The Reactionary Utopian
                      June 28, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     You might think it would be hard to claim Jesus 
Christ for the sexual revolution. He did refuse to 
condemn a woman caught in adultery, but with the stern 
proviso that she go and "sin no more." He said that if 
you look at a woman with lust, you've already committed 
adultery in your heart. He tightened up the Mosaic law 
that permitted divorce. All of which offers little 
encouragement for swingers.

     Nevertheless, the gay militant writer Terrence 
McNally has written a play depicting Christ as a sodomite 
(though protests have forced its cancellation). In a 
similar spirit, Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus 
Seminar, wants to reject as inauthentic any Gospel saying 
at odds with his own up-to-date creed, which espouses, 
among other things, "responsible, protected, recreational 
sex between consenting adults."

     After 2,000 years, the most unlikely people still 
want to claim Jesus for their side, even when they aren't 
Christians -- and often, it seems, when they hate 
Christianity. They usually say that the churches have 
twisted the simple original message of love, 
superimposing layers of dogma, theology, and repressive 
morality. Jesus was great, but ever since St. Paul it's 
been downhill, what with St. Augustine, Cotton Mather, 
and all those popes.

     For the last two centuries a curious breed of 
demi-Christian has tried to disengage "the historical 
Jesus" from all that dogma and stuff. What did Jesus 
"really" say and do?

     The trouble is that nearly everything we know about 
Jesus stems from the four Gospels, all of which were 
written by believers in the Resurrection, the central 
dogma. In a sense, all classic Christian theology is the 
working out of the implications of the Resurrection, 
considered as the fact the first Christians insisted, 
even under torture, it was. St. Paul himself said bluntly 
that without the Resurrection, Christianity was 

     That hasn't stopped the hunt for the "historical" 
Jesus, the presumably real figure behind the Gospels. 
Since the only documents we have attest a life of 
miraculous deeds, supernatural orientation, and 
eschatological purpose, the belief that a stripped-down 
"natural" life of Jesus can be reconstructed is totally 
at odds with the records.

     In her new book, THE HUMAN CHRIST: THE SEARCH FOR 
THE HISTORICAL JESUS (Free Press, $26), Charlotte Allen 
tells the story of the long campaign in which scholarship 
has blended with wishful thinking to find, or fashion, a 
series of "historical" Jesuses who have turned out to be 
strikingly ahistorical. In 1909, George Tyrrell, a 
modernist Catholic theologian, observed that the 
"historical" Jesus of the German scholars was actually 
"the reflection of a liberal Protestant face, seen at the 
bottom of a deep well."

     "In other words," says Allen, "the liberal searchers 
had found a liberal Jesus. The same can be said of the 
Jesus-searchers of every era: the deists found a deist, 
the Romantics a Romantic, the existentialists an 
existentialist, and the liberationists a Jesus of class 
struggle. Supposedly equipped with the latest critical 
and historical tools, the 'scientific' quest for the 
historical Jesus has nearly always devolved into 
theology, ideology, and even autobiography."

     We have found the historical Jesus, and he is us! He 
agrees with us, thinks like us, and votes like us. Best 
of all, he imposes no obligations on us. He would favor, 
as Funk does, "responsible, protected, recreational sex 
between consenting adults." Since the historical Jesus is 
progressive almost by definition, anything in the Gospels 
that makes Jesus seem reactionary must have been 
interpolated by his reactionary followers. (The question 
then becomes why he attracted such a reactionary 
following, but never mind.)

     As Allen notes, the historical Jesus is based on 
several modern dogmas: it presupposes that Jesus wasn't 
divine, didn't do miracles, didn't foresee the 
Crucifixion, and didn't rise from the dead. He just left 
a lot of wise sayings. Maybe he wasn't divine, but he's 
awfully quotable. And you can edit out the quotations you 
don't like: they're all optional.

     Another way to put it is that the historical Jesus 
doesn't deserve to be worshipped. He is not the light of 
the world, and never claimed to be. He can be safely 

[This column was originally published by Universal Press 
Syndicate May 28, 1998.]


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