So, the Butcher and I are watching snippits of the repeat of the inauguration on CSPAN last night (we are also flipping to CSPAN-2 to watch snippits of Kennedy’s inauguration, but that’s neither here nor there except to point out that my Politics Bar is indeed a genius idea.) and we ended up watching the benediction given by Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Pastor Caldwell’s words, and I’m still struck by how profoundly funny the whole thing was. His prayer, and then the whooping and clapping afterwards, as if no one had really heard one thing he said. So, it’s funny because it’s so tacky to clap and whoop at a prayer, and, for a group like that to not understand that you end a prayer in a quiet “amen” or “me, too, Lord” or some other respectful gesture, and not as if you’ve just heard a paean to your team’s mascot, shows you a lot about their “nuanced” religious beliefs. And it’s funny because, if the things Pastor Caldwell prayed for were to come to pass, this country would be a whole lot different in ways that would leave a lot of folks confused and outraged.
Which got me thinking about the separation of church and state. Really, this is for the benefit of both parties, but both parties refuse to see that. The state wants Christians to feel as if their will is being done in the government because Christianity is the majority religion and, if Christians were to decide that they didn’t like how things were going, they could radically change things. The Christians, afraid of the ways they see secular culture degrading (though we could have a nice long talk about whether that was true), see wielding influence in Washington as the way to stave off or turn back the effects of the secular world.
But here’s what most Christians don’t get: capitalism and our military-industrial-lobbyist-rich people republican (and I mean republican in the sense that we are a republic) way of being in the world are utterly incompatible with the teachings of Christ.
The main way powerful church leaders keep their flock oblivious to this (in order to keep enjoying the power and privilege that they have) is two-fold. One is to promote the “you can be rich as the result of being a good Christian” two-level pyramid scheme that keeps them wealthy. If you don’t go to a church like this, you can see it with the televangelists, who have this marketing gimmick down to an art. It is just what it sounds like, the promise that, if you put this god first and truly love him (and give generously to the church), he’ll give you prosperity. The other goes hand in hand with the first, and that is to promote a “literal” interpretation of the Bible–to preach that everything in the Bible is true and that you can’t pick and choose which things you’re going to follow.
[As an aside, I’m just going to point you to section five of this website for a kind-hearted refutation of the nonsense that anyone in America takes the whole Bible literally. Every single Christian is picking and choosing what he or she thinks is right, and everyone is basing his or her beliefs on his or her interpretation of what the Bible means, not what it says.]
So, these church leaders (obviously, I’m not talking about all church leaders, or I’d be revealing these secrets to you from the yacht I got from my dad.) promote a way of living, this Prosperous Christianity, that seems to be in direct contradiction with the teaching of Jesus and they justify it by arguing that you can’t pick and choose which things in the Bible you’re going to believe, so if the Old Testament says that giving your first fruits to your god will mean that your god will make you wealthy, then, somehow, that’s as true as Jesus saying that it’d be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Of course, though, once you call yourself a Christian, you’re indicating that you’ve chosen a specific way to interpret the Bible. You’ve chosen to believe that everything you read in the Old Testament is pointing to and leading up to the arrival of Jesus and that Jesus, as the son of your god, is the culmination and fulfillment of your god’s promise to his chosen people, of which you are one.
Though it doesn’t always work in practice, what it means is that you believe that Jesus trumps everything else in the Bible. If there’s a Psalm that might lead you to believe that personal wealth indicates that your god loves you especially, you need to check that against what Jesus says, who doesn’t seem to be so keen on incorporating moneymaking and religious living (check out the money changers in the Temple and his advice on rendering unto Caesar).
This, for some reason, is a radical notion–checking everything else you read in the Bible against what Jesus says and the example he sets–but there it is, a relatively straightforward way to judge when you should follow the other stuff in the Bible and when you can ignore it as historical detritus. I mean, my god, Jesus spends the vast majority of his ministry lambasting the Pharisees for their slavish devotion to the letter of the law and their utter neglect of the people around them (see Luke 11:37-53 for one of Jesus’ more cutting rants.).
And yet, how many Christians do we know who justify their treatment of their spouses and children, their bigotry against homosexuals, or their screwed up attitudes towards “race mixing” (Bob Jones University!!!), or their vast personal fortunes, or whatever through pointing us to the relevant passages in the Bible?
So, I have to ask myself, who benefits from Christians placing as much, or more, importance on, say, the rules in Leviticus or Paul’s personal hangups, than on Jesus’ own words and actions? Is it the government, who by throwing Christians a bone by discriminating against homosexuals, gives them the illusion that they have real influence in Washington? (You argue that Christians do have real influence in Washington? Then ask yourself this: Jesus says you should take all you have and give it to the poor. Could you get your representatives or senators to even sponsor a bill that would take everyone’s wealth and evenly distribute it? I thought not.)
Or is it the powerstructure of the Church who benefits from it by showing parishioners that they have more influence in society than they actually do?
It’s weird, but clearly both the Church and the State benefit a great deal from playing up the importance and influence of “Christianity,” while downplaying and defusing the importance and influence of their Christ.
You’d think Christians wouldn’t stand for that. You’d think Christians might, perhaps, be deeply offended when a bunch of obscenely wealthy bureaucrats who had little regard for the meek and the poor in their own country hauled Jesus out at every opportunity and cheered–cheered, people–as his name was used to invoke their (the Christians’) god into blessing them (the government types); that they might see it as akin to the Satanists who read the Lord’s Prayer backwards and design their whole proceedings around twisting the Catholic Mass into a form they find most perverse.
But no, rather than eyeing any government use of religion suspiciously, as would be wise, instead of really asking themselves “What would Jesus Do?,” they seem to be glad that so many clergy are asked to show up to things like this.
It boggles the mind.