WHEN YOU GET CAUGHT BETWEEN GOD AND NEW YORK CITY: FINALE
Christopher Cross’ ditty from the 1981 movie “Arthur” might seem an odd, even idiosyncratic choice as a title for my screeds about our thirty-year Conservative Economic Experiment. But I think the choice is quite fitting. OK, you might say “Sure, to your diseased, libertard mind,” perhaps, but that’s OK too. You are forgiven for thinking thus. But I do believe that the phrase, as well as Cross’ song, does encapsulate the choice hidden in the thirty year culture wars that the right wing has foisted on us. In fact, one could say, and I will, that today’s Tea Party is the latest manifestation of this “God or Materialism” approach to public policy. Religious fundamentalism (See: Pat Buchannan, Nixon advisor and early stalwart of the conservative movement, for the early history of the movement) is at the very heart of the conservative movement: acting in a God-like manner; what would Jesus do; Biblical condemnations of gays & adultery; wars against Christianity; etc. etc. The 1980’s Moral Majority was the premier banner carrier for the conservative movement in religious terms just as the American Family Association is its vigorous incarnation today. While there is no question that the Heritage Foundation (their offices are only five blocks away from my house) and other conservative think tanks have been at the forefront of conservative policy initiatives, it’s the right wing, quasi-religious organizations that have captured the moral high-ground in the public dialog about what we are as a nation and as a culture. With a natural affinity, they are generally lock-step in tune with their more intellectual policy brethren but in terms of public perception they are definitely the leaders. No one looks to Crossroads GPS for moral guidance.
As for me, I’ve been a detractor of the fundamental religious crew for most of my life. Or at least as far back as I can remember. What I remember is my cousin, Kathy, teaching summer Bible School at Ridge Road Baptist Church, and her Jesus stories. I recall, too, the crayon drawings and collages we did with pictures of lambs and fishes cut from magazines and pasted on 8.5 by 11 sheets of paper with Elmer’s Glue. Kathy told us stories of Jesus’ humility and compassion, his fondness for the poor and outcasts, his railing against the money lenders in the temple and his infallible penchant for helping those in need. This is the Christianity I grew up with. This is the Christianity that I practice today, although I can’t recall the last time I’ve been inside a church. (Mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, yes. Churches? Give me a minute.) Admittedly, I follow no - what we call – “organized” religion and haven’t since my teenage years. However, I respect the idea and attraction of religion and spent a good part of my younger years studying Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Shintoism, Buddhism and actually took instructions from a Catholic Priest in college. But, alas, the “original sin” thing just didn’t digest well with me. Spiritually, I tend to favor the more naturalistic precepts of many Native Americans.
In any event, whether naïve or simplistic, the lessons of Christ are what I think of when I think of good Christians. But apparently my view is very much at odds with today’s “muscular Christianity” as practiced by the AFA crowd and the fundamentalist right wingers. Frankly I see this movement as the politicization of Christianity – historically not an anomaly by any means – but somehow missing the entire point of Christ’s message: that we are no better than the least among us; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; we must care for those who are worse off then we are; platitudes, for sure, yet all tenets of a compassionate, caring and understanding religion and equitable social structure. Biblical death sentences notwithstanding, (shellfish, mixed fabric clothing, coveting one’s neighbor’s wife, working on Sunday, etc.) the pugilistic Christianity that the conservative crew presents to us as a choice, is a choice I refuse to make. It’s not the Christianity that I grew up with nor is it a version of Christianity that I care live with today.
And it is this “choice” that the rest of us have been faced with for the past thirty years. Either condemn same sex marriage or go to hell; see abortion as murder or go to hell; accept our view of the Bible or go to hell – I mean it’s all a bit much to my simple mind. But this dialectical choice is what we’ve been struggling with for over three decades. And it’s bullshit. Pure, unadulterated crapola. So in order to have a semblance of spirituality I have to accept this fundamentalist, pugilistic version of Christ’s teachings in order to be an acceptable member of American society? Yeah. Right. It is a strikingly arrogant dictum and one that, for me, is so off-putting that I can’t even begin to tolerate such nonsense. I’ve got a whole bunch of the Buddha’s “Rules To Live By” that I would rather follow than accept this perverse “Christianity or die” philosophy that these so-called fighting Christians demand. But the fundamentalists are so caught up in their divisive political campaigns that they would probably reject Buddha’s sensible teachings without even reading them, much less understanding what they mean.
It’s heartbreakingly sad that we as a country have been faced with this religious determinism. I believe it is the single most influential factor that has given rise to the degradation of our social and political systems and given rise to the gulf that divides us. It is an “all or nothing” fascist philosophy that has no place in my America. Not only is it un-American (after all we were founded on the precept that no religion dominates either in governance or in society), it is simply mean spirited, bigoted and downright un-Christian. Me? I reject this vigorous Christianity wholeheartedly and with an ease of conscious that I don’t find in many of my other personal life decisions. And to posit this Christian ideology as a foundation of governance is beyond ridicule. (This, despite the Hobby Lobby decision, God help us!) My Mother would shriek in horror at the antics of the New Christians, pre-liberal humanist that she was.
So the relevance to the title of my five pieces to “When You Get Caught Between God and New York City?” Well, to put it in simple terms, when you are faced with the choice between an unethical, bombastic, unfeeling and inherently vile version of spiritual and secular life verses the materialistic, liberal, humanistic approach condemned by the true believers, I find that I am forced to take the crass, materialistic, liberal pathway. And it’s not wholly comfortable for me. I don’t necessarily agree with everything liberal, but in our uber-politicized atmosphere that is America’s public discourse today, the winner-take-all, you’re either with us or against us atmosphere we find ourselves immersed in, we are asked to take sides daily. I have to side with the un-Godly, sinful, humanistic version of life in America, what we strive for, what we want as American public policy and our social structure. So be it.
But in the end, and listening to the bottom line of Chris Cross’ ditty, one must make a choice. Not that one has to announce it publically, but one must decide, even if only in the intellectual sense. And here, I think, Chris offers the perfect solution:
“When you get caught between God and New York City the best that you can you do is fall in love.”
This is such an old fashioned, traditional and - dare I say it? - New Testament Christian sentiment. One that I believe in. And that’s what I’ve done. Very sound advice from my point of view. That’s my choice and I’m sticking to it.
Thank you all.