Because of This
We've been hearing in the news lately how giving legal sanction to same-sex marriage would somehow be so damaging to the sacred "institution of marriage" that it simply cannot be allowed. In fact polls show that something like 57% of US voters would support a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. That is in itself the strongest argument I've ever heard for representative democracy. Just because people are eager to toss aside their religious freedom doesn't mean they should be allowed to do it.
What a depressing thought -- but, I can shake off the blues by picturing the thousands of couples standing joyously in the rain in San Francisco so they could get married! This is damaging to the institution of marriage? I don't see it. One couple I heard interviewed on NPR (that insidious purveyor of the "Homosexual Agenda") stayed on in San Francisco and actually became deputized, spending their honeymoon performing marriage ceremonies for other couples. Frankly, I thought the whole thing was a warm fuzzy, and my wife did too.
The gay marriage thing is one big "religion" story that has been in the news lately. The other, of course, has been the huge flap over Mel Gibson's movie. I have not seen The Passion of the Christ, and I probably won't see it. We have two young children and we seldom go to movies these days, and this subtitled bummer isn't something that is going to draw my eye on the DVD shelf. Be that as it may, I hear that many people think this movie is anti-Semitic. Maybe it is. But, to make a very serious matter as glib as I can: it has always seemed to me that "the Jews killed Jesus" because they were the ones who were given the chance to. If Jesus had been a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, then theyd've been blamed for killing Him. I believe that the "historical Jesus" matters for one reason only: to show that "the Son of Man" (which was always how Jesus referred to himself in the Gospels) really was a living human being. Jesus was neither just a legend nor a super-hero with super powers. Jesus was (is!) a regular flesh-and-blood human being who was (is!) -- in the deepest and truest sense -- really nobody special.
Well, that's how it seems to me, anyway -- but your mileage may vary, and that's OK with me. Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit, recently contributed the following exegetical summary (in defense of Gibson's work against the attacks of whining liberals):
Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity (as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of "kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed").... In fact, Jesus' distinctive message was: People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and this is your lucky day because I'm here to redeem you even though you don't deserve it, and I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it. That is the reason He is called "Christ the Redeemer" rather than "Christ the Moron Driving Around in a Volvo With a 'Be Nice to People' Bumper Sticker on It."
Coulter's tone (and what it may reveal about her inner demons) aside, she does the service of distilling a theology that (in my humble opinion) has done profound damage for centuries. It is seldom seen unadorned by the "sacred robes" of learned abstraction. Its message is that we don't deserve redemption; we never can. Loving one another is "incidental". Jesus Christ is the super-hero who has come to save the day. All we have to do is believe.
The utter simplicity of that position is comforting, I guess. But I find it hard to swallow. Could that be why heresy has always been punished with such vicious severity? When it comes right down to it, heresy is really nothing more than a theoretical argument. I mean, Ann Coulter may be a smart cookie and all (did you notice how she keeps saying "In fact..."?), but -- does anyone have perfect knowledge of God's will?
People whose position is harder to sustain -- because of sheer goofiness, deep-seated hypocrisy, long habit, or any number of reasons -- may feel drawn to become violent in their defense of it. I can't think of any other reason why it should matter so much that other people share one's religious view.
It might be worth mentioning that the world's great religious leaders have never been big on preaching. One of Lao Tzu's favorite sayings was "Knowers don't speak; speakers don't know." Legend has it that the only reason he even wrote his sayings down was that when he was traveling to the mountains to retire, the border guard, having heard he was a famous sage, wouldn't let him pass until he'd written a book. (What he wrote was quite short.) When it comes to Jesus, he did preach the Sermon on the Mount -- but only because something like five thousand people were following him around; he had to tell them something. And what he did tell them was short and simple: Blessed are the meek... blessed are the poor in spirit..." (Jesus was also rather critical of those devout Pharisees who stood loudly, proudly praying on the corner, pointing out that "They already have their reward.")
My sister-in-law usually hosts the family Thanksgiving dinner. Having learned of my embrace of Quakerism, she graciously suggested, a few years ago, that we add a silent moment before the meal. One family member, though, who is an Atheist, takes it upon himself to regularly disrupt the moment of silence with repeated announcements that he does not believe in anything even remotely resembling the power of prayer.
Each year I get angry, but I walk it off, and say nothing (except to my wife, who has come to expect the rant). I don't know why his theological position should have to be so rudely proclaimed, but that's his business. It would be nice if I could say it didn't bother me at all, but -- my faith could be stronger, too.
Human life, and human understanding, is limited. We can have absolute knowledge of nothing whatsoever. If it can't be stated in the form of a provable hypothesis, science won't touch it. God, if there is such a thing, is beyond our ken, beyond any way we have of "knowing for sure". We're all bozos on this bus.
Now, to me, that fact isn't threatening or depressing; it's a warm fuzzy. I wouldn't go so far as to say we're all Jesus -- sometimes we're all fearful, impatient, lazy, covetous, all of that -- but we all have that of Jesus in us. There is a capacity in each of us to be both the martyred and the martyrer.
It seems that there are two kinds of faith. One gets harder and harder to maintain, even to the point of killing those who disagree. The other gets stronger and stronger, until nothing in the world can threaten it. They asked Lao Tzu how he knew that what he was saying was true, and he said, "Because of this."
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?