Culture

Religion, Politics & Screaming at the Internet

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David Swindle has entered the ongoing  discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:

Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?

No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.

That for others the specific theology of their branch of Christianity or Judaism is their idol?

No, you aren’t going too far at all. Socialism became the religion of the Jewish masses fleeing Eastern Europe for Israel (then British Mandate Palestine) and America. Over time, their Jewish faith succumbed to their socialist interpretation thereof, much in the same way the Jewish faith of Israel succumbed to the Rabbinic/Talmudic interpretation thereof over the course of hundreds of years in European ghettos. So much for “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.” This perversion generated ultra-Orthodox groups who commit all kinds of grotesque un-Biblical sins towards women and children behind closed doors. They also have no problem harassing non-Orthodox Jews and starting riots against Zionist laws they claim are heretical.  So much for “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Likewise, there are many people who define themselves as ardent Christians/Catholics who are excellent practitioners of their religion, never having cracked open a Bible and read it for themselves. For them, Bible Pix and whatever theology is currently being spouted from the pulpit suffice. These are the Christians who are quick to assert that I am an “ignorant” “Communist” when I critique the depiction of Jesus as a blonde guy in movies and issue a call for a more realistic interpretation of their God. They’re so stuck in their own religion that they can’t see I’m advocating for their guy.

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That for others the warm feelings and emotional highs they get from religious participation, pop culture fandom, and sports devotion can substitute for a genuine worship of God?

Absolutely, you are correct. I countered a warm, fuzzy feeling with a historically accurate truth: Jesus wasn’t blonde. That solicited about 50 comments, most of which were profanity-laced criticisms followed by Biblical warnings from other Christians against using profanity. I once had a passionate exchange with a Jewish socialist friend who punctuated it by repeating “you need to change your politics” in front of an entire roomful of close family and friends at his birthday celebration. I just kept repeating, “I love you, Happy Birthday,” until we left. And if you’re ever in Jerusalem on Shabbat, be careful where you drive lest the Hasidim throw rocks at your car, you heathen.

These types of vitriolic response are similar to ones found among any pop culture fandom when a show is cancelled, or the movie doesn’t play out as well on the screen as the book did in their heads. And if your team loses, or your player is found shooting up ‘roids or running illegal dogfighting rings, the depression is the same. There’s a reason God gave us scripture: He knew how prone to idol worship we’d be.

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That it’s an easy temptation for secular political and ideological activists to tumble into making their quests more important than a relationship with the Divine?

If they identify as secular, they’ve already made any quest more important that a relationship with God, presuming they even believe in one. Among those who identify as religious in any way, at any level, the struggle is even greater. Secularists make their own faith out of whatever they can cobble together, politics included. Believers are constantly struggling to make their interactions in this world fit their religious belief and practice. For far too many, that translates into putting a square peg into a round hole. So, they wind up compromising here and there, trimming down both the peg and the hole to make it fit.

Any carpenter will tell you that to make a good fit, you have to trim one to fit the other, you can’t trim both and hope to get it right. Too often, the relationship with the invisible God gets trimmed to fit the visible political spectrum. Hence we have plenty of debates among so-called “religious” Jews and Christians about when a fetus does and doesn’t start to live in the womb and what does and doesn’t justify gay marriage in the eyes of God. All of these arguments have nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with what religious leaders have said about the Bible.

But, the opposite also occurs: Believers also try to trim the political spectrum to suit their religious beliefs. I started receiving some seriously negative commentary from readers when I came out against the proposed legislation in Arizona that would have permitted private businesses to refuse service to customers on the basis of religious belief. I read the bill: those Christians would have been required to defend the validity of their faith in a secular court. Apparently, it was insensitive of me to come out against an intrusion into the free exercise clause of the Constitution. These folks were so determined to defend their faith that they sought to empower the government to pass legislation they thought would protect it. Their political leaders told them this was a good idea. They couldn’t see all the potential abuses of that law by practitioners of other religions: they were too busy carving the hole to fit the patch.

In the end, “the pursuit of the Divine” is lost either way, because what do you wind up arguing: One guy’s opinion of the Bible versus another guy’s opinion about the law. And you wonder why so many people strive to avoid politics and religion altogether. Our incessant arguing has produced a nation of Dudes.

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I haven’t read Lisa DePasquale’s book, but I have followed excerpts on your Instagram account, David. My first urge is to give this poor girl a hug for all she’s been through. Can you imagine how much better off we’d be, both politically and religiously, if we followed God’s axiom to love Him and love each other as much as we love ourselves?  You posit, “Lisa takes it to the especially politically incorrect: what role do women themselves play in encouraging unrighteous men to try to seduce them?” I’ll posit an equally politically incorrect response: Why aren’t these women loving these men the way they ought to be loving themselves, with respect and honor?

Perhaps that question is the answer to the many you pose about righteousness in America’s religious and political spheres. When we succumb to idols of any kind we become altruistic in our worship, disrespecting ourselves as much as those with whom we interact. Walter and I do agree on the concept that faith is, first and foremost, a relationship with God that is as mutually satisfying as a marriage. When we lose that context to religious, political, or pop culture opinion, we are forced to become ascetics, because no matter how hard you believe, nor how ardently you defend, you will never win the full favor, attention, or love of the idol you worship. It is a thing, an idea, a person so far removed from you that you are forced to be nothing more than its conquered slave. That is the way Ryan the Preacher treated Lisa, and she responded the way any slave would: “…all I wanted was to be wanted.”

I could choose to be offended by some of the things I’ve been called over the past few weeks. But it occurred to me that those folks who made those comments are carrying a far bigger burden than my fleeting hurt. These readers are carrying the burden of their political and religious idols on their shoulders. Criticize that ideology, or merely call it into question, and even though you wouldn’t know them if you fell on them, you are obviously out to personally insult them. It wasn’t worth feeling sorry for myself; God knows me and we’ll be fine. They’re the ones being hung out to dry. Suddenly, I had the urge to give them a hug, too.