April 30, 2004

Now “the Jesus factor” is in the news. The person and name of Jesus mean many things to many people; but when that name is used to cover or promote evil or dishonesty then we’re not really dealing with Jesus. He has been replaced by those who misuse his name.

That’s a Machiavellian strategy. I just read a book about Machiavelli’s importance for today by a man who advises the White House. While I read, I made two cursory lists in the front of the book.(1)

1) Machiavellian values: war, dominate, defeat, fearsome, show no mercy, control, tough, dirty, nasty, evil (those last 3 words were used by the author, not supplied by me), calculating dishonesty, pride (hubris), vindictive retribution, passion for self-fulfillment, anti-freedom, political use of religion . . .

2) Opposite values: a generous spirit, altruism, the common good or general welfare, cooperation, with thought but without calculation (a phrase I saw used about Howard Dean’s style), bundle of sticks (family), listening, forgiveness, bipartisanship, principled compromise, coalition building, conflict resolution, conflict management, cultivating of others’ giftedness . . .

If this Administration is practicing the evil values and habits of the first list and covering it with the name of Jesus – as it seems to many of us that they are – then they are practicing blasphemy as well as idolatry. They have the wrong Jesus.

“Nowhere in the New Testament is there an image of the human Jesus that is compatible with attitudes of hubris, hedonism, envy, arrogance, acquisitiveness, self-aggrandizement, hostility, or violence. Jesus is everywhere associated with faithful obedience toward God and meek, compassionate, self-emptying service toward other people.”(2) That does not mean, of course, that Jesus was prone to mince words or avoid the issues.

If we want a true Jesus factor operating in our society, a good place to start would be to get intimate with his actual words and deeds.

1] Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, by Michael A Ledeen, 1999, St Martin’s Press. 2] Living Jesus, by Luke Timothy Johnson, 1999, HarperSanFrancisco, p200.