by Miguel De la Torre
The first paragraph of the Foreword turned me off. Not only was it a rambling and lengthy personal narrative, for me it hit all the low points: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, avowed capitalist, right wing Republican, the “good news” of Jesus Christ, claiming the United States for Jesus, Christian ethics, and the duty of Christians to their society. Having spent two full years of my working life in the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, I was all too familiar with Christian politics and what they represented to the rest of the world. I had been an outsider inside this world and had my nose rubbed in its distinct odor for far too long.
The one redeeming part, for me, could have been the reference to “a fairer and more equitable society,” except I found it incongruous with Southern Baptist dogma. In my reading of history, it seems to me that Christianity has worked diligently AGAINST such a goal since its founding in 325. The vast majority of our founding fathers left Europe to escape unfair, inequitable societies based on Christian beliefs and ethics and immediately and unambiguously set out to create a similar thing here, removing women, Native Americans, and black slaves from the possibility of fairness or equality. The board and pulpit of Mom’s Baptist church were exclusively male; this policy taken from the “Good Book” itself.
Mixing theology and politics, which he implied, lifted the hairs on the back of my neck.
Had I not agreed to give this book a try and had it not belonged to a good friend, I would have thrown it into the trash without reading any further. I forced myself into the second paragraph.
Ah yes, the favorite sport of Christianity since Saul of Tarsus perverted the inclusive philosophies of Jesus with his own mean, exclusive dogma: fights over who gets to dictate their “truth” to others. The author’s school had been hijacked by an even more reactionary group. Shades of my mother’s Baptist Church where another group brought in a roomful of ringers to steal the church from the people who had built it up over 25 years. Ousted, Mom and friends had to start over.
While first supporting it, on page xii, the author, Dr. Miguel de laTorre, finally starts resisting the movement to “simplistic answers and supposed doctrinal truths.” He graduates amid purges of his favorite teachers and goes on to win a PhD at Temple University in ethics.
I consider the phrase “Christian ethics” an oxymoron. How a doctrine composed of contradictions, bigotry, and violence can be ethical, I can’t imagine. Sure the Golden Rule and the Parable of the Good Samaritan are excellent lessons in ethical values, but there are also dozens of Biblical lessons which teach us to discriminate against others based on gender, sexual preference, religious belief, lineage, and race as well as endless lessons that teach us to react to “evil” with violence and destruction and a few (such as Abraham willing to murder Issac, God’s support of Joshua’s territorial expansion through genocide, Lot’s wife’s punishment for caring about her neighbors, or angels supporting the statutory rape of Hagar and the eventual injustices to both) in which the ethical lesson is utterly wrong; a complete perversion of ethics as well as common sense and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth!
When he starts talking about justice, I don’t recognize the word or its applicability to his subject.
To me, Jesus wasn’t about justice at all! “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is about humility and mercy, not justice. Ditto the Golden Rule and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Turning the other cheek is about humility, not justice. It’s also about seeking our own part in creating enmity and discord, however small we may initially think it to be. Where do the real Jesus and justice intersect? And taking care of elderly parents is something I did out of love and loyalty, not out of justice or obligation — at least in the cases of my mother, my father, and my aunt.
It’s clear to me by the end of page xiii that he’s talking about social justice, but again it misses the real reasons for helping our fellows, which is really the same reason we help our aging parents and their siblings: love and loyalty. This has nothing to do with what I consider justice. Over and over again, he uses the word “justice” which must have some meaning to him that I don’t really “get” … unless it’s secretly retribution. The anger seems to be there; hidden but definitely there.
My friend, Joseph, has highlighted a paragraph which I find to be unintelligible. I think I get what Dr. De laTorre is trying to say, but I feel like he’s missed the real point — this isn’t about rules or “proper” behavior but about attitude and real, genuine inclusion and empathy.
De la Torre is saying we should rather than we are. He’s living in a rules-based spiritual universe while I live in an attitude-based, feelings-based spiritual universe and a rules-based physical universe.
I have always hated the concept of “harvesters” and “shepherds” who have a social rank superior to the “flocks” they “tend.”
