A LAPSED CHRISTIAN’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
CHRISTIANITY: NO LONGER THE RELIGION I ONCE KNEW?
I’m not a big fan of Christmas. Sure, it was fun when my daughter was young, but I find it annoying today. To me, it’s basically become an orgy of consumerism designed to boost the profits of Toys R. Us, Amazon, Walmart and Macy’s. Of course, it is also a time when folks trek back to their families for holiday gatherings and that’s a good thing. And if the origins of Christmas trace themselves to hunters and gatherers exhorting the sky-gods and earth goddesses to bring back the warmth of the sun, I’m down with that too. (But this year in D.C. there seems to have been an overkill of exhorting of gods and goddesses since we are headed for record breaking warmth on Christmas Day.)
But one of the biggest problems I have with Christmas is the lack of “Christ” in Christmas these days. Sure, I’m not religious; in fact I haven’t attended church except for the occasional Christmas Eve service with a friend, which occurrence has occurred probably three times during the last thirty years. Then too, I’m not a huge fan of religion in general, believing that religious fervor (or fever) seems to be a worldwide phenomenon these days and everyone seems to be hell bent on proving that their religion is the one and only religion that is fundamentally true.
To me, and Bill Maher, at the risk of being unkind, it all resembles so much bullshit and occasionally deadly bullshit. But something I would like to see here in the predominantly Christian U.S. of A. since we are in the grips of a religious fever, are more Christ-like behaviors towards our fellow human beings than what’s currently being practiced by folks who call themselves “Christian.” You can be against abortion, that’s your right, but you don’t have the right to bomb abortion clinics and shoot abortion doctors to death. You can hate gays, believe that same sex marriage is an abomination, but how about exercising a bit more Christ-like acceptance of folks who have different views and different lives than you do? You can demean the homeless for being lazy and shiftless but maybe you could, as Christ did, practice a bit more charity towards folks who are less well off than you are.
My religious education ended at the age of thirteen. I have read the Bible but it’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a copy and I no longer know if I even have one. Maybe it’s next to my Koran. But I absorbed enough Christian thinking listening to the interminable, long-winded sermons of our Dewey Avenue Presbyterian Church pastor to have come away with a fundamental knowledge of Christ’s New Testament message. I just don’t truck with the Old Testament’s exhortations to “smite thine enemy” and stoning to death folks for eating Gulf shrimp. And I don’t recall any of the Ten Commandment’s that supports the Westboro Baptist Church’s demonstrations against our veterans or the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer’s Jerry endless rants about how “it’s the gays” who are responsible for the so-called moral decline of America and the Holocaust. Syrian refugees? How about Christ’s admonition to do unto others as you would have them do unto you?
Below are some of the teachings of Christ that I absorbed (was indoctrinated with, I guess, depending on your point of view) as a child:
Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:43-44 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 19:2 "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
I don’t know, but these seem quite reasonable precepts to me. Sure, no way will anyone north of Gandhi or Mother Teresa ever be able to live up to them. But that’s not the point. After all, haven’t we all violated the Ten Commandments? Daily? And yet we still see the Big Ten as moral guidelines, as rules to temper our behavior as we go about our business.
Somehow, something has gotten lost in the practice of modern “Christianity.” The above quotes pretty much define my view of Christ and Christianity and they are among the sayings and lessons that I learned as a child. Now, as an adult perhaps my views and beliefs should have changed – matured, perhaps, become more realistic - given the multitude of trials and tribulations I’ve faced during my life. But they haven’t. I don’t blame Christ, or anyone else for that matter for my failings, legion as they are. They are exclusively mine. Nor would it ever occur to me to use religion as a crutch or a metaphorical sword to give me personal redemption or to right the wrongs of the world. As a secular humanist it just isn’t my thing.
I’m not sure why it is that this muscular, combative, and aggressive version of Christianity has taken hold today and seems to be replacing the Christianity of love and good deeds and compassion that I used to know. Actually, I think I do know. Just as back in the day – the Middle Ages, let’s say - when the Church was intimately tied to and involved with the politics of the people, the land and the time, religious strife and warfare was the order of the day. But this is 2015 – two thousand years after Christ lived, if he did, and according to our Founding Fathers, America was founded on the premise that the practice of religion was a private matter, not a public or state matter. But thanks to the fundamentalists, Evangelicals, religious right wingers, and hordes of radio, TV and internet pundits, rabble rousers and snake-oil salesmen, religion has become a political commodity. It’s become a weapon in the holy march to victory in our political and social battles. And this, from my point of view, is a significant reason for why it is that fully 25% of Americans call themselves atheists or agnostics, and today 34% of Americans under the age of 30 are non-believers compared to just 18% twenty years ago, or that in 1993 only 16% of skeptics were women while today that figure is 43%.
So when you hear the Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s’ and Jerry Falwell’s of the world decry the “War on Christianity” this holiday season, you might want to think about this: as Christianity has taken on its new role of aggressive defender of the faith against all non-believers regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, as it has drifted or been dragged further and further away from the compassionate, humane and loving teachings of Christ, it has simply become more irrelevant in our lives.
As a kid, I used to laugh at the televangical preachers preaching that “Ole Time Religion” on the radio as we travelled down South. It seemed to me that they were simply exhorting their flocks to round up the wayward, lapsed and the un-faithful of the world in order to have more sheep available to be fleeced. To me, there is nothing more un-Christian, more un-Christ like, than duping people, forcing tithes on them for a reward in the after-life that may or may not happen. At least with car insurance you get something in return in this life.
On the other hand, I don’t hold the view that religion and religious belief is irrational or indicative of mental illness. While I am not a practitioner (I believe that one’s spirituality is not dependent on religion but springs from within each one of us) to me the very fact that every society, every social grouping from animists in Africa to indigenous peoples of Brazil and Australia, do have a set of what could be termed “religious beliefs” that guide them in their daily lives, is proof that religion does serve a purpose in peoples’ lives. And since religious practices and dogma take so many different forms, adapting to local conditions, and has been around since at least ancient Egypt, China and India in one form or another, seems to lend support for at least its longevity and persistence if not its efficacy.
The rise of Christianity in the Near East 2000 years ago was spurred at least in part by the harsh practices of the Roman Empire. Maybe what we’re witnessing in the decline of religiosity here in America is a reaction – at least in part – to the harsh practices of this new, un-Christ like Christianity that seems to dominate our culture today. Maybe the evangelicals, the fundamentalists, and battle-cry Christians should pull out their Bibles and refresh their minds by reading the New Testament’s alleged sayings of Christ as recorded in the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Afterwards, then we might be able to have a discussion about why barring Muslims from entering America is both Un-Christian and Un-Christ like.