The Master's Voice
Our Choice Is Obedience or Jesus as Anti-Christ
Thomas Jefferson, that freethinker with an odd and persistent strain of conservatism, fashioned his own New Testament by removing from it all of the accounts of Jesus' miracles. That was his piety at work, such as it was, as also when he attended services on his plantation, and the tears welled up in his eyes when he heard the old hymns he could no longer sing.
For well over a hundred years, even Unitarians were "Christian" in this sense: they believed in the Fatherhood of God, and they believed that the moral teachings of Jesus Christ were the highest and noblest ever to be revealed to man. It was natural in such heterodox Christians as Harry Emerson Fosdick to judge a nation's progress by how well it lived up to "Christlike graces" "in the fight to set men free," as he put it in a hymn I find hard to sing when I remember who wrote it. Even Fosdick, I hope, did not judge the teachings of Jesus by how well they conformed to a secular idea of progress.
Of course that reverence could not last, because the Jesus who preached his message of holiness was the same Jesus who worked wonders, who claimed that he was the Son of God, and who rose from the dead. Whence Saint Paul said that if Christ has not risen from the dead, we are above all men most to be pitied. If there is no resurrection, if there is no judgment, then we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, or, what amounts to much the same thing in the end, steal and smash and slay. "No pleasure but in meanness," says Flannery O'Connor's theological Misfit.
A book full of holes is not long for the world. Jefferson retained the teachings of Jesus because he revered them. Our age has punched its holes in what Jefferson left intact, so that now, for most people, the New Testament is a couple of shreds in an American garbage dump:
Judge not lest ye b
shalt love the L neighbor as
od is Lov
not as the hypocrites
nor do I condemn you, go
Odium Christi, Old & New
And that's it. Jesus is not only forbidden to name himself and to heal the blind, the deaf, and the lame. He is not only forbidden to rise from the dead. He is forbidden to preach, unless he preaches what rebukes no one except those who still listen to what he preaches. He is a Jesus of the Subjunctive Mood, who would say what we want him to say, were he alive, which he is not. He is not the Jesus who did say what he said and who still says it. He is Jesus as Anti-Christ.
Call it a new odium Christi.
The old odium Christi is easier to diagnose. It explains the otherwise inexplicable—it explains, for example, why Western secularists are so happy to welcome Mohammed into their midst. Mohammed makes no claims upon them. They would flock to mosques as to museums, hugging themselves for their multicultural sensibilities, and then go forth to fornicate and to fleece their countrymen with all the better cheer—they would, if the Muslims would tolerate the impertinence. The old odium Christi explains why Christians in the Middle East can be driven from their homes, raped, and murdered, without a peep from the secular West. I have seen the photo of a young Christian boy, grave in countenance, glaring into the camera, as he knew that his captors were about to shoot him in the head unless he denied Christ, which he was not going to do. The secular Westerner will not say that the boy got what he deserved. Nor will the secular Westerner move one finger to prevent him from getting it.
The new odium Christi is a hatred of the moral teachings of Jesus, hatred preached in the name of Jesus himself, sometimes by preachers in churches riddled with termites, and sometimes by licentious scoundrels who want what they want, and there's an end on it. A sinner with a bad conscience might glance up from his sty should he hear the Lord say, "If a man but look upon a woman with lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart." So instead we give him Jesus the Anti-Christ, who resolutely never said a thing about sins of the flesh.
Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
more on Culture from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the online archives