Sometimes rolling your eyes just isn’t enough; sometimes you have to slam down the paper.
That fact alone makes me wish the news cycle of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley‘s inane comments on what constitutes “brothers and sisters” in a Christian context wasn’t on CNN.com. For one, I can’t slam my computer on the desktop. It harms my computer. Secondly, I fear more people read CNN.com than traditional papers nowadays. Which means there is one more example from the clowncar of the public Christian tumbling out.
But the fact that Governor Bentley doesn’t consider those who haven’t “accepted Jesus Christ as their savior” as a sibling doesn’t irk me half as much as the underlying theological claim. Namely, that somehow accepting (defined loosely) Jesus Christ (again, loosely defined) as a savior (again…well, you get the picture) has some sort of theological bearing.
Before you stone me, have a seat to analyze that statement.
First, what does it mean to accept something? Do you assent to it’s veracity? Is it a mental construction, much like I accept that the number 2 is Real, and yet can’t produce the number 2 purely?
Or is something only accepted when actions flow from its internalization, much like I accept that the fact that I have a goddaughter requires a response on my part to her faith life?
And if I accept a concept, how can I really tell if I have truly accepted it? That question alone leads me to my next point: which Jesus Christ?
Is it the “historical Jesus,” the 160lb Jewish guy who walked out of Galilee? Or is it the “Christ,” the a-sexual salvific presence that God has called us into communion with? Or is it, perhaps, the Jesus as purported to in various Scriptures who occasionally knows who he is, but more often does not? Is it the crazy Rabbi of John or the prophecy fulfiller of Matthew? Which Jesus?
And if we do arrive at which Jesus to accept, we must then contend with how this Jesus is a “savior” and from what this Jesus “saves.”
Sin might be an answer. But are we talking about the beautiful definition of Sin provided by Luther, this lovely navel-gazing, or are we talking about the sins of John Edwards (the theologian, not the politician…although perhaps the Edwards of the 18th Century might have a thing to say about the contemporary Edwards as well)? Or are we perhaps talking about communal sin?
And if so, are we discussing Substitutionary Atonement (which, by the way, is a theory to which Christopher Hitchens seems to think all Christians subscribe…yet another error in his “rational process”), or are we talking about a moral example, or…
You see, the point is, I don’t think Governor Bentley would consider us siblings. Because even if I were to say that I have “accepted Jesus Christ as my savior,” we would probably squabble over what it means to accept something, bicker over who this Jesus guy is (let alone how Jesus is the Christ), and blatantly disagree about what it means to be “saved”…half of my work has been saving people from being “saved.”
I say this not to provide a loophole for relativity, but rather to allow for complexity.
Governor Bentley talks of unification, he longs to have “brothers and sisters,” but only if they conform. He talks of unification, but paints a picture of divorce. Those who do not think as he thinks are cut off from him in a very real way. Where is the sibling nature of a shared humanity? Where is the sibling nature of a shared state of being?!
And divorce of this sort is dangerous. It’s fundamentalism.
It doesn’t take a radical jump from this type of thinking to a more extreme one. Bentley’s is one version from the theistic side, so let us look at an atheistic model. Consider this quote:
“I think the enemies of civilization should be beaten and killed and defeated, and I don’t make any apology for it. And I think it’s sickly and stupid and suicidal to say that we should love those who hate us and try to kill us and our children and burn our libraries and destroy our society. I have no patience with this nonsense.”
That is Christopher Hitchens from God is Not Great. It probably goes without saying that he considers a good bit of the population to be divorced from himself as well, not brothers or sisters, because they assent to something other than his definition of reason or science (both of which are narrowly defined).
Two sides of the same coin. Both turn my stomach.
Chris Hedges, in his work When Atheism Becomes a Religion, makes a great point concerning this coin. He writes,
“The blustering televangelists and the atheists who rant about the evils of religion are little more than carnival barkers. They are in show business, and those in show business know complexity does not sell. They trade cliches and insults like cartoon characters. They don masks. One wears the mask of religion, the other wears the mask of science. They banter back and forth in predictable sound bites. They promise, like all advertisers, simple and seductive dreams. This debate engages two bizarre subsets who are well suited to the television culture because of the crudeness of their arguments.”
Crudeness indeed. “Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.” “Accept Science and Reason as the answer to all of life’s mysteries.”
