Monday, October 25, 2004

BRAINWASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB

In a recent CNN documentary on the religious right wing, there was an interview with a little girl, maybe seven years old, who seemed to be unable to say anything but the evangelical “talking points”. She was, for example, convinced that she was a sinner before she gave her life to Jesus. She was quite sure that people who were not “washed in the blood” were going to Hell.

She reminded me of all the little kids in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who are being trained to hate Israel and curse America from the time they’re able to stand up on their own.

Equally disturbing was the ramrod certainty expressed by adult members of the evangelical movement. They were absolutely certain that God, Satan, Heaven and Hell are real. Everyone waited eagerly to be swept up into Heaven any time now.

When it comes to Christian theology, I don’t feel that I speak as an outsider. During my “Christian Years”, I became very familiar with the Bible and Church History. I am also familiar enough with various other religions to know that there is nothing really remarkable about Christian theology. It’s developed over the centuries in fairly well-understood ways. For example, the Trinity and Limbo were ideas developed by specific people at specific times for specific reasons. They are no more “divinely inspired” than the General Sales Tax (GST). Other religions suffer from this type of historical embellishment. The simple doctrine of Buddha somehow wound up with prayer wheels. Taoism, a doctrine of pristine simplicity, became weighed down with elaborate ritual.

In the case of Christianity, the Book of Revelation is one of those barnacles on the ship of the Christian faith. It’s a bit of a mystery why the book was included in the Canon. It’s an imaginative diatribe aimed at the evils of the Roman Empire. The genre is unfamiliar to modern readers. The closest modern parallel would be the dystopia like George Orwell’s 1984.
Religious right-wingers are famous for their inability to read anything between the covers of the Bible as anything but a literal message from God. This is a fatal mistake. Most obviously, they base much of their doctrine on writings that more sober readers easily recognize as fanciful. This is the same mistake that fundamentalist Muslims make when they base their religious beliefs on a literal interpretation of the Koran. Their mind-set is immune to evidence. It is intolerant of other views (even within their own congregations). It denies the obvious fact that religions change and grow over the centuries. Strangely, it is blind to the fact that Evangelical orthodoxy itself is a brand-new fabrication of the American South. While they pretend to be the gatekeepers of ancient wisdom, they are, in fact, isolated in the way they interpret the Christian heritage. For They are “book worshippers”, pretending to base everything on the eternal Word of God (such as their opposition to stem cell research !!).

In the Catholic tradition (which can at least lay claim to an ancient history), the clergy interprets the religion for the masses. This obviously has some disadvantages, but it leads to a rather more sensible approach to the Bible. Protestants tend to reject authority and allow people to approach God on their own (as do the Muslims, in theory). This leaves people to read the Bible for themselves and come to their own conclusions. The Evangelicals combine the worst of both worlds. They permit and encourage weird interpretations of the Bible but insist that *their* interpretations are the only valid ones. Evangelicals are free to accept the party line or burn in Hell.

Readers of this blog will know that I have little patience for religious doctrine in general. Wondering whether there is or is not a Hell is pretty much like wondering if Superman sweats. Just the same, you need to accept people where they are on their personal journey. To these people, I’d just like to recommend that they take a good look around them, think for themselves and talk to their neighbours. In the special case of Christians, I'd like to challenge them with this question: Do you see the Jesus of the Gospels forcing his opinions on anyone? Was He a friend or foe of rigid orthodoxy?

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