A symbiotic umbilical link joins 'critical' Jesus
scholarship with bad religion. What is Ernest Renan's treacly
unitarian 'Jesus' but just bad religion? When you walk into a
Unitarian-Universalist church nowadays, you are more likely to
encounter a congregant who self-identifies as a 'Wiccan' or a 'Buddhist'
than 'Christian,' because this scripture-defying ideology has no
solid foundation and collapses once the founding generation passes
from the scene. First generation unitarians still tell themselves
legends about how bold and brave they are to defy orthodoxy, even if
it has been a very long time since anyone was tormented on the rack,
by either trinitarian Christians or by unitarian Muslims. But the
second generation loses interest in these self-glorifying fables and
turns its attention elsewhere. Yet even as 'liberal' Protestantism
empties out the main-line churches, savants like Marcus Borg keep
buffing and polishing up this unwanted product. Though unitarian
'scholarship' is neither more careful nor thoroughgoing than fundamentalist scholarship,— it
differs only in that it is established on unbelieving principles,—
they insist that this bad religion which no one wants must be
subsidized by the tax-payers, as good religion cannot be.
One familiar feature of cultic religion is strained and
unconvincing exegesis; think, for instance, of the hand-springs and
pirouettes the Jehovah's Witnesses have to do to dance around John
1:1. That feature is found here as well. Think of the familiar
parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27:
"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come."
Most interpreters take the householder who goes to a far country to be God the Son, understanding His projected
return to be the Second Coming. After all, this theme is oft-repeated in the gospels, and in some instances, no other
interpretation is even possible:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—
lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.
And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-36).
So by analogy to a very common gospel theme, wouldn't the householder who deposits the talents with His servants be
God the Son? Oh, no! Why not? Because the 'Jesus' of John Dominic
Crossan and Marcus Borg must not be allowed to stray off-message. He
is a wind-up doll who says, 'The imperial domination system is bad.
The imperial domination system is bad.' Over and over again. He can
say naught other. The problem with the parable of the talents is
that it seems to imply, though it is far from being the main point
of the story, that there might be profitable investments to be made
which are neither exploitive nor immoral. According to these people, the
only way of making money in that society was to inherit it or to
ally with the exploitive elite: "Wealth was acquired through
inheritance or by allying with the rulers. Peasants knew this."
(Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 244). Why doesn't
Jesus know this? Isn't He a 'peasant,' as they keep repeating? So
the parable must be turned on its head: "Is this the way God acts?
Rewarding those who use money to make money in a society such as
Jesus lived in?. . .Or is the key to this parable the realization
that the wealthy owner does not represent God? That the parable
is instead an indictment of the wealthy? Perhaps the parable is
saying, this is the way the domination system works — the
wealthy get wealthier, and those who have nothing have even what
little they have taken away from them." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus:
Uncovering the Life, p. 247). Could anything be more absurd?
Realizing that the unprofitable servant is cast into "outer
darkness," (Matthew 25:30), does ultimate damnation even within the
purview of your typical exploitive capitalist? If it's necessary to
distort the gospel in this way to maintain the interpretation, is
the interpretation credible?
The arch-villain to these people is the Religious Right; Borg
waxes indignant against "The Jesus of the Christian right," who is a
"teacher of a rigorous personal morality." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus:
Uncovering the Life, p. 303). As if there could be any historical
Jesus, or 'pre-Easter' Jesus, who was gay-friendly! Was Josephus
gay-friendly, was Philo Judaeus gay-friendly? No! Why do these
people even bother? They are looking for a left-of-center Jesus: "To use
the image of Jesus I have sketched, what would Jesus do in our
context? He might once again disrupt the temple — the unholy
alliance between religion and empire." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus:
Uncovering the Life, p. 305). But a 'Jesus' who endorses the sexual
revolution? There never was such a party, and I doubt that they even
believe themselves in the transparent fiction they demand everyone
Condemning the Roman imperial system as exploitive is hardly
controversial; who would defend it? But the reader should realize
that John Dominic Crossan sees no meaningful difference between the
Roman system and the relations between the United States of American
and the other nations of the world; Borg obediently echoes, "We live in
a time of the American Empire." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering
the Life, p. 296). Capitalism is the enemy. This
political reading of the gospels cannot really be sustained, though
the gospels are political to the core. The gross distortions that
result, like making the returning house-holder into the bad guy, the
heavy, do not trouble the devotees of this system of interpretation.
But it gets worse. Bad politics, erroneous ideologies like Marxism,
impoverish the body, clean out the cupboard and leave the table
bare, but they do not directly send anyone to hell. Bad theology
Man, therefore Not God
Marcus Borg, formerly associated with the 'Jesus Seminar,' follows the well-worn pathway of assuring us Jesus
Himself cannot have claimed to be God. Why not? Because no one ever
claims to be God? To the contrary, very many people, even Jews like
Sabbati Sevi and Jacob Frank, have claimed to be God. Amongst the
pagans of classical antiquity, cases of outrageous imposture were
downright common. It helped to be tall and good-looking:
"And Peisistratos having accepted the proposal and
made an agreement on these terms, they contrived with a view to
his a device the most simple by far, as I think, that ever was
practised, considering at least that it was devised at a time
when the Hellenic race had been long marked off from the
Barbarian as more skilful and further removed from foolish
simplicity, and among the Athenians who are accounted the first
of the Hellenes in ability. In the deme of Paiania there
was a woman whose name was Phya, in height four cubits all but
three fingers, and also fair of form. This woman they
dressed in full armour and caused her to ascend a chariot and
showed her the bearing in which she might best beseem her part,
and so they drove to the city, having sent on heralds to run
before them, who, when they arrived at the city, spoke that
which had been commanded them, saying as follows: "O
Athenians, receive with favor Peisistratos, whom Athene herself,
honouring him most of all men, brings back to her Acropolis." So
the heralds went about hither and thither saying this, and
straightway there came to the demes in the country round a
report that Athene was bringing Peisistratos back, while at the
same time the men of the city, persuaded that the woman was the
very goddess herself, were paying worship to the human creature
and receiving Peisistratos."
(Herodotus, Histories, Book I, Chapter 60).
In contemporary times, Wallace D. Fard claimed to be God, and
attracted more than a few followers, as did Father Divine. Far be it from me to point out this
undeniable fact to discredit Jesus'
claim; to the contrary, pointing to counterfeit currency does
not prove there is no real currency. But the baseless
assertion parrotted by 'Jesus Seminar scholars' that
Jesus cannot have claimed to be God, because only later 'post-Easter' followers can
have made such claims, is without historical foundation.