Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tyrant to Value Above All

"Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all." -Saint Augustine of Hippo

When it comes to the difference between moderate and fundamentalist Christians, I think this quote says it all. We often hear, even from some liberal believers, that putting Christ first in our lives is the most important decision we can make. The gist behind Rick Warren's bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, is that the only way to lead a truly fulfilling life is by placing Jesus at the center of it. The same sentiments are echoed by Pat Robertson and others who have called America to 'get back to god,' as well as politicians who believe their god would never let global warming harm the earth and that our prosperity as a nation is divinely tied into our relationship with Israel. Then there are the believers who refuse medical treatment for their own children, leading to numerous deaths that could have easily been prevented if welfare had been put before faith.

Are these examples of an extremist interpretation?
According to the gospels, Jesus himself even explained that unless one "comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, even their own life - such a person cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). In other words, Christ has to come first, even above your own family. Does this mean denying medical treatment, ignoring the state of the environment, and all else? If you're putting Christ first, then you should have no worry, as he says in the bible, "I will do whatever you ask in my name" (John 14:13). Indeed, this is the thinking of many who prefer to rely on god instead of science. Somehow moderate believers will respond that Christ should be valued highly, but not above everything, and even many fundamentalists will not extend their 'Jesus or bust' philosophy to areas of health and safety.

But why not? The bible clearly supports Augustine's statement above, and even if you reject the infallibility of the bible, isn't faith something to be praised in all denominations of Christianity? I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian who would not agree with the idea that the more one relies on god, the better their relationship with him will be. Any Christian who claims that one should not rely much on god is at odds with practically all of the bible and Christian theology. If Jesus and/or god don't merit this degree of faith to liberal Christians, then why even bother having faith at all? God could save you from your sin, but can't (or won't) help with some direction in your life?

This leads me to the ultimate problem behind the 'Jesus first' mantra. If you can't trust your god in any area of your life, why should I trust him even in one area of mine? Of course, this is a rhetorical question, because I consider unwavering devotion to be a bad idea and an immoral teaching. One reason why the story of Abraham and Isaac is often criticized by non-Christians is because it emphasizes this 'god above all' mentality better than anything else. Believers are quick to note that Abraham doesn't actually sacrifice Isaac, but it doesn't matter, because the real horror is in the blind faith that would lead a person to even consider killing their child under the orders of a god. Abraham undoubtedly put god before his own family and was rewarded and praised for it even centuries later. Today parents who would do the same will be prosecuted, thrown into mental hospitals, and treated like unstable lunatics, rightly so.

Putting Christ first means putting a halt on progress. The period in history when most of the world valued Christ above all else has been appropriately named the Dark Ages now. Many asked in the name of Christ, yet the door was not opened to them. Many put Christ before all others, and yet 'blessings' only came in the form of plagues and wars. Part of what makes Ingmar Bergman's film, The Seventh Seal, such a masterpiece is its title. In the book of Revelation, the seventh seal is silence in heaven, and nothing more accurately describes the Dark Ages. The approach of Augustine, Rick Warren, Pat Robertson, and other believers has been tried before, and all it yielded was disaster. We have a name for someone who demands his subjects to put him above all else: a tyrant. The Christian god is a tyrant in every sense of the word - threatening dissenters with unimaginable torment, commanding tribute in the form of worship, and generally looking after his own interests. The day when tyrants are to be valued above all is a dark day indeed.