Guest post by Repentant Zealot
Most of my life, I have been a zealot. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a zealot is:
A member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in AD 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation.
Except I have been an American Zealot. Read the description again and insert American for Jewish.
Maybe exchange Roman with Liberal.
With another presidential election bearing down on we the people, many of my brother and sister Believers exercise their faith in the Almighty by reaffirming their sincere, heartfelt allegiance to the political parties (or party) that are His last and best hope for the USA. And the USA, we hold to be self-evident, is His last and best hope for the world.
There are many who proclaim (as I have) I’m a right-wing, religious zealot, and proud of it!
They, as I did, sing and swear by the Faith of the Fathers. Who are they?
Stephen? No. He didn’t fight back.
Peter? No. Too Catholic.
Augustine? No. Also too Catholic.
Luther? No. Too Lutheran.
Justin Martyr? No. He was a martyr. And rarely if ever mentioned by Focus on the Family. Or Glenn Beck.
Who then? Whose faith?
Columbus. He said the Holy Spirit gave him the idea to discover America.
Washington. He prayed at Valley Forge.
Jefferson. He didn’t pray, but he said the Creator gave us rights.
Franklin. He flew a kite in a lighting storm. If God didn’t approve of him, he had ample opportunity to put an end to him then and there.
Paine. He didn’t like Christianity very much. But he taught us that war is nothing less than Common Sense.
Adams. He said you can only rightly govern with God and the Bible.
Hamilton. He helped us have money.
Jackson. He helped our Country be safe from pagans.
Lincoln. He talked about God a lot. And ended racism. His name should have been Moses.
Clearly, I’m speaking simplistically. (And I will continue to do so for a moment).
My years under very zealot-like patriotic evangelical tutelage have taught me that the USA’s Founding Fathers are our standard of American spirituality. They talked about three main things: 1. God. 2. Our God-Given Rights. 3. What to do about those who won’t give us Our God-Given Rights.
They, Our Founders, based them all on the Bible. They put their lives on the line to secure them for us. They would be very unhappy with the Liberals and Muslims for wanting to take away our rights.
Our Military, too, fights for Our Rights. The Rights God Gave Us. The rights that the Enlightenment philosophers told us that he gave us.
What’s the Enlightenment? Ummm. I don’t know. Moving on.
But Our Founding Fathers talked about God And Our Rights. So that’s what we talk about too. That’s what we’re fighting for. And it’s what Jesus would do too. I mean, God told the Children of Israel to kill all the Canaanites. He gave them the Promised Land. And that’s why we have to support Israel too.
We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So, if nothing else, vote for someone who is against abortion. I mean Pro-Life. That’s the same thing.
That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney. He says he’s Pro-Life. He didn’t used to, but now he does. And I know he’s a Mormon, but he probably doesn’t believe it that much. And that’s better than someone without a birth certificate and middle name like Hussein. What’s American about that?
Does this line of thinking and kind of speaking sound familiar to anyone else? This is what I spent the first 21 years of my life arguing with people about. This is what I spent those years studying. And I was a zealot.
In college Jesus started challenging my assumptions. He did, after all, call zealots to follow him instead. And here are some teachings I couldn’t reconcile with my original world view:
1. Love my neighbor as myself.
2. Bless and do not curse.
3. My love for God is shown in my treatment of my enemies, not my family or friends.
4. If I don’t forgive my enemies and those who sin against me, God doesn’t forgive me.
5. Jesus forgave his torturers and murderers while he was hanging on the cross. Before they ever asked for or deserved forgiveness.
6. Jesus says to do what he did.
7. Jesus says everything he did and said he first heard from the Father.
8. Stephen, as he was being stoned, said to his murderers what Jesus had first said to his murderers.
9. A chapter after Stephen forgave the Jewish terrorist Saul, the ringleader of the stoning mob, we find out that Jesus had also forgiven Saul, probably about the same time when Stephen did.
These revelations from scripture did a number on many of my beliefs. Especially my political views, which, sad to say, were a sacred cow to me. Which brings me to…
10. God melted down a sacred cow once and told the people to drink it.
So, for a time I did very zealously cast aspersions on both heads of our current political beast while maintaining faith in the basically godly and Christian founding of the USA.
Unfortunately, as I kept studying (and believing) scripture, I kept running into frustration. Here’s one:
Jesus seems to be concerned only with the way I treat others. Same with the Ten Commandments.
Jesus, as far as I know, never says to his Disciples, “Everyone must treat you nicely.” He also is frustratingly silent about what rights I can demand.
I had always been taught and/or assumed that…
1. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” implied my right to freedom of religion.
2. “Thou shalt not kill” implied my right to life.
3. “Thou shalt not steal” implied my right to property.
But does it?
Can I assume the contra-positive?
Then I saw that the teachings of the Law, the Prophets, and Jesus are summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that command has a direction – away from me.
