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What Would People Think?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The REAL War on Christianity

So Tom DeLay, Rev. Rick Scarborough, Sam Brownback and others allege a "War on Christians" is afoot. Predictably, this conference inspired derision from my fellow liberals, expressed with all the restraint I've come to expect from the liberal blogosphere. In this case, that's an entirely proper response to such a blatant power play, especially by corrupt politicians such as DeLay. I don't want to hear anything THAT man says about moral values.

But that's not why I'm writing.

Tom DeLay says there is a war on Christianity. And I agree. But somehow, I don't think he and I are referring to the same concept. I don't think he would like what I have to say. DeLay and his allies - with their rote attacks against "The Gay Agenda", "The ACLU and Radical Secularism", "Hollywood", and "The Media" - fail to grasp the scope of this war, nor their own complicity in it.

I don't think most people realize how truly radical Christianity actually is. Karl Marx? Thomas Jefferson? Lenin? Robespierre? Moderates. Conservatives, even, in the only battle that truly matters - that of Love vs Selfishness. You want a real revolutionary? Try this on for size:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

- Matthew 5:43-48

Or how about this little story?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

- Matthew 25:31-46

Christianity calls for radical self-sacrifice. A total reorientation of the heart away from self-centeredness and toward God, and thus toward love. A transformation so massive, so fundamental that we Christians believe it cannot be accomplished without supernatural help: Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.

No wonder there's a war on Christianity! If our power-mad, lustful, greedy, egotistical, and materialistic society didn't wage such a war, Christianity might well topple our entire value system on its head.

The REAL War on Christianity takes this form: co-opting Christianity. Watering it down. Making it safe and acceptable for general consumption. Turning Christians into just another target market. Channeling their political energies into the Republican or Democratic party. (Or into simplistic attacks on "Secularism" that, even if they contain a kernel of truth, manage to avoid all self-examination.) Making Christians more concerned about their 401(k) than their neighbor.

This war has - with few exceptions - been wildly successful for 2000 years.

Let me illustrate with an example of one of the many distractions which ensnare Christians: unthinking patriotism. Saint Augustine once made the following insightful observation about nations:

Without justice, [which Augustine found lacking in every society he wrote about] what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom! This title is manifestly conferred on it, not because greed has been removed, but because impunity has been added. A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, "What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor."

You think that thought crosses the mind of Tom DeLay or Pat Robertson as they wrap themselves in the American flag and proclaim the glory of the USA? No, Robertson gets so wrapped up in what he thinks is in the American interest that he advocates assassination of foreign leaders. (There is a rule against that y'know.) Or Tom Tancredo gets so wrapped up in his glorious nativist vision of America that he wants to criminalize charity towards illegal immigrants and attacks those who say it's un-Christian. Those are glaring examples, but almost all of us have our vision of the Cross blinded by the Flag in many ways. We let nationalism place boundaries on our love.

[Note: I'm not calling here for the overthrow of the American government or any government. As Augustine also argues, it's better to have some government to keep order than to have anarchy and the evils which follow anarchy.]

Unlike the speakers at the "War on Christians" conference, I can't get away without admitting I have a role in this, too. I'm still a product of my culture, so enmeshed in it that I probably can't tell how enmeshed in it I am. I, too, compromise my values for the sake of my interest. I, too, fail to think through the radical implications of my calling in Christ. When I do, I hope I am called out on it and that I am able to change.

But I think it's high time that those who decry the "War on Christianity" realize that some of the most effective footsoldiers in that war....are Christians.


  • See? Now THIS is why I'm not sure I want people finding my blog.

    I was thinking about writing this post in church today when I heard an anecdote from a sermon. I couldn't find a place to fit it in this post, so I'm just tacking it on at the end. Our selfish world is perfectly willing to accept "religion" as long as it's just an opiate of the masses which challenges none of our sin and allows us to manipulate and be manipulated. Even putting aside all the current manipulative references to Christ in Amerian politics, consider this masterful example of using "religion" to oppose radical Christianity: one of the Apostle John's disciples was executed by the Roman government after his preaching of the Gospel stirred up too much unrest. The supremely ironic charge that got him executed: atheism. Because, you see, he didn't worship any of the approved Roman gods.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/02/2006 3:15 PM  

  • Bravo. Great post.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 4/02/2006 3:43 PM  

  • Agreed, very interesting. One of the "perks" of my new job is that the coffee house/restaurant is right next to two of the big convention hotels in DC. I had a few people from this convention stopping in last week and was wondering what it was all about.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 4/02/2006 7:25 PM  

  • Jacob,

    You still working at that same place where Christy and I met you for lunch?

    I'm also curious about how you knew that they were from that convention. Were they loudly talking about how that damn atheistic media is ruining the world for right-wingers?

    Did you tell them you were serving them ATHEIST coffee?! ;) :P

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/02/2006 7:32 PM  

  • Yep, the same place. And it's easy to tell what conventions people come from... people always forget to take off their name tags! (Or they just don't mind looking like a dork, as I usually do when conventioneering.)

    Or then there was the anime convention, where they didn't have name tags but they did have odd customes and fake swords. Could kind of tell they were all in the same group.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 4/02/2006 7:39 PM  

  • Reminds me of "No Justice Sunday" last April (commented upon by one of the most brilliant, not to mention humble, bloggers of our time). Is this gonna become a yearly thing, where the self-righteous gather and cast stones everywhere except the mirror? Because if so, I'm gonna get tired of it really quickly.

