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January 19, 2006

A Nation of Pharisees

This is a very thought-provoking article written by a Jesuit Priest. . . thoughts?

Published on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

Pharisee Nation
by John Dear

Last September, I spoke to some 2,000 students during their annual lecture at a Baptist college in Pennsylvania. After a short prayer service for peace centered on the Beatitudes, I took the stage and got right to the point. "Now let me get this straight," I said. "Jesus says, 'Blessed are the peacemakers,' which means he does not say, 'Blessed are the warmakers,' which means, the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means, if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq."

With that, the place exploded, and 500 students stormed out. The rest of them then started chanting, "Bush! Bush! Bush!"

So much for my speech. Not to mention the Beatitudes.

I was not at all surprised that George W. Bush was reelected president. As I travel the country speaking out against war, injustice and nuclear weapons, I see many people consciously siding with the culture of war, choosing the path of violence, supporting corporate greed, rampant militarism, and global domination. I see many others swept up in the raging current of patriotism. Since most of these people, beginning with the president, claim to be Christian, I am ashamed and appalled that they support war and systemic injustice, that they do it in the name of God, and that they feign fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus who gave his life resisting institutionalized injustice.

I am reminded of Flannery O'Connor's great book, "Wise Blood," where her outrageous character Hazel Motes is so fed up with Christian hypocrisy that he forms his own church, the "Church of Christ without Christ," 'where the lame don't walk, the blind don't see, and the dead don't rise." That's where we are headed today.

I used to think these all-American Christians never read the Gospel, that they simply chose not to be authentic disciples of the nonviolent Jesus. Now, alas, I think they have indeed chosen discipleship, but not to the hero of the Gospels, Jesus. Instead, through their actions, they have become disciples of the devout, religious, all-powerful, murderous Pharisees who killed him.

A Culture of Pharisees

We have become a culture of Pharisees. Instead of practicing an authentic spirituality of compassion, nonviolence, love and peace, we as a collective people have become self-righteous, arrogant, powerful, murderous hypocrites who dominate and kill others in the name of God. The Pharisees supported the brutal Roman rulers and soldiers, and lived off the comforts of the empire by running an elaborate banking system which charged an exorbitant fee for ordinary people just to worship God in the Temple. Since they taught that God was present only in the Temple, they were able to control the entire population. If anyone opposed their power or violated their law, the Pharisees could kill them on the spot, even in the holy sanctuary.

Most North American Christians are now becoming more and more like these hypocritical Pharisees. We side with the rulers, the bankers, and the corporate millionaires and billionaires. We run the Pentagon, bless the bombing raids, support executions, make nuclear weapons and seek global domination for America as if that was what the nonviolent Jesus wants. And we dismiss anyone who disagrees with us.

We have become a mean, vicious people, what the bible calls "stiff-necked people." And we do it all with the mistaken belief that we have the blessing of God.

In the past, empires persecuted religious groups and threatened them into passivity and silence. Now these so-called Christians run the American empire, and teach a subtle spirituality of empire to back up their power in the name of God. This spirituality of empire insists that violence saves us, might makes right, war is justified, bombing raids are blessed, nuclear weapons offer the only true security from terrorism, and the good news is not love for our enemies, but the elimination of them. The empire is working hard these days to tell the nation--and the churches--what is moral and immoral, sinful and holy. It denounces certain personal behavior as immoral, in order to distract us from the blatant immorality and mortal sin of the U.S. bombing raids which have left 100,000 Iraqis dead, or our ongoing development of thousands of weapons of mass destruction. Our Pharisee rulers would have us believe that our wars and our weapons are holy and blessed by God.

In the old days, the early Christians had big words for such behavior, such lies. They were called "blasphemous, idolatrous, heretical, hypocritical and sinful." Such words and actions were denounced as the betrayal, denial and execution of Jesus all over again in the world's poor. But the empire needs the church to bless and support its wars, or at least to remain passive and silent. As we Christians go along with the Bush administration and the American empire, we betray Jesus, renounce his teachings, and create a "Church of Christ without Christ," as Flannery O’Connor foresaw.

Troublemaking Nonviolence, the Measure of the Gospel

The first thing we Christians have to do in this time is not to become good Pharisees. Instead, we have to try all over again to follow the dangerous, nonviolent, troublemaking Jesus. I believe war, weapons, corporate greed and systemic injustice are an abomination in the sight of God. They are the definition of mortal sin. They mock God and threaten to destroy God’s gift of creation. If you want to seek the living God, you have to pit your entire life against war, weapons, greed and injustice--and their perpetrators. It is as simple as that.

