Thursday, March 03, 2011

What God Wants Politically

In theory, I want Christians commenting on secular sites to bring their faith to the topic, to offer some perspective that is necessary and missing from the discussion.

In practice, nearly everyone who does it, left/right/whatever, does it in a way that is jarring. There seems to have not been a following of the discussion as it is occurring, an intruding of a favorite soapbox that doesn't quite fit.

Whenever I attempt such things, I try to create some segue, some context or disclaimer for the secular reader. I don't know that I succeed.

I had thought that the problem was merely because of the space constraint. It is hard to get a complex theological idea into concise form after all. But I have concluded that this is not the whole problem. The recent statement by Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, et alia seems like nothing so much as simply talking past those who disagree with them, without the slightest attempt to understand. And the replies - I think the one in Commentary is the most referenced - are no better. People bring that into threads seem to come out of left field, also unaware of what has been said leading up to their comment.

I just don't get the complete assurance that they know what Jesus would say. If there is one thing that is most shockingly notable about Jesus's comments, it is that He often stepped back and took a very different view than the common argument, identifying a neglected piece that is, when examined, far more important than anything the disputants had been saying. That may be the most obvious thing about Jesus and the question of taxes, or who shall be married to whom in heaven, or whether we should feast, or whether the precious oil should have sold and given to the poor. He gives an answer that is essentially outside the context of what everyone else is saying, yet stunningly, the simple answer.

Christian commenters do the opposite. They are firmly embedded in the discussion as it occurs along secular lines, but rip out some verses from the NT to club others with. Perhaps we lay people could hardly be expected to do better, but folks with theological training...

No, I won't even go there. It seems like it should be true, but I don't believe it. Jesus said repeatedly that the main point was believing in him, being willing to admit wrong, being willing to give up anything to receive the Kingdom of God. I didn't say that, He said it. From whence comes this idea that we can just skip over that part and say "Oh yeah, believing in Jesus, sure, that's number one. But what I really want to talk about is..."

I don't get it.


Texan99 said...

\\When I was not a Christian, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me was the way some evangelists had of almost chanting scripture at me glassy-eyed. I think you've identified the problem: they weren't in a conversation with me any more. They'd retreated to some comforting spot within themselves.

Since I lost my faith in atheism, I haven't been able to make sense of the world without positing God in it. But I still remember what it was like not to believe in God, and I hope I still remember how ineffective some evangelical approaches are to people who were not raised with any faith.

Dubbahdee said...

You seem to be referring to a specific incident re: wallis, campolo and crew.

What might that be?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"What Would Jesus Cut?" is the new Wallis campaign. But I wanted to be careful to note that his critics aren't thrilling me much either.

jaed said...

From whence comes this idea that we can just skip over that part and say "Oh yeah, believing in Jesus, sure, that's number one. But what I really want to talk about is..."

[I'm late again.]

If you notice, that's not exactly what all these people are saying. They're saying something more like, "Believing in Jesus is number one, and believing in Jesus absolutely requires that you support [list elements of political or social program here]."

It's not that they consciously shove Jesus into the background or make him into pleasing decoration for the Cause. That would be more honest and umch less hazardous.

What I think they're actually doing is replacing Jesus with the Cause, but calling the cause "Jesus". It's why quoting at people doesn't seem jarring to them; when they discuss the Cause, they're discussing Christianity, right? So quotes are completely appropriate.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Very Screwtape, eh?

jaed said...

Mmm, yes. I remember a Lewis passage - not sure whether it's in Screwtape or not - about "Christianity-and": Christianity and Social Justice, Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and Spelling Reform... there always has to be something else, and it may start out as Christianity plus something, but it always ends up as "Christianity (or religion in general) is important primarily because it's so useful in accomplishing spelling reform." It becomes the subsidiary partner, the means to an end.