He begins ending this foreword with “This book is an evangelical call for laborers to harvest among the harassed and helpless, serving with Jesùs as shepherds in solidarity with lost sheep seeking a more just social order.” Gag me with a spoon! He could be building a mission along the California coastline with serfs gleaned from the surrounding Native Americans, looking down on them with paternal love and beating them whenever they “needed” correction. I think his PhD has gone to his head.
“The goal of this book is to delineate a biography of Jesùs as understood by marginalized Hispanics….” Since I’m not a marginalized Hispanic, but a marginalized white Anglo-Saxon with international ties and sympathies, maybe that’s why I’m hating this book so far.
He wants to be both kind and erudite. Dr. De la Torre wants to be inclusive but can’t seem to get away from his own intellectual snobbery. And He still calls Jesus “Christ” while he must have learned that this name is a fiction attached to Jesus against his will, against his teachings, and against everything Jesus stood for — until the Last Supper anyway.
Now, I’ve gotten to the Introduction.
“We create Jesus in our own image.”
Well, I never went to seminary and I’m not recognized as a biblical scholar, but I have come to believe that the Biblical Jesus is schizophrenic and cannot be taken as a single being, whether man or god.
I relegate the writings predating Jesus and describing the future character Christ to the category of fiction. Likewise, the Gospels about these stories coming true but using a flawed Greek translation of this Septuagint could be assigned the label of fictional plagiarism. It is clear to me that Jesus rejected the role of Christ and would reject it again if given a third chance to be our emperor, God on Earth.
Anyone who still calls Jesus “Christ” isn’t a serious Biblical scholar in my eyes. “Christ” was the fictional future absolute ruler who would preside over the culling of all humans into two groups and send goyem or disbelievers (depending on your allegiances) to Hell and then rule the rest as their dictator. Jesus refused this role. He chose crucifixion the first time and didn’t even attempt a coup after resurrection. It didn’t fit with his philosophy.
Can you imagine the being who told us to love one another; who urged us to find the best in each other; who taught us empathy and tolerance and forgiveness; this kind and patient being suddenly sending most of the world to the flames of Hell for eternity on a technicality? It’s stupid. Buddha and Gandhi go to Hell but Jimmy Swaggart wins a palace in Heaven? Also, it contradicts the realities of spirituality: that spiritual peace isn’t gained by rejection but by acceptance. I have learned that to be happy after death, we need reconciliation; we need to embrace enemies and foes; we need to forgive those who wronged us and learn to love them. We need to repent the wrongs we did to others and seek their forgiveness and acceptance. This is impossible if the victim goes to Heaven and the perpetrator goes to Hell. Empathy is severely disrupted by the labels “good” and “evil.”
Furthermore, my serious, in-depth study of souls concluded that there is neither a Heaven nor a Hell; that we stay right here and are made happy by reconciliation: victim and perpetrator; enemies; antagonists; lost children and parents. Christianity would have God separate us; alienate us from each other. This religion works diligently against the proper spiritual order. Its adherents believe in a God who created us to be together but made up rules to keep us in conflict and opposition.
I don’t believe in physical miracles, though I do believe in spiritual miracles. So I don’t believe people were dead for any length of time and then resurrected by magic or faith. And I’m firmly convinced that, while there are many spiritual miracles in our world, there aren’t any physical ones.
I took the stories about the Last Supper and the brief and unsatisfying stories written centuries later about Jesus after the resurrection also as fiction, told by recently-converted pagans pretending to be disciples but without any real understanding of Jesus, Judaism or Passover; absurdly incongruous.
What was left, I took with a grain of salt, taking only what fit into the philosophy of empathy, inclusion, humility, and mercy. Maybe this is related to who I am, but it is, in my heart, who I think created the Golden Rule and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Beatitudes are a bit too artsy-fartsy for me and don’t really tell me anything profound, the problem being the word “blessed.” But the basic idea of compassion, empathy, inclusion, and solutions based on what is good and fair for everyone makes, for me, a solid foundation on which to construct a useful historical Jesus, whatever inflection you give to his name.