Jesus commands that we love one another, love our neighbors, seek justice, forgive those who hurt us, pray for our persecutors, and be as compassionate as God. But at the center of his teaching is the most radical declaration ever uttered: "love your enemies."

If we dare call ourselves Christian, we cannot support war or nuclear weapons or corporate greed or executions or systemic injustice of any kind. If we do, we may well be devout American citizens, but we no longer follow the nonviolent Jesus. We have joined the hypocrites and blasphemers of the land, beginning with their leaders in the White House, the Pentagon and Los Alamos.

Jesus resisted the empire, engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience in the Temple, was arrested by the Pharisees, tried by the Roman governor and executed by Roman soldiers. If we dare follow this nonviolent revolutionary, we too must resist empire, engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against U.S. warmaking and imperial domination, and risk arrest and imprisonment like the great modern day disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Philip Berrigan.

If we do not want to be part of the Pharisaic culture and do want to follow the nonviolent Jesus, we have to get in trouble just as Jesus was constantly in trouble for speaking the truth, loving the wrong people, worshipping the wrong way, and promoting the wrong things, like justice and peace. We have to resist this new American empire, as well as its false spirituality and all those who claim to be Christian yet support the murder of other human beings. We have to repent of the sin of war, put down the sword, practice Gospel nonviolence, and take up the cross of revolutionary nonviolence by loving our enemies and discovering what the spiritual life is all about.

Just because the culture and the cultural church have joined with the empire and its wars does not mean that we all have to go along with such heresy, or fall into despair as if nothing can be done. It is never too late to try to follow the troublemaking Jesus, to join his practice of revolutionary nonviolence and become authentic Christians. We may find ourselves in trouble, even at the hands of so-called Christians, just as Jesus was in trouble at the hands of the so-called religious leaders of his day. But this very trouble may lead us back to those Beatitude blessings.

Posted by jason on January 19, 2006 09:12 PM


What ever happened to the seperation of church and state? Asking for God's blessing to kill someone or a group of people, always seemed pretty amazing to me. "Please God, watch over us as we take their lives." Much as the article stated, seems to me that killing is the exact opposite of what you would call upon God for. Well, you know what they say. "Protest is patriotism" We all need to speak up a bit. : )

Posted by: jack on January 20, 2006 07:58 AM

Hmm. Very thought provoking. Probably an excellent stand for many. I would like to be a complete pacifist. (Although I think his precise use of the word "pharisee" is inflammatory language, akin to calling someone a "nazi.")

Somewhat unfortunately for this dude (and myself), the Bible does not preach absolute non-violence. In fact, God seems to have used it quite a few times.

So either a). God's a mean ol' hypocritical guy b). Jesus invalidated what His Dad did in the OT or c). God uses violence.

Moreover, is going to war ever loving your enemies? I think it might be (although I would be very, very slow to endorse Iraq as such a conflict).

As much as I hate war, the problems of America and the world would not be solved if we stopped going to war. I hate guns and violence with a fervent passion (with very good reasons), but merely melting down all the guns in the land would not solve the issues.

But we can all repent of sin. And put on love in a totally new way. And start praying and blessing our enemies, whether they be in Baghdad or the Whitehouse (or the next block over).

~ jd

PS I just have to say, as long as I would like to endorse MLK as a "modern day disciple," his personal (unrepentant) life did not merit such a title. Far from it.

PPS Do you/(spoken to "us") watch violent films? Play violent video games? Harbor anger in your mind/heart? Let's start there.

Posted by: jd on January 20, 2006 09:48 AM

Interesting. I also find it interesting that many 'educated' people believe that only those formally 'educated' to understand the bible should be preaching the word.

Posted by: Anonymous on January 20, 2006 04:00 PM

John "Deer" also wrote Christianity and Vegetarianism, (http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Practical/Shop--ToDo/Religion/JesusVeg_com%20Christianity%20and%20Vegetarianism%20text.htm)
where he advocates Christians to take up vegetarianism, because as he states, "we are also invited to break down the species barrier, extending our belief in Christian compassion to the animal kingdom by, among other things, adopting a vegetarian diet." But where is that supported in the bible? “Deer” argues that it’ll help with world hunger, well that’s good. He even quotes Gandhi saying “... the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.” Is "Deer" agreeing with Gandhi and equivocating human life with an animal's life? Vegetarianism isn’t a bad thing, but in no way is it required by God.

