Killing Jesus — Again!

When I went to seminary in the late 1950s, one could already see the despoiling of American Protestantism by those would convert religion from the concern with social justice to a fast track to wealth and comfort. There were several figures working this track who would set the pattern for the new brand of fundamentalist comfort planning. One was Billy Graham who pressed ‘making it big time’ Christianity for all — particularly Republicans such as Nixon and those who would follow in his train. Another is virtually forgotten now — Norman Vincent Peale — who lobbied for The Power of Positive Thinking (title of his principal book)
which more or less expressed in its title his brand of self-serving theology.

Those of us who were students at Union Theological Seminary were appalled by these degenerate versions of Christianity. As students of such as Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, we were earnestly concerned about social justice — the suffering of those living in poverty (hunger for millions of American kids), the racism that dominated all features of the U.S. from education to opportunities to live a decent life. Niebuhr and other serious theologians found themselves locked in mortal combat with the degenerate expressions of Christianity which were emerging from the evangelical world which has always risked anti intellectual denial of things as they are and as they should be.

A whole batch of my fellow students at UTS began to see the handwriting on the wall and we went elsewhere in our lives. American Protestantism was going the way of many a religion that loses its intellectual foundations and thereby its basic moral rationale for existing. Those going into religion were increasingly becoming the ones who could not make it into law or medicine, but who were seeing religion as a route to success — often extremely lucrative for its practitioners.

One can now see the upshot of that era if one tunes into those horrendous ‘religious’ programs featuring massive audiences laid in what look to be sports arenas. Joel Osteen was featuring this past Sunday precisely what I am talking about here. His sermon was literally on how to get a raise — “not just fifty cents an hour but twenty dollars!” The secret is to tap god’s storehouse of goodies that he has laid on for you — if you only ask him nicely and contribute to the following web address a part of your gains:

Sadly there are dozens of these characters making out big time. This particular one is from guess where and has what looks to be a tough minded wife who figured that she could turn him into a solid provider — very solid.

It is sad for those of us who left a corrupted church who were the last wave of supporters of the social Gospel — the belief that Jesus called upon people to assist all those in need, not just to figure a niche for making big bucks.

But so religions die and ours are going fast towards the same sort of oblivion that affected many of the ancient ones. In Europe they are far ahead of us in escaping such perils and getting on with caring for people. How sad that a nation founded by many hoping to find religious freedom in a new Israel has seen it spawn precisely the kinds of institutions that kill off good people — not the least of whom back when being Jesus of Nazareth.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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