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Pharisees Make You Sad, You See

Posted by Rick · November 18th, 2004 · 5 Comments

There is a problem in writing about the conservative “Christian” right wingnuts that are encouraged by and collect about George Bush.

That problem is with what to call them.

Whenever I write about them, I risk stepping on the toes of others who use the term “Christian” to describe themselves. For example, there are people who actually read their Bibles and then actually try to bring the Spirit of the Bible to life in their own lives. They take to heart the words of Matthew 5:16; their lives are a demonstration of the words of Jesus as recorded in the Christian Bible and of the example he set by the way he lived.

Stepping on the toes of those kinds of Christians is not acceptable in my book.

So what can I do about that?


First, let’s dispense with an argument I frequently hear, even from well-meaning Christian friends, even after I make clear what they should already know (that they are not my targets). These friends think that it’s inappropriate for me, a Jew, to comment upon Christianity. Sometimes their argument is that Bush’s Minions aren’t really Christians.

And my logical arguments about the incorrectness of that way of thinking fall on deaf ears. So let’s try a religious argument instead.

Consider me Balaam’s Donkey. (See Numbers 22:21 – 22:33.) Let’s take a look at the road ahead.

Religions have operated pretty much the the same throughout recorded history. And in the days when Jesus purportedly lived, the Jews were divided into sects just as other groups then and now. The Christian New Testament mentions two of those: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. A detailed examination of the differences between these sects is beyond the scope of this article, but the Pharisees were frequently taken to task by Jesus because they were thought by him to be ultra-(self-)righteous Jews, focused more on the dissection of the words of Jewish sacred writings than on understanding the spirit behind them.

The Pharisees were men — women had their “place” in those days, and it was felt that their natural inclinations were inimical to religious leadership; they were more inclined to pervert men’s desires from righteousness than to encourage righteousness. This was, so the argument went, their nature. So you might say that the Pharisees “kept women in their place” by not allowing them much in the way of real political — which in those days meant religious — power. But, as I was saying, the Pharisees were men of great ambition. And they were not dissuaded from doing whatever it took to obtain and maintain powerful positions whence they could enjoy the holy burden (no-bid!) of the communal coffers — and strike down those who would put it to other, perhaps more social, uses.

The Pharisees, so the story goes, ruled Israel with iron fists, influencing even the Romans who occupied the territory at the time. This well-established theocracy, it was said, was ultimately responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, for standing against them.

Some Jewish scholars will tell you that the Pharisees were misrepresented in the Christian Bible; that they were unjustly maligned by the Christians, who at that time constituted a newly-emerging sect of Judaism that was in continuous conflict with the Pharisees. In the view of these scholars, the Christian New Testament presents a caricature of the Pharisees, rather than a veridical picture.

Be that as it may, the conservative “Christian” right-wing that has propeled George Bush to power and which strives to turn America into a theocracy is the philosophical descendant of the caricature. Like the Pharisees of the Christian New Testament, they would rule with an iron fist, deciding themselves — rather than leaving it to G-d — what constitutes sin, who has sinned and strictly enforcing the rules against those who they determined to be sinners. Unlike the Pharisees, however, they don’t have their own distinct name to differentiate them from other Christian sects.

One consequence of this lack of a distinct name is that all other sects of Christianity, whether good or bad, may be viewed by non-Christians as being just like the neo-Pharisees. Of that I have little to say; I am not an apologist for Christianity.

Another consequence of this, however, is that it is difficult for my Christian friends to read what I have to say about these worshippers of Bush without feeling that I’m attacking those who worship the Christian G-d.

This is probably an intractable problem.

I don’t know if I can unilaterally decide to refer to these people by the more fitting label of “neo-Pharisees.” Unless I incorporate an explanation into every future blog article in which I use the name “neo-Pharisee,” new readers coming along after this current article won’t know what I’m talking about.

On the other hand, if “neocon” fits, perhaps there’s nothing that makes “neo-Pharisee” more difficult. And it is an appropriate label. Furthermore, perhaps if this label gets some traction, those well-intentioned-but-misinformed Christians — note the lack of scare quotes — who sided with the neo-Pharasaic “Christians” to re-elect Bush, might reflexively distance themselves from the neo-Pharasaic Republicans in the future, in the same way that they reflexively voted with them this time because they mistakenly believed this was the path to “restoring moral values” in America. (More on that in my next article.)

I think what I’ll start doing is using either scare quotes around the word “Christian” when I talk about Bush’s Minions, or I’ll go ahead and call them neo-Pharisees and link the term back to this article.

What do you think? I’d be interested to hear your view. Feel free to use the comment form below.

(Neo-Pharisees in particular should note, however, that comments are moderated. Although I’m a supporter of the First Amendment and will not ordinarily block or censor your posts, trash-talk, when unaccompanied by anything else, may result in your comment not getting posted.)

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Nov 18, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    The term you are seeking is “Neochrists”.

    A combination of NeoCons and christians (please notice the small “c”). Those who will use the authority of the Christ to judge everyone but themselves and who’s real interest lies in power in this world versus a humble place in the next.

    Neochrists have broken the faith in their impatience, however well intentioned, in God’s plan just taking too long for their taste. They believe that they can somehow force the Creator to rush for their sake so they can see His glory in their earthly lives. They believe that they can accomplish this by forcing their christianity on others, even other Christians who are content to let God run the universe.

    They can be identified by an immature faith and swelled, prideful chest that they are doing the Lord’s work despite the instruction to “not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing”.

    Their ability to quote chapter and verse is impressive but their lack of true understanding is an embarrassment.

    Their attention getting actions only serve to gather those hungry for attention to their cause. It’s the rational outcome of a society based on the “me”. It creates a “my god”, versus the One God.

    And “my god” is not very tolerant of “your god”.

  • 2 Rick Horowitz // Nov 19, 2004 at 10:16 am

    I think the term “Neochrist” gives them too much. Many of them don’t appear to have an immature Christian faith; they appear to not really have any Christian faith at all. Instead, they mock Christianity by turning its doctrines to their own political purposes. As another article (currently in progress) discusses, they pick and choose what parts of Christianity to “profess” not because of any weakness of faith. On the contrary, they’re quite strong — unshakeable, in fact — about their views. It’s just that they don’t need the other aspects of Christianity. In fact, those aspects are inimical to their goals.

    Otherwise, I agree with your comment. I just think the term “neo-Pharisee” fits better, if based on the representation of the Pharisees given in the Christian New Testament.

  • 3 Gweny // Nov 19, 2004 at 10:21 am

    Neo-Pharisee. I think that’s just excellent. I was raised in a church-going family and I have always been puzzled at the way “Christians” take every word in the bible at face value rather than examining the meaning behind them. Even as a young girl I could see the difference in the “types” of Christians. That’s one reason I don’t call myself a Christian today.

    Rick, you are truly eloquent.

  • 4 Rick Horowitz // Nov 19, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the compliment. I only wish it were true of all my posts. 😉

    Today’s, for example, was difficult to write. I kept feeling like a wannabe-Christian preacher, which I don’t wannabe. 😉 I started out with a post titled “Redactive Christianity,” which was to talk about the popular neo-Pharasaic approach of cutting out those parts of Bible one likes, while ignoring the rest.

    Somehow, I ended up with something else. So I changed the name of the post to “Words vs. Deeds.” Maybe someday I can write “Redactive Christianity” without the heavy reliance upon pseudo-sermonizing.

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

    […] increasingly, that’s what contemporary neo-conversative neo-Pharisaical idiots like Falwell intend by their message. Talk about missing the Christmas […]

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