Johnjoe McFadden:

The researchers divided issues into those concerned with fellowship (wealth distribution, immigration), and those concerned with morality (gay rights, abortion). Conservatives envisaged a Jesus with views close to their own on morality issues; but they recognised that the man who gave all his possessions to the poor would probably have advocated more progressive taxation policies than those of the Republican party. Conversely, liberals saw Jesus as having similar views as themselves on fellowship issues but they believed his views on gay rights would be to the right of their own.

The social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term “cognitive dissonance” for the discomfort felt when we recognise conflict between our ideas and perceptions. He proposed that we tend to reduce conflict by altering our view of reality. This process of “dissonance reduction” (“I didn’t want that job anyway”) has been used down the centuries to reduce the conflict between a person’s religious convictions and their actions.

…Ross and his colleagues suggest that dissonance reduction takes place not only within the individual, but as a collective enterprise. Preachers, politicians and co-believers tend to emphasise and de-emphasise different aspects of the Christian canon; so conservative Americans study the Old Testament with its homophobic rhetoric and eye-for-an-eye morality, whereas liberals look to the New Testament Jesus who was sympathetic to the poor and the meek.

When the majority of us who are not apocalyptics (i.e. stark, raving mad) talk about ethics, we make a number of presuppositions. When we discuss what we think is the best way to live, we take for granted the idea of a world with a future; a stable, enduring society requiring maintenance; human flourishing within the course of a normal lifespan. These things are both expected and desired, so much so that, when presented with an alternative ethical vision that neither desires nor expects such things, we simply refuse to believe our lying eyes while ignoring the little twinge of conscience that warns us how something doesn’t feel right here.

How many times does Jesus have to talk about the kingdom of heaven, not earthly society, being the place where the poor and the meek will finally receive their due? How many times does he have to tell his audience that they will live to see the Son of Man coming in all his glory? Your attempts to ferret out his likely position on city zoning laws and office etiquette are doomed to be stillborn. You were speaking a different language from the very start. He did not care about the things you care about. He did not want the things you want. He looked forward to the violent end of the world, and all his values were informed by that desire. There is no further conversation to be had with him. Some men you just can’t reach.