Monday, March 30, 2015

THE HORROR THAT IS CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANITY


And there are some who love him well,
yet know not it is he they love;
he tends the holy fire within
and draws them to the heights above.
                   -- Marguerite Pollard.


There is something mean and nasty and very ugly about much of Christianity today---especially in parts of the United States. Conservative evangelical Christianity is getting more and more conservative and more and more troublesome. And more and more nasty and dangerous.

I am a minister of religion, but not a Christian one. My church---Unitarian Universalist ---is a very progressive one which for the most part left Christianity some time ago. So, the conservative Christians’ knives are out for me already. (Bring it on.) Still, I am well-equipped to speak out on the Bible. I was raised as a Baptist and I was taught a lot about the Bible in that church, and I also studied theology under the auspices of an independent Catholic church. I have also debated bishops and archbishops in high-profile public debates, and I came off well in those debates. Even many of the Christians thought so, not that I changed their minds.

Recently, the state of Indiana passed a law that will enable the providers of goods and services not to serve LGBTs. This law is triumphantly called the Religious Restoration Freedom Act. I am told that the state of Georgia is considering passing a similar law. It would. These laws may well be unconstitutional as many similar ones have been held to be so in the past. What concerns me is the religious faith that leads Christian legislators to pass these kinds of laws---a faith that is supported by many in American conservative Christian communities. Over 20 American states have already enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Now, where I live---Australia---a law of this kind would never be passed. We are perhaps the most secular country in the world, and most Australians have little or no time for organized religions at all. (A good thing too, in my view.) That being said, we are by no means the fair and tolerant country we like to think we are, for in recent years our federal governments have treated asylum seekers, refugees and ‘boat people’ most shamefully. We have lost our way on that matter and on many others, so we hardly have the high moral ground these days on matters pertaining to basic human rights and freedoms.

Back to the topic. Have any of the people who sponsor and vote for these laws ever read their Bibles? Surely they must be familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s about meeting and attending to the needs of one’s neighbor wherever he or she may be, and whoever they may be. These conservative Christians whom I abhor are like the Jewish priest in that story of Jesus. They choose to pass by on the other side. Their piety and self-righteousness---they risibly call it ‘religious freedom’---get in the way of their Christian charity.

Have these conservative Christians heard of another story of Jesus---the one about the ‘Anonymous Christ’? Well, in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we this Christ, and we read that the spirit or personality of Jesus---the friend of sinners, the champion of the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized, and the healer of the sick---can be experienced even today as a living presence, for he comes to us, and visits us, in our home and in our community. We encounter this spirit or personality of Jesus in our interactions with others. According to this story, everyone we meet, everyone we serve, is in the image of Jesus, a personification of the divine. The Anonymous Christ, as it is known, comes to us in so many ways, and we fail to recognize that Jesus’ incarnation continues all the time, in us and in other people. We read about the Anonymous Christ in Matthew 25:34-40 in the context of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

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.’

The message of this parable is lost on conservative Christians. They are so damn good at judging others yet they fail to realize that the Bible says they will be judged on how well they have looked after their fellow humans---as respects the provision of such things as food, water and clothes, and attending to the needs of the homeless, the sick, and those in prison. Then there's the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night of his betrayal. He even washed the feet of Judas, the very man who betrayed him. You see, Jesus made no distinctions. Conservative Christians do.

Jesus’ followers were originally known as ‘people of the way’. Jesus, in his vision of the Anonymous Christ, offers us a vision and a challenge. The call to follow is not a call to worship Jesus. He never sought nor wanted that. No, the Way of Jesus is a call to follow Jesus’ path, to live as he lived, and to serve others as he did.

Now, this is my point. Many Buddhists I know, even many atheists and other secularists, live lives that are so much more nobly and deeply and closely molded after that of Jesus than those fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who claim, ever so proudly, to have been washed in the saving Blood of the Lamb---a perverse and pernicious corruption and distortion of true Christianity if ever there was one---and who have forsaken the true human Jesus of the Gospels (who never used any language of sacrifice, bloodshed, propitiation or expiation) and who have substituted for him a Christ of dogmatism, metaphysics and pagan philosophy. I repeat, many people, who would not identify as Christians, are real followers of the way of Jesus.

Jesus met human differences and distinctions, and even evil, on God’s terms---not on Satan’s. He loved everybody equally. It is very sad that so many of those who claim to love and serve him today have rejected the heart of his teachings.

The Christian minister and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right] is the man I loved. He has been dead for over 20 years but he is hated---yes, hated---by conservative Christians today. The irony is he himself was a conservative evangelical, even though he rarely used the language and thought-forms of conservative evangelicalism. Here’s one of the reasons why Dr Peale is hated by conservative Christians. When asked about homosexuality---he was in his mid-80s at the time---this is what Peale said:

The God that I believe in is very big. He’s above all these little human distinctions. He loves everybody equally; it doesn’t make any difference who they are, what they’ve done, He loves them.

That is the God of the Bible. Sadly, it is not the God of far too many conservative Christians these days.

Bring it on.






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