The Poetry Man has asked me to post something on Monday's. What follows is an article I am preparing for The Smirking Chimp. The next couple of Monday's will be iffy. On May 2, I am joining 214 other singers at Carnegie Hall for a performance of Verdi's Requiem. Life should return to normal after the 2nd. --cw
Two points must be understood before we begin. First, as the title states, I am a renegade Christian. Like Barak Obama and Bill Moyers, I belong to the United Church of Christ (UCC), a delightfully non-creedal church that is quite tolerant of my heresies.
The second point is that, with a few exceptions, Christianity and organized religion are as oil is to water. Historically, Christianity has so much blood on its hands, it is impossible to tell where the fingers ends and the nails begin. All of this violence surfaces as soon as the church gains political power. When Church and State wed, Hell pays for the reception because the child of the union is Death.
The truth is that organized religion chokes on the teachings of Jesus. Early Christians referred to their faith at The Way. For them, the essence of this faith was internalizing Jesus’ teachings and actually living them. The Way included little annoyances like loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. (The Religious Right would have us believe that what Jesus actually said was turn the other’s cheek, with a fistful of knuckles.)
Living the Beatitudes is a pain in the ass, so it is easier for organized religion to get its knickers in a knot over evolution, same-sex marriage and sex in general.
The separation of church and state was not the brainchild of eighteenth century secular humanists. It was the creation of a clergyman, Roger Smith. The Puritans booted Smith out of Massachusetts because of his heretical beliefs. Based on his experience there and in England, Smith came to realize that nothing corrupted a religion faster than being made a state religion. Constantine destroyed The Way when he made it Rome’s official religion. So, in Smith’s view, the separation of the two was necessary to keep religion healthy and uncorrupted by the quest for political power. (The corrupted faith of the religious right becomes understandable when we remember that from the 1820s to the 1960s, a White, male-dominated Protestantism was the de facto state religion of America, and they want it back!)
The Way, once it frees itself from the corrupting influence of the state, is grounded in one of the world’s most misunderstood concepts: Christian love.
At the mention of Christian love, many people envision a white-robed maiden skipping through La-La Land with a beatific smile on her face.
It is anything but!
Christian love demands a descent into the deepest pit of Hell and a willingness to love every low-life son of a bitch one finds there, even though one’s knee-jerk reaction is to tear their freaking throats out. In Greek, Christian love is called agape and is defined as an attitude and not an emotion.
I am always amused by the religious right’s efforts to place the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Progressives missed a golden opportunity when Judge Roy Moore wanted blocks of granite with the Commandments engraved on them placed in the country’s courthouses.
What Progressives should have done was help him move the damn blocks. And when they were in place, a good Progressive would have mopped his brow, stepped back and said, “Damn, judge. Have you read these things? They’re little more than anti-capitalist tripe. Look at what they are telling us: don’t kill; don’t steal: don’t lie; don’t exploit. How in the hell can you run a multinational with this albatross around your neck? The Bible even inveighs against a return of investment!”
Being a renegade Christian means living the Tao of Christ. For the renegade, dogma is an irritant that is either shaken off or ignored. It also means understanding that the Bible is a repository of spiritual, not literal truth. As one contemporary theologian put it, “Everything in the Bible is true; some of it actually happened.” Such an approach is difficult for Americans because most of us are raised to be technicians. (I define technician to include everyone from a neurosurgeon to the front-end specialist at your local Buick dealer.)
The mantras we are brought up with are:
· Say what you mean!
· Get to the point!
· Don’t beat around the bush!
One word, one meaning, that was the doctrine we absorbed. Consequently, we choke on metaphors. So, when confronted with the Bible, it is an either/or choice: either it is all literally true, or it is all hokum. For the technician who believes, the Bible is a technical manual, and like all such manuals, it must be followed to the letter.
To the renegade Christian, God is the ground of Being whose qualities we will never know. Metaphorically, we might speak of Her as a person, but we run into trouble when we literalize that metaphor. God is too busy creating to “bless” anything, especially America (though such a belief is helpful if there are some natives to be slaughtered).
And, no! I am not one of those Christians who believe God is going to bail us out of the mess we’ve created simply because She gave us dominion over nature. According to the Bible, humanity’s dominion was brief; it lasted until Eve went apple picking. If you read God’s curse on Adam and Eve (Genesis, 3:14-19), it is obvious that humanity is stripped of its dominion and becomes just another derivative species.
God only promised Noah no more floods because the flood punished the earth and the earth was innocent (Genesis, 8:21). She said nothing about protecting us from self annihilation. The next Messiah could very well be a cockroach.
Nor was dominion restored to humanity after the flood. All God said was, “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth…” (Genesis, 9:2).
Granted, God has entered into numerous covenants with humanity. But the covenants were only in force as long as humanity loved God, didn’t kill, didn’t steal, didn’t lie and didn’t exploit.
The life span of the average Covenant can be measured in nanoseconds.
We are knee deep in an era of bile. These days, Christian love is too often extruded on a spittle spray of rage. There is anger, uncertainty and hard times. And yes, there is a lot of bitterness, despite the facile boosterism of our leaders. These same leaders, aided and abetted by a compliant media, would have us project this anger on those with skins darker than ours, be they immigrants or terrorists.
For the past sixty-plus years, fear and paranoia have driven America’s policies, both foreign and domestic. According to our leaders and their media lapdogs, danger lurks everywhere: in the food we eat, the air we breathe and the second-hand smoke we inhale, not to mention a multitude of germs, bacteria and exotic diseases. America, they tell us, is constantly under siege, first by commies and now by Islamofascist terrorists.
The first order of business for Progressives must be to challenge this atmosphere of fear and trembling. Those of us who dissent from our national paranoia must find the spiritual strength to stand up and proclaim that there is nothing to fear. For myself, I draw my strength from The Tao of the Christ, and from the Liberation Theology of Latin America. This is not for everybody, nor should it be. But it could well be that at some future date; it will be missionaries from Latin America who will teach us how to live a life in harmony with creation.
Tragically, there is no guarantee we will listen.