Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hark! The heretical angels sing (Part 3)*

The other day I got stuck in traffic behind a car adorned with a bumper sticker that never fails to annoy me: "KNOW JESUS, KNOW PEACE."

I admit, there are plenty of bumper stickers floating around U.S. highways that are a hell of a lot more offensive than that one--e.g., "U.S. MARINES: TRAVEL AGENTS FOR ALLAH," which makes me sick every time I see it--but the Jesus-as-Paxil thing arouses an anger in me out of all proportion to the provocation. I feel an irrational desire to roll down my window and holler Fuck you! at my fellow driver.

Why so hostile? I think it’s because the phrase (cribbed, of course, from the great protest chant, "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE") contains the very essence of Christian arrogance and the religion’s bent toward tyranny. It’s a threat, a command and a false promise rolled into 4 seemingly gentle words. It’s a playground predator of a slogan, laying a sweet lure for the vulnerable, all the while pursuing an agenda of conquest.

No doubt the people who sport the saying on their vehicles and T-shirts would be shocked at my reaction. They’re not hateful fanatics, not the kind of people who phone bomb threats to Planned Parenthood clinics, or who show up at soldiers’ funerals to shout that American deaths in Iraq are God’s judgment for our tolerance of homosexuals. (Yes, non-U.S. readers, there really is a “church” that does that.) The KJKP folks are just decent people who believe they have an obligation to share something precious and important. They're sure they are doing the rest of us a favor by telling us the good news. The fact that many of us find their efforts offensive, insulting or just plain annoying is completely lost on them.

Pushy evangelicals aren't the only ones who are blinkered by their own good intentions this way. One of the most insulting exchanges I ever had about religion was with a very liberal Christian woman, the kind who prides herself on her commitment to tolerance and inclusion. She asked me whether I attended the same church as Dave, and I said that no, I was a witch. I don’t usually go out of my way to volunteer that information, but if people ask--and hereabouts, they do routinely ask--I never dodge the question. She quizzed me about Wicca, and when I explained that I was a solitary, she sort of pulled herself up with a smug look on her face, and delivered a brief lecture about how she thought “community” was essential to a meaningful religious life.

I suppose she would have said the same thing to a Christian who expressed a preference for private devotion over Sundays in the pew. That would have been obnoxious of her, but at least in that case she would have been debating an issue of religious practice with a fellow Christian. With me, she was presuming to pass judgment on a spiritual path of which she knew absolutely nothing. It never occurred to her that her particular theological measuring stick couldn't be applied to every faith. I was momentarily stunned by her rudeness, but it was obvious to me that she wasn't trying to offend, so I quickly changed the subject. I’m sure if she recalls the conversation at all, she just thinks she had a nice chat with an interesting Wiccan person.

Her assumption that she possessed a superior enlightenment arose from the quiet, unconscious arrogance of Christians, just like that stupid bumper sticker. In this culture, where they are such a firm majority, Christians simply can’t see the rest of us—or if they do, they can’t quite bring themselves to regard us as equals. When that narrow attitude is hitched up with the Great Commission, then it’s a very short journey to outright religious bigotry, hate mongering, and the political agenda of the Palin brigade.

The Preaching of St. John the Baptist, Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Il Baciccio), c.1690.

*[Yes, I know Christmas is over, but I figure I can take until Epiphany to get this out of my system.]


Bozo said...

I'm not sure their arrogance is quiet and unconscious, as politely as they may behave. The whole Great Commission thing pre-supposes a specifically articulated arrogance and superiority of salvation.
I guess I'm not as tolerant and forgiving of them as you are, BG.

As I write this at noon on Sunday, members of our local fundamentalist cult are flooding the lunch places, filled with smug and self-congratulatory satisfaction that they are not only saved but are doing God's work by convincing everyone else that they have the keys to the kingdom. I try to be generous with them, since most of them are my friends, but I'm just being a hypocrite.

Mary said...

That glib smugness is one of the very reasons I was compelled to turn from that path. (Rampant sexism and the overall putrid slime of organized Christianity were some others.)

dissed said...

Sing it, out loud. I'll hum along.

BitterGrace said...

Well, I agree, Bozo, the Great Commission is the 800 pound gorilla in the living room of religious tolerance. It's very hard to get Christians of any stripe to grapple with it as a core problem.

FWIW, I think "hypocritical" is a harsh word. Openly opposing people on ideological grounds doesn't usually accomplish much anyway.

Ah, the sexism, Mary. I don't even know if I want to get into that one. It's the source of my most negative feelings about the church. Putrid slime, I think I might tackle ;-)

BitterGrace said...

Hi, dissed--feel free to join in.

Catservant said...

Wow BG, that really struck a chord with me. I had a close friend (in fact, Dave met this person many years ago during a visit) of many years that made it clear at one point, that he was divesting himself of our friendship. We had been close friends since the age of 5-6 and remained so until when he went off to college (Bob Jones Univ)where he really got his bible on (along with a bit too many racist jokes). He found his bride there and soon after, they married and moved back to this coast. Sadly, I saw very little of them. My beliefs were in direct conflict with theirs and while I politely disagreed generally, their disdain for my opposite viewpoint was obvious. I was tolerated mostly, but only until the children started arriving. I'd work to avoid "problem areas" of conversation with little success. Since they do God's work daily - they must praise his name. I'd try really hard not to snicker, but the strain of holding back brought a flush to my face. He also knew me so well that he easily knew that I was not "feeling the love", so to speak.
The thought that someone would not only disagree with the tenets of their beliefs but remain steadfast in defend of ideas that scared them was met with the phrase "so, you're working with Satanic purposes?!"
I think another tipping point came when he told me that his parents were members of a Presbyterian Church in S.Calif. While growing up, his parents were devout Southern Baptists and they never let him visit our church (Presby) yet freely had me come to visit theirs. So the news of their change in choice of faith was a surprise to me. His father had been recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease and apparent found S.Baptist beliefs less than fulfilling. I don't quite remember what I uttered exactly, but it obviously offended my friend.

It's amazing to think that religion is supposed to unite people is really used more as a tool to separate them.

As children we used to be able to finish each others sentences and now we haven't spoken in years.

He doesn't return phone calls. God bless him.

BitterGrace said...

It's incredibly sad to lose a friendship over religious differences--or really, any ideological disagreement. If you stand back and think about it, this tendency people have to box themselves into a fixed belief that actually deprives them of contact with others is very strange.

I can understand why institutions (Bob Jones Univ.--ugh!) encourage members to declare their exclusive loyalty, but people sometimes take the fanatic route as individuals, with no outside encouragement at all. It's a kind of mental illness--and I agree, it seems especially ironic for religious groups to foster it.