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.