Religious scholar Reza Aslan said American conservatives are basing their criticism of recent comments made by Pope Francis on a “profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus.”
The pontiff has ruffled the feathers of U.S. conservatives with comments suggesting the church has focused too much on social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception, rather than helping the poor.
But his first Apostolic Exhortation released earlier this week, in which the pope denounced the sacred economic theories of the American right – trickle-down economics and an unfettered free market – seems to have been the last straw for Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.
“These two paragons of the far right – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus,” Aslan wrote in a Washington Post column published Thursday.
The Iranian-American scholar noted Palin’s complaint that Pope Francis sounded “kind of liberal” when he decried the growing global income gap between the rich and the poor, although the former vice presidential candidate and reality TV star has since apologized.
But Limbaugh accused the pope of promoting Marxism in comments that had undoubtedly been written by someone else or forced upon him.
“Somebody did get to Pope Francis,” Aslan wrote. “It was Jesus.”
Aslan said these self-styled “defenders of Christianity” (neither of which is Catholic) have twisted the biblical and historical teachings of Jesus to promote their own political agenda.
“Indeed, if you listened to those on the far right you would think that all Jesus ever spoke about was guns and gays,” Aslan said.
And he noted that this view is not nearly as widely held as Americans conservatives suggest.
“But even many modern Christians who reject the far right’s perception of Jesus tend to hold an inaccurate picture of the historical Jesus, viewing him as some kind of celestial spirit with no concern for the cares of this world – a curious assertion about a man who not only lived in one of the most politically charged periods in Israel’s history, but who claimed to be the promised messiah sent to liberate the Jews from foreign occupation,” Aslan wrote.
He said this popular view of Jesus has dominated Christianity since the days of the Holy Roman Empire because it’s easier for partisans to “domesticate” his radical teachings into their own political or economic agendas.
“You can be millionaire megachurch pastor Joel Olsteen, preaching a ‘prosperity Gospel’ that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley,” Aslan writes. “You can be Republican congressman Steven Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul appealing to Jesus’ teachings to advocate ending foreign aid.”
Aslan, who was famously challenged by an overmatched Fox News commentator to defend his standing as a Muslim to write a book on Christianity, said that, in fact, Jesus’ 2,000-year-old teachings were so revolutionary that if he were to preach them today they would still upset many of those who claim to promote his values.
“Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor,” Aslan wrote. “He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places.”
He cites several well-known passages from the Bible to place Jesus’ teachings into context, saying they were far more political and radical than is usually assumed.
“Jesus is not simply describing some utopian fantasy in which the meek inherit the earth, the sick are healed, the weak become strong, the hungry are fed, and the poor are made rich,” Aslan wrote. “He is advocating a chilling new reality in which the rich will be made poor, the strong will become weak, and the powerful will be displaced by the powerless.”
Indeed, he writes, Jesus warned “how hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Those teachings upset authorities when Jesus promoted them, Aslan says, just as they disturb many Christians today.
“The fact is not much has changed in two thousand years, as Palin and Limbaugh have proven,” Aslan wrote. “Yet if these ‘culture warriors’ who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they’d probably call him a Marxist.”
Watch this video of Aslan’s Fox News appearance posted online by IcbmNEWS: