Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maybe A Good Conversation Starter

Over the past two-and-a-half years of blogging, I have occasionally encountered folk who express the oddest sentiments regarding Christianity, Jesus, God, and "religion". Two years ago, I did a post that highlighted an example of intellectual dishonesty on the part of an anti-Christian writer. In response to this post, some hilarity ensued. It all boiled down to what I consider serious problems in the way we talk about "religion", Christianity, and our public and social life. This situation has certainly not been helped in any way by fundamentalist Christians whose stated positions on belief bear little relationship to the way Christians have construed those concepts. The resulting backlash - the "evangelical atheists" - is a confused and muddled, occasionally rage-filled and incoherent as their right-wing counterparts, which leaves the vast bulk of us, believers and non-believers, Christians and those of other faith traditions, trying to figure out where it is we fit in.

In light of Rick Perlstein's very magnanimous decision to include some of my words, and the fact that I am a self-professed liberal Christian married to a woman minister in a mainline denomination, in an article posted in Newsweek on-line yesterday, I think this issue bears a little revisiting. Part of the reason Perlstein felt moved to include me in this article was my stated position as a Christian and a liberal, something that his interlocutor, Bill O'Reilly, seems to think doesn't exist. That is to say, as Perlstein does quite succinctly, that liberals are a threat to something The Factor host calls "Judeo-Christian values." Now, since O'Reilly rarely displays such values on his program, I sometimes wonder why he would defend something that, in practice, he displays not at all.

Obviously, the answer is "money". Defending a meaningless set of words that describe a set of political and social values rather than any virtues or ethical position related to either the Jewish or Christian faiths and their variants is a way to bring in viewers, therefore ad revenue, therefore more money for O'Reilly. Many people seem to think that O'Reilly is some kind of "conservative", neo- or otherwise. In actual fact, I don't believe O'Reilly has any set of overriding values other than self-promotion. His disdain for Perlstein, whom he described as "someone who wrote a book [Nixonland] no one read" indicates the values O'Reilly holds closest - popularity and success.

I would have preferred that Perlstein take the discussion of O'Reilly's frequent invocation of "Judeo-Christian values" a bit further, but at least a beginning has been made in this regard. Such a discussion, an air-clearing as it were, would be a good start. It would save me laughing until I cried over people who tell me I'm confused in my identity, that "my Jesus" has anything to do with the United States government, and that we "religious people" are the real source of so many ills. These folks, no less than their religious fundamentalist adversaries, are as much a part of the problem as anything.

Virtual Tin Cup

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