I’m also defensive when religion gets political. I don’t care if it’s left-wing or right-wing, when a religious group tries for political power as in the last Presidential election, it usually ends up with solidified opposition and little room for compromise. I do note an exception for the Quakers who wouldn’t take up arms. Other than the few non-violent exceptions, politics and religion generally lead to both irrational laws and irreconcilable conflict.
Adding “under God” to our pledge of allegiance was a big mistake. It created an exclusion and then immediately denied it. One nation under God — meaning that you shouldn’t be a Buddhist or a Moslem or a Hindu or, most especially, a Communist, a socialist, or an atheist — indivisible — meaning we can’t be divided even though the preceding two words did just that. It instituted something the founding fathers of this country worked long and hard to avoid: a connection between religious belief and nationalism. It fits right in with the author’s overall philosophy and the irrationality of the Trinity.
Christianity is divisive by its nature, by its fundamental tenets, by its history, and by its treatment of other cultures and beliefs and by its consistent mistreatment of women and dissidents. Before Christianity, religions and gods were side-by-side without conflict. It was Saul of Tarsus (“Saint” Paul, the author of Galatians, one of the earliest New Testament writings) who introduced a virulent form of intolerance and insisted on it in the many churches he founded. It is this intolerance, presumed to be a primary characteristic of God, which causes the major problems and the swelled egos of so many “believers.” It is this intolerance which prompted the fictions about the incongruous teachings of Jesus after his “resurrection.”
The Introduction talks about oppression. I think intolerance is the primary culprit and oppression just a side-effect. Christianity is intrinsically intolerant. It is basically, “we have the truth and everyone else is wrong; it says so right here….”
“If Jesus Christ came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.” — a quote from Woody Allen found in this book.
While I agree with this sentiment, though without the “Christ,” I believe that the original sin is in the first writings of the first Christian theologian, Saul of Tarsus. He created an intolerant dogma which insisted on faith, belief, and obedience as the primary obligations we have to God.
I see the flaws as intrinsic to the religion itself and not caused by some misapplication of theology. The basic tenets of the religion, the presumed predilections of God lead us away from truth, not toward it.
Belief is, in my estimation, only as valuable as its congruence with reality. Belief in a falsehood is foolish, misleading, and destructive. Since the physical universe appears to work on scientific principles, since the Creation is rational, I start with the assumption that its Creator was also rational and does not put much stock in magic or illusions; “miracles” in religious parlance.
Being forgiven for our misdeeds without serious reflection, remorse, or reparation has been shown to be a recipe for repetitive behavioral mistakes. The twelve steps taught me a much healthier, though much more arduous, path to redemption: amends, self-analysis, and a commitment to serving others.
Credulity and blind obedience are desired by oppressive rulers, not benevolent gods.
While I applaud Dr. De la Torre’s dedication to social justice, I find the foundation he has chosen to be a thing of dubious value. He has taken a silk purse and a sow’s ear and, with painstaking care, sewn them together, much as the original “Christian,” Saint Paul/Saul, did.
If what’s in the Bible is true, then it’s true whether it is in the Bible or not. And if it’s false, being in this revered tome makes it no less false. Having been taught a “fact” in seminary doesn’t change history or logic or meaning; it merely creates a prejudice which may or may not correlate with reality.
So where (I’m asking on page 3) do Christianity and social justice intersect? I am imagining that the good minister is going to dazzle us with intricate words and logic while totally unaware that he has stepped in something smelly. I intend to stand in his way armed with the awareness that his religion has authored more social injustice than any other religion in the history of mankind — possibly excluding its descendant religion, Islam. These two dogmas have littered the world with broken bodies and twisted minds century after century.
Reading pages 2 and 3, I was dumbfounded with the conclusion derived from statistics over a 20-year period: “I am struck with how hopeless is the situation for today’s marginalized, not only for those claiming faith in Jesus, but pretty much everybody else.”
