The Conservative Christ / Michael D'AntuonoThis is something that’s been making the rounds for a few days, but I’ve only just gotten around to blogging about it. I commented on it yesterday in a Delphi forum, and will use some of those remarks here.

A tendency of Christians is to project something of themselves onto Jesus Christ, the founder of their religion. This is understandable since projection is a common psychological phenomenon. Retired general, raging Neocrusader, and avowed Christofascist Jerry Boykin recently fell into this trap, when, as Right Wing Watch explains, he declared Jesus was a warrior, and had inspired the Second Amendment (WebCite cached article):

The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 is [sic] says when he comes back, he’s coming back as what? A warrior. A might [sic] warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe … I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies ’cause he’s coming back as a warrior carrying a sword.

And I believe now — I’ve checked this out — I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.

Now I want you to think about this: where did the Second Amendment come from? … From the Founding Fathers, it’s in the Constitution. Well, yeah, I know that. But where did the whole concept come from? It came from Jesus when he said to his disciples ‘now, if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’

RWW offers audio of his comments, if you need to hear them:

Given humanity’s predilection, as I noted already, for projection, it’s understandable that Boykin, a retired Army general, would envision Jesus as having been a warrior. But his desire to view Jesus as having been like himself, just isn’t valid. It certainly doesn’t mesh with other aspects of Jesus as reported elsewhere in the gospels (e.g. “turn the other cheek,” “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” etc.).

Boykin is quoting Luke 22:36-38, which is:

And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

Taken at face value — without keeping the gospel’s ongoing narrative in mind — Jesus’ instruction to “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” certainly does appear to be his way of preparing his followers for military action. Why else would he ask all his followers to arm themselves? However, just a couple sentences later, he concedes that just two swords within his own company “is enough.” These two sentences conflict; he went from saying that “whoever has no sword” should acquire one, i.e. wanting all 12 of his apostles armed, to deciding that only two swords are sufficient. He cannot logically have meant to say both of these things. What’s more, this passage comes after the Last Supper and before his arrest, which presumably he knew would happen soon. It would have made no sense for him to plan for his group to take on a platoon of soldiers, armed with only two swords among them. That would never have worked out. Had Jesus been a soldier first and foremost as Boykin claims, he would never have settled for just two swords!

Many scholars believe this passage was injected into Luke (or into the pre-Lucan source) as a way of having Jesus fulfill prophecy (Lk 22:37 quotes Isaiah 53:12). It does also serve well as a plot device, providing the soldiers who would soon arrest Jesus an ostensible reason to do so (in other words, giving them cause to “number” Jesus “with the transgressors”). This makes sense within the terms of the story Luke is telling: the reader can easily presume the Romans wouldn’t have wanted a band of armed Jewish (potential) bandits lurking around in or around Jerusalem, around a Jewish holiday. Having just two swords among them might easily have justified an arrest within the terms of the story, but not enough that a pitched battle might take place.

Overall, the idea that Jesus was a warrior quite simply doesn’t make any sense. This is particularly true if one compares this section of Luke with its parallel in Matthew, where shortly after this point in the story (specifically in Mt 26:52), Jesus famously said, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Aside from Lk 22:36-38 the only other place Jesus was said to have expressed any kind of violent attitude was in the Cleansing of the Temple, especially as reported in John 2:13-16 which reports he actually made a weapon (a scourge of cords) and used it on people. While I concede this is an example of violence done by Jesus, I can’t see how this sort of thing stacks up with claims such as Boykin’s that Jesus was a “warrior.” The warriors of the time didn’t settle for just using cord-scourges on people. They certainly didn’t rob people with them, or take on soldiers with them, or cause anything other than minimal mayhem. No, warriors used blades (of whatever sort they could get their hands on), as well as clubs, spears, and other implements capable of causing much worse injury than any scourge ever could. A scourge is by no means the weapon of a “warrior” … not in the 1st century Levant, and not now.

Boykin also bases some of his thinking on Revelation 19, but if Christian legend about this book is correct, this is not a description of how Jesus was in the past; instead, it’s a prediction of what he will be in the future. In other words, after Armageddon (Rev 16), Jesus will arrive as a warrior. But, he wasn’t one during his first incarnation, and he isn’t one yet.

Now, I’ll grant the Abrahamic God — to whom Jesus is related — certainly was warlike. A number of times in the Old Testament, he’s called YHWH Tzevaot and similar names, which are usually rendered in English Bibles as “the Lord of Hosts.” In Exodus 15:3, he’s explicitly called a warrior. But as much as Christians would like to view Jesus as being the same as YHWH, the cold fact is that his portrayal in the gospels is very different. The Jesus described in the New Testament is nothing like YHWH, and if most Christian denominations are right, this was intentional.

Lastly, Boykin’s assurance that he’s “checked out” that Jesus will return armed with an AR-15, is just a fucking joke! What mechanism could he have used to “check out” this assertion? How did he confirm it?

Photo credit: Michael D’Antuono.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum, Friendly Atheist, Gawker, and others.

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