By A L Katz
Could anything be more antithetical to the very idea of Jesus than Donald Trump standing in front of St. John’s Church yesterday, holding up a bible?
Never mind the fact that to accomplish this photo op — that’s what it was — Trump had to use MILITARY UNITS to disperse law-abiding, peaceful protesters.
Then Donald & Co formed a white wall — the real purpose of Trump’s “walk outside the White House”. Trump strode through LaFayette Park like a Crusader or a Conquistador. He held up a bible like a stage prop. That’s what it is to him. Look — I have no issue with anyone who dismisses the bible for what it is — the thinking and storytelling and myth-making of people who knew far less than we know. I have no issue with people who, understanding the bible in its actual context say, “But there are still good and valuable lessons that we can take from these ancient texts because their lessons are still relevant today”. We can debate this — fairly — with good points being scored by both sides. But that’s not why Donald Trump went to St. John’s and held up a bible.
This is cynical signalling. This is the terrible face of too much American Christianity. It’s got nothing to do with what’s inside that book and everything to do with the mere fact of its cover. It’s like idiots who rage at anyone daring to burn an American flag while shrugging off anyone wiping their asses with the Constitution. When symbols become more important than the content they represent, the content becomes meaningless. McDonalds can survive without Ronald McDonald hawking its big macs. The church however cannot survive without Jesus Doing Unto Others.
That’s why churches are losing followers by the bucket. In a message-savvy world, churches preach a perversely mixed message. “Do Unto Others” may get people in the door. But it’s the “Do What We Say” that churches actually preach that keeps asses glued to pews. At least it used to. It’s just a stone cold fact: churches, being physical structures, are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. Want lights and plumbing? That will cost extra. Want a preacher there to sermonize at you every Sunday? He or she will need a salary. If they wanted to rely on the collection plate to eat, they’d go work a prayer tent.
Churches — on a purely nuts & bolts level — cost money. Money does not magically appear. Praying for money doesn’t produce what fund-raising does. An awful lot of work goes into keeping a church’s doors open and its lights on. And none of that hard work has to do with “Doing Unto Others”.
The thing that churches do extremely well — and it’s an attribute — is create community. If those communities were all committed to doing unto others, that would be awesome. But that’s rarely how it works out.
Churches have a habit of turning “community” into “exclusivity”. If you follow the religion (its rules and regulations), you’re in the club. Don’t follow? You could get excommunicated or banned or made invisible to everyone else in the church. Doesn’t seem very “Do Unto Others”, does it? And it’s not like one has to murder another human to get the silent treatment. Sometimes, all one has to do is love the wrong person. That seems even less “Do Unto Others”.
Jesus also preached “you don’t need a church to talk to God”. That’s what made him radical. That’s what made him a threat to temple authorities (if you want to apply logic to the story). Jesus accused the priests of corruption. Therefore their temple was corrupt; the priests had made it so.
Good thing you can talk directly to the father — as Jesus preached. And if a believer can talk directly to the deity he or she believes in — what do they need a church for? What use is a priest or a minister? Think about it — if everyone can talk directly to God, then everyone has the exact same relationship. No one’s is better than anyone else’s. It’s kind of arrogant actually to think otherwise. What would that be based on exactly — aside from the arrogant person’s belief that THEY (somehow) had a “better” understanding of God than, say, you.
Maybe the problem is that too many people who claim to speak for God actually think that THEY themselves are God.
And that’s why they suck at doing unto others.
Meanwhile, the humble atheist next door is just trying to get through the day. Human beings being intensely social creatures. Tens of thousands of years of practical experience has taught us intrinsically that “Doing Unto Others” is a better survival strategy than constantly attacking everyone else. What Jesus did is articulate this concept as no one had before. In English, “Do Unto Others” pretty much says it all. Three words that anyone can follow — and become a happier person living a happier life.
Maybe the problem with just “Doing Unto Others” is that it doesn’t require any sort of secret handshake. It doesn’t require any rules or regulations. No dogma. Worse — no dues.
Jesus was right again: money ruins everything.