Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cafeteria Christians Shouldn't Throw Stones

Avedon at the Sideshow linked to this LiveJournal post which attacks "Cafetaria [sic] Christianity", "a Christianity from which the Christ of the Beatitudes is oddly absent." The writer's target is a minister who says that his ministry in Haiti "would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I'm not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn't want to perpetuate that practice."

The article from which this quotation comes says that his ministry "has been distributing food in Haiti and proselytizing." Roz Kaveney, the LiveJournal writer, fumes,
None of this damn shilly-shallying about I was hungry and you gave me food, or good Samaritans who did not pass by on the other side in spite of belonging to a different religion, or, given that Amedia and his friends seem to be inciting religious violence against voodoo congregations, none of this blessed are the peacemakers nonsense either. This is a Christianity from which the Christ of the Beatitudes is oddly absent.
Except that, according to her own source, the bad fundamentalist has been giving food to the hungry, despite his reservations about their religious practices. He has not passed by on the other side, though he hints that he might do so later on. (Need I mention that the Good Samaritan is a fictional character in a parable -- an idealized symbol, not a real-life role model?) He's certainly not a good guy, given his apparent refusal to condemn the attacks by Haitian evangelicals on Haitian Voodoo practitioners reported in the original article, but Kaveney doesn't make herself look any better by attacking him for things he hasn't done.

And her sarcastic reference to "this blessed are the peacemakers nonsense" is quite ironic, a prime example of Cafeteria Christianity, which cherry-picks the nice bits from the gospels and ignores the less edifying parts. Jesus was no peacemaker. As Matthew 10:34-39 quotes him, in the New American Standard Version:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
Luke 12:49-53 (also the NASV) has this version of his words:
I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Whether you take these passages literally or metaphorically, their drift is that Jesus wanted to foster conflict, not peace. Nor do they stand alone in the gospels. Jesus is shown stirring up trouble in the synagogues with his interpretations of Torah, hailing the near arrival of the judgment and wrath of Yahweh on earth, threatens his audiences with eternal torment in hellfire if they don't listen to him, creates a disturbance in the outer court of the Jerusalem Temple, and effectively dares the city authorities to do something about it. Which they do; oops. He also sent mixed messages about pagans, to put it gently. Since the gospels are not even clear about Jesus' mission, or why he chose these specific provocations, all we are left with is the fact that he was no Mister Nice Guy.

I don't point these matters out to endorse fundamentalism, which of course I reject just as I reject all varieties of Christianity, and all religions. I'm "just saying," to use Kaveney's closing words. Just saying that Kaveney (and her commenters) are as selective as the fundamentalists they judge and condemn so lightly. A Christianity based on one of the Beatitudes is a Christianity from which the Jesus of hellfire and damnation is oddly absent. (One commenter griped about "Old Testament" Christianity, buying into the familiar lie that the Old Testament is about wrath while the New is about Love. But Jesus was full of wrath, and Hell is a feature of the New Testament, not a bug in the Old. He or she was promptly corrected by other commenters, however.) Jesus also taught about picking the log out of one's eye before fussing about the speck in one's brother's eye; but I don't see any recognition in Kaveney's post that fundamentalists are her brothers. Just saying.