Today, in a dear friend’s Facebook feed, I came across an article from Patheos, titled The “Alternative Facts” of Fundamentalist Religion. It looked at the connection between “alternative facts” and the ability to suspend disbelief found in fundamentalist religion. As I argued in Navigating the Moral Paradigm Shift, when you learn to suspend disbelief it gets easier and easier to be led to this place. It becomes a well worn path in your brain. The very ability to suspend disbelief about things like the Ark or the Garden of Eden,…and that is just the stuff in run of the mill conservative Christianity….it makes it that much easier to swallow other “alternative facts”. This article seems to just scratch the surface. It doesn’t seem to tell the whole story. There is so much to unpack in the Christian connection to this moral abyss we find ourselves falling into.
This union of Christianity with something strangely not “Christian” has been going on for some time. Certainly, much longer than this election. What I hope to do with this essay is take you through my personal journey that brought me where I stand. As I grew up and broke with my parents’ minds, I had to reconcile my beliefs, both spiritually and politically, as all of must at some point. Then, I want to take a good look at the American Christian as a unique entity and how we have thrown ourselves off this moral ledge. Finally, we liberal American Christians are Christians. If we are to have any credibility and suffer from utter hypocrisy, we must swallow the same bitter pill that we are demanding of our fellows on the other side of the political spectrum. How does that work?
As we humans often do, we begin at a problem because it affects us. This is part of the shitty problem, as we will see, however, in true American fashion, I start with my own life experience. I started my life as a Jew. I lived as a Jew for 9 years. However, being the curious soul I was, I wanted to know where everyone else I knew went to church. I went to the Evangelical Free Church with my friend Liane a bunch. I even asked to join their Awana group. I mean we went to church on Saturday morning. The only night for a Jewish girl to have a sleepover is Saturday night. Usually means if my friends were going to church, I was going with. BTW, my dad’s response to the Awana deal was, “you are not joining any Jesus church.” When a babysitter asked me to go to her church, the Mormon church, it sounded great. Mormons proselytize. My 7/8 year old mind was ill prepared to deal with being openly confronted to be baptized. An adult man came to my house and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Rachael said she wants to be baptized, right Rachael?” I can remember being hot and embarrassed for my dad. We were Jews. I didn’t want to not be a Jew, I just was having fun at the Mormon church and all the other kids had done this thing called “being baptized”. I didn’t know what it meant. That is the way I got the blame for my family becoming Mormon. I hate that story because the fiction is that I chose this. That somehow I was operating with an adult mind. WTF does a 7 year old know about joining a religion like Mormonism? How can a child properly assess the ramifications?
So, for the next handful of years…until I could run, I became Mormon. I don’t know if I was aware of my parent’s former political bent. I do know that by high school, I was deeply indoctrinated in conservative thought. Because my Jewish father took years to calm down and cease his ever present anger (I believe over his forced conversion…that took years), I became angry and hostile. This fusion of conservative thought, Christianity, and a splash of anger is a disgusting combination. I know. I lived it. I was it. It is hard to admit that I lived another life where I was blind and intolerant. I said terrible things about minorities in my ignorance. My parents lapped it up and encouraged it. I am not proud of this, I am ashamed.
During this entire time, I knew my Bible like a well-oiled machine. I mean I graduated from Mormon high school seminary. We had to compete in scripture chases based upon the one of the four parts to the LDS scriptural lexicon. One year was the Bible. I was very aware of the things Jesus said, in theory. Problem was that I had been so busy whirling around the “deep doctrine” of the LDS faith that, at least at that time, Jesus wasn’t the figure he was at other churches. They believed in Him as the savior but there were so many other figures and doctrines that needed in depth explanation, it was easy to get lost in the minutia. Also…and this is part of the HUGE problem…..there was not explicit connection with our marginalized groups and the ones Jesus talks about all over the gospels. It allowed me to depersonalize these groups and construct other narratives that allowed me to perpetuate negative feelings and scapegoating. I got to a point in my life where I had to take a good, long look in the mirror….as I have advocated we all do…and decide who I was. Too many things in my life were inconsistent. If you know me, cognitive dissonance makes me loony crazy. What I saw in the mirror, I didn’t like.
I don’t even know how the change happened, it was that subtle. What I do know is that once I decided that I could no longer be Mormon, the rest of the constructed tower began to crumble. I got a hold of a little, white red letter Bible and red it cover to cover. I paid special note to the red letter words of Jesus to, nearly, the exclusion of all other material. I wanted to know who this Jesus person was. I decided to put aside everything I thought I knew about God and spirituality and politics (remember, I felt justified in my conservative views…as do most Mormons who vote conservative, or voted for DT). What I read made me uncomfortable. Was this real? The story of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. The sermon on the mount made me question my comfortable place of superiority, both spiritually and politically. I actually liked this Jesus guy and what he taught. I also knew that I couldn’t just go to church on Sunday and believe in this whole Jesus thing, for reals, and then go to about my world with American Conservative Christian values. I couldn’t do this whole suspension of disbelief back flip that would allow me to maintain doublethink.