My daughter and ex son-in-law are receiving free groceries from a government family assistance program. My daughter is going to college and my ex son-in-law is mostly playing video games at home and occasionally looking for a job; choices they made freely and without duress. So our nuclear family is “poor.”
However, the “stomach wrenching poverty” the author talks about is missing. My daughter subsists on student loans I doubt she’ll ever be able to repay and my son-in-law sleeps until noon most days.
I remember when our steel industry moved overseas. Workers weren’t content with eighteen dollars an hour. And the AMA got greedy and opposed universal health care until the healthcare insurance industry wiped them out.
Part of the problem IS the excessive profiteering, I agree, but part of the problem is expectations and feeling sorry for ourselves if we can’t buy a new car every year or take a vacation to Bermuda. We are well-fed, comfortable, and tended to by armies of doctors and dentists. We don’t even have to serve in the military any more if we don’t want to.
The excessive profiteering has been there all along, bolstered by churches rather than hindered. And if the poverty were stomach-wrenching, why are there twenty churches within a 2-mile radius of my house, living off these “poor, mistreated people?”
I see the same problem, but I don’t see it in the same way.
I spent a total of four months in Thailand, a country with real gut-wrenching poverty. The people, even the poor people, were unusually happy and content. They might ride a bicycle or walk to get somewhere (without A/C), but they aren’t blaming anyone for their condition and they’re not too concerned about fixing it. If worse comes to worse, they can join a Buddhist monastery or convent and go around sponging off of relatives, friends and strangers for a bowl of rice and some vegetables. Their idea of wealth isn’t money in the bank but people they support. Thus, to be wealthy, one increases employees and dependents.
I have my own analysis of the increasing disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us.
The trickle-down economics initiative of Ronald Reagan didn’t work as expected. It was never a viable theory anyway, merely a convenient way to lie to the American voter. Like selling “Gold Medallion Homes” to foolish Americans, Ronald Reagan looked the part of a man we could trust while leading us into several disasters.
With the stringent environmental laws, minimum wage laws, labor unions, and high living costs, it was economically advantageous to open a plant in China, Korea, Malaysia or Indonesia rather than in the United States. Tax relief trickled out into jobs overseas while the national debt skyrocketed.
Entrepreneurship was soon overwhelmed by mutual funds and professional investors, making short-term profit the single criterion for business success. CEOs and CFOs either showed increasing profits or were replaced. The profit motive was depersonalized and institutionalized, making fair play and win-win a thing of the past.
The practice of investing in a company’s own stock rather than new factories became widespread, slowing the growth of jobs while artificially increasing profit by increasing stock prices.
And Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of American industry created a niche for unscrupulous investors who wiped out a number of retirement funds and the State of California among their unsuspecting victims.
Notice that I haven’t said a thing about religion or philosophy. This was, I believe, 100% conservative politics and unbridled greed. How De laTorre turns this into “neo-liberalism” baffles me. When I look at the bigger picture, at the waste, I see something unrelated to his analysis.
Reagan 40 invested in “star wars” and rejected SALT II. Like Trump, he unraveled just about all of his predecessor’s work. He actively sought a new arms race in “Star Wars.” He invested a disproportionate share of America’s wealth in what was called “defense” while being almost exclusively offense or defenses against negative reactions to our international bullying. He sent money and subversives to illegally undermine the democratically-elected government in Nicaragua, causing destruction, enmity, suffering, and refugees.
Bush 41 instructed ambassador April Glaspie to tell Saddam Hussein we were neutral in his conflict with Kuwait, which was stealing Iraq’s oil in massive quantities by slant drilling under their border. Bush, Sr. then invested billions of our tax dollars in men and equipment to fight a war he helped create, blowing up men and equipment that you and I had to work to pay for and creating instability in the region and more enmity in the world.
His son, Bush 43, went one step further, lying through his teeth about WMDs and terrorism, invading Iraq unilaterally, and sinking us into a much deeper hole financially, politically, militarily, and ethically.
These visibly Christian Republicans weren’t “neo-liberal” by any stretch of my imagination, but they took massive amounts of money out of our economy and created war, destruction and destabilization out of it, not to mention the spiritual and physical damage done to the people sent to kill and be killed.
