Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rev. Howard Bess: Must Christianity Dominate America?

By the Rev. Howard Bess, Consortiumnews.com, September 27, 2010

Editor’s Note: Some Christians and Jews are seeking harsher policies against Muslims to counter Islam’s purported desire for dominance over other religions, ironically even as right-wing Christians and Jews themselves demand greater dominance over Muslims and others who practice different religions or none at all.

And, just as Muslims cite the Koran as a holy book that they feel must guide human behavior, many Christians and Jews trace their political agendas back to the Bible and the supposed “word of God.”

For instance, in defending the resumption of Jewish settlement expansion on the Palestinian West Bank, hard-line Israelis claim the Bible justifies the land grab.

Reflecting this fundamentalist and fundamentally racist view, Gershon Mesika, a settlement leader, lectured President Barack Obama on Sunday by saying: “I say to Hussein Obama: This Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. The Jewish people have the strongest title deed in the world, and that is the Bible.”

In the United States, Christian nationalists have taken up their own political-religious banner in demanding that the Christian Bible and the Ten Commandants become the basis for the American government, superseding even the U.S. Constitution.

In that context, retired Baptist minister Howard Bess examines this internal debate within Christianity (and Judaism) over where the Bible should stand as a factor in civil governance and whether one religion should dominate others:

One of the great sins of Christianity over the centuries is that it has sought dominance over believers in other religions as well as non-believers.

Somehow most Christian leaders have decided that their particular brand of religion should be dominant in the world and that the world would attain its greatest ideal if everyone were Christian.

Though there is material in the Bible to support this supremacist view, there is also a great body of Bible literature that looks at life from a very different perspective. According to this alternate point-of-view, the calling of the people of God is to be a servant people.

I have long maintained that the Bible should be read and studied with a recognition that both sides of the arguments are found in the same collection of writings, that the Bible is not monolithic on this and other key questions. The task of the Bible student is to join in the argument and to bring the argument to the most modern of settings.

The dominance side of the argument is rooted in the Bible story of King David, tracing his life from a humble shepherd boy to supposedly the most powerful king in the Near East. According to the story, he claimed power as a bloody, conquering tyrant and established a great capital city in Jerusalem as home to Jehovah God.

This story (which many historians consider largely mythical) has become the model and symbol of all Christian dominionists.

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