Dating back from our homeschooling days, a 4-year period when we first moved to Michigan (more about that some other time), I am still on the list of the one of the leading booksellers; I’m not sure of the title, just know it features “Christian” and “Family” prominently.
For those who come to me via the spouse, I will tell you now that yes, I’m a Christian. I also detest Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, a whole bunch of newer versions of them who have cropped up, and the bulk of the “doctrine” that spews from their mouths. I think Mel Gibson is completely out of his mind. I am in line with my spouse on many things theological, I just happen to have latched on to a particular brand while he remains more generic (and at times, down-right anti any theological approach at all; he’s quirky, all right).
Now, he didn’t know this about me when we moved in together, and I know it threw him. At the time, my beliefs were not particularly justified or explored. From the age of 4, I was raised evangelical/fundamentalist, and couldn’t wait to get out of the house to have fun and basically disregard everything I’d been taught for 13 of my 17 years. Through my early to mid-20s, I was as close to agnostic as you can get without the courage to offend my parents, still throwing up a request now and then to the Great Jukebox in the sky. When my first husband became fatally ill, I thought God was Zeus-like, cruel, capricious. But over the course of the illness, which lasted 2 and half years, I began to feel a shelter around me that somehow kept me going. I called it God – specifically, Jesus, whose story and words touched me increasingly as I started really reading them. But a name is not enough to really impart the deep peace that I would be able to tap into when things were at their very worst.
Nonetheless, I didn’t question much, and I have the spouse to thank for triggering what I hope continues to be a pretty rigorous exploration of what I really believe. By his own admission, he was quite nasty early on, hurling invective whenever the subject came up to point out how stupid/insane I had to be (the old intellectual party line; gotta love it). But I figured anything worth believing must be able to withstand attack. So I started to read Mencken and Vidal and Bertrand Russell and Twain to see how much I could take – certainly it was easier hearing it directly from them than from DP in the heat of battle. (They’re also infinitely more entertaining and eloquent than the current crop of Big Money Professional Atheists, who include Hitchens and crankypants Richard Dawkins.) I’ve also read plenty on Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and basically all the other competitors. Religion fascinates me, as do attacks on it, now that I accept them as a good and necessary thing rather than something to get all knee-jerky about. Fundamentalism basically trains you to just say, “I’m Right, because the Bible says so!” and either storm out of the room or add a placid, “I’ll pray for you.” Neither approach is acknowledging that the opposition has, er, a point, or even the right to one.
A.N. Wilson’s somewhere in between, rejecting the divinity of Christ but drawn to the character and message. Currently, I’m reading his Jesus: A Life, which I picked up in a Brooklyn Hts. thrift store on my recent visit there with the eldest (a lovely trip by the way, more about which, maybe, later). I think if pretty much any member of my birth family (as opposed to my current family, including DP and kids) read it, their hair would turn white if not fall right out. Wilson tends to pick and choose from the different gospels, rejecting certain things outright – Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, for instance, which does sound pretty unlikely in those days of primitive and frankly dangerous travel – yet accepting others that seem as random (his distant blood relation to John the Baptist) and even going on to build fairly extensive speculations based on the accepted “fact” (quotes because why this is somehow more probable than Bethlehem seems to be a little sketchy). In this, he’s no different from most Bible folk, who skip all sorts of things in Leviticus, like selling your daughter into slavery and sacrificing bulls, as well as verses like “Be ye separate,” which the Amish take quite literally. I prefer his approach, where the New Testament is poked and prodded and manhandled in a genuine, heartfelt search for answers rather than slapped with the bumper sticker “God Said It. I Believe It. That’s All There Is to It.” Wilson’s way forces some hard thinking and often rethinking. I like this, even if many so-called Christians seem to not just dislike it, but actively recoil at the very thought of it.
Which brings me back to my impetus for this post: that damn home schooling catalog. Replete with carefully screened books sure not to ever raise a question or independent thought in the budding fundamentalist’s hardening head, the thing that sent me off the rails was an ad for a series of reprinted books by one G.A. Henty. Henty wrote a bunch of novels that seem like the international versions of Horatio Alger: good, hard-working boys who get sucked into some juicy historical conflict like the Crusades or the Boer War and prevail through outstanding character and steadfast clean living. I actually picked one up for the spouse in a used book store because I loved the title, By Pike or Dyke, which I gather has something to do with Holland (rather than San Francisco. Tip your waitresses!). But the catalog selling line for this is, “If your 14-17 year-old boy wants adventure before he’s ready for bootcamp…”
Now, the catalog writer’s army-age son is featured in the catalog providing commentary; he is NOT posting remotely from Iraq. But it’s fine to act like bootcamp’s a wholesome alternative to reading for all those other people’s kids – and never once state the truth, that everything about the current war (any war, in my opinion, come to in part by writings of the great Howard Zinn) is an abomination in the eyes of all but the most bloodthirsty deity: the murder, the rape, the theft, the lies, the hypocrisy, the quest for power and domination, the complete disregard for human life as rich guys get a whole lot richer and everybody else dies or is horribly maimed. It is so anti-Christian – unless of course, like many fundamentalists, you’re completely ignoring all those verses about peacemakers, the pure in heart, and the meek in order to skip right to that part where Paul trashes homos. (By the way; Jesus never mentions homosexuals once, and in fact, one suspects, was probably hanging out with them; why does everyone assume that all the prostitutes the Pharisees complained about so vigorously were women?)
Of course, the real howlers in the catalog are the science and Social Studies sections. Did you know that God personally ordained the creation of the United States? That the world is a mere 6,000 years old? That those 6 days of creation were literal days and if you say they may possibly be metaphorical days rather than 24-hour ones, you’re a – sneer – compromiser? To quote Paul, “May it never be.” Or perhaps, more appropriately, John: “Jesus wept.” Sigh. It’s no wonder so many people think Christians are all idiots.
Just this week, the minister at the church I go to (and the main reason I go to my church), VietNam vet Irvin Green, talked about MLK being ignored once his activism turned toward stopping the war – a stance he took that was directly influenced by his Christianity. Christ’s teachings and message are completely radical. The man was clearly, based on the reporting, superbly intelligent and extremely troubling. He deserves better than oversimplification, surface readings, blind acceptance, and all the absolutely horrible things people do in his name. For Christ’s sake (get it?), read the Beatitudes a few thousand times, and then maybe we can focus on the real families: the ones who desperately need universal health care, decent living wages, safe affordable housing, and above all, compassion, acceptance, and an absolute lack of judgment. Is that really so hard to see?
Apparently. As the spouse once wrote:
What would Jesus do under George W. Bush?
About 10-20 in Leavenworth.