Christianity and politics

To recent pieces on the topic that I really enjoyed.  First, non-Christian Fareed Zakaria seems to get the essence of Christianity far better than those on the religious right:

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics…

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.” …

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” [emphasis mine]

Jesus has specific advice on how to handle the poor. Treat them as you would Christ himself, sell your possessions and give to the poor. When you hold a banquet, Jesus says, do not invite the wealthy and powerful, because you do so in the hope that they will return the favor and reward you. Instead, invite the dispossessed — and you will be rewarded by God. It is because he expects so much from the rich that he said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

We live in a meritocratic age and believe that people who are successful are more admirable in some way than the rest of us. But the Bible notes that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all.” In the Kingdom of Heaven, it warns, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In other words, be thankful for your success, but don’t think it makes you superior in any deep sense…

He [Pope Francis] is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, last week I really enjoyed Gregg Easterbrook’s smackdown of Kim Davis’ (Kentucky anti-homosexual clerk) Old Testament brand of Christianity:

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? …

Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”)…

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part? [emphasis mine]

Good points throughout both.  I really like Easterbrook’s point that you can find a bible verse to justify almost anything.  That said, it is abundantly clear that Jesus’ central message was on love of others, especially the poor and downtrodden.  Its a shame that this message seems to be at the periphery of so many Christians take on how their religion meets politics.

Don’t be a sheep

I’ve currently got my son reading Influence.  One of the most influential books on me I’ve ever read.  The part that made the biggest impact is the section on social proof.  Short version– we are sheep.  We look to see what everybody else is doing and do the same.  And usually in a situation that requires action, the result ends up being no action because we all see a bunch of other people standing around doing nothing.

So, my understanding of this book changed my life as I have since made a conscientious effort to not be a sheep where most people are one.  It pays off.  Two recent examples come to mind (though they may stretch the concept just a bit).

They are currently renovating the locker rooms at NCSU.  For long time locker room users, e.g., me, the situation is a giant pain in the ass.  Among other issues, you had to walk through active showers just to get to your locker and there was water everywhere.  I emailed the folks in charge of the renovation and within a few days, the troublesome showers had been closed and there were additional mats put down to deal with the excess water issue (the whole thing still sucks, but it’s not as bad now).  Hundreds of locker room uses, but apparently nobody bothered to bring this up until I did. And the people in charge of the renovation probably don’t use the locker room.  Or if they do, they aren’t thinking too hard about how to improve the experience.

Example number 2.  I drop my oldest off at  high school every other day (I take turns with my wife– we do it so he can get more sleep– you know how I feel about HS start times).  Anyway, upon the return home there’s a left turn that can back up a bit.  This year, the backup has gotten crazy and is potentially very problematic as it is in a middle turn lane that– if the backup is too great– can effect a different set of cars wanting to make left turns 1/4 away.  So, how many hundreds of cars where waiting in this horrible line every day and just taking it?  I don’t know, but the Town of Cary had no idea about this problem until I contacted the head Traffic Engineer.  Since the Town of Cary is awesome, he called me up and we spoke on the phone about the problem.  The light timing has already been adjusted (though, the situation is still not so great– I think due to knock-on effects from nearby construction).  Anyway, it’s better, because I spoke up.

This post is not meant to be self-congratulatory.  And heck, plenty of times I speak up and nothing happens.  But a lot of times something does happen.  And changes are made.  But that never happens if we all stand around like sheep.  So, break the cycle.

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