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Butt-kickin’ Christians

Posted by Rick · December 4th, 2005 · 5 Comments

I had a hard time this morning deciding how to classify this post. On the one hand, since it does not really involve true Christianity, it seemed it should just be classified under “Social Issues.” Ultimately, I decided that since at least some handful of the people involved probably really believe they’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, it was best considered as one of my infamous Balaam’s Ass posts.

Jerry Falwell — possibly the world’s leader in faux christianity — has publicly stated what I’ve known about the movement to which he belongs for some time now: They’re offensive.

The fact is, Falwell told ABC News, “we’ve gone on the offense now. We’ve put them on the defense. We’re kicking their butts, and they’re unhappy.” — Kiehl & Tucker, “Falwell defends Christmas from ‘grinches'” Fresno Bee (December 4, 2005) p. A24, col. 2.

Before I go too much farther, let me state this: I have nothing whatsoever against calling a thing what it is. So if some store puts up a sign that says they’re selling Christmas trees, I’m not going to get my shorts all in a twaddle and storm off to spend my money somewhere else. If someone wants to refer to December 24 as “Christmas Eve” and December 25 as “Christmas,” I’m going to be non-plussed. And if someone wants to call Jerry Falwell — or his compatriot Bill O’Reilly — an ignorant Satanic twit, I’ll certainly commend their honesty, but it’s not going to change my life. I’m all for speaking the truth and calling something or someone what they really are, but unless someone else’s confusion is causing actual harm, I’m perfectly willing to let them refer to a Christmas tree as a “Holiday Tree,” or vice versa, if that makes them feel good.

Falwell, on the other hand, is not content to allow Christmas to be recognized for what it actually is.

Long ago — and you’ll get various dates depending on which “scholar,” which denomination of christianity, or possibly which version of the evolution of Christmas you read about — christians co-opted, or appropriated, certain pagan traditions celebrated during the month of December. I’m not going to give you a history lesson here — this is, after all, a Balaam’s Ass post and a history lesson is off-point — but those who are interested can learn more from the following sites:

For a view of the origins of Christmas that denies any connection to pagan traditions, see the Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM (where else?), whose Christmas entry is excerpted here.

Whether you consider that Christmas is just one of the earlier demonstrations of how organized christianity adapts itself to the world, co-opting non-christian traditions and making them over so that people can feel comfortable celebrating them without feeling that they’ve turned their backs on “the real God”; whether you think Christmas “was always about Christ”; or whether you think it really doesn’t matter, one thing is for sure. There is a right way to honor God and there is a wrong way. Falwell’s way of “kicking butt” whenever someone doesn’t go along with his view is decidedly wrong.

But Jerry Falwell is not the first religious leader to suggest the idea of kicking someone else’s butt over doctrinal disagreements.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread — which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.Matthew 12:2-14 (New International Version).

Falwell and his followers are at war with the rest of the world. Why? Because the rest of the world has refused to do that which Falwell and his followers have decided is right. Falwell and his followers decide what the law is and anyone who doesn’t follow the law of Falwell had better watch out. Because, unlike Jesus, Falwell and his followers are “kicking butts.”

What would things be like if Falwell and his followers actually followed the teachings of Jesus, or if they read what the Apostle Paul had to say?

When the Pharisees brought a woman supposedly caught in the very act of adultery — a sin punishable by death in their day — and cast her before Jesus, there are two things he did not do. First, he did not stone the woman, in accordance with the scriptural teachings as they were understood by the Pharisees and their followers. Perhaps more significantly — for purposes of this discussion — he did not threaten to kick their butts if they did not accept his interpretation of scripture. He simply said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7 (King James Version).)

Fundamentalist Christianity, however, is in some ways worse than the religion of the most fanatical Pharisees. At least with the Pharisees, “they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9 (King James Version).)

And what of the Apostle Paul?

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. — Galatians 5:16-26 (New International Version).

Paul did not say, “The fact is, we’re going on the offense now. We’re going to put them on the defense. We’re kicking their butts, and they’re unhappy.” He said, “You — we — as true Christians…. There’s no need for us to get all wrapped up in promulgating and following rules. I’m not going to kick your ass if you don’t listen to me, but here’s the way it is: Let yourself be lead by the Spirit.

And, as Paul stated, that Spirit demonstrates “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Butt-kicking store owners who have the gall to assume that Jews like me might not want to be wished a Merry Christmas isn’t in that list.