    I think all religions, for whatever reason, open doors for the power-hungry to manipulate people for their own selfish ends. Fortunately, they also open windows for the truly spiritual.

    It would be very interesting to see what Jesus would say about the goings-on in this country and this world. I think John 11:35 probably sums up his likely reaction the best.

    By Blogger Mike, at 4/02/2006 8:00 PM  

  • Ironic, especially because I think one of the common themes of the prophets (not to mention Jesus) was the corruption of religion for worldly ends by the rich and powerful - and by those who aspire to be such.

    Here's a question to ponder, one I certainly don't know the answer to and one I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on: how do we use our religious beliefs to be the "conscience of the state" without becoming theocrats or turning into these people?

    And is Rick Scarborough really a reverend?

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4/03/2006 1:08 AM  

  • I also note, with some dismay, that the ADL is listed as a key perpetrator of the war on Christianity. While there are things about the ADL that I don't like (namely their obnoxious habit of conflating anti-Zionism or any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism), I think they generally do a pretty good job of pursuing instances where people do things offensive to, or insensitive to, Jews. It seems to me that this is just a subtle yet powerful way of trotting out the old libel about Jews wanting to undermine Christianity, and makes me that much more fearful of what might occur if our government might fall further into the hands of these nuts...

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4/03/2006 1:13 AM  

  • Jacob - which location do you work at, and what metro is ideal for getting to it? I may have to come try this coffee you write of.

    Also, generally, is the problem mixing religion and politics itself? I mean, isn't it possible for people to be religous, genuinely good people, and political? Couldn't there be good theocrats?

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 4/03/2006 2:55 AM  

  • In a spiritually polyglot nation like ours, I don't think it's possible. Theocracies are necessarily oppressive to those who do not share the religious beliefs of the government, even though it may seem benign to those who do.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4/03/2006 12:34 PM  

  • That's probably a good point - about the polyglot issue. But in a country like ours, is a theocrat even possible? Doesn't there need to be a theocracy - or a movement towards theocracy -for there to be a theocrat?

    Also, speaking in a more general sense, not in our country, isn't it possible to have a good theocrat?

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 4/03/2006 3:52 PM  

  • In a more general sense, yes - provided you're dealing with a fairly homogenous population, spiritually speaking. Realistically, that means it could probably only work on a small scale with a population that has specifically chosen that society because of the religious element.

    I think there is something of a movement towards theocracy in this country among the extreme right. When you hear people talk about how this is allegedly a "Christian nation" and "returning" to "Christian values," that's what happens. Everyone will get ideas for laws from their religion. But when religion becomes the sole source of your jurisprudence, and when you attempt to change the very fabric of a society to make it fit religious ideals, that is theocracy. And when your religious ideals are a point of contention, well, that's when Inquisitions happen (what a show).

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4/03/2006 10:43 PM  

  • "Isn't it possible for people to be religous, genuinely good people, and political?"

    Absolutely. I'm posting on one's blog right now.

    "Couldn't there be good theocrats?"

    I'm trying to approach this question without regards to my personal reservations about mixing religion and government. Ultimately, I have to fall back on the question of what defines "good". As someone who relishes religious diversity and exploration of ideas (no matter how subversive), it's hard to imagine a good theocracy. However, as Jeff points out, the goodness of a government is determined by those who live under it. So given a nation composed entirely of people who believe the same thing, I suppose it's theoretically possible. I wonder how long it would last before someone started venturing outside the box, though.

    As a side note, to the religious, wouldn't the whole world constitute a theocracy? Wouldn't the higher governing power called God be a good theocrat? Random thought I just had, wanted to toss it out there.

    Oh, and happy opening day, Matt.

    By Blogger Mike, at 4/03/2006 10:50 PM  

  • Strange that you mention the whole world bit... I'm actually taking a Canon Law class right now, and Catholics (like people of many faiths), are actually governed by two laws. The Catholic Church actually has law, with courts and everything. There isn't much control over you, if you want to leave you can. But if you want to stay in, but don't play by their rules, they can hypothetically kick you out. And actually, this is pretty cool, according to Canon 22, the laws of the nation where a Catholic is residing are expressly adopted as Church law as well. Unless they contradict Canon law or canon law says otherwise regarding particular laws. But still, kind of neat.

    Also, happy opening day to you too, Mike.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 4/04/2006 12:24 AM  

  • Arrrrgghhhh! Baseball talk on this blog! Must....watch....Final Four replays....to survivive!

    The law student in me reading about Canon law said "hey cool!" Then the Southern Baptist in me said "legalistic religion = bad." The tired person who should be in bed right now chooses not to reconcile those thoughts, but merely says "huh!"

    I support separation of church and state for my own reasons, but I must say I think we're a far cry from a theocracy. Government funding for faith-based organizations (whether or not it's constitutional) does not an Ayatollah make. And I see no problem with religious arguments being thrown out there as arguments in the marketplace of ideas along with economic or other secular arguments.

    Matt, if you want to find Jacob's restaurant, I suggest you hop on over to his blog at www.jacobgrier.com and ask him there. Don't think he checks the comments on my blog that often.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/04/2006 12:44 AM  

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