July 23, 2014

Religion and Politics:
Christianity Today Op-Ed argues that nothing is more important than the Gospel, and in a roundabout way, I agree

It's not often that I agree with what I read on Christianity Today. The real problem is that I have become quite the militant atheist. From a believing-leaning agnostic to a solid atheist to a militant one...all in a few short months. Mmhm.

Anyway, I ran across this op-ed by Ed Stetzer, "Beware of Obscurantism", and while I may not agree with the letter of it, I certainly agree with the spirit of it. Stetzer has noticed a serious issue within Christianity: It has become so fraught with connotations in the minds of nonbelievers that it is obscuring its own message. Here's the main problem illustrated:

"I can't go to your church, I'm not a Republican." 
That was what a pastor friend of mine heard from a neighbor to whom he was reaching out. He eagerly replied, "You don't have to be!" to which his friend responded, "But everyone at your church is." 
That's hard to argue when it is true. 
So, why does that matter? Well, it matters in a way that might surprise you. You see, this is not a blogpost about politics, but about the gospel—and the need for it to be clearly understood.
Stetzler argues that nothing, not even your politics, is more important than the Gospel. I don't know about all that (actually I do, but what's the use in pointing out my feelings when you all already know them?), but I agree with the idea that the message of Christianity as I was taught it growing up is horribly obscured by modern Christians today.
For example, on Tuesday we touched on my view of prayer, and I pointed out one of the key battles that Christians are riled up about: the ability to pray in public. I also pointed out how that completely contradicts the actual teachings of Jesus Christ which they purport to follow. For realz, man, it's there. It's the red letters.

I see this in the current border crisis with the immigrant children. Fox News will fight the good fight for Christians everywhere, but in the next breath, they are demonizing these children. Didn't Christ say something about that? Ah, there it is, Matthew 19:14 (NIV):
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
And why did he feel the need to say this at all? Matthew 19:13 points out that he was rebuking his own followers:
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 
Consider the views that most of my Republican family espouse on the poor. They are lazy, and just need to get jobs. They aren't working hard enough. They only want to live off the system. No one would be poor if they would just work harder. Taxpayers shouldn't have to support them.

And yet, Christ himself ministered to the poor without judgement. So what does that say about Christians today when they assign such attributes to the less fortunate?

Let us not forget the characteristics in the Beattitudes of Matthew 5, either:

7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 
12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And yet none of these are characteristics that I, a believer turned nonbeliever, would assign to the majority of Christians that I know. In fact, I would see a believer who matched this criteria as an anomaly.

Stetzler says this, to drive his point home:
As Christians, we must be careful not to obscure the gospel for the sake of an idea or truth that is less important. Your view on the Affordable Care Act or the next election may seem important to you; but maybe it shouldn't reach the level where you need to post on it three times a day and question the motives of people on other side, particularly in the name of your faith.
You can go ahead and complain on Facebook about who shut down the government if you'd like, but you might just unknowingly shut down a much more important conversation.
 I think this applicable far beyond Christianity. I am a feminist and an atheist. Both of those groups are considered pretty despicable in this, my native country. Both of them share an incredible image problem, one aspect of which is that fringe representatives of the group tend to receive the most media exposure, while those of us that are fairly moderate are underrepresented, if we are lucky enough to be represented at all.

Now, you can argue--as I myself have in the past--that it's not our job to educate the public. It's not our job to make ourselves accepted. It's their job to be understanding of different views.

Unfortunately, that's not how people work.

I've been reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, and I am struck by one point: She consistently refers to The Subject and The Other. She points out that we have a tendency as humans to form cohesive units and groups--and as soon as we form a group, we unwittingly, intending to or not, set up a group that is Not Us. We immediately put ourselves in opposition to something else.

For many people of belief, when they see atheists represented only as anti-theists by people that have strong opinions on the subject of religion--and rightly so!--they then project their characteristics onto all members of that group.

Thus, all atheists hate religion, and all women hate men, when this isn't remotely true. I'm a feminist, and I love men--especially mine! ;)

And as an atheist? I absolutely acknowledge that I believe that religion does more harm than good on a grand scale. I absolutely avow that religion and government should be kept entirely separated. I personally choose to raise my children as far away from what I consider the negative influence of religion as I can. But I don't want to force people not to believe. I am open to dialogue, respectful and courteous, not because I have a vendetta against religion, but because I believe that everyone should think critically about everything. If you think critically about it, and determine that the evidence warrants your belief, then good for you--keep government secular, and I am happy.

I am reminded of the striking difference between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony and Stanton both found religion to be oppressive to women. There's indications that they were both nonbelievers (ample in Stanton's case) and yet, they each took different routes of espousing it. For Anthony, women's rights were her most important point, and she did not put her nonbelief into such a position that it would obscure that message. This was a choice on her part based on what she had seen of other atheists who were parts of causes.

All in all, I think "obscurantism" is a term we can co-opt for a variety of movements. Perhaps we would all benefit from sitting back, looking at how we are perceived and deciding if the things we commit to are worth losing the larger message.

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