Ass-Kicking Jesus: A Cultural View.

I meant to comment on this the other day, but here is Brian Fischer -- of the American Family Association -- ranting about the "feminization" of the Medal of Honor. Instead of giving it to soldiers who save people, he wants us to reward it to soldiers who have "inflicted casualties on the enemy." Why? Because of Jesus:

Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless -- yes, meaningless -- if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.

The significance of the cross is not just that Jesus laid down his life for us, but that he defeated the enemy of our souls in the process. It was on the cross that he crushed the head of the serpent. It was on the cross that “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).

The cross represented a cosmic showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and our commanding general claimed the ultimate prize by defeating our unseen enemy and liberating an entire planet from his bondage.

We rightly honor those who give up their lives to save their comrades. It’s about time we started also honoring those who kill bad guys.

I think this is an incredibly warped view of the crucifixion, but it's not uncommon. For the past decade or so, the most popular books among conservative American evangelicals have been the Left Behind novels, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, that present a fictionalized account of fundamentalist "end times" prophecies. I recommend Fred Clark if you're looking for a theological critique of Left Behind, but it suffices to say that the books are something of a right-wing Christian revenge fantasy.

In LaHaye and Jenkin's vision of the future, the world's right-wing evangelicals Christians have been "Raptured" to heaven, and those who remain are left to face God's judgment, in the form of the Antichrist -- a charismatic, peace-seeking world leader -- his minions, and an escalating series of divine catastrophes (rivers turning to blood, the dead rising, cats and dogs living together, etc.). In these books, Jesus has returned for revenge, and the authors -- far from showing any kind of Christian compassion -- delight in the suffering of anyone who falls short of their puritanical moral code (in one instance, enemies are incinerated by the light of God). These books have sold more than 65 million copies worldwide and have spun off into a series of kid's novels, feature films (starring a cringe-worthy Kirk Cameron), and video games.

Andrew Sullivan calls Fischer's rant an instance of Christianism, but I'm not sure that it fits, since his rhetoric is easily explained by this Left Behind mind-set, which itself is separate from the nexus of conservative religion and politics that forms Christianism. In fact, this militant vision of Christianity builds on a pessimistic strain that has always been present in fundamentalist and evangelical thought. If you have the time, look back to Hal Lindsay's novels -- The Late Great Planet Earth -- Jack Chick's "tracks," or the fiery sermons of fundamentalist preachers in the early part of the 20th century. Well before the Christian right came to any prominence, this kind of rhetoric was common among conservative evangelicals. Granted, it's changed in light of their tight relationship with the modern GOP -- now, Jesus with a shotgun in a Humvee in Baghdad, to borrow an image -- but it isn't new.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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