March 31, 2013


The Return of the Warrior Jesus (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 4/04/04, NY Times)

[S]ome scholars who study religion say that the phenomenal popularity of their "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic thrillers - now the best-selling adult novels in the United States - are part of a shift in American culture's image of Jesus. The gentle, pacifist Jesus of the Crucifixion is sharing the spotlight with a more muscular warrior Jesus of the Second Coming, the Lamb making way for the Lion.

Scholars who study religion in American culture say the trend partly reflects the growing clout of evangelical Christians and the relative decline of the liberal mainline Protestant denominations over the last 30 years. The image of a fearsome Jesus who will turn the tables on the unbelieving earthly authorities corresponds to a widespread sense among many conservative Christians that their values are under assault in a culture war with the secular society around them. The shift coincides with a surging interest in Biblical prophecies of the apocalypse around the turn of the millennium, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars with Iraq. And the warlike image of Jesus also fits with President George W. Bush's discussions of a godly purpose behind American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are signs of the same shift in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ," which dealt almost exclusively with the submissive Jesus of the Crucifixion. "When you see him stand up at the end of the movie, he reminds you of Schwarzenegger,'' said Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and author of "American Jesus," a new cultural history. "I think that movie shows more of a macho Jesus, who, in this case, is brutalized instead of brutalizing."

He added, "I definitely think the pendulum is swinging toward a darker, more martial, macho concept of the Messiah."

Some worry that the turn toward a more warlike Jesus reflects a dangerous tendency to see earthly conflicts in cosmic terms. "I think a lot of people are looking at contemporary conflict around the world and seeing it as a kind of religious war," said Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton. "And there is no kind of conflict that becomes more intractable than when people are convinced that they alone have access to God's truth and the other side are the people of Satan."

But Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called the warrior Jesus of the "Left Behind" novels a healthy corrective, reminding people that Jesus is judgmental as well as merciful. "The fear of God is a worthy emotion," he said.

He argued that the wrathful Jesus in the book series was an antidote to what he called "the effeminate Jesus" that has sometimes prevailed in the culture. "In our stained-glass windows and our popular culture, Jesus is a kind of marshmallowy, Santa Claus Jesus, which is not at all in keeping with the gospels," he said.

The fight for a manly Jesus has been long-running. At the beginning of the 20th century, some Christian critics railed against what they called "bearded lady'' portraits of Jesus of the Victorian era. But the battle over the manliness of Jesus had settled down by the middle of the 20th century, when the relatively liberal, mainline Protestant denominations were at their apex.

Few liberal Protestants believed in a literal hell or talked much about the Second Coming. Their masculine but soft-spoken image of Jesus was exemplified by the once-ubiquitous portrait "Head of Christ,'' made by Warner Sallman in 1941, which depicted a handsome man looking serenely upward. "It is the classic Mr. Rogers Jesus picture," Professor Prothero said in an interview.

But a less visible subculture of more evangelical Protestants held on to a far sterner, more bellicose image of Jesus that centered on the apocalypse. [...]

The overarching themes in such Biblical interpretation also bear a strong resemblance to contemporary talk of a culture war pitting secular liberals against conservative Christians, said Timothy Weber, president of Memphis Theological Seminary. "The culture war fits into the pre-millennialists' expectation of the end of history - the decline of civilization, the breakdown of morality, a general breakdown of order,'' he said. "The warrior Jesus returns to set everything right again."

One need hardly look to the Apocalypse for the belligerent Christ:

16. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

17. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.

18. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

19. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak;

20. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

21. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.

22. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

23. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

25. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!

26. Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

27. "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

28. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

29. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.

30. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

31. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32. "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.

33. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

34. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.

35. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law';

36. And 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'

He brought the culture war and had no problem withwaging it Himself.

Easter brings harsh new religious reality (Ted Byfield, 4/11/04, Calgary Sun)

It's a safe bet that, across the U.S., today's Easter services will be better attended than they have been in years.

In fact, even in soft, pampered, easily deluded Canada, the harsh realities that seem to be gradually emerging with the 21st century may have discernible religious consequence .

Those realities are being forced on the western world by terrorists, always in the name of Islam. Apart from the 2,800 killed in the attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, we were shown in the next 14 or so months -- 118 killed in a Moscow theatre, 180 killed in a Bali nightclub, more than 200 killed in Nigeria in a protest that followed a planned beauty contest, then a further several hundred killed last month in Spain.

These attacks are working a major change in the western world's view of religion. We had been led to believe by our liberal establishment that all religions were essentially the same -- caring, sharing, in a word "nice."

Well, from the start of the second millennium, we began finding this erroneous. Some are downright nasty. For instance, so-called "fundamentalist Islam," we're told, is teaching its 200 million adherents to hate all things western, and to serve God by killing us.

Now, that's not nice.

This has stirred a considerable interest in Christianity which, it is gradually being discovered, has been fighting this Islamic tendency for about 1,600 years.

But all this terror is provoking, one notes, a remarkable change in Christianity. The "gentle Jesus" of Victorian art, who came in pastel colours, was soft-skinned, and infinitely sweet, is being rapidly retired, a welcome departure since he bears very little resemblance to the alarming figure who appears in the four Christian gospels.

[Originally posted: April 11, 2004]

Posted by at March 31, 2013 12:00 AM

"Some worry that the turn toward a more warlike Jesus reflects a dangerous tendency to see earthly conflicts in cosmic terms. "I think a lot of people are looking at contemporary conflict around the world and seeing it as a kind of religious war," said Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton."

Good thing we have professors of religion to check the crazy Christians and keep an eye peeled for chances to dialogue with the Islamists in good faith to pursue mutual self-interest.

Posted by: Peter B at April 11, 2004 6:02 PM

Aslan is not a tame lion.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 12, 2004 1:08 PM
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