Rebuffing the religious right

Barack Obama's election win last week was a rebuff to America's ultra-conservatives, including the religious right. Extremists in this camp are motivated by a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation. They see the Second Coming as imminent, and view God as vengeful and violent.

They see God as being on their side, and interpret a range of contemporary events as confirming their militant version of religion. For instance, they welcome conflict in the Middle East as a sign of the impending apocalypse.

The man featured in this video is a leader in countering this sort of militant fundamentalism. John Dominic Crossan is one of the world's best known progressive scripture scholars, and has spent his adult life trying to lead Christians to a more thoughtful and educated view of the Bible.

In this interview he argues that Christianity at heart is a religion of peace. The video also contains excerpts from a talk he gave recently at Sydney's Pitt Street Uniting Church entitled 'Is God violent? How to read the Christian Bible and still be a Christian.'

It was the concluding lecture in a series jointly organised by a number of Australian progressive Christian groups including the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought and the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria.

Crossan was born in Ireland in 1934, and was educated in Ireland and the USA. He trained to become a priest in the Servite order, was ordained in 1957, but left the priesthood in 1969.

He received a Doctorate of Divinity from Maynooth College, Ireland, in 1959, and did post-doctoral research at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from 1959–1961 and the École Biblique in Jerusalem from 1965–1967.

After leaving the priesthood, he became a lecturer at DePaul University in Chicago and remained there until retirement in 1995. He is now a Professor Emeritus in its Department of Religious Studies.

Perhaps Crossan is most famous for his role as co-founder with Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar which is part of the US based progressive Christian think-tank, the Westar Institute.

The Institute is controversial in the realm of Christian theology as many of its members question traditional orthodox Christian teachings. For instance, they tend to interpret Jesus' miracles, including the resurrection, as symbols of inner spiritual experience of his followers rather than real physical events.

Crossan co-chaired the Jesus Seminar from 1985–1996 when its international gatherings met every six months to debate the historicity of the life of Jesus in the gospels.

He has written some 25 books on the historical Jesus, earliest Christianity, and the historical Paul, a number of which became best-sellers. His most recent are The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord's Prayer (2010) and The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus (2012).

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Peter Kirkwood headshotPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Barack Obama, The Tea Party, religious right, John Dominic Crossan



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