I would like to thank Shamus Young for being a calm and rational Christian individual.
Mr. Young has one of the better – no, one of the best – blogs I have seen on the Internet; it’s entertaining, covers topics I personally am interested in, and is written in a lucid yet humorous style. Heck, it even has a comic strip. All blogs should aspire to be as worthwhile.
But what I would like to draw your attention to today is this posting from the beginning of this month. Go and read it – the rest of this column will be a commentary upon it, so if you want to follow along you’ll need to know what I’m babbling about.
Read it? Good.
What I find impressive here is not the rebuttal – right or wrong aside, point by point rebuttals are a dime a dozen – but the tone of the rebuttal. Frankly, given the original posting by Mr. Godfrey, Mr. Young has every right to be wildly insulted. And probably was. But rather than retort in similar vein, Mr. Young responded calmly to each point in turn, casting no aspersions of his own.
Okay, almost. There’s the “zealot” remark, the “your life must be grim indeed” almost-crack. But hey, they guy’s human. He certainly did not respond with rancor befitting.
Maybe it’s just me, but I was impressed. To approach a defense of oneself from an insulting posting from a random person without spiteful anger or venomous counter-attack is, well, uncommon at best. To calmly address the accusations without making counter-accusations or insults of one’s own.
And it is resonant of what I find to be the most positive aspects of Christianity. “Turn the other cheek”, “If thine eye offends thee pluck it out.” The radical, self-sacrificial stuff. The difficult stuff.
I’d like to address the initial missive from Mr. Godfrey. Now, obviously, it is wildly insulting. And to a Christian, of course, it’s ridiculously untrue. I mean, assuming that you are a Christian, you’re obviously not “rabid” or stupid. Neither are any of your friends, or anyone in your church, although maybe Mr. Zingenheber is a bit phlegmatic at times. So this Godfrey fellow is not only insulting but wrong to the point of craziness. Something must be wrong with him.
On the other hand, if you aren’t a Christian, then you understand where Mr. Godfrey is coming from. Not that you agree with him. Yet there’s a reason entirely apart from inexplicable viciousness for what he’s saying.
I myself am an agnostic. Not a strong, Bertrand Russell sort of agnostic, either, just a run of the mill weak agnostic. I, personally, do not know the Truth. Maybe you do, and if so that’s great. I’m perfectly fine with Mr. Young’s interpretation of creationism, for instance. God did it? Sure, why not. I wasn’t there, no one has any solid proof one way or another. Maybe He did, maybe He didn’t.
(The “world is 4,000 years old” people I have a strong disagreement with. But that’s not who we’re discussing here.)
Anyhow, when I discovered that Mr. Young was a publically devout Christian who was homeschooling his kids, I, in the manner of Mr. Godfrey, sighed inwardly. I would not have stated that Mr. Young was stupid – obviously he is not – but I was certainly disappointed that someone I had developed respect for was One Of Those People.
And I was wrong.
Because I bought into the bugaboo. The fundamentalist who wants to come tell me how to live. Who knows better than do I about my own soul. Who wants to minimize or negate my influence on the world because it doesn’t match his beliefs. Who wants my kid to be strong-armed into his church. Who doesn’t think for himself but simply adheres to what his religious groupthink tells him.
I’m a smart guy. I know lots and lots of Christians, and they’re not like that. So why the knee-jerk assumption?
Because you know who the public face of American Christianity is? It’s Jerry "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped [9-11] happen.” Falwell. It’s Pat “but if [Hugo Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.” Robertson. It’s James “homosexuality is curable" Dobson. It’s Roy "we must first recognize the source from which all morality springs...[by] recogniz[ing] the sovereignty of God." Moore.
When I think of a generic, publically devout Christian, that’s who comes to mind. The loudmouths. The scary people. The bugaboos.
It’s unfair, of course, and incorrect, and nonetheless true. And I daresay it’s a common reaction.
I know lots of Christians. With a few exceptions, none of them frighten me with their faith. (And in those few exceptions it’s not that the person in question frightens me, it’s their willingness to support and go along with the people I don’t know and who do frighten me). Yet almost all of the people on television who make it a point of saying “I am a Christian and this is the Christian position” are frightening.
(Though I confess, I do like the old priests on the Catholic channel.)
Then there is the fact that we’ve put religion into our politics – and thus, politics into our religion. When the Fundamentalist Christians vote for George Bush because that’s the Fundamentalist Christian position, then George Bush’s actions become actions endorsed by Fundamentalist Christianity. Like it or not. So when George Bush drops bombs, that’s de facto okay with millions of American Christians. When George Bush lies, when he undermines America, that’s just peachy with them. Because he’s their man. That’s what their sort of Christian is all about.
When you put religion into politics, you put politics into religion.
When I read the Bible, the conclusion that Jesus is a liberal is, well, inescapable.
But let’s put aside my interpretation of scripture, which you may find wrong. (We can argue about the “sooner shall a camel pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man shall enter the kingdom of heaven” and the complicated semantic contortions rich Christians use to ignore that verse some other time.) I am, after all, an agnostic, albeit well-read. I got no faith. What do I know?
However, there are many, many liberal Christians. It’s a long – very long - and powerful tradition. These people are part of the bedrock of the Democratic party. Yet I never see them on television, or read about them in newspapers.
Instead there is Bill “War on Christmas” O’Reilly.
I could go on, but the point here is that the outside perception of Christianity is being shaped by the media, and the Christianity it presents is intolerant, violent, and power-hungry. A perception which is unfair and unrepresentative.
And I have, I confess, bought into it.
Which is why I was so touched by Mr. Young’s rebuttal. Because it reminded me that although there are frightening Christians out there, they’re not representative of the faith, or of the faithful. That devout churchman Dennis Rader is no more representative of Christians than ranting professor Ward Churchill is of the secular intelligentsia. No matter how much Sean Hannity succeeds in making us all think so.
There is an evil wool over our eyes, put there by an uncaring corporate media obsessed with deviance and scandal, and a greedy political media seeking to divide and rule. It has a malign influence on Christian and non-Christian thought alike. But to accept the world as portrayed by these people is to give them their victory.
Thank you, Mr. Young, for that reminder.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra