Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Christian Paradox (

Someone in the newsroom passed me an excellent essay in Harper's, The Christian Paradox. It sums up better than I ever could the central paradox of religious conservatives everywhere, not just Christian ones.

The closer religion and politics get, the worse both become. As the two near, the hard bits of any religion start dropping away. Tolerance and prohibition against killing civilians in Islam, for example. In Christianity, "minor" details such as the Sermon on the Mount, "love your neighbor as yourself" and "Sell all you have and come follow me" fall by the wayside as the focus shifts to eliminating taxes on our inheritance and killing as many terrorists as we can. Even the traditionally social-justice-focused Catholics, of which I'm a poor example, have become more and more obsessed with one, and only one, issue. And it isn't social justice.

Bill McKibben, in the Harper's essay, argues that the precepts of the current religious conservatism movement in the U.S. and Christianity are at odds, and for good reason. The religion, at its core, isn't conservative. It couldn't be more radical:
Love your neighbor as yourself: although its rhetorical power has been dimmed by repetition, that is a radical notion, perhaps the most radical notion possible. Especially since Jesus, in all his teachings, made it very clear who the neighbor you were supposed to love was: the poor person, the sick person, the naked person, the hungry person. The last shall be made first; turn the other cheek; a rich person aiming for heaven is like a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle. On and on and on—a call for nothing less than a radical, voluntary, and effective reordering of power relationships, based on the principle of love.
And this is true of other religions, as well. The major religions agree on an awful lot, much more than admitted. Much of what people hate religion for are politically expedient add-ons -- the subjugation of women, for example, or the battle against science -- all of which can be backed up if need be in the Torah, Bible, Koran... You can justify anything you want. You don't have to give up any of your prejudices, make any hard choices or give up any comforts, if you don't want to. But is that religion?

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