Obama 'n' Things
But I had to say this: A few days ago, Barack Obama made a plea for Democrats to become more comfortable with religion (speaking to a gathering of religious liberals) and, alas, the left wing of the lefty blogosphere went nuts. But here are two smart, reasoned takes on the entire speech, from Kevin Drum and Amy Sullivan.
However, neither of these authors, fine as they are, address much of what motivates the stridently anti-religious left. (I think this is because Kevin's not religious and Amy's a liberal Christian; the evangelical point of view is so assumed it's not considered.) As a member of this group---and one who used to be more strident---the problem is that about a third of American Christians (the ones who call themselves evangelical) are divisive, sectarian, don't know jack about historical Christianity or biblical analysis, don't care, and don't see a downside to spreading the faith, even if they take evolution, sex education, and homosexuality back to the first century in the process. So the problem with raising the subject of religion---and the reason, I think, that liberals do it so tentatively and defensively---is that with evangelicals around, the whole conversastion is always this close to turning into a screaming defensive slugfest.
Evangelical Christians have an extremely acquisitive approach to religion: they must own it. If there were a truth-in-advertising law that demanded it, I'd want all "Christian music" to be labeled "conservative evangelical music", every "Christian bookstore" to be called a "conservative evangelical bookstore," every "non-denominational church" to be called a "sectarian, more-religious-than-the-Methodists church" and so on. (And while we're at it, it sure would be nice if "Christian foriegn policy" were relabeled "Politics from people who actually believe there's going to be a magical antichrist killing Christians with a one-world government.") But evangelical Christians would never stand for it. They demand---absolutely demand---ownership of the most-authentic brand of Christianity. It is essential to their identity. And the second you raise a "discussion" about what Christianity is, they'll grab the ball with a deathgrip and keep it in their end zone under heavy guard. You can't have a "discussion" with someone whose religious worldview is designed to eliminate doubt about everything that's truly important.
By the way, I'm not saying evangelicals never doubt; I am saying that the things they express doubt about---such as the Lord's mysterious ways---are not a matter of much concern or fascination to them. They know God wants them to save souls and end abortion, and their experience of religion is that God is continually present in their daily lives and actions, and as a result their moral choices matter more than they do for other, less-spiritually attentive churches. When they're faced with a less practical, more airy conundrum like "is there a hell?" and "was Jesus God or man?" they leap immediately to the most extreme and practical position so they don't have to think about it further: some Bible quotes say hell exists, others don't, so they go with hell rather than call any single bible verse an error; if Jesus was God and man, then they interpret that to mean Jesus was basically God in a form that got tired and needed to eat. The other implications of Jesus's humanity---like the fact that he might not have always known what he was doing, or that he may have changed his mind or made errors or had the occasional erection---strike an evangelical as either absurd at best (why would you even THINK that? How does THAT help you learn right from wrong?) or dangerous at worst. The next time an evangelical tells you that they don't use faith as a crutch, take a swing at the crutch and see how fiercely protected they keep it. Doubt cannot escape.
To put it a little more bluntly, the diehard religious wing of our country has no idea how ignorant they are, or (for that matter) how to even have a conversation with someone who would like to make them see. And the leftist wing of the country doesn't realize that religion isn't something you can discuss with conservatives (unless you're preparing to be converted), and the middle range of the country thinks conservative evangelicals are just another form of Christian because they don't know enough history to see how recent, strange, and naive their interpretations of the Bible really are. (They claim to represent the "true" wing of Christianity, but there isn't a single stage of Christianity where American evangelical beliefs represent what was actually taught: the early church fathers believed Mary was a virgin forever; Luther believed in infant baptism; Calvin believed...oh, what's the use?)
Geez. This started as a quick post and I've gotten into a rant that has made me late for work. Arrgh! Let me just say, as I've said before and will say again, that we can never have a sane conversation about religion in this country until we also have widespread religious education---so that people would know, for example, that Revelation is a historical document and that when Paul talks about "the Scriptures" he doesn't actually have the New Testament in front of him; and that the church argued for years about the nature of Jesus and it didn't tear anything apart---and in the process of this education we could maybe, just maybe, force some humility into this arrogant, ignorant mindset the conservative evangelicals have. Then they'll be free to focus on what they DO know and accomplish some actual good.
I'm not sure I've said what I wanted to say, and no doubt I've irritated people. But bills must be paid, and I'm late late late. Dang.