Friday, April 27, 2007

We Deserve It

Slate Magazine is publishing excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens' is the latest in a series of vitriolic, over-the-top-rhetoric, anti-religious (more specifically anti-Christian; more specifically anti-contemporary-American-Evangelicalism) books that are becoming best-sellers and answering a desperate need in the American public conversation.

The text lays out all the bad things that belief in God supposedly brings about (most of which Christians of all stripes would do well to attend). But the book isn't written to convert the religious right. It is written to be read by the angry middle - the vast majority of Americans (both Christian and secular) who feel Christianity has become a firebrand for backwards thinking and retrogressive policies. These books, Hitchens' included, are a chance for mainstream Americans to imagine someone taking a public stance and railing against the excesses of extremist Christianity, a Christianity that tries to play itself as THE Christianity.

Some Christians might be surprised or feel affronted by the recent upsurge in these kinds of publications and conversations. To me, it is no surprise, and is in fact long overdue.

What these writers signal, and the need they are answering in American society, is the public outcry against extremist Christian rhetoric and images being employed almost exclusively by the political extreme right in an attempt to provide a national cover for outrageously retrograde policies. These writers are fundamentally not reacting to religious belief in the United States; they are reacting to the abuse of power and the public harm done under the banner or in the name of religious extremism. Frankly, I don't think these books would sell half as well if radically-conservative Christianity didn't have its fingers on the triggers and hands on the purse-strings of the nation. And for decades now, average Christians like you and me, progressive thinkers moved by the gospel to imagine a more fair and just and loving world, have done little to stem the political advance of radical rightists.

We deserve this backlash. We deserve to be called out on the inconsistencies of our faith claims. If we have been unwilling to speak out against the abuse of power and gospel-coated language of our Christian brothers and sisters, then we deserve to be associated with their barbarity and backwardness. If we are unwilling to publicly and ardently advocate for the elimination of poverty as we are moved to by our faith, if we are unable to stand up against violence on a local and national scale as we are compelled to by our experience of God's Love, then we deserve to be counted among those who perpetuate and expand poverty, among those who glory in and elevate violence. If our Christian conviction is milquetoast, then we have no right to protest the legitimate grievances leveled against all believers.

Most of the protests raised by Hutchins in the selections printed by Slate don't apply to me personally, politically or theologically. But I am a Christian, and all those noteworthy criticisms are part of my inheritance. I stand condemned, as a member of a community (the world communion of Christians) who have failed the world so tremendously for so long. We deserve to be called on the carpet by the likes of Hitchens and others.

I just wish that more Christians would read these texts. I wish they could read them for what they are: not so much theological arguments, but legitimate grievances grounded in a feeling of profound betrayal by a community that claimed to love and instead hated, by a people who praised peace and instead built endless war, by a Church that lifts up the poor in scripture but does little to lift up the poor in the streets, by a tradition that taught open arms to the oppressed and unloved and at the same time refused to open their arms to the unloved in their midst.

Americans have been dealing with hypocritical Christianity for hundreds of years. Finally, we're fed up with it. I stand on both sides of the argument, slinging venom and hurt, and being on the receiving end, too. I doubt I'm the only one.

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  • WoW!! I must read this book. It sounds like a "horizon expanding event". It's also a very scary thought for as I read your post, I wonder how much of myself I would discover in that book.

    The good news is that we have been challenged, if you will, to go against that grain. "Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God". D&C 163:3b.

    By Blogger Mike, at 8:43 PM  

  • The one place I could never live again would be the American South. Oh boy, those people are blindly conservative and incredibly xenophobic. I'm not talking about the people in the church I served (they were fairly calm and broad-minded), but about the general population that I'd have to deal with on a daily basis.

    The worst experience, though, was not in the South but in the Southwest. Northwest New Mexico is SO conservative that no matter what Bush says or does, he is right and everyone else is wrong and going to hell for not supporting him. In that area, the church also was infected with the nasty, xenophopic conservativism I'm talking about.

    By Blogger Adam Gonnerman, at 11:36 AM  

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