In 2008 everyone was talking about Barack Obama’s history as a community organizer. Those on the political right wrongly assumed all community organizers were Marxist agitators who simply wanted the government to give people “stuff.” Those on the political left, on the other hand, defended Senator Obama’s former profession by linking it to Jesus Christ, proudly proclaiming that “Jesus was a community organizer” and that Barack Obama was simply following in his footsteps.
Fast forward a couple years to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Predictably, anti-capitalism activists suggested Jesus’ cleansing of the temple 2,000 years ago was synonymous with their desecration of New York’s Zuccotti Park, and that Jesus would’ve agreed with them in their desire to abolish private property and to establish high marginal tax rates.
There are countless others, but these are two of the most obvious instances of when those who work the hardest at keeping religion out of the public square appropriate the message of Jesus Christ to advance their secular political agenda.
Why, you might be wondering, do those who tell us they support a morally neutral government when it comes to social issues cloak their efforts in Christian vernacular? There’s a number of reasons, but the clever, aging academics and political consultants who lead these astroturf uprisings realize that most people are still very religious in their private life, and that to be effective when it comes to marketing their anti-Catholic positions, they need to appeal to people’s deepest held beliefs. Typically, this is done by twisting Jesus’ words in order to suggest he would support their causes were he around today.
This appropriation of Jesus Christ’s true message tricks the poorly catechized and those who say they are “spiritual but not religious” into viewing Christ as a sort of heroic, modern day liberal who occasionally had some insightful things to say about loving your fellow man and treating others with kindness.
Eventually, this causes them to see our Lord and Savior not as the grand figure at the center of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” who will decide whether or not they will spend eternity in heaven or hell, but as a regular guy whose teachings should only be invoked when they overlap with a progressive political agenda whose ultimate goal is to eradicate religious expression from the public square all together.
That being said, when I heard that the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn put out a new ad campaign suggesting that Jesus was “the original hipster,” I was immediately reminded of the efforts of those young, Bohemian activists who told us Jesus would’ve supported their protestations of Wall Street. I also thought of those who think the “spirit of Vatican II” compels the Catholic Church to change its teachings on women’s ordination. I was also reminded about how President Obama cited Scripture to substantiate his belief that same-sex marriage should be legal and that the Gospel compels us to increase taxes.
It might not be fair to suggest that an ad campaign whose ostensible purpose is to gently reach out to disaffected young adults who don’t attend mass is inherently misguided or that it is on the same level as Catholics who preach heresy, but it is fair to say that those who typically portray Christ in as a countercultural rebel are not friendly to the official teachings of the Catholic faith. In that vein, Catholics should tread lightly when it comes to labeling Jesus Christ as anything other than our Lord and Savior. His message of love and salvation is all too often appropriated by those preaching a Gospel inimical to His own.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.