Here’s another example of Hand Puppet Jesus. I’ve noticed that I’ve been having a hard time making my objections clear in its native habitat, and I didn’t say everything I needed to say in my previous post on the subject. I also have a bad habit of adding snark predicated on my own radical-subsidiarist political views. So I’m going to try to make it clear why I consider such things to be blasphemous, and attempt to leave any political commentary to the end.
Let’s start by defining blasphemy:
Not such a useful definition, as it requires us to define what is sacrilegious. But I wanted to start with a secular source. Let’s go to the fount of truth, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sorry, Protestant brethren; ask yourself if you disagree with this definition):
2148 Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name. St. James condemns those “who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called.” The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God’s name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion.
Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin.
I think that’s pretty clear. The meme above obviously isn’t cursing God. It may be speaking ill of Him. It is certainly failing in respect and misusing the Holy Name, in ways that I hope to make clear.
I referred to this as “Hand-Puppet Jesus”. Hand-Puppet Jesus is when you put words or thoughts in Jesus’ mouth, thereby making a claim that He would have said or done something in a particular case. It usually involves a counterfactual: either a concept that did not exist in Jesus’ time, or else words that He didn’t say that may contradict what he DID say. It is seldom so extreme as to actually put the words in Christ’s mouth; instinctively people shy away from that. In the case of the illustration in the previous post, we have an example of the first type of counterfactual: socialism as we understand it did not exist in Jesus’ time. (Yes, year of Jubilee, early Church, blah blah blah… the government or other overarching unit of social authority did not own the means of production.) The example above is of the second type, and is even more egregious, as the counterfactual involves something that Jesus did, and it implies that he didn’t or couldn’t do what He did. The feeding of the 5000 was not funded; the story makes clear that there was no possible level of funding equal to the task. It further implies that, since there was no funding, Jesus was powerless to get the job done. This is “speaking ill” and “failing in respect”. The hypothetical missing “2nd frame” of this cartoon ought to have had Jesus saying, “Very well… I’ve got a kid here with a sack lunch; we’ll serve that up.” It would still be sacrilegious, as a misuse of the Name.
The main problem with Hand-Puppet Jesus is that it put you in a position of power over God, knowing better than He does, conscripting Him into your battle. Note that this is different than using the words of Christ as part of a theological argument. If you say, “Jesus said to do XYZ about the poor, the only way to do XYZ nowadays is to get the government involved, ergo Jesus wants us to get the government involved.”, that’s a legitimate argument, though falsified in the 2nd term. YOU are making the argument, not Jesus. If you say “Jesus wants us to tax the rich to feed the poor,” well, He never said anything like that.
“But… I’m not misusing God’s name; this is for a good purpose.” Let’s stipulate to that, since I said I was going to try to avoid politics. By using Jesus as your pitchman for a political argument, you are misusing Him, and the validity of the political cause has nothing at all to do with it. To clarify, let’s invent some right-wing equivalents to the memes we’ve looked at. I don’t Photoshop, and I’m not going to look up some online meme-maker and the proper pictures in order to do something that I think is a sin anyway, so we’ll do this verbally. Imagine the question about paying taxes to Caesar. Conservatives believe in lower taxes, and some of us question the general morality of taxation. So let’s draw one where the guy holding the coin replies to Jesus’ koan, “It’s not Caesars money, it’s mine. I earned it.” Blasphenous? Or how about the woman caught in adultery? The last man to slink away turns and says, “OK. But if she’s pregnant and gets an abortion, I’ll dump a whole mountain on her.”
The problem with Jesus as a political pitchman for either side is that His Kingdom is not of this world, and thus transcends the usual categories of Left and Right, so any attempt to do so will falsify His vision for us. I had another Facebook friend mutter about “another Pope ignorant of economics.” I don’t think that Popes in general are ignorant of economics; I think they’re playing a different game. Consider that economics is a branch of applied psychology. People in the aggregate are pretty predictable, and that predictability is the basis of economics. Note that the title of Mises’ magnum opus is not “Monetary Action” but “HUMAN Action.” Now, what would happen to economics if we replaced the usual lot of fallen men with 7 billion Christs? What if all the incentives in the system were spiritual rather than material? And that’s only on the demand side; what if those Christs could do the loaves and fishes themselves, so that supply was infinitely elastic? Economics describes the world we have; religion describes the world we can and will have.
Now, one last comment about loaves and fishes: I think this gets misused by the Left because they don’t actually believe in miracles. One hears sermons (even, sad to say, in Catholic churches) claiming that the miracle was actually that Jesus got people to share. We know everyone ate their fill, and there were leftovers. If there had been that much food on that mountain, it would have been a trivial problem; just tell people to share, and they would have done so. There were people with nothing to eat. We’re expected to believe that people with something made up the shortfall. So all these people who packed for their own needs (and maybe a bit over) shared what they had, everyone was full, AND there were leftovers? Are we to believe that there were a couple of caravans of dried fish and barley loaves following Our Lord? Or are we going to believe the clear sense of Scripture, that He started with a little that we offered Him, and made it into a lot? Are we going to believe that people started following Him afterwards because of the good share-y vibe, and not because He was a meal ticket? The naturalistic explanation is actually more incredible than the miraculous explanation. This was a miracle of temporary life. The big miracle is eternal life. If we believe that eternal life is a gift, and not somehow the natural lot of man, we have to believe that the miracle might not happen. Miracles are rare and contingent, so let’s not trust in them, or even believe in them. They’re terrifying in their unpredictability. They can’t be controlled. Make them go away.