The Ten Commandments, Sekulow’s ACLJ asserts, “have long stood as a symbol of the ideals embodied in America’s judicial system” and “form a bright strand in the fabric of America’s heritage and legal development.”

    There’s a big problem with statements like these: They are pretty much the exact opposite of the truth. […]

  13. lpetrich says

    About 2500 years ago, a philosopher named Xenophanes pointed out:

    Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another. . . . Mortals deem that gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form . . . yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds. . . . The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.

    So it is with Jesus Christ, all too often made in the worshipper’s likeness.

  14. robro says

    So it is with Jesus Christ, all too often always made in the worshipper’s likeness.

    Even the writers of the gospels made Jesus what they wanted him to be. What else could some later day believer do but repeat the process of reinventing the invention.

    [Jesus] was a first century Jewish rabbi

    I’ve just started Boccaccini’s Roots of Rabbinic Judaism but from what I’ve read so far, and from some other sources, it’s seems likely that the image of Jesus as a rabbi is a myth. Our understanding of Judaism in the 1st century CE is heavily influenced by myths about it, one of which is that rabbinic Judaism was well established at the time. This seems not to be the case and it didn’t really get started until well after the destruction of the temple in 70CE.

  15. Stacy says

    …seems likely that the image of Jesus as a rabbi is a myth. Our understanding of Judaism in the 1st century CE is heavily influenced by myths about it, one of which is that rabbinic Judaism was well established at the time. This seems not to be the case…

    According to Morton Smith (in Jesus the Magician,) “rabbi” was a courtesy term at the time. So, assuming an historical Jesus, some fans could have called him “rabbi,” meaning something like, “teacher,” with no implication of formal religious training on his part.

  16. lpetrich says

    Back in 1906, Albert Schweitzer wrote a book, “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, in which he noted

    But it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus; each individual created Him in accordance with his own character. There is no historical task which so reveals a man’s true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus.

    (Albert Schweitzer | The West’s Darkest Hour)

    He was arguing that historical-Jesus questers have tended to make him in their likeness. For his part, he thought that the historical Jesus Christ had been an apocalyptic preacher who believed that the world was going to end very soon.

  17. sacharissa says

    I’m from the UK. Please feel no qualms about mocking UKIP, especially if you are invoking Python at the same time. The stuff their members come out with is so daft it would not look out of place in a Python sketch.

  18. randay says

    @Sastra 12 – Don’t forget Revelation 2 where Jesus killed Jezebel’s children to teach her a lesson for sleeping around.
    _____

    As to the book of Mathew, verses 17 and 18 has Jesus saying that the old laws are still in effect. In order to fulfill a law, you have to obey it.

    Matthew 5:28 is the acceptance of thought crime. If you think about something, in this case adultery, it is the same as if you do it.

    In Matthew 21, Jesus starts out by stealing someone’s ass and colt, just because he wanted them. So Jesus shouldn’t be so hard on thieves; you just need to be the right kind of thief.

  19. David Marjanović says

    The European Union is not a free market. It’s a customs union, which is quite a different thing. It’s a level playing field that’s held like that by regulation. They destroy free trade.

    You know, that part is actually true, and that’s a good thing.

    Leave a free market to itself, and by the time you look at it again you see price fixing, cartels, megamergers, oligopolies, monopolies, and finally Jakob Fugger the Rich with or without all his charity. “The king reigns, but the bank rules!”

    The EU artificially maintains the competition Smith was all about, because competition can’t maintain itself, neither in ecology nor in economy.

    Barton helpfully explained that the three branches of the U.S. government are based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah.

    The Old Testament is full of autocratic kings, not democracy. So where did Barton come up with this notion?

    The separation of powers isn’t originally a democratic idea. It’s older than that.

    But for Barton to support it with a passage where the powers are explicitly not separated… *facepalm* :-D

  20. robro says

    Stacy @#21

    According to Morton Smith (in Jesus the Magician,) “rabbi” was a courtesy term at the time. So, assuming an historical Jesus, some fans could have called him “rabbi,” meaning something like, “teacher,” with no implication of formal religious training on his part.

    The root of the word means “great” or “great in number.” It’s suggested it was applied to people who knew a “great many” Bible verses. Given that the writings we call the Bible were largely delivered orally until relatively modern times, such skill would have been valued. Clearly Jesus is portrayed as knowing a great many verses as practically everything attributed to him is from the writings either directly or with slight modification, so the appellation may have seemed natural to someone at some time.

    But then there’s what the Ppppfff says (FWIW): ‘Rabbi is not an occupation found in the Hebrew Bible, and ancient generations did not employ related titles such as Rabban, Ribbi, or Rab to describe either the Babylonian sages or the sages in Israel.[5] The titles “Rabban” and “Rabbi” are first mentioned in the Mishnah (c. 200 CE).’

    The note “[5]” points out that the title was not used for Hillel the Elder, a character from the 1st century BCE and presumed to be an early Babylonian sage who moved to Jerusalem. He’s life is largely legendary, not unlike Jesus, and any written mention of him is long after his time.

    Incidentally, the oldest manuscripts of the Mishnah date to the 9th century, so we have no way of knowing what was written in 200 CE. Six or seven hundred years is a long time and anything said about the original writings is conjecture.

    Therefore, it’s not clear that the title was used in any sense in the early 1st century CE at the purported time of Jesus and any NT use of the term or its variants for Jesus is likely an anachronism, perhaps an interpolation added in later redactions. Further, any modern reference to Jesus as a “rabbi,” as PZ did, is going to invoke our contemporary concept of the role regardless of how the word may have been used in the past and no more valid than saying Jesus was a socialist or a capitalist.