Sunday, August 01, 2010

Bride of Christ

The Biblical imagery makes for some confusing comparisons and analogies. Not only are half of the people in that "bride" category male, but like most societies until quite recently, the authorities mostly came from that male category. A similar difficulty obtains for Jews, for when God complains at them about worshiping false gods, He often uses the image of an unfaithful woman, and calls Israel "she." To make things one step more complicated, a lot of those other gods this bride was going with when unfaithful were themselves female.

Thus when some era of Christian or Jewish history is described in terms of how the (male) gods of this world treat the (female) bride, and how they are treated in return, the people we associate with that era - Moses, David, Augustine, Calvin - are er, male brides. It screws up analogies, but God seems to be quite insistent on the idea. Even if you are one who doesn't believe in God, or believes that our male and female language for the Deity is largely cultural, it would still be curious, and significant, that all these male authorities take such pains to describe themselves as collectively female.

Secular systems are sometimes regarded as gods in scripture, and their representatives are mostly masculine. When scripture describes demonic forces, gods, and secular authorities, the word "prince" is often used. In a modern era where entirely secular authorities might be female, we get the same confusion. A female secular authority, as stand-in for a male world-system, is "he," while the generally male church authorites acting as stand-ins for a female Church, are in some way "she."

I went through all of this just to help you keep the following analogies straight, but I probably made it more confusing. Let me make that worse by appearing to change subjects.

Most tribes in history have treated the women of other tribes, when they encountered them alone, with especial contempt and disregard. Any Hittite, Tutsi, or Irish woman who wandered away, was left unprotected, or was captured was likely to be sold, raped, or beaten. It is horrific, but almost unremarkable in history because it is so common. In most places, it has been considered a far worse thing to treat the women of one's own tribe badly. Even in places where women are in fact treated quite badly, there is often an official party line that they are treated quite well. Even in some Christian groups in the West, where this attitude is been discredited for some time, we still find it. And in many Moslem cultures the contrast between the ideal (Women are treated with great respect, the Quran says so), and the daily reality of women's lives, is stark. Extending ultimately to the common condemnation of incest, to treat the women of one's own tribe badly is far more often condemned than however one treats girls from competing tribes.

Got that? Okay, the "tribes" reference should have been a hint. Think how liberal Christians are treated, not by secular conservatives, but by secular liberals. Think how conservative Christians are treated, not by secular liberals, but by secular conservatives. James Dobson has been the most critical of other conservatives, but he is not the only one to note how conservative evangelical concerns seem to be sent to the back of the line after elections are over. It occurs to me that we are now seeing the same thing with liberal contempt, not only of conservative Christians, but of liberal Christians.

Much was made of Obama's throwing his pastor and mentor under the bus. It's much worse than that: he threw his whole church under the bus. When condemned certain sermons of Wright's, and claimed he had not heard this theology in his time there, it went unnoticed that somebody must have heard the pastor preach those things, have thought it acceptable, and continued on. So Obama condemned the values of his entire congregation. Not that they complained, of course. We Christians love to be lied to by powerful people, apparently.

Remember also that Bill Clinton needed some quick moral cover and brought in Tony Campolo to spiritually advise him. I thought at the time that Campolo was likely a fool for believing Clinton, but had to admit that some Christian had to at least attempt the task. Since Campolo said some nice words about Clinton's efforts to reform, has Bill even thrown a cookie to the liberal church? Hasn't he, rather, been pretty open about not spending more than a few hours a month with his wife and running around, as if rubbing their faces in it? I guess the liberal Christians are now going to start getting the same treatment conservatives have been getting. Their fond hopes of influencing liberals for Christ by allying with them and giving them their support doesn't seem to be working very well.

Not that conservative Christians are in any position to sneer about that. The hyperventilating progressives fearful that the dangerous Religious Right must be stopped or we could rapidly descend into a theocracy need to get a grip. As if. Every other year, along about March or April, the Religious Right has a morning Walk of Shame across town in a rumpled cocktail dress, not even given cab fare for the ride home.

Liberal Christians seem to be getting a different style of humiliation. They're kept offstage most of the time as neglected wives, dragged out whenever erring hubby gets in trouble to help them look respectable ("Tell them we were at prayer meeting that night.")

I overdraw the picture, certainly. There are folks from both Christian camps who work very hard rendering unto God what is God's and Caesar what is Caesar's. But anytime we support a cause, we put ourselves in danger of giving our hearts to it, whoring after other gods. There are plenty of conservative Christians who have about had it with brethren who have lost all clarity about what God, exactly, is being served. There are fewer liberal Christians who have had this light go on, but they've been at it a shorter time. More will start to get it. May we race each other to that finish line, even if we all still vote the same as we do now.

The humiliated wife has gotten the kids off to school and still weeping, gone down to the open church a few blocks away. She goes to the left side of the church and pulls down the kneeler. Across the way on the right side she sees her sister, also kneeling and weeping in a cocktail dress.

Lord have mercy on us all.


Texan99 said...

I've never voted for anyone in the hope or expectation that he would institute policy that favors any Christian doctrine, unless it also happened to be a doctrine that appealed to a lot of people on broadly secular grounds. Partly, I didn't hope for such a thing because I thought it unlikely. But also, I didn't expect such a thing because I don't even want it.

I'm not a moral relativist. I don't think it's possible to develop laws for a just society without reference to supernatural standards of good and evil. As a Christian, I naturally think Christ is the right supernatural standard. Nevertheless, I've found that any set of laws that's based on an avowed or unavowed supernatural standard that's reasonably close to traditional Judeo-Christian mores works well enough that I can vote to support it, for purely worldly purposes.

Earlier in my life I reflexively voted Democratic. When I began to think things through carefully, I landed in the conservative camp, both because I prefer limited government and because conservatives, on the whole, make fewer foolish attempts to eliminate the concept of God and tradition from the frameworks that are supposed to undergird their policies. But I've never supported conservatives because I thought they would or should impose a Christian faith or practice on the populace.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Texan, your comment puts me in mind of the remark I recently heard from PJ O'Rourke: "I generally vote with the Republicans because they have fewer ideas. But not few enough."