Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Disgraceful Gospel

This is a touchy topic, but it's one that needs to be addressed and we, as reasonable people, should be able to discuss respectfully (even though the motivation for this post is someone speaking rather disrespectfully).

First off, something that I need to say that you should keep in mind as you read: I do not care what you believe in. Politics. Religion. Pizza toppings. Don't give a swat. But... I will ask that you be accountable for your views and what they mean on the whole.


Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, is mad. You can read the entire piece, rather objectively written and in context, here. In this story, Graham says some things that I've heard other evangelical Christians say lately. And again, I don't begrudge anyone their beliefs... only ask that they be accountable for them. So, let's have at it with Mr. Graham:

"If President Obama fails to intervene to allow controversial evangelist Franklin Graham to lead a National Day of Prayer event Thursday inside the Pentagon, 'it will be a slap in the face of all Christians,' Graham said Tuesday."
Umm... OK. That's a big generalization. Go on...

"[Graham's] Task Force requires organizers and prayer leaders to sign a statement of beliefs agreeing that salvation is only through Christ and that the Bible is inerrant — views not shared by all Christians, including Catholics and many mainline Protestants."
Oh boy. See, this is where we start to have issues. There is a difference between having your views and making other people conform to those views. And, I'm no seminary student, but I don't think Jesus had people showing up at the Sermon on the Mount turned away because they didn't sign a statement of beliefs.

And honestly, Franklin, why do you care so much? Will your life be so much more sad if there;s anyone out there who doesn't want to sign that? Or prays a little differently?

If so, shame on you. Firstly, requiring people to sign statements of beliefs - religiously, politically, pizza-toppingly - is a form of intimidation. Doesn't matter who does it and their reasoning. And you can ballyhoo all you want about being ready to answer to God in the afterlife, but you know what? Go worry about your salvation and I'll worry about mine, bucko. Way to take a day where we small humans could show remarkable unity and make it divisive, all in the name of making your ministry stronger.

"In an interview Tuesday with USA TODAY, Graham reiterated his belief that 'Muslims do not worship the same 'God the Father' I worship.'"
You would think any Judeo-Christian-Islam scholar would jump to the default inter-relationship these three religions have. Alas. But you know, let's for a moment grant Graham his argument. Which leads to the natural next question: Who cares? Why does that even matter? And don't get me wrong, I would ask the same question to a fundamentalist Muslim. Or to an ultra-orthodox Jew. Or someone who demands pineapple pizza. Who cares about your small, self-focused view when all you do is turn off the millions of other people (reportedly God's creations) and create conflict? God may work in mysterious ways, but I would think that sowing the seeds of conflict and disrespect aren't on the list. Because if they are, it pretty much contradicts every other sermon I've heard.

"[Graham] laughed at Hinduism's many manifestations of God: 'No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.'"
Holy. Shittake.

I'm going to give you my interpretation of this comment: Graham believes that God plays tricks on people who lived thousands of miles away from where Jesus preached. Those Hindus weren't exposed to the epiphany that Graham envisions Middle eastern Jews having around the time leading up to 325 AD when the First Council of Nicaea convened. And apparently, despite the fact that God loves all his children, Graham thinks God has apparently hidden the "truth" from them and that they now worship false Gods.

Does that sound extreme? I fail to understand why God would play favorites for (oversimplification metaphor... don't get too wound up) a new product introduction.

Think about it. If the Bible is word-for-word accurate, then God created people, and the people (clearly stated!) were good! ALL of them. And he loved them. Even after the whole eating of the apple (he could have not put it there, by the way...) he loved humans enough to create a covenant with them.

So... Graham's logic negates all that. And if that is negated... well, Franklin, what is true for you?

Again, I don't write here to say I have all the answers. And I know a great many people more religiously observant than me, yet they still find a way to get through their days without belittling those who worship differently. And more than a few of those people are members of the clergy.

But those who do... I'm sorry. I find it appalling. I do not see a shred of divinity in the act of outright disrespect and belittling. And a person with some authority doing it? Disgraceful. I hope they find the salvation they seek (this goes for all religions), but I hope they pay a price for the discord they create by choosing to divide instead of unite.

Recently, I spoke with someone who, while generally respectful, makes no qualms about how the idea that "there are many paths to God" is patently incorrect. I hope this person knows that there are millions of others who feel the same way about him. And that for all the good they think they're doing in the world, they're really just pulling us all apart.

Don't think religious leaders like this want to divide us? Take it away Franklin:

"We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it's all going to get better in this world. It's not going to get better."


A.J. said...

Good post, Jay. I completely agree that many Christians behavior does not follow what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount. Much of what Franklin Graham has said over the last few weeks bothers me, and I am a committed evangelical Christian that has donated immense amounts of money to Samaritan's Purse. I will be the first to say that Graham has certainly been acting intolerant as of late.

But I would like to comment about your last paragraph, tolerance in general. Tolerance used to mean that everyone has a right to their beliefs. It doesn't mean that anymore, because many of these Christians who are considered intolerant still believe, as far as I can tell, that everyone has a legitimate right to his own beliefs.

But no, the new pluralism demands that you must not say that anyone else's belief is inferior or, worse yet, flatly mistaken. To say someone is wrong is to be intolerant, to be close-minded and provincial, to be extreme and is impossible to reason with.

Look, I completely respect the right for people to practice whatever religion they want, or to not practice any religion...I sincerely do. At the same time, if I respectuflly disagree with an idea/religion - such as Hinduism - without attacking the person then I feel there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. As an intelligent, reasonable person I can say that my view on something is right, and another person's is wrong, without being labeled with the "intolerant" moniker. When it comes to a Hindu and a Christian there are only three scanarios about what is truth. 1) Christians are right. 2) Hindus are right. 3) Neither Christians or Hindus are right. The one scenario that is impossible is that they are both right.

To my point, read this comment from a Christian philosopher much smarter than I: "I'm praying to God who is Jesus. They're praying to God who isn't Jesus. God can't be Jesus and not be Jesus at the same time. Therefore, we both can't be praying to, loving, or worshipping God. One of us must be wrong, at bare minimum. Maybe we both are. But one thing that we can never say is that we're both right, that we're both worshipping God."

If we could all agree on what the actual definition of tolerance is then I feel we could all have more intelligent conversations about religion. That said, I think your post here was very thoughtful and very well reasoned...I just don't agree with society's definition of tolerance.

Jay said...

Thanks for your comments, A.J. I guess my real question in the whole situation is: who cares how someone else prays?

From your comment, you seem as though you are a person well in touch with his own beliefs, perhaps not agreeing with the views of others, but not living in offense at it. To which I say... good.

To me, that's tolerance. I think a lot of people are wrong about certain things, but in my own sphere of life/beliefs, their "wrongness" doesn't affect me. So I don't take time and energy to speak against it. I tolerate it.

I think, though, there are plenty of people who are more than happy to rail against whatever they disagree with... especially if there's a lucrative book deal to be had. Or a cable TV show to host.