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THE FIRST LIBERAL by Dennis Martin Altman

THE FIRST LIBERAL

By Dennis Martin Altman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0595430536
Publisher: iUniverse

An argument that the liberal tradition owes its existence to a carpenter from Nazareth.

Altman (Journalism/University of Kentucky) provides a nonreligious overview of the life and teachings of Jesus, explaining how his influence has touched the modern liberal tradition. He points out that no matter what one’s personal religious leanings, Jesus has made an impact on the life of everyone on Earth and thus has an abiding secular legacy. After setting the historical stage, Altman offers his own reading of the gospels, without pretense. “Jesus appeared as a bumpkin,” he writes, and yet Jesus’ influence grew and people flocked to hear his teachings. The author discusses the famed cleansing of the temple by Jesus as a misreporting of events, and believes that in reality Jesus led, or at least influenced, a mob action that led to his eventual arrest and crucifixion. Rushing ahead 17 centuries, the author introduces the modern influence of Jesus by discussing Thomas Jefferson’s selective reading of the New Testament as a work of ethics. He lists a wide range of modern figures influenced by Jesus, all described by the author as “Liberalism’s Heroes,” as diverse as Voltaire and Harriet Tubman. Altman describes “love thy neighbor” as the essence of Jesus’ liberal teachings, and provides a detailed explanation of what liberals believe. Going further, he also discusses what liberals want for America. Though the political ramifications of Jesus’ teachings have been the grist for many books in recent decades, the author takes an unusually direct and partisan approach. Too often, however, he falls into the straw-man trap by uncritically espousing the views of American liberals while providing an overarching, umbrella condemnation of conservatives: “Conservative Americans are probably the most provincial and prudish people of any in the industrialized countries.” In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to defining and describing seven types of American conservatives, from bad to worst. At the bottom of the list are “Southern Rural Conservatives,” whom the author describes as “the dupes of the voting system.” Altman’s tone can actually embarrass the very liberals he supports.

A convincing argument for the influence of Jesus on modern liberals, but a work in need of more objectivity.