John Caputo on the Religious Right

John D. Caputo, in his introduction to a newly published book on the intersection of religion and politics in America entitled The Sleeping Giant has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States, offers a perceptive observation on the contradictions of the political agenda of the religious right. I’ve chosen to include it here in its entirety, despite its length, because I believe its worth spending an extra min or so reading a couple of paragraphs to hear what he has to say.

“In his teaching, Jesus advised a life of uncompromising simplicity and nonacquisitiveness, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, which is not bent on providing for oneself and building up a stock against the future, which trust God to provide. He said enough disturbing things about the coming of this kingdom, the rule of mercy, forgiveness, and nonviolence, to make the powers that be uneasy. Saying things like that in an occupied country brought him to an early grave and a cruel if not uncommon execution at the hands of an imperial power. But in death, he was no less forgiving and nonviolent. His earliest followers led lives of exemplary commonality, sharing all things in common, distributing to each what they needed. The first debate that broke out in what we today call Christianity was whether this complete commonality was being observed perfectly.

But the dominant form of American Christianity today, the Christian Right, has sat down at the table with virtually every power and domination that Jesus contested in his own lifetime, with the very powers of imperial rule, the rule of the world, which took his life. It stands for authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism that contradict the letter and the spirit of Jesus’ words, who said to love one’s enemies, and if one is struck on the cheek, to turn the other cheek. It enthusiastically supports a war that cynically flaunts the classical conditions of just-war theory, “just war” itself being a strange turn of phrase to be found on the lips of a follower of the author of the Sermon on the Mount. It marches arm in arm with an unbridled capitalist greed that has recklessly permitted the rich to grow ever richer while grinding up the poor-flaunting the very ministry Jesus announced for himself. By lending its shoulder to laissez-faire capitalism, the Right undermines the everything it might have been believed to stand for. Unchecked capitalism wrecks family values by impoverishing families and leaving children homeless and parentless. As Lou Dobb-not exactly a member of the Left-has documented, the economics pursued by the Right constitutes an all-out attack upon the middle class, where family life is the mainstay. Unchecked capitalism turns sexuality into commodity; it seeds the fields of abortion, prostitution, drugs, and crime by holding its heel to the neck of the poorest and most defenseless people in society. Where Jesus found strength in the weakness of God, in forgiveness and nonviolence, the Christian Right openly lusts for a Christian Empire, even as it was an earlier Empire that took the life of Jesus.

The cruelest and most bitter irony is that the Christian Right does all this in the very name of Jesus, asking us, “What would Jesus do?”-as if Jesus were a capitalist out to make millions and a militarist with aspirations for imperial power, in search of a kingdom very decidedly of this world. What is this if not the will of humans in love with bare-knuckled power, with themselves and their own will, cloaking themselves in the name of the weakness of God and the nonviolence of Jesus?”

ed. Robbins, Jeffery W. and Neal Magee, The Sleeping Giant has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States, (New York: Continuum, 2008) pg. 4-5.

2 Responses to “John Caputo on the Religious Right”


  1. 1 dcrowe September 13, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Great post! I love this quote. My heart breaks for what American Christianity has done to people’s perceptions of what Christianity is. The sadder truth is that it’s not just American Christianity–we’re just the latest manifestation of a kind of Christianity (a truly pagan form of Christianity) that ran its course in Europe in the preceding centuries.

    I like your blog! Thanks for stopping in at http://returngood.com. I’m adding you to the blogroll.

  2. 2 our founding truth February 11, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    John Caputo:It stands for authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism that contradict the letter and the spirit of Jesus’ words, who said to love one’s enemies, and if one is struck on the cheek, to turn the other cheek.

    Jesus’ words of love one’s enemies refers to personal relationships. The context exempts a national one, for Romans 13 to the founding fathers grants bearing the sword within the nation for it’s security, and obviously outside the nation to secure its existence and stability.


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