What was this crisis of conscious about, you ask? The American, politically conservative Christian is a unique brand of Christian. Don’t get me wrong, we could castigate Christians for all sorts of stuff from the Crusades on down. That had its own consequences for the values of the Christian nations involved. That is not what I am talking about. It is something uniquely American about our brand of Christianity that allows us to selectively forget that our fruits apply to everything, including the voting booth. It is something so powerful that Jesus spent 11 of the 39 parables discussing the subject. He talked about this more than heaven and hell combined. This American folly, uniquely tied to our brand of Christianity is unfettered greed, spoon fed to the masses.
Greed….greed is everywhere. It is one of the 7 deadly sins. Kings, rulers….hell popes failed due to this intense selfish desire. Yes, they have. And then, America made it their national value and the two were fused. They became mutually self-sustaining parasites that have left us behind the rest of the industrialized world in most markers, including health care, education, violence, and happiness. Now, this symbiotic relationship between politically conservative Christians and greed threatens to destroy the heart of who we are and rend the U.S. in two. If you have never read Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, I suggest you pull up a chair. It looks at how this happened. I’ll summarize. The Protestants, who started out from Europe austere, believed that God could be found in your daily life. When these Christian folks found themselves involved in business they saw that God was there also. There was birthed the idea that making more and more profit had a good in and of itself. Pursuing profit became virtuous. Although, we see this clearly and overtly in the prosperity gospel today, it has its roots here and its tendrils wind through Christianity. This is especially poignant in America where Capitalism is sacrosanct and the conservative agenda is to create a system where capitalism is not just an economic reality, but infiltrates every layer of government.
So how does greed operate under the radar and at the heart of American Christianity?
- How does greed operate under the radar of Christianity? Well, we go to church. We read the Bible. We all know that Jesus said to give up all you have and follow Him. Greed gets into hearts and preaches the gospel of fear to us. It tells us that we need more than others and that we can never stop growing and consuming for fear Mexicans or Muslims or Gays will take it away. That may be an obvious connection with our Mexican allies but it is the same for Muslims and the LGBTQ community. It is even more profound. “Radical Islam” and the LGBTQ community are frightening to their entire greedy…more, more, more, prosperity gospel, superior lifestyle. I don’t know how many times I asked how gay marriage would degrade marriage between a man and a woman? The Islamic nations that are so feared have rejected our democracy and our consumerism. This fear is so all consuming that it operates under the radar with suspension of disbelief to allow doublethink where we can simultaneously believe in Jesus’s gospel of love and hold self-righteously the fear, greed, and suspicion found in capitalism run awry.
- American dream – The mythology of America is that of picking yourself up by your bootstraps and making it big from nothing. It is intensely individualistic at the expense of empathy and compassion for the whole. Manifest Destiny is as much part of the American experience as it is at the heart of the next category. The American Dream has zero concern for anyone else but you and yours. As long as you make it through your own greatness and hard work, nothing else matters.
- Heart of American Christianity – This may be painful but at the heart of American Christianity is this idea of personal salvation. I have picked the right path. I am righteous. I have a hotline to God. Hence, they know that somehow they are the chosen people. Some groups state this outright like the Mormon’s doctrine of salvation that starts in heaven. The valiant fighters for God are given the best lives on earth…of course, in Mormon homes. The Calvinists rest on predetermination. It doesn’t matter where you start. If you have chosen Christ…Christ has chosen you. What is the other side to that coin…..if you haven’t chosen Christ, then Christ has not chosen you. Self righteousness and superiority unite. That very doctrine creates immediate “out” groups. If you don’t cling tenaciously to Jesus’s words, the salvation of the Bible can be exploited to justify a person’s superiority….even if it is subconscious.
I am an American Christian…how does this break down?
How does Christianity break down for me? For the above stuff, fairly well. I don’t believe in any of those things that I just stated. I don’t believe that Christians are better or that my brand is better or that certain people are getting into heaven and others aren’t and I know which. I don’t have any hotline to God and I don’t believe anyone else does, either. I don’t even believe that Christianity is the only way to heaven…heck, by only drawing on Christianity, you may struggle to get there, at all.
Further, I don’t buy into this rugged individualism. I favor consensus over competition. I believe people flourish when they are nurtured not dominated. I believe in the Divine Feminine. Basically, for my personal outlook, I reject the American narrative and reject the value of greed permeating our brand of Capitalism and unchecked by our churches.
And yet…I remain….Christian. I believe. At the heart of my being I have a deep belief in a higher power. It is a belief that defies my best skepticism. I also believe that Jesus Christ, untethered from Capitalism is a path to “salvation”, “nirvana”, etc. I believe in a personal and present Christ and seek to follow what he taught. I seek joy every day in the present moment. A moment filled with gratitude for everything big and small. This is dangerous territory! This raises trouble and leads to the final part of this blog. Here is how: I look out on all these Christians following Donald Trump I have been foisting forth upon them the argument that if they believe that the Mexicans and Muslims and the LGBTQ community and the freeloaders and the…fill in the group that they deem are their enemy in any way, shape, or form, or, if they feel like Hillary or Obama is their enemy in any way, shape, or form, they are called by their God to do what? You can play games with your head and say that if you loved them you would want to rescue them from their sinful ways. That is bullshit to justify your hate and foist your greed. The truth is found in the worlds of Mother Teresa,
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Love them the way Jesus did! This cuts both ways.
