Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ammunition for the Culture War

A guy like Clyde Birch knows he can just roll in, latch on, and ride our town right into international headlines.
And it's not just the right wing assholes.
Every leftie, atheist "progressive" is just waiting for a scientific explanation for Revival Day so they can do a little dance on the grave of organized religion.
We let them keep this up, and we're gonna have Ted Nugent and the Dixie Chicks playing dueling benefit concerts on Highway 51.
The riot we saw today is gonna look like a bar fight compared to the shit we're gonna have to deal with if this escalates.
I hate to say it, Mayor. I do. But we're not people anymore. We're ammunition for the culture war.
-Revival # 8
by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

 Faith versus science. Religion versus secularism. Sacred versus profane. Batman versus Superman.

Sorry. I got carried away there.

Christians are constantly told that we are at war. We are in a culture war and the elitist media and entertainment industries are forcing godless, blasphemous content down our throats! We must stop them! We must fight them! We are at war!

No we're not.

At least we shouldn't be. This isn't a battle we should be fighting. But saying that doesn't make for good television. The people who insist that we are waging a culture war do it because it gets good ratings, attention, and popularity. And we think they are good, brave Christians for bringing these appalling instances of pop cultural depravity to our attention. But they do it with such vitriol and enthusiastic hate towards their perceived enemy. And there is nothing Christian about that.

Constantly on TV, on the radio, and from behind the pulpit Christians are being told about our horrible cultural enemies: the liberals, homosexuals, Muslims, socialists, hippies, drunkards, pornographers, Albanians, left-handed people, and so on. The world is full of terrible, terrible people who all want to hurt and destroy us and prevent us from worshiping God. And these so-called Christian authority figures tell us all of this with shouting and yelling and sickening animosity.

Why do we let them do this? Why do we listen to them?

That isn't preaching the love of Christ. That is fear-mongering.

I believe it is completely possible to have a discussion about people that are different from us without succumbing to a shouting match. I believe it is even possible to have a discussion with such people that is courteous and polite. Isn't that a novel idea?

Whatever happened to having a calm dialogue? I know, it sounds like I'm reminiscing about the good ol' days. But I know that's bull. Really, there is probably more honest, open, and polite dialogue about religion happening right now than ever before. Many people engage in such acts every day. The problem is that doesn't receive anywhere near the amount of attention as the bombastic personalities on TV and radio.

When I was in high school I became friends with an atheist. Well, if pressured, I'm sure he would have said he was agnostic, but this was high school and nobody knew what agnostic meant. Anyway, I grew up in a church going family and, though I feel I didn't broadcast it loudly, my faith tended to surface in my daily school life, as it probably should. At some point, and I don't remember when or how, the topic of our beliefs came up and we began to talk. Soon we began to talk a lot. But it was never antagonistic. And neither of us really attempted to convert the other to his way of thinking. Instead, I think we just really appreciated being able to engage in a dialogue of different views without each of us stonewalling by shouting the same oft repeated bumper sticker catch phrases.

And this was not some serious, planned out forum of communication. We were just friends that talked, as friends do, and this just happened to be what we frequently talked about. Pretty sure we also talked about Star Wars. Anyway, other students caught wind of our conversations and, at one point, some kids approached us and asked if we would hold some sort of formal debate. We declined, for we were not debating. We were not trying to win an argument. We weren't even having an argument.

Can you imagine if such understanding discussions played out on the 24 hour cable news networks? How different would it frame our perspective on this so-called war?

Unfortunately, my friend and I did not grow up to be on Fox News or MSNBC. We didn't get gigs on talk radio or pastoral positions in mega churches. Instead we listen to the jackasses who assumed those roles and spew hate and fear at each other with the littlest (and sometimes manufactured) provocation.

And here is where I turn this on its head. I'm wrong. No, I'm not wrong about the faux culture war. I am wrong about how I am treating these popular fear-mongers that I am rallying against. I have resorted to the same vitriol and name calling tactics that they employ. And that is not preaching the love of Christ, either.

Do you want to know why we, as Christians, are not in such a war? Because the people we are supposed to hate, whether they be liberals, gays, or in this case the religious right, are not our enemies. We don't have enemies. We have neighbors.

