THE BLOG
06/22/2010 11:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: Elaine Pagels, Literally

Where have you gone Jerry Falwell?

In the mists of the Tea Party nonsense, it is perilously easy to miss the fact that the Kool-Aid of the Evangelical Right has grown lukewarm, tepid, and downright stanky.

Exhibit A would have to be Ted Haggard, once the king of all Evangelicals, now neutered by his own pay-for-play homosexuality and fall from grace. Making a comeback in Colorado Springs, Haggard now bespeaks love and the Bible, rather than bile and the ballot box. There's nothing quite so winning as a sinning preacher.

Like Haggard, the evangelicals--the linchpin of the W coalition--have gone limping off into the sunset, kept upright only by that unyielding pillar of politics, the Right To Life movement.

What happened to the ground well of the Christian Right?

Simple, really: there was never any there there because the whole movement is literally based upon something which is laughably untrue: the literal interpretation of the
Bible. I know this to because of my "Con Games" radio interview with Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, perhaps the world's most renowned scholar when it comes to sacred texts.

Pagels, a MacArthur fellow and a Princeton professor of religion, became famous because of The Gnostic Gospels, a book of that history that showed there were "dozens" of Gospels, and that "Christian tradition is about 10 to 15 percent of what there was," as she said on my show.

For starters, Jesus spoke Aramaic, and "we don't have anything written down in Aramaic." Most of the Gospels were written in Greek, with at least something (or Something) lost in translation. Pagels explained the Gospels bespeak "a huge amount of myth and prophesy and story and symbolism"--as opposed to verbatim Word of God, as the Evangelicals would have you believe. In fact, Pagels was so upset by the conflation of religion and politics under President George W. Bush that she began a book on The Book of Revelations--before the United States invaded Iraq.

"That's the kind of question that started me on this book," she said on "Con Games." "The U.S. was about to invade Iraq... I was really upset about the way he [Bush] was fusing religion and politics."

Is there a legitimate literal interpretation of the Bible?

"The answer any New Testament scholar would give, "is 'no,'" Pagels said. As for her earlier work: "I was really amazed to find there were all these other Gospels.... Who is Jesus? What is the good news? There are just so many versions of that.... What we call Christianity is one version of a much wider range of...possibilities."

According to our most preeminent scholar, a literal interpretation of the ancient scrolls and screeds is false and misleading on the face of it. The Evangelicals, in other words, have built their philosophy on faith and not facts because the facts are fungible and can only nay-say their faith.

God bless the Evangelicals--God bless us every one--but practice the politics of what they preach at your own risk.