If none of this resonates, I’d like to recommend several current documentaries about the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq to emphasize the fact that bringing armed troops into a foreign country, no matter what the supposed motivation or the eventual outcome, is a recipe for disaster, a spiritual error of massive proportions. If there ever is such a thing as “evil,” this must surely qualify.
I’d also like to point out that this was merely a new wrinkle in a game that has been played for millennia.
And right smack dab in the middle of all this is the gullibility of loyal, religious people who are trained in the art of irrational belief, who backed this foolish, irrational, illegal murder and mayhem with unflinching solidarity. Bush 43 was at an all-time-high approval rating when he fired his well-informed advisor1 and maliciously lied to us about WMDs and terrorists in Iraq.
This is NOT neo-liberalism!
So far, the author has made a fool of himself in my eyes.
Having been an entrepreneur himself, De laTorre fails to distinguish between that and the virtual monopolies of corporations owned by the same stockholders. The problems we face today are because of the virtual monopolies the wealthy have created and corporate power to influence voters in the modern era by using misdirection, misinformation, and blind loyalty. This is now an entrenched, automatic system which runs on its own without much in the way of negative feedback or ethical restraint. The only “good” stock is a stock with a high return on investment; with maximum profits. The stockholder rarely knows or cares what is done to create those profits and often is completely ignorant of which companies he or she owns or what the employees and boards must do to retain their employment.
The power of the National Rifle Association isn’t its membership OR its message. The power derives from money which targets antagonistic politicians with massive disinformation campaigns; bought and paid for by it corporate members who, not incidentally, provide a disproportionate amount of the stuff we buy to export terror and destruction to Third World towns and cities thousands of miles from our shores.
There is a bottom line here.
I regard several Christian assumptions to be contrary to the spiritual well being of any human.
In the twelve steps, spirituality is all about acceptance without constraints. There are no truly “Christian” twelve step meetings. To cater to only Christians would violate the traditions and would work against our spiritual recovery. There are not supposed to be any racially-divided groups either. There are women-only and men-only groups but only because of the sensitive nature of the issues of members and not due to any gender bias. Women serve as often as men as “trusted servants” and as representatives to regional and world boards.
In my 20 years of three or four weekly twelve-step meetings, there was exactly one exclusion. An attendee’s religious proselytizing got so out of hand that we had to ask him to leave.
In my three years of intensive study, earning my certification as a spiritual healer, religion wasn’t an issue, either, except when it created irreconcilable divisions between people. Satisfactory outcomes required victim and perpetrator be reconciled; impossible if one is in Hell and the other in Heaven, if the fictions of life in permanent paradise or permanent torment, of absolute good and absolute evil, persist.
A belief that splits humanity into “us” and “them” works against spiritual healing and life going on well. It always has and it always will. And it is right in the heart of Christian theology. The first Christian document, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, starts out damning people with slightly different beliefs and never softens. The Nicene Creed doubles down on this damnation, declaring an end to individual conscience, independent thought, or empathy for those deemed “evil.” These concepts mess with the primary spiritual directives: unity, compassion, and reconciliation.
What I’m getting at is that men and women have been trying to reform Christianity almost from the start. While we now have women and gay ministers in a few churches, while the rigidity has softened a bit, while the church is (finally!) apologizing for covering up heinous crimes, the dogma, the self-congratulatory nonsense, the divisive tendencies persist at the core beliefs of the religion and all of its offshoots. This cannot change and, in and of itself, works against spiritual awareness and growth in an extremely harmful way.
The religion’s basic dishonesty consistently creates discord with others, within the church and within the hearts and minds of individual members. We disavow our mistakes, making it difficult to learn new behaviors. We blame others for situations that we had a part in creating. We fail to see the other side time after time, instead using the word “evil” without any effort to understand the animosity towards us and our part in fomenting it. We stand wrapped in self-righteousness and condemn “terrorists” for demonstrating to us what it feels like to be terrorized decade after decade by our arbitrary and capricious Commanders in Chief who feel compelled to wade into local skirmishes with massive firepower and destroy homes and lives on the other side of the world with smug delusions of virtuosity.
