Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Good Parts

Yesterday was the first day of Amy Coney Barrett's COVID-19-laden confirmation hearings before the US Senate.  I didn't watch or listen to them, of course.  Whatever I need to know will be reported in the news media -- what else are they for?  And she will most likely be confirmed, because Mitch McConnell wants it done and even if there's anything the Democrats could do (which there is), they aren't interested in doing it.  So here we are.

In the meantime, I've been impressed by the liberal caterwauling over Barrett's religious beliefs.  I take for granted that she wants an American theocracy as run by far-right Christian theocrats, which I don't want either, but Mitch McConnell wants her on the Court and the Democrats refuse to do anything but wail and gnash their teeth.

So, for example, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez added to her recent run of righteous indignation: "When politicians use faith as an excuse to pass and uphold laws that seize control of people’s bodies but not guarantee them healthcare, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, or welcome the stranger, you have to wonder if it’s really about faith at all." Right-wing theocrats do a lot of charitable work, and Barrett is apparently no exception.  It's a safe bet that she would agree with AOC about the importance of feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, and welcoming the stranger; but she wants that work left in the hands of private charity, which is always inadequate over the long haul -- that's why we have government programs.  Not for religious reasons, but for practical ones.  Even though I might get along better with AOC than ACB on theology, I don't like her using her faith as the norm for government or social action.  It is worrisome that she takes for granted that "faith" means her faith, to the exclusion of anyone else's.

And I don't think I really do get along with Ocasio-Cortez theologically.  She exhibits the usual liberal-Christian bad faith about Jesus:

Sick and tired of Republicans who co-opt faith as an excuse to advance bigotry and barbarism.

Fact is, if today Christ himself came to the floor of Congress and repeated his teachings, many would malign him as a radical and eject him from the chamber.

She's probably right on that point, but she'd be among the many.  If Jesus stood up before Congress and proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand!  Repent and believe in the good news!" and denounced them for not keeping every jot and tittle of the Torah, I don't think she'd find it any more congenial than most of her colleagues would.  If he ranted about plucking out their eye if it leads them to sin, I'm sure she'd consider that radical.  And if he singled her out and said, "Go, woman, and call your husband," she'd have to reply that she has no husband.

Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
Would that go over well?

I suppose she was thinking of the usual stuff about love and charity, and ignoring all the less cuddly stuff, as liberal Christians do.  When they imagine Jesus appearing in our midst, they never imagine him reading them the riot act, or demanding that they hate their own families if they want to be his disciple.  That's for the bad, false Christians, the Pharisees, not for good noble Christians like them.  It's pointless to tell them to read the Gospels, because they'd just skim, looking for the good parts about love and suffering the little children and stuff.  Which is there, but it's not all there is, and if you claim you follow the teachings of Jesus, you're stuck with all of them: fire and brimstone, the final judgment coming soon, the self-mutilation (it doesn't matter whether it's literal or figurative, it's still draconic).

As I started reading the replies, I noticed something else. Some of her antagonists accused her of claiming to know what was in their hearts.  And you know, they were right.  But then, they did the same, accusing her of not being a Christian, for example.  But that doesn't let her off the hook for being judgmental, it just means she's not as different from them as she wants to think.

Then there's "faith," as in "You have to wonder if it's really about faith at all."  Ocasio-Cortez assumes that faith means what she thinks it is, just like her antagonists.  But faith has no specific content.  The word means trust, loyalty, without regard to what or whom you trust or are loyal to.  A Mafia goon is loyal to his boss, and trusts his boss to take care of him and his family.  The religious Right are loyal to Yahweh as they conceive him, and they trust him to take care of them.  He doesn't, but they don't let that weaken their trust.

Somewhere along the line "faith" came to refer to sectarian affiliations, and it always sets my teeth on age when I encounter that usage.  But it has no inherent content either.  It contains whatever doctrines and ritual practices a sect pours into it, and that's historically a source of "interfaith" friction, best avoided by not thinking about the weird things Those People do: how they pray, when they kneel and when they get up in services, whether they cover their heads or not, the hymns they sing, the foods they won't eat or how they prepare the foods they will eat.  It's like what your married neighbors do in the sack at night, better not to think about it.  Better indeed not to think about what you do in the sack at night, because it's simultaneously beautiful and holy and gross and unnatural.  Better not to think at all.  

Ocasio-Cortez and Barrett are both Catholics, which shows you how little it means to share the same "faith."  It's like "gender," which quickly shatters into a million pieces if you examine it too closely.

It bothered me to see Ocasio-Cortez carrying on so shallowly, because she's usually very good at demolishing Republicans.  Religion is something else, though.  People of faith confronted with people of a different faith generally try to paper over their differences under a vague ecumenicalism; if they have to deal with differences, they don't do very well.  You're supposed to pretend that all roads lead to the same god, so you discreetly don't specify which god.  Politics has a better tradition of debate, and anyway Ocasio-Cortez isn't trying to pretend that they're all brothers and sisters in America.

It doesn't matter what Jesus taught, or what Christianity demands, as Amy Coney Barrett sits before Congress determinedly refusing to answer pertinent questions, because we have separation of government and religion here.  We don't have it because secular humanists tried to drive God out of the public sphere, but because the framers knew from recent history that without it, Christians will literally tear each other apart: it was Christians who wanted religious freedom the most, for just that reason.  But the same applies to Ocasio-Cortez.  

If someone declares their intention to use their office to advance the will of God, they've disqualified themselves.  It doesn't, of course, take much intelligence to avoid such a declaration. Arguing about the proper relation between Christians and the state, or about what Jesus really wanted, breaks down that uneasy truce among the cults.  It's also a waste of time that should be spent sorting out policy, especially in the cocktail of crises we're in now.  It's not up to the government to decide what is true Christianity, or what President Jesus would do. I've been bothered by Ocasio-Cortez' occasional flaunting of her faith, but she's going further now, and that's disturbing.  I expect and demand better from her, as I do from all people who are concerned about the threat posed by the religious Right.