Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
February 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

Can Ronald Reagan Help us Understand the Historical Jesus?

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del...

Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho del Cielo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is, perhaps, the most anachronistic post on the internet – besides the guy calling Moses a Christian – however, I wanted to just float some ideas for consumption and regurgitation.

A brief survey of advisors to Reagan reveal a different Reagan than his modern supporters often tout. In 2008, several of them lined up to openly support then-Senator Obama in his first presidential campaign. Candidate Obama startled many Democrats by suggesting he admired Reagan. If one looks at the record, well… that is open for debate.

But, modern “Reaganites” paint an image of Reagan who is almost libertarian, a strict conservative Christian, and a miracle worker. Indeed, many long for the second-coming of Ronald Reagan as demonstrated in the 2012 Presidential race. But these are his supporters, almost a half-a-generation, or more, removed from the man. His ills and faults, his sins, are long forgotten.

We have two classes of “favorable rememberers” here. We have the advisors to Reagan painting a different picture (along with his wife, Nancy, and son, Ronnie Jr). We have his modern day supporters who have learned of Reagan second hand, either through shared memories or a text book. These supporters more often than not, create an image of Reagan that is simply not true, albeit based on some true. For instance, Reagan said something about government being the problem. His current supporters, rather than looking at all of the Government Reagan increased, believe this is a literal statement and they use it as a means to disrupt the service and work of the people as much as possible.

There are  more examples, but I would digress quickly into an anti-Reagan attack and that would be unhelpful.

But, you get the bit. The Historical Reagan, as showed by contemporary recorded data (something we do not have about the Historical Jesus) is different and has a different record (Gov. Reagan anyone?) than what is often acknowledged by contemporary fans. Further, you will often seen modern Reaganites take wildly different “Reagan” positions than his contemporaries and advisors, all the while basing it on the Historical Reagan and invoking his name.

How does this translate to the current discussion of the Historical Jesus? First, the Historical Jesus leaves behind no videos, no youtube, no contemporaries writing modern, critical historical biographies. This makes it rather difficult to get to the “Historical Jesus.” Second, there seems to be, even in the received documents making up the New Testament as well as other non-canonical documents, differing views on who and what Jesus was (or accomplished). For instance, Paul seems to portray a difference between himself and the Apostle Peter and this difference is about the basic view of the Gospel. Paul came about 20 years later while Peter was (according to our records), Jesus’s prime minister. We see this amplified in later documents, of course.1

It may, at one point, become difficult to find the real Ronald Reagan, although that would take a lot to do considering the large amount of data he himself created. But, in the meantime, we have to watch as those who favor Reagan view him completely different. One group, the primary sources, paint a picture of a man the second group (secondary sources) would not accept. We cannot discover the Historical Jesus, or at least on any sort of grand scale, not because there is a grand conspiracy to reshape his image, but because there is simply not enough data and what data has survived is shaped by the winners of orthodoxy.

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  1. If you think the Jesus of the Gospels and the “religion of Paul” are different, you are missing a lot.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


One Response to “Can Ronald Reagan Help us Understand the Historical Jesus?”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    Much like Jesus, Reagan is proof that some men are more useful dead than alive.

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