I am immediately convicted….I continue to struggle with how this works out. If I view Donald Trump as my enemy or if I see the people that voted for him as storm troopers to our Darth, what am I to do? Love them. That makes me throw up a little in the back of my throat. So what are we to do? Do we just try to get along and find places of similarity? Are we to ignore the filthy things DT has said, promised, or is doing as I write this blog? You know, because of this problem, Christians, historically, have a hard time putting the kibosh on atrocity. From the holocaust of the Jews to the genocide in Rwanda. We help clean up the mess and act as helpers to the oppressed but we aren’t real big on saying, “you will not do this to these people. I stand in front of those who cannot help themselves. You will not harm them.” I am sure there are small instances everywhere we can point to, but when it comes to the large things, we just crumble under a burden of what to do if we are to love our enemy.
Let me make some suggestions. First, I don’t believe Jesus spoke to this as a 1:1. That is, Jesus wasn’t set down in a time where the structures of the church were formed. He lived in another time without ecumenical vigils, Houses of Bishops, or NGOs. His teachings weren’t necessarily directed at a political war of morals at the heart of a nation, at least not directly. He spoke to the Jewish establishment. The larger problems of the holocaust and widespread fear, racism, and bigotry are not this sort of problem. The bottom line is that this moral abyss is not a 1:1 issue. It is a systemic problem that requires systemic remedies. The Christian churches, one by one, led by their pastors and priests, need to guide their flocks. They need to stand up against this and speak out en masse. It is the Church as a whole that needs to lead us away from this disaster. They need to speak up…but they won’t. Why? I think for the same reason. They are convicted about hurting and offending others to such an extent that they worry they will hurt and offend those that support the filth of the day. We aren’t dealing with individual filth, no….that is everywhere and ever present in a fallen world, it is the values of our people as a whole. It is the destiny of American Christianity to remain silent or vague in the face of bigotry, racism, and hurting the “other”?
The difference is this. I am called to treat my enemy on a one on one basis the way I want to be treated. That is the weird rub. We must think big and act small. We must consider those that will be, necessarily, hurt by our vote but Jesus spoke of one on one or small group dynamics. That is where our greatest instruction lies. Yet, in the face of our Churches mealy mouths, the individual is confounded and propelled to act against what they view as a repeat of gross history. Things are already going afoul…I don’t really know how long we wait before we say….uh oh. So, I do think I have a duty to my enemy. I do feel like I have a duty, beyond casting a vote that isn’t just a vote for what I want, but a vote to minimize human suffering. I have a duty
What is my Liberal Christian Duty?
Obviously, to love God and my neighbor as myself….and btw the Samaritan is your neighbor. I am called to love my enemy. I am called to love those that seek to hurt and use. I am called to pray for those who persecute me. How does that pan out in the real world. Go High!
- No Baron Bashing: Come on, he is a kid. You didn’t like it when they did it to Chelsea. You wouldn’t like it if Donald Trump did it to your kid so don’t do it to his.
- Don’t bash the Trump women for stupid shit: I want to be judged on the content of my character not on the size of my cleavage. Saying mean shit about the way Melania, Ivanka, and even Kellyanne look, or are dressed is just bullshit. If you have some criticism about their policies, especially if they will harm the most vulnerable, go for it. That kind of girl bashing is mean girl stuff. Do not do it.
- Don’t name call: I get called all sorts of names from “libtard” to “dumb blonde”. I think it is rotten. Don’t repeat what you hate.
- Change your online tone: I have a rule of thumb. If you respond to my post, you have given the okay for response. Really, I am not searching for a response from you, conservatives, but if a person has felt the need to confront, there is some implicit invitation. However, I don’t just post a contentious response on a person’s feed. I treat them the way I want to be treated. I ask if they are looking for input or response or not. I tell them that I don’t want to be rude if they were only trying to make a statement. Then, I stay…strictly to the facts. If one person gets particularly disagreeable or starts name calling I say that this is the problem with social media. If we could see each other face to face, you would know I didn’t say that in a smug tone…or whatever. I would want somebody to treat me kindly even though they disagreed, so I am going to do the same. Believe me, they are shocked by the change and are much more likely to listen to you. It is hard…try…go high but don’t waiver in your beliefs, either.
- High pressure your religious and spiritual leaders to do their job and guide their flock away from this disaster. It is up to the larger institutions to take a stand and stave off their abysmal role in history. Now is the time to say, we are not going to do this again. I will not let this happen.
At the end of the day, I find solace in the words of the Bhagavad Gita read today at the end of my yoga class during Savasana, the final rest position. “Just as fire is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust, just as the embryo rests deep within the womb, wisdom is hidden by selfish desire.” I love it, not because it reifies my thoughts but because it tells me two important things. It tells me that greedy self interest that hides all truth is as old as humans. It also tells me that wisdom is there, it is just hidden.