A weekly Torah portion I received in my email this morning from Rabbi Kalman Packouz illuminates another way to think about this:

The Torah states:

“And when Rachel saw that she did not bear children to Jacob, Rachel envied her sister. (She envied her good deeds. She said, ‘Were she not more righteous than I, she would not have merited sons.’ -Midrash cited by Rashi) And she said to Jacob: ‘Give me children, if not I am as a dead woman.’ And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ ” (Genesis 30:1-2)

Why did Jacob grow angry at Rachel? What is our lesson?

Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz cites the Sforno who explains that Jacob grew angry at Rachel because she said, “Give me,” implying that her bearing a child was dependent on Jacob, rather than on God’s will. His anger was for the Almighty’s honor and this took precedence even over his love for Rachel.

Nevertheless, we find in the Midrash (Braishis Rabbah 71:7) that Jacob should have controlled his anger. Despite the justice of his rebuke, he should have appreciated the immensity of Rachel’s suffering and not have spoken so sharply. For this lack of consideration he was punished.

The Chofetz Chaim’s son wrote that his father was particularly careful not to hurt the feelings of beggars, although sometimes these unfortunate people say things that could arouse one’s anger. The Sages comment in the Mechilta on Mishpotim that the prohibition against vexing a widow or an orphan includes anyone who suffers. Causing such a person even a slight discomfort is forbidden. — Rabbi Packouz, “Dvar Torah based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin” Aish.com Shabbot Shalom Weekly (December 4, 2005) received via email and available online.

Note that even though Jacob was right, he was punished for getting angry with Rachel. A truly Judeo-Christian point of view might be that people who mistakenly fail to wish holiday shoppers a happy adaptation of the Mithraism should be pitied instead of having their butts kicked.

Ironically — and very much unlike Jerry Falwell and his followers — Jesus went “on the offense” and began “kicking their butts” exactly once in all of the so-called “New Testament.”

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’’” — Matthew 21:12-13 (New International Version)

That’s right. The only time you ever read about Jesus kicking anyone’s butt is inside a religious institution! And the reason? Because the people there were making a mockery of the place. Instead of a house of prayer, they had transformed it into a store focused on selling religious items. I realize this doesn’t totally fit today, because Jerry Falwell never abuses the church in that way. (The SEC charged Falwell’s church with “fraud and deceit” in the issuance of $6.5 million in unsecured church bonds. Falwell claimed that the SEC was “technically” incorrect as God himself was supposedly underwriting the bonds.)

Point is that with all that was going on in the world around him, the only time Jesus ever actually attacked anyone, it was inside “a house of prayer.” His response to those on the outside was always to make a few low-key statements and let others decide how to behave on their own.

If Christians — and Falwell and his followers are free to join in as well — really want to change the world, they won’t do it by kicking butts. It is not by accident that the Book of John referred to Jesus as “the light of the world.” (John 1:9 (New International Version).) And it was not by accident that Jesus supposedly said,

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5:14-16 (New International Version).

Light doesn’t kick people’s butts. Light does not directly threaten people. Light reveals things.

You want to do what Jesus suggested? You want to live a life that attracts people to your God? You want them to praise your God?

Or do you just want to kick some butt?

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark // Dec 4, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Rick,

    Don’t go talking about what Jesus did and/or said. It’s bound to upset some of those who call themselves “Christians.”

  • 2 Bob // Dec 4, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    It’s hard to explain to non Christians that Falwell is about headlines, not scripture.

    This is the same moron that called Mohamed a terrorist. This is the same moron that prayed for the deaths of Supreme Court Justices. This is the same moron that called for the assasination of a South American leader.

    NONE of this is Christian. Period.

    Falwell has been a joke for years to the Christian community. He continues to be a joke today.

    In his world, it’s about ratings not salvation.

    Christ lost his temper when he saw his Father’s house turned into WalMart. I am curious as to what he has in mind for Jerry when he finally meets the REAL Christian.

  • 3 John // Dec 10, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Falwell is a joke and known as such. Who do you know that pays any attention to this guy or his ideas? I know of no-one. They are out there, but probably of a demographic that is of no moment.

  • 4 Rick // Dec 10, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    I wish you were right, John, but I know that you aren’t. A boatload of people — including politicians — pay attention to Falwell and people like him.

    If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be having some of the problems we’re experiencing right now.

  • 5 Yes, I’m Defending President Bush, Sort Of // Sep 3, 2008 at 11:02 am

    […] other day, in “Butt-kickin’ Christians,” I wrote about the fundamentalist “christian” movement targeting stores like, well, […]

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