Both are as simple as can be…and both smack of divorce.
I’ve seen it in my own church as local congregations have splintered off into estrangement over sexual identity discussions. Obviously “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” isn’t quite enough…you must accept the Jesus that dislikes gays.
Brother Bentley, sit down.
Brother Hitchens, sit down.
As Martin Luther so wisely said, “We all have gods, it just depends on which ones.”
And with that, I’ll sit down as well.
Little Bunny Foo Foo
Hoppin’ Thru the Forest
Scoopin’ up the Field Mice
And Boppin’ ‘Em on the Head…
Mister Brother Foo Foo
Prancin’ in the Pulpit
Glarin’ at the Sinners
And Throwin’ ‘Em into Hell…
ahem. excuse me. you’ve caught me singing again.
A fusillade against a single definition or interpretation of Mr J. Christ. A barrage aimed at a simplistic univocity of salvation metaphors. Well taken, thank you sir, with ketchup, please. (NOW we know why the Guv has lost his marbles in claiming that he’s got useful criteria for figuring out who he’s related to… a bona fide paternity test!)
But don’t we all have our favorite boxes and categories into which we plunge all those around us? That one is acceptable, that one is not. That one is brother, that one is not. I like you, I like you not. Mmmm mmmm good. Yuck. Blech. Vomit.
So maybe the man (Mr Guv) wouldn’t consider himself your sibling. So what? That’s what’s cooking your noodle? Give him the Deranged Label and go do your own thing.
You go the extra mile to call him (Bentley) Brother, Brother Pastor Tim … but sometimes brothers slam each others’ heads into tables and other blunt objects before they laugh about it and get out the beer. Some of us have even lost quantities of brain cells in that fun process.
Here’s the issue that underpins Brother Pastor Tim’s uneasiness and near table-banging angst… a question so far only implied: what difference does it make if that one over there is or is not my brother or sister? It is a question of MY OWN ethical response to this somewhat arbitrary semantic distinction… Will I treat that person differently based on my own determination of their successful application and acceptance into the Brother/Sisterhood Program of Mr J. Christ?
That is, dare I be Christ to this one of whom I most certainly do NOT approve, though it inconvenience and even kill me?
For instance, Will I not invite them in for a meal? Will I still exploit humanity and horde my belongings? Will I still fatten myself until they have to hospitalize me … to the detriment of those who I claim are not my siblings? Will I do unto this one and that one as I would have them do unto me? Will I love my “neighbors” as I love myself? (Because isn’t this the same quandry about neighbors and Samaritans and beated up goons in a ditch?) Will I play favorites with the ones God has placed around me?
It comes to this -> each and every human being is, and is not, my/our “brother.” We do and will do evil and wonderful things to each other, as brothers do. We will disown and die for each other, as brothers do. We will betray and forgive each other, as brothers do. Most of my several billion siblings/neighbors/fellow wanderers, well, I will never meet them and I am sorry for it. And of those I meet, only a few will I ever know in a meaningful sense. I say this: May my own true Brother nature be manifest. I, for one, dare not don the aspect of Enemy or of Privileged Firstborn. What rights of primacy or privilege can I, chief among sinners, claim over my fellow men?
What concerns me is what concerns Brother Pastor Tim. There is a legitimate community which is in Christ. We call it Family, Brother and Sister. But these family relations are not funded by our own assessment and approval of each others’ ethics, personality and life/religion choices. (If you think that, may some of our naughtier siblings sneak up on you and give you a swirly for being snotty.) Christ-trusters call each other Brother and Sister because we are KNOWN BY our First Brother and thus are in a relation which can change everything. For instance, he is the one who does not point fingers. The one who throws no stones. He is the one who will submit to being innocently tortured to death alongside a guilty terrorist and consider it the greatest moment of his life… Our First Brother lets the rest of us know that this too is ok: there is nothing to fear in loving and serving our neighbors.
Unfortunately, that snotty Brother Pharisee and his snarky question plague Christianity today: “Well, just who is my neighbor… I mean, I can’t go around loving EVERYONE, right? C’mon Brother Jesus, you gotta let me hate and despise SOMEONE!!”
And with that, I’ll sit down as well, the Brothers’ Swirly Brigade are about to sneak up on me!
Very nice, tempted. Nicely (if not slightly snark-il-y) put.