Christianity lies to us when something bad happens — blame it on the devil or evil or some other factor. It is rare for Christians to be humble and accept a portion of the blame.
Christianity lies to us when someone dies — they’re in Heaven smiling down on us and waiting for us to join them. This short-circuits grief and spiritual growth with permanent denial.
Christianity uses constant social pressure to get us to align our outward selves with friends and relatives regardless of what we really think, feel, or need. They pressure us to conform to their dogmatic norms and then they use constant and insistent social pressure to force us to proselytize our children. They force outward attitudes and opinions which rarely completely match our true inner beings.
The dogmatic religious system is intrinsically dishonest. It allows only the smallest of disparities in our attitudes and beliefs. Again, this happened because of the influence of Saul of Tarsus, not because of Jesus or anything Jesus actually said or did.
Saul of Tarsus started out trying to persecute the early followers of Jesus and was unsuccessful. Then, he found that it was far easier to subvert them and became a rousing success, his work and his divisive words still motivating a multitude of crimes against the brotherhood of man; against acceptance of our differences; against treating all people with respect and dignity.
Saul’s curses still resound in our churches almost two millennia after he first penned them. They speak loudly against the love and trust Jesus sought; against his humility, generosity, and forgiveness; against even a modicum of humility and doubt.
I don’t think Jesus ever considered taking on the role of Christ, the Messiah. I think he would cringe at sitting on a gilded throne and blessing or damning various citizens based on their beliefs, let alone any other criterion. And I think Jesus wouldn’t even recognize himself if he entered one of the twenty churches in my immediate neighborhood.
Like the gilded statues of Buddha, we’ve made Jesus into something he didn’t want and wouldn’t recognize. People, starting with Saul of Tarsus, have used Jesus as a symbol to usurp power and gain control over others. So far, I count De la Torre among these usurpers.
On page 5, Dr. De la Torre brings up economic justice! He seems to think religion is going to solve a 500-year problem which started with the Franciscan monks of early California using locals as slave labor and enforcing a feudal social structure; continued with the Church looking the other way during a prolonged period of rape and statutory rape along with the subjugation of all women, white and brown; and culminated in a corrupt modern system based on gender and Caucasian features as well as massive inequities in labor and wealth and widespread abuses of the legal system.
The fact is that, while Jesus may have wanted a nonviolent revolt against the Roman Empire, the machinations of Saint Saul created a cesspool of power-grubbing clergy that’s never been drained and continues intermittently to this day in both Catholicism and all its various offshoots, including Islam.
There is little that is conciliatory in De la Torre’s rhetoric. And Jesus — or at least spirituality — was all about conciliation and reconciliation until the stories told about the end of his life which have no correlation with any of his previous history, let alone the people he was with or the situation he was in.
You can make anything you want out of Jesus and Jehovah — absolutely anything. They are so ridiculously irrational that mankind has spent two millennia constructing “logic” out of illogic and beliefs out of thin air. They have constructed a system where rational thought has been cast aside in favor of flights of fancy too absurd to consider outside of their protective cocoon of 3-but-1, separate-but-the-same, brutal-but-loving, just-but-racist, and kind-but-divisive illogic. The author just adds his book to this long list of well-read but poorly-conceived literature.
Dr. De la Torre is blaming them for our problems, and, while this may be a defensible theory, it isn’t an effective one. If we aren’t at least partially responsible for our lives, then we are beggars asking the wealthy for a piece of the pie or disruptions standing in the way of anything getting done. Until we take responsibility for our lives and our choices — including poverty — then we aren’t part of a viable solution.
And, as I read about the last 500 years, Christianity has consistently (with a few hopeful but insignificant deviations) been at the center of the heartbreaking history of Hispanics. To believe that it also embodies their social, ethical, physical, or spiritual salvation is a triumph of hope and delusion over experience.
©David N. Dodson, November 2017
1Richard A. Clarke; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22231-2004Mar24.html