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October 9, 2013

Right-Wing Celebrity Worship Part 2

Patrick W. Allen

In Right-Wing Celebrity Worship Part I, celebrity outliers Ayn Rand and Thomas Payne were presented. In Part 2, we pull out all the stops and present the two right-wing celebrity headliners...Thomas Jefferson and Jesus.


There’s nothing wrong with having historical figures you look up to, but you know there’s a problem when the greatest heroes of a movement are people who wouldn’t have approved of the movement in the first place.


Thomas Jefferson: The guy who established separation of church and state.


Thomas Jefferson is one of those rare presidents who most people agree was pretty cool. Liberals and conservatives alike tend to like him – 89% of people say they view him “favorably” – despite the fact that he was totally okay with slavery and repeatedly raped his slave Sally Hemings, who mothered six of his children.


But in case that is not enough evidence that Jefferson wasn’t the guy we want to remember him as, there are his many letters and statements regarding religion – and they’re not what conservatives would want. As many an angry Republican has pointed out, the Constitution itself does not actually contain the phrase “separation of church and state.”


Unfortunately for right-wing lemmings (rhymes with Hemings) somebody else said that – The entirety of Mr. Jefferson’s statement was:


Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.


Yes, conservatives, Thomas Jefferson was the one who first and most openly suggested that you don’t get to use your religion to infringe on other people’s freedoms. Sorry, guys.


Jesus of Nazareth: Political Activist and Socialist.


If there’s one historical figure that is deeply adored, and profoundly misunderstood by conservatives, it’s Jesus of Nazareth. Now, we’re not going to argue with anyone over whether Jesus performed miracles or whether or not he was God, because these things are ultimately pretty irrelevant to what his political beliefs were. And whether you think Jesus of Nazareth was God, a prophet, a teacher, or just some Jew who lived 2000ish years ago, there are some things about the guy that are pretty clear.


For example, we know that Jesus was a political activist. You remember Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American who was the subject of the most humiliating interview Fox News has ever done? In his book Zealot, he – speaking as an educated historian, not the Big Bad Muslim out to get you – points out that, in Jesus’ time and place, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for political revolutionaries. Jesus was crucified for the crimes of sedition and treason.


Jesus was into the idea of overthrowing an unfair government way before it was cool.


Now, let’s take a look at what Biblical accounts of Jesus had to say about him. At one point, 5,000 people followed Jesus out into the desert wanting food. His disciples were worried because they had only five loaves of bread and two fish – not enough for 5,000 people – but he told them to distribute the food freely within the crowd, and somehow, everyone was fed.


Maybe the “miracle” here wasn’t that Jesus did a trick that made massive amounts of food from very little. Maybe the miracle was that he gave what he had even when it looked like it wasn’t enough, and, seeing the example, those in the crowd who did have food began to share. The fish and loaves miracle wasn’t a magic trick: it was a way of showing that when people choose to share, they will be happy and well-fed.


The Bible gives plenty of other accounts of what most people would call “socialism” on Jesus’ behalf. In Matthew 25:31-46, he said that God will judge people by how they treated the “least” among themselves. He commanded that people serve him by caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned – yes, even those dirty, rotten criminals.


There is no “unless they’re gay,” or “unless they really deserve to be in prison,” or “unless they’re just lazy and won’t get a job,” found anywhere in the scriptures. It’s unconditional. Those who don’t do as he says? It’s Hell for them and Heaven for those who helped the needy.


He also said that the wealthy should sell what they have and give it to the poor; and when some of them refused – screaming for a tax cut, we suppose – Jesus made it pretty clear that they’d just sold their tickets to Heaven. It is easier,” he said, “for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Well, since the chances of a camel walking through the eye of a needle are exactly zero, we’re going to assume that, if there’s a Heaven, there aren’t many one-percenters there, or headed in that direction any time soon.


It’s not clear why right-wingers seem so Hell-bent on misinterpreting the political beliefs of their favorite icons, but it seems to be the norm, not the exception.


Note to Right-Wingers: Idolize whoever you want. Just make sure you do your research first to find out what they actually believe before claiming to share their opinions.


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