Thursday, November 09, 2006

God and Caesar

I find myself agreeing with Maddy Bunting. At least I think I agree with her; I wasn't at the launch of Theos, a 'thinktank' that seeks to put 'God back in the public domain' but from her description it sounds pretty dismal.

And their report, funkily titled "Doing God"(pdf), certainly is. See, wannabe Christian theocrats have a wee theological problem - Jesus didn't offer a political analysis, nor did he exhort his followers to involve themselves in politics. Desperately wishing this were not so, God-botherers attempt to bend the Bible to a more activist-friendly interpretation. See the section on 'God and Caesar', for example - all the usual hoary old cliches are there. Christ's exhortation to 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's' - often taken as an indication that religion should be kept separate from politics - has been 'hacked out of context', they complain (see p. 31).

Ok, here it is in context. The key point is that the Pharisees and the Herodians ask him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar in order to trick him. One lot want him to say 'yes', the other to say 'no' in order to suit their own respective political agendas. Instead he refuses to answer the question in the terms it has been set.

Whether they know it or not, the Theos crew are the spiritual heirs of the nationalists in first century Israel - Zealots-lite, as it were. Maddy, to her credit, seems to have grasped this. Like the Zealots, they effectively want Jesus to answer the question unequivocally in the negative. But he didn't - and assuming they think the New Testament is authoritative in some way, you'd think two thousand years would be long enough for them to get the point. But apparently not.

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