Lev 11:3 Whatever parts the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and chews the cud among the animals, that you may eat."

In his article Pharisee Nation, he's right about some things, the Iraq war is fricked up, war is fricked up.
But with such extreme views it is hard to take what he says to heart.

Posted by: Childish on January 20, 2006 04:01 PM

I have to say, he does have some real fallacies in here. And really, a think a complete philosophy has to include the possibility for a just war, which will include killing people. . . as long as there is evil in the world.

I would just wonder how John Dear would want to set the Jewish people free during WWII. (And I know that isn't why America went to war, but I think we fought in a just war, even if not for the most just of reasons).

But still he makes some great points about the blind one sidedness of so many ChristianConservatives. Like why are they automatically favoring the corporations, etc? I have no idea. . .

Posted by: jason on January 20, 2006 04:06 PM


And I suppose we can convince people that train their kids this way to stop trying to kill us by giving them little presents and candy.....

Posted by: David on January 20, 2006 08:53 PM

I don't disagree at all. . ..

But while little presents and candy MIGHT not be effective, I would say they are still scores better then. . .cough. . . cough. . . torture, degradation, and . . . cough. . . cough. .. thousands of dead children.

Posted by: jason on January 20, 2006 09:23 PM

I don't have anything profound to post. But, after reading the first couple posts, I did realize one thing. I did the same thing that probably everyone did: I immediately began to pick apart all the stuff that was wrong in the article. Anybody think anything he said was dead on?

Posted by: Dick Ronkulous on January 21, 2006 05:27 AM

I didn't read past the first paragraph because his "warmakers are cursed" rant is completely illogical. If I say "blessed is the pizza," that doesn't mean ice cream is cursed. They can both be blessed, though maybe certain kinds of ice cream could be cursed.

Didn't God kill people? Didn't God order the death of people? Is God a warmaker? Did this kooky Jesuit just say God is cursed?


So yeah, I didn't read anything else.

Posted by: The Snake Man on January 21, 2006 06:08 AM

i happen to love what he says, of course i do, being a non-violent vegetarian who is absolutely opposed to unjust wars carried out under false pretenses. i love all the people arguing against his "blessed are the peacemakers" thing. ok, maybe not all warmakers are cursed. he is making a point, and a a good one. we in america are so quick to ignore most of the bible. i gotta go. i'll be back soon. josh

Posted by: joshua Latshaw on January 21, 2006 08:54 AM

Here is the part that is very good. . .

"As I travel the country speaking out against war, injustice and nuclear weapons, I see many people consciously siding with the culture of war, choosing the path of violence, supporting corporate greed, rampant militarism, and global domination. I see many others swept up in the raging current of patriotism. Since most of these people, beginning with the president, claim to be Christian, I am ashamed and appalled that they support war and systemic injustice, that they do it in the name of God, and that they feign fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus who gave his life resisting institutionalized injustice."

American Christians are too quick to support the conservative status quo, especially when much of that is set up with injustice baked in.

Posted by: jason on January 21, 2006 12:41 PM

I feel bad for the ppl who were chanting "Bush Bush Bush." Thats just weird.

I agree, in concept, with some of the things this guy is saying, however, what would this guy have us do in the face of aggression. I agree with Jason that Nazi Germany would never have been crushed if it were not for the warmongerers in this country. I know you could argue that we were not the warmongerers in that war, however, if we had not had war-minded ppl here at home during that time period, we would never have been able to face that threat.

I am not sure what the correct answer is to this whole Iraq war connundrum, however, one thing I do know is that we don't need guys like this running our country.

Posted by: jaysonjaz on January 28, 2006 10:50 AM

Since Mitch Hedberg is no longer with us, I think it's obvious that Jack Black should be the next president. Dave Barry can be his running mate and I will serve as head of the KGB. I mean FBI.

Childish will be the ambassador to Mongolia.

The national anthem wil be changed to "United States of Whatever." The American flag will be changed to a picture of me. And the national bird will be changed to Ian Palkovitz.

Posted by: TheSnakeMan on January 29, 2006 01:34 AM

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