confessions of a Christian Deaniac

…at the very core of Christianity, there is another dimension. When Christ dies, what dies with him is the secret hope discernible in “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”: the hope that there is a father who has abandoned me. The “Holy Spirit” is the community deprived of its support in the big Other. The point of Christianity as the religion of atheism is not the vulgar humanist one that the becoming-man-of-God reveals that man is the secret of God (Feuerbach et al.); rather, it attacks the religious core that survives even in humanism, even up to Stalinism, with its belief in History as the “big Other” that decides on the “objective meaning” of our deeds.
– Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet & The Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity

“[Republicans are] not very friendly to different kinds of people, they are a pretty monolithic party … it’s pretty much a white, Christian party.” – Howard Dean

It may surprise regular readers of my shrill, resentful rants to learn this, but I am a Christian. A very ordinary one, in fact. In spite of my various progressive-left social and political positions, I am not a theological liberal – none of the vague “Jesus was a wonderful moral teacher” stuff for me. Though I am an Episcopalian, Bishop Spong can keep all of his shiny “new Christianity for a new world” (which bears a striking resemblance to Unitarianism, except that our clergy have better compensation and retirement benefits; go figure). No, I’m the sort of crusty, unreconstructed Christian who can say phrases like “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made,” etc., without the slightest trace of PoMo ironic distance. I hold what used to be called a “high Christology”; I am a plain ol’ orthodox true believer in what I understand to be the faith once delivered to the Apostles by the Risen Christ.

Although my faith is no secret, it’s not something I make a brazen display of. There are a number of reasons for that. One of the biggest is that it prevents people from making a lot of stupid assumptions about me. The relationship between Christianity (let’s stop talking about “faith issues”, we all know exactly what we’re talking about) and the cultural-political realm is complex and heavily contested in this society. If you stake out a position on any given issue, you’re expected to join camp on a variety of other issues. And there are configurations of positions out there that make no damned sense at all.

To whit: people who are pro-life as a Christian position but also support the death penalty are deeply, hilariously, and stubbornly mistaken. They know better, but they still think the bastards deserve to fry. Cute, cuddly babies, on the other hand…. In short, the right has developed a pattern of responses that looks, in practice, like they believe that only the morally pure deserve to live. If they really think that, they have rejected the doctrine of original sin, as well as abrogated a huge chunk of God’s realm of jugement to themselves.

Anyway, that’s just one (obvious) example. There are many others. In short, letting people know that I’m a Christian seems to cause them to make assumptions that leave me disappointed in the lot of them, liberals and conservatives, Christians and secularists alike.

To my mind, my progressive politics are a natural consequence of my fairly conservative theology, not in spite of it. I have never understood the relationship between religious conservatives and the American Right, which holds a number of positions that are blatantly anti-Christian. Capitalism itself is utterly alien to the biblical worldview. But anyway, that’s a whole other…like….book or something.

The whole reason I brought this up is simply to say: When Howard Dean says that the Republican Party is a party of white Christians, we all know exactly who he’s talking about, and it’s not me. He’s not talking about the nice calm Episcopalians down the street. Everybody knows it.

He’s talking about Tim and Beverly LaHaye and their end-o-the-world cash cow used to fund right-wing wank tanks like Concerned Women for America. He’s talking about people who think that the Left Behind books are great literature. He’s talking about Rod Parsley and his “gospel of prosperity” (a.k.a. Mammon worship). He’s talking about cynical power-brokers like Ralph Reed and Tom DeLaye. He’s talking about the jackasses forcing public schools to teach the Church’s doctrine of creation as science. He’s talking about all these blowdried loudmouthed peckerwoods pounding on their lucite pulpits in their tacky generic stadiums with names like “Family Life Worship Praise Ministry Center”. He’s talking about the freaks dressed like Nazis and the Grim Reaper holding confederate flags outside of Terri Schaivo’s hospice.

He’s talking about every jackass you’ve ever sat next to on an airplane who engaged you in conversation that seemed pleasant enough until he/she got around to asking if you “know the Lord”.

Everyone knows who he was talking about, even the right-wing screamers who are getting all lathered up for another bout of OUTRAGE!!! at Dean for daring to state what is obvious to everyone.

We’re all tired of them too. While it is a fact that a large majority of Americans are Christians, it is also true that the hardcore so-called “evangelical” kulturkamph types make up a minority. It may be a sizeable minority, but it’s a minority nonetheless, and the fact remains that most Americans are religious moderates who value the separation of church and state as much for the protection of the churches as for the protection of the state. Most Americans want their kids to spend their time in high school science classes preparing for college science classes.

Most importantly, most Americans understand on a visceral level that the liberal democracies of the western world lean toward secular governments for a reason; we value the lessons encapsulated in liberal polity, lessons learned in centuries of bloody wars of religion in Europe. We need not repeat those mistakes.

Although it would appear that some among us would like nothing better. I stand against them. So does Howard Dean. Perhaps he could have chosen his words more carefully. But because he’s one of the very few Democratic Party leaders who seem to actually perceive the threat we face on the cultural level, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

You should too.

No matter how innocuous and well-intended they may seem, the theocrats will be the undoing of our democracy. Their politics are as unreasonable as their theology is unfounded. There arrogance is repugnant. Their pride is precisely the sort that “goeth before the fall”. Nothing could be further from my vision of America. Perhaps more to the point, nothing could be further from my experience of the Christian life. Jesus wasn’t looking to build a Christian nation; most American Christians aren’t either.

Let me close with an image of the Christ these Republicans seem never to have met.

Here is Jesus, after Easter. Here’s the Lord of all creation, the One who triumphed over not only his own death, but the very principle of death and finitude, opening forever the gates of life. Here he is, meeting his friends.

Jesus came and stood among them and said , ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

John 20.19b-20a

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2 Responses to “confessions of a Christian Deaniac”

  1. Tim Says:

    Great posting Res, came accross it just googling something else, but am glad I did…you’ll see I posted excerpts of your post over at my blog, http://talkingdonkeys.blogspot.com

    Happy to keep checking out your blog…

    Tim

  2. blue girl Says:

    Res,

    Love this:

    “Capitalism itself is utterly alien to the biblical worldview. But anyway, that’s a whole other…like…book or something.”

    And also because you used “to whit” —
    Anyone who uses “to whit” — is awesome in my…like…book.

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