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Good Christians, Bad Christians

October 20, 2006

Jacob Morse at Cogito has some interesting comments on the melding in the public mind of conservative Christians with extremist Muslims effectuated through the widespread use of “fundamentalist” and even “radical” to label both. Add to this vocabulary the word “Christianist,” notes an editorial by Kathleen Parker. The term is meant to parallel “Islamist,” which, distinct from “Islam” or “Islamic,” refers not to Muslims in general, but to those who find suicide bombing and weaponized jetliners as justifiable means to achieve their goal of blessing the world with the imposition of Shari’ah law. A Christianist then is the dangerous true believer who is also out to get you.

Then we have the erudite Rosie O’Donnell who insightfully opined to viewers of The View that “radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam…” Anyone who thinks this freight train of thought is not gathering steam should peruse Ross Douthat’s review of the recent phalanx of Christophobic tomes in the journal First Things (“Theocracy! Theocracy! Theocracy!” ), to which Jonah Goldberg calls attention in a recent opinion piece.

I’m afraid we have a rolling snowball here, and maybe it would not have stood a proverbial chance back in it’s place of origin, but here in the present deepening chill I think it is likely to grow in size and influence in defiance of Al Gore’s inconvenient truth.

Not that there aren’t “good” Christians, just like the “real” peace-loving Moslems. Bible-believing Christians are chided for their “intolerance” since they believe that what they believe is true and believe that what they disbelieve is not true. Imagine! Why can’t we just look beneath the surface at those truths that all religions share? Do they? Well, if you are talking about “acceptable” members of each religion, and not those nasty extremists–I think they have a point. Scratch a lot of the church today and you discover the underlying humanist core beneath the veneer of Christian trappings. This technique works just as well for certain Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, you name it. Same tofu, just a different topping.

But aren’t they are the “tolerant” ones? Well, before you can exercise tolerance, there must be disagreement. Where agreement exists, there can be no tolerance. Deep down, where it counts, those who have adapted their traditions to appease the spirit of th age are really in agreement. What is intolerable are those who do not share this contemporary civil religion, but who “in this day and age” still cling to “antequated beliefs”

So naturally, for the sake of “separation of church and state,” the Neanderthals need to be marginalized politically, right Rosie? Disenfranchized by the first amendment? “Freedom is slavery.” Orwell meets Schaeffer:

“No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have
an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had
that absolute in God’s revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute,
universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state,
they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the
beasts.” (Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, Ch. 1)

Much of the Christophobia stems from the heightened defensive stance post-9/11 America has had no choice but to take, and this under the leadership of a president who espouses Evangelicalism. Finding balance in this unwonted posture has been challenging, and concerns about safeguarding civil liberties are not wholly unfounded. While measures such as the Patriot Act, which gives the government the same authority to pursue terrorists as they have for organized crime, have protected us from Islamist terror without seriously curtailing freedom, I am left to wonder what future administrations with significantly different world views might be able to do with these powers. If the distinction between Bible-believing Christians and radical Muslims is increasingly being blurred, could the current alert status vis-a-vis the Islamists be just the warm up act? In a nation that has used RICO statutes to suppress legitimate, peaceful protests over abortion, is too far fetched to imagine the Patriot Act coming back to bite us, when genuine disciples of Jesus are no longer deemed patriots if they oppose “gay” marriage or educate their children at home?

I don’t claim to be a prophet, but I think something along these lines is bound to happen within the next ten years. While Biblical Christianity is coming to find itself among the intolerable “extremists,” the other version more in tune with the spirit of the times is undergoing a transformation. Wave after wave of literature and creative media have been reshaping the spiritual landscape, from Jesus Seminar pronouncements, “Lost” books of the Bible, John Shelby Spong, the Gospel of Judas, the Da Vinci Code. Richard Bennett of Berean Beacon traces some such tendancies within elements of the “emerging church” movement (a diverse mixture among which are some very orthodox believers).

In particular he cites Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, who calls for “Reimagining Christianity.” The problem for Jones, it seems is that conflicting view of religion persist in the world. Lamenting this situation his language sounds strangely familiar: “In nearly every major faith, strains of radical fundamentalism have been rising up, renewing or reintensifying faith conflicts that go back, in some cases, for millennia.” (Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind, p.2., as cited by Bennett.)According to Bennett, Jones’ solution is a retreat into postmodernism, irrationalism, and a dialectic that leads to a mystically ecumenical version of Catholicism, where objective truth and historical fact give way to symbols, story, and imagination.

If that last sentence brought The Da Vinci Code to mind, there is good reason. Nothing if not imaginative, objective truth and historical fact get a raw deal from Dan Brown, while symbols, the metier of protagonist Robert Langdon, drive the plot. While I had no desire to read the novel, I did condescend to see the Ron Howard film. John Alan Turner at Faith 2.0 raises the question WWJDWDVC (“What would Jesus do with the Da Vinci Code?”). Vituperative protest is certainly not the answer; 1 Peter 3:9 says “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. “

Seeing the film did clarify for me, in an unexpected way, how to respond. First, yes, the blatant disinformation demanded vigorous refutation, and this was done energetically in scores of books and articles with “Da Vinci” in the title. However, the thought occured to me at the conclusion of the film–and I found confirmation from Gregory Alan Thornbury in “The Da Vinci Code Distraction” (The American Spectator, July/August 2006)–that the whole pile of errors was an elaborate smokescreen. The gaffs were too obvious, too refutable, too outrageous not to debunk, a delicious invitation to be led into a diversion, while the true lasting impact is achieved more impressionistic means. As Thornbury states: “In the case of Americans and Europeans, they are postmoderns. Facts just are not that important to them. They are taken more by emotions, such as resentment, anger, desire, and the like.” (p. 24).

The lasting image (and image speaks to postmoderns) is of the “good” Christians and the “bad” Christians. Forget the fact that Brown’s Opus Dei and Priory of Sion are both horribly distorted versions of real-life entities, and that they exist in the orbit of Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church is the Hollywood proxy for Christianity in general, and Opus Dei here represents the radicals, the fundamentalists, the conservatives–whatever name you all them–they are the repressed and repressive dangerous kind. On the other hand the Priory of Sion, historically a scam, but for Brown the keepers of the truth, hold the true knowledge about Jesus, the gnosis that will set you free. Here is Christianity already reimagined, embracing the divine feminine, absorbing the spiritualities of the world, of times long ago and of diverse peoples of the earth. These are images that bypass the conscious mind and enter into our way of thinking about the world.

It is said that dreaming an event a certain number of times leaves the same impact as an actual experience, and both film and well-written prose are dream-like in the mental imagery they create. The masses of Americans will probably not read the Christophobic books, nor read Spong or Jones, but let those dangerous fundamentalists come up in a conversation, and yes, we’ve seen this ourseves, somewhere–can’t remember where, but I know just what you mean. At least we have an answer to those Christians–the anti-Christians.

“As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Maybe Brown leaves us with some insight into how it can happen that the “man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

At any rate, I think we are in for a tougher time in the future. We are taught how to deal with slander: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15)

And persecution is part of our job description: “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. ” (1 Peter 3: 20-21)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake permalink
    October 21, 2006 11:06 pm

    Another excellent post. It is scary to see that the adversary’s subtle deceit is as alive and effective as ever. Another passage came to mind as I finished reading…

    2 Cor. 4:3-10: “[E]ven if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 23, 2006 10:52 am

    Nice post, Marv.


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