I watched a portion of “God’s Warriors” on CNN and was suitably dismayed and saddened at the fanaticism of so many religious believers around the world. But I was most disturbed by the Christian fundamentalists who appeared to me to be little different than the extremists of Islam and other religions. It seems to me that they are constrained only by laws and an American patriotic ethos. I have no doubt that, if they could figure out a way to do it and still call it democracy, we could easily be living in a theocratic dictatorship. Disturbed is probably the wrong word; frightened might be more like it. I was most disturbed by them because they are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, we are both supposed to be under oath to serve God as faithful ministers of the gospel: to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. But in these “Christian” extremists I see an abhorrent distortion of the bible and Jesus’ teaching that misleads their followers, and the general public, about what Christ and Christianity actually stands for. What makes it so scary is that there is just enough hint of truth in their propaganda to make it believable to a gullible people. They claim that the popular American culture has become steeped in moral depravity, and in a sense they’re right. Violent entertainment, both live and in video games, “reality” shows that encourage selfish gain through deceit and betrayal, toleration of corruption in government, government policies that endorse injustice and play games with the poor, corporate greed, rampant consumerism and more than that are all indicators of growing social toleration of destructive values and behavior. Those are things that really got God’s dander up as seen in the words of the prophets and Jesus. But these things don’t seem to bother the fundamentalists very much. They are consumed with other things that exhibit their own sort of depravity. All they can think about is sex, abortion, homosexuality and the proper role of women. Their new addition is a move toward a gospel of greed that promises material wealth to right believers. They wallow in this stuff day and night. They thunder about it with words intended to elicit hate, fear and anxiety. With threats and promises of hell and damnation on the one hand and a uniquely American version of “virgins in paradise” on the other, they acquire their followers. But where is Jesus in any of it? Apart from thumping the bible and using his name a lot, he is nowhere near. This is not good. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (look it up).
The need to have an enemy is, I suspect, both seductive and addictive. It is so for both individuals and community. Having an enemy, especially one that can be de-humanized and demonized, gives us, a sense of place, a sense of moral superiority, and a way to more clearly define our own identity and that of our community. Living in a world without enemies is very difficult. It demands a high level of humble self-confidence, something most of us lack. It demands a high level of responsibility for our own actions and their consequences. It demands an accountability to our neighbors for the welfare of our neighbors. And all of this is mixed up in a jumble of complex relationships with competing and sometimes conflicting interests. A clearly understood enemy relieves us of so much of that. We can subordinate all those moral demands to the expedient need of fighting our enemy. In that way we can delude ourselves into thinking that enemies help us keep our bearings. If you and I were the only ones who suffered from this weakness, we could do something about it and all would be right with the world. But as it is, this seems to be a widely shared human trait and a characteristic of almost every culture and government. As a Christian, I believe that God in Christ Jesus has an answer for that, but it’s a very hard sell because it takes us back to the very things we tried to escape by having our cherished enemies in the first place. Nevertheless, because I think that is God’s answer, it is the one I must stick with and work on for myself and those whom I serve.
I had hopes that my occasional posts might result in genuine conversation with at least a few others. Now I think this is mainly an exercise in cataloging a few thoughts for my own future consideratiion. Now and then I’ve waded through a few dozen other blogs by clicking on the “next blog” button. Apart from the intruding porn sites, I’ve been impressed by family albums celebrating life together, bored by dreary diaries of dreary lives, frightened by the implied violence of hate poitics, but I have seldom come accross invitations to conversation. If blogging was a sport I think it would be called Ego Bumper Cars competing for the famous Hubris Cup. I may be able to make the semi-finals.
It is not uncommon, at least in North America, to think in terms of Mother Earth. Influenced by Native American spirituality, we Anglicans are comfortable with the idea of God our Father and Earth our Mother. Rejecting that image as coming too close to polytheism, Rabbi Abraham Heschel asserted that we can only refer to the earth as our sister since we are both creations of the one God. I understand his desire to protect the oneness of God, but think that he was unnecessarily fearful of the metaphor. For one thing, the very word for humanity, Adam, means something like “child of the (red) dirt. For another, sister is far to weak to serve as a useful metaphor. I may deeply love my sister and feel a very close kinship with her in every way, but my individual well-being is not dependent on her well being, nor does she have anything to do with my coming into this world. In fact, mother is an apt metaphor for earth. For human life to enter into this world it must be nurtured and sustained by the fecundity and resources of its mother through gestation, birth, weaning, even to young adulthood. A mother who is too ill or ill equipped to provide for the wellbeing of her offspring sets a condition under which the life of generations yet to come may be in jeopardy. How like the earth. Earth is literally the ground from which comes all that we need for physical nourishment, and much of what we need for emotional nourishment. The resources of the earth sustain our lives in every conceivable way. An unhealthy earth with waning resources jeopardizes our lives and the lives of generations yet to be born. I cannot think of a more apt metaphor for earth than mother, and it seems to me that God has poured an abundance of His divinity into Her without diminishing the oneness of God in the slightest. For us, earth is the greatest of God’s creations and worthy of deepest reverence. How sad it is that, through incremental matricide, we fail to honor both God and Mother Earth.
A variety of interesting candidates populate the edges of the nascent presidential campaign. Congressman Ron Paul seems to have captured the hearts of the discontented libertarians with his platform of doing away with most of the federal government and retreating into an island America insulated from the global economy. It reminds me a bit of the “destroy the village in order to save it” mentality of the Viet Nam War. But more interesting to me is former Senator Mike Gravel who is running on a platform of returning the government to the people through some sort of grassroots process that sounds like a national initiative that would have to be authorized through a substantial rewrite of the Constitution. His complaint is a simple one, and one that many would agree with. Congress and the Executive Branch are broken and not likely to be easily fixed. Public policy is the playground of well-heeled interest groups and big business. So why not put the power directly into the hands of the people who vote. I live in a state that permits initiatives to be put before the electorate provided that enough signatures can be solicited. Does it work? I don’t think so for several reasons. Sadly, not that many people actually vote. That’s a serious problem. It’s also true that just about any crackpot idea can generate enough signatures to get on the ballot and then be publicized in a way to avoid close examination while appealing to the most selfish interests of those who do vote. The result can be, and has been, a succession of laws that cripple local and state government, short change those most in need of help, and impose on the community conditions that most would rather not endure. The genius of representative democracy is that it allows time for reflection, encourages a vigorous give-and-take between competing interests, and provides a filtering mechanism for crackpot ideas – not that some of them don’t sneak through now and then. If anything needs to be fixed, it is the American non-voting public through whose lack of “patriotism” we could lose everything.