Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Just Keep Going!

Every time I question the utility of Christianity entirely, or at least of the Protestant Reformation, someone gives me pause.Now, I'll never agree that the government should dole out money to religious groups. I'll never agree that politicians should stamp their feet and thump their Bibles to grab a few more votes. I'll never agree that the Establishment Clause is not precisely what it is: A protection of all beliefs against the tyrrany of one constructed by the spiritual, but avowedly non-dogmatic, framers.

However, my belief in the good works that Christianity can effect in this nation is renewed. Indeed, I can even imagine the proper place for religion within the political arena. No, we should not be using religion to legislate. We should not quote Psalms as evidence of right and wrong.

Religion, though, does offer a motivation and an explanation of deep, universal moral principles. We did not need Christ to learn we should love our neighbors, but he was a charismatic and effective advocate of the principle. That is, Christianity can frame secular ethics in a manner that can be appreciated by the religious masses.

Advocacy, then, that relies on religion to explain and demand the maintenance of certain basic, uncontestable values of humanity can be effective and healthy for the American political arena.

What has renewed my confidence in the religious? What has given me pause? A couple of weeks ago I saw John Hill, Program Director for Economic and Environmental Justice for the United Methodist Church, on television. He was discussing the Church's latest campaign against the Bush tax cuts as immoral in their bias against the poor.

I was confused.

Could it be that a religious organization was not obsessed with shoving beliefs down people's throats? Could it be that these people genuinely wanted to help the less fortunate, and not at the end of a Bible at that?

I was shocked.

But as I read more about the United Methodist Church General Board of Church & Society, I realized that yes, a religious organization finally sat down and THOUGHT! The purpose of religion should not be to propagate itself as a social institution, but to do good and offer guidance to those who want and need it. Here is an organization that pursues environmental regulations, socioeconomic justice, equality for all--including the LGBT community, and the sort of liberalism that seeks no less than a more humane world and a more humane humanity. I don't agree with the Church's statements that religion should permeate every aspect of life, but I see that their political campaigns do not reek of the same sort of ideological chauvinism that the evangelicals I mentioned in the preceding post employ.

The UMC's driving force might be religious, but it is using that energy to promote beliefs and goals of tolerance and acceptance and the enhancement of life--Things that all of us, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Tao, Shinto, atheist, agnostic, etc., etc., etc., can agree upon. They do not find the fodder for their political existence in the tiny details of the Bible or the exclusivities of Christianity, but in that which binds us all and, by extension, is most important of all.

This marriage of religion and politics, but not religion and state, is exciting to me, and relatively new. This is the way it should be done. This is what religion and piety and a faith in a higher, benevolent Power should be about.

Why is it not clear to everyone?

Just Stop!

Please. I am not Christian, but for years, I used to think nothing of receiving the greeting "Merry Christmas" or even of giving it. Christmas, to me was once a holiday about family, charity, community, Saint Nick, and some nifty presents. "Happy Holidays" was a fine alternative, but "Merry Christmas" served me all right.

Now, though, the evangelists have sent out their militia of vicious, angry, malicious marauders to crucify every business, every school, every person who chooses not to say "Merry Christmas." The heathenous masses of the United States have conspired to kill Christmas. Sensitivity for other religions and other beliefs is not only unnecessary, but it is sinful. Secularism is the calling of the damned; tolerance is the whisper of Satan himself. Thus, "Merry Christmas" is no longer a cheery greeting, it is the rallying cry of a bitter minority not of the oppressed, but of the empowered. The evangelists--I utter the phrase and spit to remove the taste from my mouth--the evangelists have claimed their recent advances not as ephemeral shifts of wind, but as mighty gales to propel their ship of unfaltering, unforgiving conviction to Providence.

Yet, it is not just this. They are clearly uneasy with their newfound power. They proclaim a victory, but cannot help but expressing their continued persecution. What we have here, folks, is a group so inundated with delusions of victimization that it cannot come to grips with the oppression that it continues to propagate. Decade after decade, oblivion has justified the injustices of the evangelicals. This "Merry Christmas" business is small potato.

But it's soured me. Every time someone on television or in a store or on the street says "Merry Christmas," I feel disgusted. I associate the phrase and everyone who utters it with the sort of divisive, self-righteous, self-pitying individuals who have made this holiday so ugly. And I don't like that. I don't like treating this simple salutation with such disdain, but it's been transmogrified into something more than just a salutation. It is a religious and political statement from a band with the strength of immense influence and the motivation of immense fear.

So I can't even say Merry Christmas. Not only that, we've all latched on this mighty issue of the day and age and have forgotten the real battles that might have been fought. Churches spent money picketing Federated Department Stores--We must live in a world without hunger, pain, poverty, and suffering. Surely, religious organizations might toss their coins at better causes than disgruntled mania. Oh, but I forgot--The inferiority complex of the evangelicals leaves them feeling more sorry for themselves than for the destitute. Their political capital, on the other hand, affords them both the confidence and agency to strike down those from whom they feel the threat.

Because I really am less powerful than them, I am left no other option but to beseech them: Please, next Christmas, can we love each other first?