Friday, July 16, 2010

Two ways of thinking

These are a couple of the most concise explanations of what I feel is wrong with politics and religion in America that I have ever heard. They are listener comments (letters-to-the-editor) from NPR's afternoon news program All Things Considered. Click here to listen to/see a transcript in the original context.

SIEGEL: And now your letters about yesterday's program. Many of you wrote about our story on Tea Party supporters and their belief that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are subverting the Constitution.
Well, Peter Lury(ph) of Richmond, Virginia, writes: One interviewee proudly proclaimed she does not study this hallowed document, but it's hard to understand why she claims the Obama administration is eviscerating the Constitution when it's not clear that the small copy she keeps in her purse has ever been read, much less understood.
NORRIS: And David Steigerwald(ph) of Columbus, Ohio, had this to say: I'm struck by the similarities between the Tea Party's concept of the Constitution and the way fundamentalists treat the Bible. Each is considered a sacred text, handed down from God through a handful of prophets and treated as immutable and inviolable. And yet, in both cases, the texts are read very selectively. Bits and pieces are plucked out, always without context, to defend a rigid political position. I'd wager the two groups overlap a lot in membership, as well as mentality.
I really don't think that it's so much a problem of conservative/liberal. We don't really understand what those terms mean anymore in America today.

I'm not so sure that it's a problem of Christian/nonchirstian. If only because too few Christians understand and really believe what Jesus taught or the example He set. Also because too many people abuse Christianity as a politically expedient tool or as an emotional weapon.

I think that the issue may be one of law and gospel, and frankly, as I've said before on this blog, an issue of love versus fear (1 John 4:18). Jesus died so that I can be forgiven an thereby be capable of a relationship with God. God makes me whole so that I can be capable of healthier relationships with others. It's all about the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

It seems to me that an awful lot of us who call ourselves Christian are not sharing grace and mercy and healing with those who need it, but instead are consumed with suspicion and frustration and indignation. Guess what, these are evidence of anger and insecurity and they eventually give birth to hatred and prejudice.

It also seems to me that an awful lot of us who call ourselves patriotic are not genuinely committed to the Constitutional ideals of unity, security, the common good, liberty, equality, empathy, responsibility, and participatory democracy, let alone civil debate.  Just as the only Bible verse many of us remember is John 3:16, the only Amendment any of us care about is the right to bear arms.

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but I realize that even Peter, Paul and John were imperfect, sinful men. I may think that Martin Luther wrote a lot of wise things about theology- but I realize that he was also dead wrong about a lot of things (like antisemitism).

I thank God for the maturity, foresight and intellects of men like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, and Payne. But they would all be quick to admit that they were just men, not demigods. They were fallible and finite. They designed a system of checks and balances to account for that. They knew that they couldn't know what our time would be like, so the intentionally devised a system and a Constitution that would  be adaptable, flexible, and relevant- not rigid, restrictive, or archaic- and most certainly not beneficial to a narrow and elect, privileged few.

Genuine Christians are humble servants. Fundamentalists are arrogant Pharisees, Judaizers (Galations 5:1-12), and white-washed hypocrites (Matt. 23:17).

Genuine Americans are egalitarians, compassionate idealists, and empathetic community builders. Tea Party extremist are at best deluded disciples of dangerous demagogues and at worst deceitful and volatile radicals who only wrap themselves in the flag and misuse religion to hide what they really are, mislead others, and deny to themselves that maybe there's a possibility that they're wrong.

President Obama reflected on this problem in his book The Audacity of Hope. When he was a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago, he wondered if his colleagues in the Theology department had the same struggle with students who tried to cite narrow references to back up their predetermined points of view but rarely bothered to read the document they so vehemently declared justified their positions.

One of the best things we can do as Christians, is to actually read our Bibles. One of the best things we can do as American citizens is to actually read the Constitution.

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