Remember the Golden Rule? Remember that love your neighbor as yourself thing? Remember how Jesus repeated it and said that on this and the commandment to love God "hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40)?" This is the inseparable whole of Christianity. 

But we don't do this. We place so much emphasis on loving God and expressing that through our own moral superiority. And then we attack anyone who doesn't exhibit that morality. And somehow we have convinced ourselves that this is correct Christian behavior and correct Christian attitude.

Remember what Spider Jerusalem said about that Christian attitude you've got there?

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35

This is possibly the most damning indictment of Christianity ever uttered.

Why do I consider this such an indictment? Because we don't follow it. Because by this criteria few of us would be considered a disciple of Christ. Certainly not the preacher on TV shouting his condemnation upon people he doesn't like. And certainly not me for writing such crass attacks against the preacher on TV. Clearly I am not above my own rebuke here. I must learn to love my neighbor as much as anyone else.

However, the likely retort will be, "But we must speak out against immoral behavior!" I'm not saying you must condone sin or even just behavior you don't like. If you don't like smoking, you don't like smoking. But you still must love the smoker. That doesn't mean rubbing your non-smoking superiority in their face constantly. It means actually treating them, shockingly, as you would treat yourself and as you would wish others to treat you.

But what if they're gay?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're a drug addict?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're Muslim?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're a Democrat?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're a Republican?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're a pastor?
Love your neighbor.

But what if they're that little kid that lives down the street and throws a baseball at my truck every time I drive past?
Love your neighbor.

What if they're a drunk?
Love your neighbor.

What if they work for Fox News?
Love your neighbor.

What if they work for NPR?
Love your neighbor.

What if they work for the 700 Club?
Love your neighbor.

What if they watch the 700 Club?
Love your neighbor. (Love you, Grandma!)

What if they're an ex-significant other?
Love your neighbor. (Crap.)

What if they're mean to me first?
Love your neighbor.

Wait, wait. Am I saying that our response to every situation should be to love our neighbor? Yes, I am saying I agree with Rabbi Hillel. "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary; go and learn it."

This seems impossible and ridiculous and potentially makes us very vulnerable. It is and it does. This is the absurd, downright stupid, love of Christ. John D. Caputo calls this the madness of the kingdom. The love for others, especially The Other, the ones who disagree with us and that worldly criteria would deem as our enemies, is the hallmark of Christ's love and should be the sign of Christian faith.

The divinity that shows through Jesus consists not in a demonstration of might but in a complete reversal of our expectations culminating in the most stunning reversal of all. It is the centerpiece of all this madness, the one that makes as little sense as possible from the point of view of worldly common sense, the most divine madness of all: love your enemies. The key to the kingdom is to love those who do not love you, who hate you, and whom you, by worldly standards, should also hate. That is exactly the madness that a deconstructive analysis of love would predict. Loving the lovable is entirely possible, but loving the unlovable, those who are impossible to love, that is when the kingdom reigns.*
Imagine how different the state of Christianity would be if we actually acted like this, or, at least, actually attempted to exhibit such impossible love. Instead of yelling about culture wars and identifying who our enemies are, the preachers and talking heads on TV should be imploring us to love one another. And if they are not doing that, then why are we listening to them?

Maybe if we did this we might be open to calm discussions with those different from us. And we both might learn something from each other. There's certainly a higher chance of that happening over a polite cup of coffee than a shouting match on national TV. If you want to win some supposed culture war, don't fight a culture war. Love your neighbor and see what happens. I mean, mainstream Christianity has tried just about everything else.

Before I end I just want to reiterate that I am not above reproach when it comes to this subject. I am probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to not loving my neighbor. I mean, as I pointed out above I even failed to love my neighbor while writing a post about loving my neighbor. You know, maybe, just maybe at the very least we could apply the Wil Wheaton Law and just not be dicks to one another. Imagine a world where Christians weren't dicks to everybody.

Now that I think about it that's probably just a more colloquial version of the Golden Rule.

The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

*John D. Caputo. What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Kindle Locations 1001-1005). Kindle Edition. 

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