Tuesday, March 15, 2005
They just don't get it: Over the past few weeks, there's been example after example of liberal pundits/commentators offering their insights on the psyche of conservatives -- specifically Christian conservatives.
Actually, there's been little insight and a lot of foolishness.
It began in earnest when a speech given by former PBS "newsman" Bill Moyers was reproduced as an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious.
As it later turned out, the Watt quote was bogus. But, of course, any one of those wacky Christians who goes to church every Sunday could've told you that's not the sort of thing they believe. There's that whole call to be good stewards of what we've been given -- which includes the Earth first of all.
Moyers must be much better-read than me, because I've never heard any Christian pastor preach that cutting down trees would hasten Christ's return.
It continued last week with a particularly blinkered piece by William Thatcher Dowell in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Made-in-America Wahhabism: The Christian right is our own brand of extremism."
Dowell uses the Ten Commandments cases before the Supreme Court as a cudgel to bash conservative Christians.
That is just the kind of debate that has been responsible for religious massacres through the ages. It was, in fact, the mindless slaughter resulting from King Charles' efforts to impose the Church of England's prayer book on Calvinist Scots in the 17th century that played an important role in convincing the founding fathers to separate church and state.
The current debate, of course, has little to do with genuine religion. What it is really about is an effort to assert a cultural point of view. It is part of a reaction against social change, an American counter-reformation of sorts against the way our society has been evolving. Those pushing to blur the boundaries between church and state feel that they are losing out - much as, in the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalists fear they are losing out to "Western values."
Wahhabism is the official Islamic sect of Saudi Arabia. The state-run religion. And McDowell somehow believes that conservative Christians want a similarly intolerant state-run religion here? Dowell's ignorance is mind-boggling. A desire to halt the eradication of religion from the public square is not even remotely similar to enshrining an official religion.
And let's not forget to whom exactly Dowell is likening Christians. Wahhabists have this "thing" for executing anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion. They have "morals" police who drive girls back into a burning building because their heads aren't covered. They encourage disaffected young men that the their ultimate goal in life can be achieved by flying jetliners into buildings -- killing thousands.
The Christian right is equally prone to selective interpretations of Scripture. In its concern for a fetus, for example, the fate of the child who emerges from an unwanted pregnancy gets lost.
This is something that I hear tossed out so often, and it's so untrue. But it makes people like Dowell feel better about themselves, so they continue to repeat it. I've known women who've gotten pregnant out of wedlock and decided to have the child. They're not forgotten by the church. I led a Bible study for a couple of years with a woman who works as a social worker, placing drug-addicted babies -- the ones that no one supposedly wants -- with Christian families.
Some fundamentalists are even ready to kill those who do not agree with them, or at least destroy their careers.
I must've missed all of those videos on the Internet where Christian fundamentalists have some poor liberal kneeling on the floor in front of them and then pull out a knife and saw the poor chap's head off.
And "destroying careers"? Yeah, I've heard about that sort of thing happening.
It's pretty obvious that Dowell too has not done his homework. His "reporting" is little more than a repetition of some sort of liberal caricature of people of faith.
Dowell closes his piece with a practice common to those who use the Bible as a sort of smorgasboard of debating points. He picks and chooses verses to support his political beliefs, without regard to the larger whole.
The fact is that, as St. Paul so eloquently put it, "now we see through a glass darkly." Men and women interpret the deity, but they are only human and, by their nature, they are flawed. In that context, isn't it best to keep our minds open, the Ten Commandments out of our public buildings or off our governmental lawns and to lead by example rather than pressuring others to see life the way we do?
As Christ once put it, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
Because we are not yet perfect, we mustn't judge others seems to be the Bible according to Dowell. I hate to toss Dowell in with the Biblically illiterate, but the two verses before the one he closes with are important.
Matthew 7:1-2: Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
As Christ makes clear later, this is a warning against hypocrisy, not a prohibition against stating what is right and what is wrong.
Dowell wants religion, specifically Christianity, silenced and out of the public square. But what does the Bible have to say about that? Maybe Dowell should look up: "Light, bushel."
And the lecturing continued this week from Gregg Easterbrook over at The New Republic.
If what Jesus maintained is true, when a person of good heart dies, the person's soul goes to bliss everlasting. Mourning might be appropriate for the person of good heart who dies young or by violence. But when a righteous person dies of old age at the end of a full life, there is no reason to weep. In fact, it's a joyous event.
Unless, of course, Christianity is not true. I dread the likely outpourings of mourning for the end of John Paul II's physical life, because there would be cause to mourn only if Christianity is a lot of superstitious hooey. The Vatican itself may stage some of the mourning for John Paul II, and in effect say to the world, Hey, none of us really believes this stuff. Thinking back to the most recent big-deal funeral, I was dismayed by the degree of solemn bereavement when Ronald Reagan died of natural causes in old age. Reagan was a Christian. If his faith is true there was nothing to feel bad about; he is now reunited with his daughter Maureen, his worldly pains are forever forgotten, and his mind is eternally restored. The glum, funereal procession of Reagan's casket, the grave mood at his official memorial, all seemed to say, Hey, none of us really believes this Christian stuff. Any solemn mourning for any good-hearted Christian who dies peacefully in old age seems to say the same thing.
Easterbrook, like so many others have a tendency to do, has set up a litmus test for true faith. If you are a Christian, no crying at funerals for old fogies -- otherwise you are obviously not faithful enough.
Ross Douthat does an excellent job of correcting the wayward Easterbrook.
Is it really any wonder that the media is so distrusted by so many Americans? Through ignorance or malice, time and time again, newspapers, magazines, and television news caricatures and distorts the deeply-held beliefs of so many Americans.
Newsrooms need more diversity -- the kind that isn't just skin deep.