Right now I’m using my fingers to point away from me to indicate the direction of Jesus’ teachings. He tells me to love my neighbor. So I have to point away from myself.
So. I now believe that being Christian is about studying, preserving, and enacting the teachings of Jesus in my own life. Or in other words, my priorities and actions should follow the direction of his priorities and actions.
The direction of Jesus’ teaching was away from himself. Upward towards the Father. Outward toward his neighbors.
Then I thought again about the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
(Feel free to correct me – I rattled that one off from memory…..like I said, I have steeped in belief in America’s Christian Heritage)
Does the concept of rights preserve and enact the teachings of Jesus or of the Mosaic Law?
Here are some red flags I see.
1. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” – Are they? Was the Law self-evident (that is, able to figured out through human rationality and intellect alone)? If so, why did God make the big deal of giving His Law at Mt. Sinai? Why did Jesus have to come as “the exact representation of the Father” if these things were self-evident?
2. “All men are created equal” – While I agree, is that a priority or teaching of Jesus? It seems that he would say it differently. Probably we should look for a more Jesus way to understand equally. Likely, it will be focus on my neighbor’s needs over my wants, rather than a banner, parade, or talk show declaring with much zeal my own worth.
3. “That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” – Has he? Scripture does say that all have been endowed with the breath of life. He has revealed his Law. He has appeared in the flesh. He has brought good news to prisoners. He has healed the sick. He has given sight to the blind. He gave his people the Promised Land. But He also alienated them from it on more than one occasion due to their sin. “Unalienable rights”? Is that Jesus? Is that the leading of the Holy Spirit who Jesus said would remind us of all he taught?
4. “That among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – Does Jesus say I have the right to life? Didn’t he say and do the opposite? What about liberty? Did Paul organize an intrepid legal team to ensure his liberty? Or was he a prisoner for Christ’s sake? John the Baptist was killed in prison. These things seem to have been God’s will. Is desiring liberty the same as demanding it? Because I want liberty. I don’t want to be in a gulag, being tortured. But can I demand it? And happiness? It pleased the Father that Christ should suffer. This is hard to swallow. Again, I want happiness. But is it the teaching of Jesus to demand the right to pursue it?
5. “That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men”—Is that exactly what they’re their for? What does scripture teach?
6. “Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” – Is that what God prescribes? When the Israelites demanded a king, what happened? Not just during David and Solomon, but in the long run? Is it an idea Jesus supports? “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; give to God what is God’s” What bears God’s image that it should be surrendered to him?
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, we in the US have clung to our rights with religious fervor. With zealotry. We have fought wars in which untold masses of innocent lives on all sides have been violently ended – all whenever we have been told our rights have been threatened, whether legitimately or not.
We have been apostles of political agendas. We have demanded our rights. We have demanded laws for school prayer, against gay marriage and abortion, and against taxes. We have marched in the streets in support of Judeo-Christian Family Values. And all the while, wickedness has increased in society and in the Church.
(Please know that I too favor school prayer, that I do not believe “gay marriage” is marriage, regardless of what the Government says, and pray that someday abortion is illegal).
The problem is that the direction of our priorities has been inverted. Jesus pointed away from himself. But now we point toward ourselves. My rights. Mine. My own. My precious.
And now a troubling passage.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. --2 Thes. 2:9-12
How does Satan work? Displays of power. Signs. Wonders. That serve the lie.
When he tempted Jesus, he used scripture with cunning. God’s words with a twist.
I fear we have accepted a powerful delusion, God’s words with a cunning twist. The delusion that Jesus is concerned about political agendas, your rights, our rights, my rights.
And there have been many signs of power and success in US history to accompany the inversion of Jesus’ teaching.
I used to say What about all our victories? What about our defeat of the British? What about Manifest Destiny? The Monroe Doctrine? Or defeat of the native warriors? What about the Civil War? What about WWI? WWII? Hiroshima? Nagasaki? Man on the Moon? Destruction of the Berlin Wall? Fall of the Soviet Union? Gulf War? What about making the world safe for democracy? What about liberating Iraq? What about killing bin Laden?
What about F-22s and Stealth Bombers? What about Smart Bombs? What about Hell Fire missiles?
What about Drones that take our enemies without endangering any of our boys?
What about the power of the Dollar? It’s the reserve currency of the world?
What about inventions? Electricity? Radiation? Electromagnetism? Science? Medicine? Vaccines that prevent disease? Farms that feed the world? Technology that puts the world at our fingertips? That tells us where to go and what to do there?
What about our Founding Fathers? What about the Declaration of Independence? The Constitution? Washington? Adams? Jefferson? Lincoln? Reagan? Bush? Bush?
Isn’t God’s blessing on us? Aren’t we his people? I thought he said he would bless those who bless Abraham’s seed?
Doesn’t he care about what happens to America?
Doesn’t he care about what happens to me?
Why have we believed that all these things are from God? We believed a lie. And so did I.
I believed Jesus died for my rights.