Modern conservatism with its relatively recent success in politics has grown a taste for power and this power is easily corrupting the movement. It has become a form concerned with power rather than with the actual individual lives of its members. It is more interested in the spoils of power than the purity and principle of its own people.
History seems to indicate that religion is corrupted by state and government power and vice versa. Christianity seemed to be at its highest point in purity when it was persecuted and alienated. When the Emperor Constantine infused the church with money and power Dante lamented it to see the corrupting impact it had on the church and its hierarchy. Once the church lost its vision to change and reach people on the inside through persuasion and integrity and switched its emphasis to political power and influence to change people on the outside through force and material reward it became a decadent form and a bastard child of its actual foundation.
Dante's Lamentation - "Ah, Constantine, how much evil you gave birth to, not in your conversion, but in that Donation that the first wealthy Pope, Sylvester, received from you!"
The New Testament Jesus seemed more concerned with judging those inside his flock than those outside. His target was not Pilate or Roman politicians but rather the spiritual leaders of his day. If Jesus of Nazareth entered the American scene it seems rather obvious that his targets would be greedy television preachers and abusive Church leaders than Hollywood or the White House. His mission seemed more keen on changing peoples hearts than a political grab for power in Rome. To get really technical the historical Jesus, a bearded man who originated from Palestine, spoke Aramaic, and whose appearance would resemble very few people in the American South would ironically be a liability to the modern conservative politician on image alone. The irony itself is proof of its shallowness and decadence. It has lost its claim to universal truth when it has limited itself to only a specific time and a specific place in America.
Modern American conservatism has become so superficial and xenophobic that they would judge the historical Jesus as an outsider, "not like us", other, different, and perhaps a secret terrorist. The obvious truth is that comfortable pews in Joel Osteen's church in Texas is a great distance from Palestine 2,000 years ago. A modern American Christan is altogether a different creature than the original faithful in ancient Palestine. It lacks "metacognition" the ability to think about itself in context and instead relies on the narrow limitations of its immediate surrounding. The decadence of American conservatism is that it has traded away its internal integrity for a play at power to force a standard of living on others that it fails to uphold in its own homes and congregations. It resembles not the historical Jesus or the New Testament version but a Jesus that is somehow an english speaking American that revels in power politics and money making schemes. Charlatans and political power lead the way to the frugal and passive Nazarene?
The hypocrisy is there to see but there is also another injustice. The murder of wisdom for the sake of the appearance of morality. So much wisdom is censored in the cause of this puritan instinct that aims to hide from human reality and break the mirrors that reflect ugly truths. To the christianist the mirrors are the enemy not the actual moral failings in the dark. Tupac Shakur was attacked for his raw music and language and he stated, "You censor me you censor the lessons I learned." He once told a person who confronted him about his harsh lyrics that when the community starts to clean up the ghetto he will start to clean up his language. Until then he was going to hold up the mirror and not suppress the injustice and ugliness that went on in the daily lives of people. Tupac despised Victorian polite society that had no problem doing the deed but dare not say it in public.
Hiding human frailty in the dark is corrupting because it censors lessons and wisdom and opens the door to more hypocrisy and ignorance in the day light. If American conservatism has the courage to expose itself in the light and risk political power for doing so it might be able to make its way back to the road of credibility. Until then the politics and the money reign supreme in the movement and the pursuit of bigger church memberships and the political will to power will override personal and private integrity as the priority.
A Victorian would be offended if one spoke of adultery openly but would be comfortable with performing the act in secret. Carrie Prejean is a good example of this. She speaks publicly about political and public morality but when lawyers showed her a tape of a woman masturbating on camera her response was that this was disgusting but then the lawyers let her know that the woman on the tape was her. I suppose it became less disgusting to Miss Prejean. This Neo-Victorianism is hyper compartmentalization. It cannot see beyond its bubbles of illusion and is so bent on hiding from its own humanity.
John 18:36 - Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Christianity as it stands now in the West and especially in America is about identity politics not a movement of the heart. It is about protecting ones status and keeping Christianity as the dominant identity. Unlike the Jesus of the gospels it seeks a kingdom of this world and fights for political space and power. It does not seek to reach the hearts of people it seeks to reach the public halls of power. This is not good for the health of spiritual Christianity. Political Christianity corrupts spiritual Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth did not seek to overthrow the Romans by political power. The Roman rule was a foreign pagan occupation and yet Jesus in the gospels said to pay your taxes to Caesar. Would American Christianity accept such a message today? Jesus did not busy himself judging Roman pagan rule, taxes, prostitution and the like but rather his only source of real anger was against the corruption and hypocrisy in his own religious institution.
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
The Apostle Paul 1 Corinthians 5:12
Can you imagine the Religious Right in America taking this position?
Theologian Garry Wills suggests it was the freedom of religion in America that allowed Christianity to flourish in the free market of ideas versus the European history of Church institution and State. The greatest danger is from within not from without. It is not the secularism from without but the theology from within that is the threat to the original faith. The problems that I have come across seem to be not from unbelief but from bad belief. It's not trying to be good without God it's being bad with God that is a big problem in American Christianity. It's constructing a Jesus that orbits around personal wishes and not around the Jesus of the New Testament. To put it like this the people who are straying in church are not reading Thomas Paine and Voltaire but they are listening to bad theology from the pulpit that enables and encourages a selfish market friendly Christianity where God is your servant.
To reference the Fall of Genesis - Adam and Eve were not secularists they were believers who listened to a bad theology coming from the serpent. According to scripture even Satan is a believer. The serpent was a believer too...as James put it whats so great about broad faith by itself when even the demons believe - so specific theology matters immensely... A misconstrued faith in an American Jesus that is not even based on the synoptic gospels is a type of faith but is it the original Christian faith?
When one considers the evolution from the radical Nazarene who was a threat to the Ecclesiastical order and to the order of the ruling class and through the process of historical washing of the Greco-Roman culture and then European culture to American culture it becomes an institution that supports the status quo.
The Jesus of Mark's Gospel(70 AD) had already been transformed by John's Gospel(100 AD,which is very Greek in theology-logos-word-truth-life) into a transcendent and in control Divinity. When Christianity rose to official power in the empire it had been through an evolutionary change.
The radical misunderstood-messiah and tragic outcast of Mark's Gospel gets diluted over time...and then when the Church arose to dominance and was blessed by the State, Christianity became a very institutional enterprise indeed. The Metaphorical Pilate and the Ecclesiastical Order now consumed the radical Nazarene into their system.
In this way I see it was the rise of institutional political Christianity that strayed from the original challenge of Jesus. Suddenly Jesus became official and a protector of the status quo instead of the challenge he was before.
American Christianity is seeking materialism (prosperity gospel) and political power (the religious right). This wealth and power gospel does not resemble the Jesus of the scriptures much less the Jesus of history.
Postscript: In praise of Pope Francis. Two things that have encouraged me recently were the Pope's public embrace of the sick (without any condemnation of the sick as deserving it for sin) and his confrontation with "The Bishop of Bling." The gospel of Yeshua should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I can do without the superstition of the Old Testament and the mythical miracles in the New Testament. A Christianity that comforts the sick and confronts the strong is much more Christ like it seems to me than a Christianity that seeks to be strong in this world and condemn the sick as deserving of their fate. Gracias Francis for highlighting the better aspects of the faith.
Pope Francis Turns Bishop Of Bling’s Mansion Into A Soup Kitchen