May 2018

   Many years ago, Sally and I were visiting with some friends from church. The couple had heard some news that sounded very un-Christian to them, but it had originated with what they considered a reliable Christian source. Sally asked, "What would you think if you got an obscene phone call, and the caller told you that it was Jesus calling?" Our friends were shocked at the very idea. When asked why they were shocked, the answer was, "Well, isn't it obvious?"

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   If you know anything about Jesus, as he is described in the New Testament, obvious seems like a gross understatement. Obscene call? It seems impossible for anybody to even attempt to conjure up such an incredible and unlikely picture. Yet, American Christians every day are receiving - and sending -  "calls" in the name of Jesus that are as amazingly unlike him as any dirty phone message would be.  For some reason, the utter impossibility of it doesn't seem obvious to Christians, at all.

     I think most of the religious people in the world believe in some kind of "Final Settlement," something that at long last makes sense out of our being on this planet. The bodies of belief are often quite similar between religions, but there is always something in each religion - a person, an event, a specific afterlife - that makes its canon unique and (in their eyes) better than anybody else's. For Christianity, the "better than anybody else's" is Jesus. By definition, there is no Christianity without Jesus.

      Ultimately, Christians think of Jesus as their savior - the door through which they eventually get to enter "Heaven." But what is he in the meantime, a mascot or a teacher? A teacher supplies the words and thoughts. If we find the teachings worthy of following, we follow. If we don't agree with what is taught, we don't have to follow.  A mascot, on the other hand, is a creation, meant to serve the needs of its creators. Sometimes, it is merely a figurehead, a quick identifier of its makers - the Michelin (tire) Man, or the University of Oregon Duck. Sometimes, its creators give it a life of its own, and program it as spokesperson for their particular cause or point of view. Smokey the Bear, who seems to know everything about forest fires (probably fairly unusual for a real bear), is an authority and symbol only because of the words that somebody puts in his mouth.

      It seems to me that we can't separate Jesus the savior from Jesus the teacher. The only tangible way we know about Jesus is through what he is purported to have said, as recorded in the Christian New Testament. If his recorded observations and instructions are all we have, how can they be ignored or even modified? If he is alleged to have said things different from what is recorded in the Bible, then it has to be Jesus the mascot who is talking. (Speaking as someone who knows his New Testament pretty well, It's amazing to hear what Jesus likes and hates, according to his mascot manipulators!)

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      Obviously, it should be important for Christians to know if what they are hearing, saying, or supporting is Real Jesus or Fake News. It's equally important to the rest of us. Politicians in general (and most of the rest of us, I guess) are deathly afraid of being perceived as not believing in God, and (in America, at least) of not being "Christian" enough. Our Constitution says that "church" and "state" are to be separate but, of course, that is far from true. Any proposal that sounds vaguely "christian" has an immediate leg up in Congress over anything that can be insinuated as less "godly." If the source of the differentiation is Jesus the Mascot, everybody should know it, shouldn't they?

      Jesus the Mascot is not a new figure. Catholicism was early to set Jesus the Teacher aside, creating a whole religious government that in turn created a whole new set of religious rules and regulations, with Jesus the Mascot as the powerless figurehead. Protestantism followed, less imperialistically, but similarly creating a new religion of those of Jesus' teachings they liked, and some Old Testament rules that Jesus said very clearly had been abolished and replaced.                

   What is important to us today is that a new Jesus Mascot is being created.  This one stands for a sort of "Old Testament Christianity" (i.e., with lots of rules to control individual behavior) blended with a strongly materialistic economic outlook (i.e., almost no rules concerning business and money-making). The voices behind this "Jesus" hope their brand of Christianity will eventually be imposed on all of us through a combination of sympathetic Executive, Legislative, and Judicial governmental controls.   Over the top, you say? On the contrary, great strides have already been made.

   If, as a nation of voters, we can't break free from the prison of religious fear that we've created for ourselves, the only legitimate speakers on our behalf are those Christians still following Jesus the Teacher. I don't know; there may not be any left. If they're out there, they are certainly remaining silent. They need to speak up, to save their own religion, as well as saving our country.

   Is that really Jesus on the line?




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