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Tuesday, July 31, 2007
(10:33 AM) | Stephen:
I Am Not The Faith

In comments to this post by Ezra, I said that the only good strategy for debating anything with Libertarians is to not debate them at all, because their political and economic views are fundamentally insane. Another commenter then introduced the standard Libertarian critique of liberalism, which is that liberalism is really the crazy philosophy, because moonbat liberals want to have the government mandate $80,000/yr salaries for everyone, therefore making everyone rich by government fiat.

When called out on it, he of course backtracked - because the only people who make the argument for $80,000/yr salaries are crazy Libertarians setting up a straw man - and started to talk about how not every Libertarian is completely freaking insane. In fact, he asserted, it's because Libertarianism is a fringe movement that it attracts the loopy and nutty.

Which is silly, of course. Libertarianism is a fringe movement because it consists of a bunch of whackjobs desperately trying to make their crazed rantings palatable for the general public. At the very best Libertarians are massively self-centered to the point of delusion; a Libertarian can be educated at public schools, take advantage of grants, scholarships and low-interest loans for college, work in an industry that was started and is still somewhat dependent upon governmental programs - IT is lousy with Libertarians - and go to bed each night smugly assured that they're "self-made," that they got where they are by dint of hard work, so why can't everyone else just do the same?

The point of all this is that when a movement is so fully defined by a certain set of beliefs, it really doesn't matter what a tiny minority of that movement might believe. That there are some Libertarians who aren't fundamentally self-centered nutjobs - who simply believe very strongly in individual liberty* - doesn't change the fact that the Libertarian movement is a crazy, fringe movement.

Last week I wrote a post about William Lobdell, the former religion reporter for the LA Times, who wrote a moving article about his journey toward and away from belief in God. It was through his work as religion reporter that he finally decided that he simply cannot believe in God. It's heartwrenching to read it, truly terrible, because he tried, he really tried. Lobdell's vulnerability and honesty are everywhere apparent in the article, as are his hurt and disappointment.

As I reached the end of the article, I realized that I agreed with his decision. After seeing all that he had seen - both good and bad, he is careful to point out - it's not only a logical decision to reject the idea of God, but one that makes sense to the heart and emotions as well. I defaulted to a theological characterization of the issue that assumes the existence of the Christian God and said that I hardly view Lobdell's decision as sinful. Rather, I saw his atheism as a way to actually honor God - the true God, that is.

Because I'm also an atheist, at least when it comes to the gods** of James Dobson, Benny Hinn and George Bush. I certainly don't believe like they do. I certainly don't believe like the Roman Catholic hierarchy that not only denied and enabled sexual predators to use the Church's children as their own hunting preserve but that still won't admit the extent of the problem and still won't take necessary steps to root out the monsters from their midst.

Sure, there might be millions of Christians who think that women aren't free moral agents and therefore can't be trusted to make their own decisions, but I'm not one of them. There might be millions of Christians who think that two men or two women living together in a monogamous, mutually respectful and loving relationship that they don't even know about is somehow damaging to their own marriages, but I'm not one of them. There might be millions of Christians who think that evolution is of the devil, that HPV and cervical cancer are useful disincentives to 10-year-old girls to become sexually active, who oppose all birth control, who think that God has willed their pet War on Muslamofascisterrorism, and on and on, but I'm not one of them, I'm one of the good ones.

And I want people to define Christianity by what I believe, do and say, instead of that believed, done and said by the clear majority of Christians.

When Israel was defeated by the Babalonians and then Persians, the Jewish people finally settled in to what is called "Radical Monotheism," the belief that there are no gods besides YHWH instead of merely believing that YHWH is one of many gods, just the one most interested in them. The magnificent ethical writings of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible are mostly a response to the destruction of Israel, especially Jerusalem.

The Protestant Reformation set in motion by Luther resulted in a less well-publicized Counter-Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church, which produced many of the reforms Luther was seeking. It wasn't that the Roman Catholic Church wouldn't change at all, it was more that German princes, the Pope and Italian nobility all had political battles to fight.

John Wesley was the focal point of a movement in England that saw, finally, the needs of the poor being addressed beyond criminalization. Wesley brought religion, again, to the masses and made the Church of England recognize that Christianity should consist of more than people dressing up and being polite to one another.

In the mid-19th century up to approximately the mid-20th century in the United States, there were several movements - American Holiness, Pentecostalism and Revivalism - that were distinct yet intertwined at many points, that centered upon the idea that Christianity had serious ethical for its adherents - a lifestyle free of alcohol addiction, free of racial animosity, committed to helping the poor.

Of course, there have been many more excesses, many more atrocities committed in the name of God or Jesus. And there have been many movements, large and small, local and global, that have sought to correct these, to restore Christianity to its core of love and compassion.

Right now I believe that Christianity is in as bad a shape as it has ever been. Ever. And I wonder when the Reformation will begin, and where. I wonder what my role should be. I wonder if, this time, there really is any hope.

And I refuse to condemn those who do not believe, who might see me as a nice guy, or one of the "good ones," but who aren't inspired by my lack of religious insanity to embrace what they see as a toxic, hateful blight upon the face of humanity.

*Most of the time, they're called "Democrats."

**James Dobson believes in a strict, patriarchal god who will reward strict, patriarchal human beings with an ascetic existence in a "heaven." Benny Hinn believes in an ATM god where your debit card is special prayers, your account balance is determined by your "faith" and your PIN is the money you give to Benny Hinn. George Bush believes - at least publicly - in the god of American Civil Religion some of the time and in a god-amalgamation of the most common assumptions of American Evangelical Christianity the rest of the time.

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