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Commentary :: Politics
The Liberal Holy-Roller Gospel Hour
09 Nov 2004
Bible Study for the Left: How political leftists can use the language of the bible to persuade their fellow citizens of a progressive agenda and resources for understanding that religious language.
The Liberal Holy-Roller Gospel Hour

Well, after having had to quit my job teaching theology for the Archdiocese of Boston because I couldn't stand 1. not knowing when the funding for my school was going to end due to the Archdiocese having to pay lawsuit settlements for priests who raped kids 2. wondering when I was going to get fired for teaching my kids that homosexuality was not a sin and neither was birth control or abortion, I've finally got another excellent use for my Master of Divinity degree: helping the progressive, liberal political movement understand the other half of the country.

Stay with me here. I'm bewildered. There are plenty of folks in North Carolina, Kansas, Idaho, and Alabama, among other places, who just don't understand me, nor I them. To them, I am just an arrogant, elitist, intellectual, heathen, liberal northerner with no moral compass and no faith in Jesus. To me, they are just ignorant morons who follow an intolerant, stupid religion. I don't know where any of this so called "national healing" is going to come from because you know what, I do have trouble lately thinking of those deep red-staters in kinder terms. But - being the one with the elitist, intellectual brains in this strained relationship of a country, it's up to me to make the first move. So, I've got to stop calling names, understand my neighbor, and find some way to talk to them in small words sprinkled with terms they like, such as God, Jesus, good, bad, morality, etc., and get them to realize electing folk like W is hurting both of us.

First up, getting to understand my neighbors (I knew that Divinity degree would come in handy).

It's time to go back to the book shelf and re-read Karen Armstrong's work, especially, "The Battle for God," which is about the rise of modern fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We need to understand fundamentalism because that's what we're dealing with here and it's no laughing matter (the consequences of what happens if we lose the battle for God are laid out starkly in Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale).

Next, we need to know our Bible. Yes, we do. Time to go to bible study all you liberals out there. There's a lot of powerful good stuff in the bible about social justice and peace and love. There is absolutely no need to let the good book be co-opted by the gay-bashing, misogynistic right-wing. I highly recommend "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time" by Marcus Borg. Borg takes a look at the Bible as a historical literary document, tracing its composition, interpretation, and sociological and theological impact. He writes for the non-theologian and does a remarkable job. Get yourself a bible and a copy of Borg and you'll be ready to counter any biblical literalist’s claims with the calm and knowledge of a biblical scholar.

WWJD? Well, Jesus would know about Jesus, and you'd better, too. Again, I'd recommend Marcus Borg for an excellent and accessible look at the main figure of Christianity from a liberal believer's viewpoint. It's a slim volume called, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time." Yeah, Borg isn't real creative on titles, but he's one of the country's leading liberal religious scholars. If our fundamentalist friends are going to have Super Jesus, we'd better know the real scoop.

I'd also recommend a brief introduction to the history and politics of the New Testament and the development of early Christianity (so you know that say, the Madonna and Child imagery is rip-off from the Egyptian Isis religion’s iconography of Isis lactens, the image of Isis loving her followers so much she suckles them at the breast). Two good sources here: PBS's Frontline Website “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians” at and historian Thomas Cahill's "Desire of the Everlasting Hills."

That should do ya for an introductory reading list on "know your neighbor". Notice I didn't say "know your enemy" - aha - you're catching on! The reality is that the Jesus presented in the gospels and the ideal of social justice presented by the Jewish prophets give plenty of ammunition for supporting the progressive agenda as well as the right-wing agenda, but we've got to be fluent with the language. Jesus hung out with the wretched refuse of his day, our equivalent of the homeless, the addict, and the HIV-infected, not with Halliburton oil magnates. The prophet Amos reports that God says, “I hate your festivals and ceremonies. I want to see none of them while you sell the poor for a pair of sandals and swindle the widow out of change for grain.” Even U2's Bono used the idea of the Sabbatical Year, a year of forgiving debts and releasing slaves, to try and reduce third world debt at the millennium. There's a language and themes in the world view of the opposition that we can use to get across our values, principles and goals as political liberals, but first we need to learn to speak the language or they won't know what we're saying.

Can I get witness?

Amen, y'all.

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