Sunday, December 8, 2013

True Christianity in Action!

What a week.  Numerous things I won't bother you with have conspired to keep me from posting since Tuesday, and the next week doesn't look much better.  Partly the problem is that there are too many things I meant to write about, and I couldn't choose one to start with.  But a couple of related matters intruded on my consciousness today and effectively chose for me.
A good friend posted this to Facebook today.  Predictable.  He's another one of the many otherwise sensible people who are slobbering all over the new Pope.  I could only sigh, since there's so much wrong here that I hardly know where to begin.

I suppose my first objection is to the assumption that concern for the poor and disadvantaged, opposition to exploitative capitalism, and commitment to individual kindness is somehow specifically Christian.  But Christianity got those teachings from Judaism, and in reality most religions and cultures have such teachings -- at least as ideals to be paid lip service.  Outside the Yahwist tradition, Buddhists were building free hospitals, offering free education and other such services under the Emperor Asoka in the third century BCE, when Jesus wasn't yet a gleam in his Father's eye.  Temples served similar functions in Greco-Roman paganism too, if I remember right.  As an atheist, it seems to me that the virtues Francis is preaching (and to some extent practicing, if you don't count excommunicating pro-gay, feminist priests), are human values, not specifically or uniquely Christian ones.  But that's okay; Mom taught me to share, and I'm happy to share human virtues with Christians.  They just don't get to claim ownership.

The comments under the source for this meme are predictably depressing, but maybe the most emblematic ones are from people who say things like "He's more like Jesus than any U.S. politician who claims to have his endorsement!" or "As an athiest I have to say I like his messeges, seems more christ like than anyone else i've heard" or "I can count on one hand the number of people who call themselves "Christians" who actually act Christ-like. Most of them have all the judgement and intolerance without any of the compassion." I can't think of any Christians who are really Christlike. Not one I know of can walk on water, feed 5000 people by multiplying loaves and fishes magically, still storms, drive out demons, heal the sick, or raise the dead. That includes Francis. True, there are some who threaten people with eternal hellfire for not believing the right things, as Jesus liked to do, but anybody can do that. Jesus explicitly promised that his true followers would be able to do the same miracles he did. So let's get with the program, Christians!

The same friend later posted a link to this post which reports that the Westboro Baptist Church has announced plans to fly to South Africa and picket Nelson Mandela's funeral.  My friend commented "This could be a suicide protest for them although Mandela himself wouldn't have wanted that. I honestly wish I felt worse about that possibility." Not only Mandela but that fine, exemplary Christian would probably disapprove, but it's so typical to see Christians invoking Christian virtues selectively. I was really disturbed by my friend's barely-veiled hope that the WBC people will be killed in South Africa.  I've seen that sort of thing before.  "Very Christian of you," I commented, to which my friend replied with remarks about "guilt" that made no sense to me.  I wouldn't shed a tear for them either (or for numerous other people whose lives my friend would care about more, I think), but I'm not a Christian.  Nor do I try to make myself look moderate (or morally courageous, standing out in the crowd) by yelling loudly about how awful Westboro is, as many Christians do.  Maybe that's the kind of "being Christian" Pope Francis wants to foster, though.

The post my friend linked to was even worse.  The writer piously hoped that the WBC cranks would meet their doom in South Africa.
I’m not saying that I want the members of Westboro Baptist Church to meet an ill fate in South Africa, I’m just saying it could happen. The simple fact is that the hate group is saying that they’ll venture into a country whose murder rate is the 15th highest in the entire world. And that once there, they intend to celebrate — away from the protection of American police — the death of the most beloved man in that country.
Oh yes, I'm completely convinced that this writer (who, by the bye, writes semi-anonymously, under his first name and an initial) doesn't "want" them to be killed.  The moral cowardice in those words is so typically, cravenly, despicably liberal.  To add to the fun, he begins his screed by saying:
In what has become par for the course with Westboro Baptist Church, they have jumped on the most emotionally tugging current event in an effort to get media attention.
And then he points that while the South African Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the guarantee
doesn’t extend to “incitement of imminent violence” or “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.” Well, turns out their hatred is based on their “religion.” Some may also think it’s about race, even though Westboro Baptist Church claims it’s not.  and if they do this in South Africa, there’s a good chance they’ll incite some awesome imminent violence.
("Awesome."  What a giant, pustulent, encrusted twit you'd have to be to write that.)  That being so, the South African government might well decide not to let the WBCers into the country in the first place. They're certainly not obligated to admit them.  And as the writer points out, Westboro has on numerous occasions announced its intent to picket this or that funeral, then quietly failed to show up.  Which takes me back to the writer's initial statement that "In what has become par for the course with Westboro Baptist Church, they have jumped on the most emotionally tugging current event in an effort to get media attention":  In what has become par for the course, liberal media have jumped at the opportunity to give Westboro Baptist Church all the free publicity they could wish for.  They don't even have to appear, for liberals and conservatives alike will whip themselves into self-righteous frenzy about these awful people.

The writer also complains that by not showing up, the Phelpses have deprived "counter-protesters the benefit of giving them the finger or blocking their view of the event."  (Personally, I think that liberals and progressives should hire the WBC to come to visit: it would gin up all kinds of publicity and fund-raising possibilities for local liberal causes.)  In most if not all cases, the Westboro pickets aren't near enough to see "the event."  The law in various US locales requires them to picket "on a public street 1,000 feet from the site of the funeral; they complied with the law and with instructions from the police, and they protested quietly and without violence."  But these fine, upstanding, truly Christian folk like to imagine the Phelpses standing at the gravesite, foaming at the mouth and spitting on the bereaved.  Sort of the way that more conservative Christians like to imagine homosexual orgies, or some respectable Romans liked to fantasize about primitive Christians' "love feasts," which involved blowing out the lamps, copulating promiscuously with one another, and eating a human infant.  There's nothing like prurient fantasy to show real Christianity in action.

Though I despise the WBC as well, I can't work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for giving them tons of publicity, which is what really encourages them to continue.  For that matter, I recall that when they began their career of infamy by picketing the funerals of people who'd died of AIDS, the straight media clucked disapprovingly, but the campaign to silence them altogether didn't gain any steam until they moved to less safe subjects, like fallen US military.  Then a lot of people got worked up into a lather -- but in the US, as opposed to South Africa or Canada or the UK, the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech still means something, even for the most loathsome, hateful people.  But what really dispirits me here is this complacent self-styled liberal Christian indulgence in murderous fantasy, though I guess if you pretend to be all about Love, you have to hate somebody as a safety-valve.  And come to think of it, when I consider Jesus' fondness for threatening people he disliked with endless torture in hellfire, this kind of murderous fantasy is pretty Christlike.