Sunday, March 16, 2014

You Can't Live Long in a Carnival The Blessed Community Won't Be One

Last year, in a conversation with a friend of mine who is a Congregationalist, I shocked him by mentioning that Pius XII called Karl Barth the most significant theologian since Thomas Aquinas.  Since, the Catholic Church back then, and especially under his ultra-conservative, neo-medieval pontificate, Aquinas's theology was THE OFFICIAL Catholic theology, him saying that about a Reformed theologian would be entirely unexpected.  Catholics were still being told that it was a sin to enter a protestant church around here.    My mouth might have fallen open when I read it a few years back.  I mean, Pius XII was more Catholic than the Pope. The lesson of this is that things in even the most conservative of Christianity has often been a lot more open than it's believed to be.

Oh, when Barth was told about the nice things that Pius said about his writing, he said, "This proves the infallibility of the Pope."

I was fascinated to hear this interview with Brian McLaren, a figure in the emergent Christianity movement, usually described as a part of the evangelical branch of Protestantism,  something which, I'll admit, I haven't paid a lot of attention to.  His description of how he went from an ultra-conservative fundamentalist church, The Plymouth Brethren, to breaking with that over evolution, through a conversion experience in the Jesus Movement of the 60-70s, and to the spontaneous formation of a house church and on to where his Christianity is radically different from what he began with.   Especially interesting to me is how his radical change was based in looking more deeply at the Bible, of reading more of the words, the things that, as he mentions he missed due to what he concentrated on before.

His point that The Lord's Prayer explicitly calls for The Kingdom of God to be formed on Earth, something that hasn't seemed to be noticed by hundreds of millions of Christians who probably recite the words weekly, if not several times a day.

Oh, what an amazing time to be alive. So I'm sure I can't be exhaustive in this, but I'll just give you a couple that quickly come to mind. So 100 years ago, Walter Rauschenbusch, this German Baptist pastor — Walter Rauschenbusch goes back and reads the Gospels and realizes, wow, Jesus had this message called the Kingdom of God.

And for so many Christians, Kingdom of God had been reduced to going to heaven after you die and he made this slight observation that, in the Lord's Prayer, it says "may your kingdom come, may you will be done down here on earth." In other words, the direction of the Bible was downward, not upward. I mean, that changes the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. got hold of that. Others got hold of that.

That was one of the most transformative ideas of my life. I grew up in the church all my life. It wasn't until I was in my 40s that I realized that the Kingdom of God was not going to heaven after you die. Oh, my goodness. Then you add to that the insights of liberation theology from Latin America and places in Africa, this obvious, obvious discovery that the primary biblical narrative is exodus, that when God made a decision to support slaves, not slave owners, that's one of the most radical ideas in the world.

Just as an aside, this would be interesting to bring up to right-wing evangelicals as well as allegedly left wing people who heap denigration "evangelicals".    There are few people who are more converted to do good with the power of evangelicals who see the light.

The same people have made the most appalling accommodations to imperial systems, to oppressive systems that are the opposite of what The Kingdom of God, the place where the blessed community, would life. As Brian McLaren points out,  Christianity's great sin has been the pragmatic and violent adoption of the program of most earthy and wealth based systems, resulting in deaths and oppression around the world.   That massive list of sins that atheists are always bringing up, the sins that Christians have not adequately confessed and abandoned.   They might pray for the coming of the Kingdom on Earth but they have no intention of living in a way that would embody that coming.  In that they betray that they don't really believe it.

Brian McLaren talked about the lessons he learned from his gay son and the difficulty he ran into when he participated in his son's wedding to another man.  And in that I will offer my congratulations but will also make a point about difficulties in any rapprochement and between Christians and gay folks, and not just gay folks.

I grew up a liberal in New England, my parents were Eleanor Roosevelt liberals who grew over the course of their lives to become increasingly liberal, while remaining Catholics.  Their Catholicism was the kind that embraced Vatican II and the fresh air it let in.  After The Blessed Good Pope John died and Paul VI slowed down the change, I became increasingly disillusioned with the hierarchy, though certainly not Catholics in general, and I stopped going to church.  I didn't stop supporting Maryknoll and The Medical Missionaries of Mary or the United Farmworkers Movement.   I became officially agnostic, realizing that there was no way to know the answer to whether or not God was real and studied Theravada Buddhism.

Then, about twelve years ago, I had what I now realize was a conversion experience, or maybe it was more an integration of all of the things I'd learned from my parents, from the example of other good people.   It was a sudden realization that most if not all of the evil humans do is based in regarding other people, other animals, other living beings as objects of commerce and utility.

That conversion was the product of a confrontation of the gay porn that was, inevitably, encountered while reading gay media online.  It forced an admission that the message of gay porn was that other men were objects for use.  That casual, anonymous sex of the kind that oppression had made normal for gay men had that as a basis.  And that the emergent culture that was being presented to the world as "gay culture" in all its gaudy, unserious, decadent amorality contained all that was wrong with straight culture.*  Only the determinant in who did the using and who was used was based on physical strength, comparative ruthlessness, deception, exploitation of levels of experience, and exploitation of the mentally ill and damaged.  The fact that they shared a gender and a sexual orientation made exactly no difference, that they shared a wider experience of oppression only provided the stronger men the expression of their oppression and the weaker ones, the understanding of their role in their own oppression.  With that realization, the bright shiny veneer of modernism that had covered up the real nature of so much of what I'd come to accept as good was destroyed, though it took me most of the last decade to realize that.

There are two hands holding down gay people, one is that of the remnants of cultural hatred,  what is expressed by the Republican Party, even as it dies in the general culture.  The other is the habits of thought built up over the combination of internalized hatred and modeling our relationships on the same dynamics that oppress women.  That must be broke if we are to be truly free.  I have come to believe that the only force that will do that is religious conversion of the type that is ongoing in my life.  It is only through that that sex, in general, gay or straight, can go from the commodification of one and the consumption of another to an expression of mutual love.

The horrific amount of spiritual damage that hatred of gay people, especially gay men, is seen all the more clearly for the removal of legal and even political restrictions on us.   Healing that won't be easy, especially due to the mutual hostilities built up between religion and gay people, though most of the gay people I have known have, in fact, been religious.   The greatest force to accomplish that is contained in the tradition of Justice that powered the civil rights movement, the thing that empowered the Christians who laid their lives on the line to make enormous changes in the face of overwhelming opposition.   If that tradition of justice is absent, any liberation will merely be the reproduction of former systems of oppression with the characters, the oppressors and the oppressed, being changed.

*  I've had many straight people who are anything from outraged to confused when I criticize that "gay culture" until they are asked if they would like to be treated in those prescribed ways, to be considered as the "bottom" is treated in those presentations, if they would like to be presented as a superficial and frivolous figure of entertainment instead of as a full person with a full range of possibilities and entitlements.   Women seem to have an easier time understanding the point than straight men do.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to come back to this. By strange coincidence I've finally started reading Dom Crossan's short work on the Lord's Prayer, which he calls the greatest prayer in religion, mostly because it extends beyond Judaism or Xianity.

    or something. I'm too lazy to get up and find my copy and quote him directly. Anyway, Rauschenbusch is fundamentally the way all mainline (i.e., non fundamentalist) Christian churches (Protestant, anyway) approach the idea of the basiliea tou theou. As something present here and now, not in the sweet bye and bye.

    I gotta come back to this topic, in other words. Excellent points made, btw.