I am not a social psychologist, so I cannot explain how large numbers of Americans have subscribed to baseless conspiracy theories such as QAnon’s assertion that a group of pedophiles rules the nation or Donald Trump’s complaint that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
What I do understand is that an “Us” versus “Them” mentality has been cultivated in our society for many decades. The self-righteousness of “our” side often has been bolstered by appeals to religious authority—in America that means an appeal to Biblical Christianity. That’s why many still simply quote the Bible as though the words self-evidently prove “our” position. For cynical and opportunistic leaders, merely waving a copy of the sacred scriptures is enough to make the point that “I am right, and God is with me.”
The Westar Institute is not a political or religious organization. We do not exist to promote a specific social, religious, or political program. We are an association of independent academics who study religious texts and traditions, primarily the Bible and Christianity. We exist to provide tools to help the public understand ancient texts and traditions and their contemporary application. So, when people who participated in the assault on our nation’s Capitol claim that the Bible undergirds their support for President Trump’s false claims, it is Westar’s responsibility to call this what it is—a blatant effort to secure the authority of Christian scripture to service the greed of a defeated, and disgraced, president.
The earliest Jesus and Christ movements were born out of resistance to Roman imperial power. Claiming the Bible and Christianity in the name of imperial power is a false and misleading representation of the Jesus story that belongs to Christianity’s history but need not define its future. Scholarship allows a glimpse at the real story of origins, and it allows the rejection of a fake story that rests strictly on the greed of power.
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at University of Indianapolis, Indiana
Perry V. Kea is Associate Professor of biblical studies at the University of Indianapolis, Indiana. He has been a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar since 1987, in the course of which he has contributed several papers. He has also written for The Fourth R. In addition to his academic interests and responsibilities, Kea is an active United Methodist layperson and has made numerous presentations about the Bible for clergy and lay groups. Read more here.
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