Wednesday, March 22, 2017

As GOP Moves to Strip Healthcare Coverage from Millions, U.S. White Christian Leaders Revise the Gospels: Eric Erickson's Attack on Scripture

In what I posted earlier today, I provided an excerpt from an article David Roberts has just posted at Vox, analysing the "tribal epistemology" that holds together Trump's base, a base Roberts (along with many others) characterizes as "mostly white, non-urban, and Christian" and moved by traditionalist zero-sum values. Tribal epistemology — here's how Roberts defines the phrase:

[I]nformation is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe's values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. "Good for our side" and "true" begin blurring into one.

It's possible to read Jesus' message as the gospel writers capture it as a sustained critique of tribalist presuppositions. "If you love only those like yourself, then you don't love at all," Jesus says repeatedly, in one way or another, throughout the gospels.

It's the unexpected, hated, impure Samaritan who stops and tends to the man lying wounded by the roadside, when the priest — we expect him to stop — walks right past him and the upstanding Levite — surely he'll stop — saunters past the man bleeding in the road.

Not my business.

He must have done something to bring himself to this state.

If I touch him, I'll be made impure by his blood.

Who is this man to me? Is he even a member of my tribe?

It's the Samaritan, the one considered impure and religiously suspect by pure, orthodox Jews of Jesus' period, who stops, tends to the man's wounds, and takes him to a place in which he may receive further care. Showing us as he does this, Jesus underscores at the end of the parable, that the neighbor is everyone, and, in particular, the person we least expect to own as neighbor . . . . The neighbor is the one who stretches our tribal boundaries to the point of dissolution.

Love, as formulated by Jesus — the love on whose basis and by which we'll be judged at the end of our lives — always moves beyond tribal boundaries. Love always dissolves tribal boundaries. This is the entire gist of Jesus' message throughout the gospels. It's repeated over and over and over again.

Despite this, there are now influential white, Trump-supporting Christians in the United States who want to justify a proposal to rip healthcare coverage from 20 to 30 million fellow human beings by suggesting, as Eric Erickson has just done, that when Jesus tells us to love our fellow human beings, what he's really telling us is to love only others who are like ourselves.

What he's really telling us is to love others who are members of our tribe.

Wendell Griffen and other African-American theologians who refuse to ignore the conflation of white ethnocentric nationalism with gospel values by many white American Christians are absolutely correct to call this conflation what it is: heresy. In its suggestion that Jesus blesses tribalism and encourages us to love only those like ourselves, it obliterates the most fundamental message of the Christian gospels, and wraps rank evil up in filthy "holy" rhetoric.

What kind of meaningful Lent can the 60 percent of white American Catholics who elected Donald Trump possibly be observing, I ask myself, as the man they elected while claiming they were voting "pro-life" proposes stripping the healthcare coverage of millions of struggling citizens and gutting Medicaid and other social safety-net programs? What, in any shape, form, or fashion, is even remotely "pro-life" about such an agenda?

What kind of non-heretical reading of the Christian gospels ends up in this place? Lenten fasting that goes hand in hand with oppression of the poor? 

Did Jesus somehow obliterate Isaiah and the prophets? 

Isaiah 58

Or did he stand squarely with them, beginning his public ministry reading from their texts and announcing that he was the fulfillment of them?

Luke 4
It's truly hard to imagine a more fundamentally heretical reading of the Christian gospels than one which proposes that Jesus' command to his followers to love was a command restricted by tribal loyalties and tribal concerns — and which justifies cruelty towards those in need by noting that they are not of our own tribe. And yet, this is a reading of the Christian gospels that has now been normalized by a large percentage of white American Christians, with the total complicity of their pastoral and intellectual leaders.

I'll repeat my question: What kind of Lent are the white Christians who placed Donald Trump in the White House for "pro-life" reasons observing, as they watch the man they elected and the party standing with him proposing to remove the healthcare coverage of millions of people? What kind of fasting means anything at all in the face of this?

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