Holy Smoke!

Article excerpt

Byline: Tina Brown

God save us from the godly.

Jesus was a lone, wandering preacher with a small knot of followers. His message was radical. Leave your family, give away all you own, and devote yourself selflessly to God--which meant loving not only one's neighbors, but also one's enemies. He was adamantly apolitical, even to the point of refusing to defend himself at his own trial. He never spoke of homosexuality or abortion. And his only comments on marriage were confined to a condemnation of divorce and a forgiveness of adultery.

So, how did we get to a point where the message of Christianity in America has drifted so far from Jesus? Why has the religion been so thoroughly hijacked by political hucksters and "faith-based" hypocrites bereft of basic humanity? "We inhabit a polity now soaked in religion," Andrew Sullivan observes (page 26). To repudiate what he believes is nothing short of a crisis in Christianity, Sullivan turns to two very different inspirational figures--Thomas Jefferson and St. Francis of Assisi. Jefferson, in order to purge all superimposed agenda, took a razor and edited out of his Bible every line that was not the actual words and teachings of Jesus, while St. Francis, after a postwar epiphany, rejected his personal wealth and spent the rest of his life humbly tending to lepers and living off alms. Today, not many of the fools telling us how to live are holy.

The use of Christian moralism as just another tool in identity politics would be no surprise to the sage Harvard biologist and social scientist Edward O. Wilson. His new book, The Social Conquest of Earth (page 42), argues that the tendency to form and join tribes is a fundamental part of what makes us human. No man-made idea--no matter how subversive or compelling--can withstand the sheer force of the tribal impulse. That impulse gives us our identities and serves as the source of our deepest convictions. …