Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Why Don't You Admit It, You're a Christian!"

It was a demand, not a question.   And it wasn't made to elicit information but as a means of trying to discredit what I was saying.  In the bizarre conventions that govern conventional thinking in our alleged enlightenment,  it is discrediting of what someone says if they are Christians while it is not held to be discrediting if someone is an atheist, an agnostic, a Jew, a Buddhist, etc.   It's like the widespread practice in the media and in courtrooms to exclude opponents of the death penalty from juries and even a place in the discussion of state killing, only even more extreme in its consequences.

It is an unstated feature of that convention that atheism is some kind of guarantee of ideological neutrality and based in honesty when a reading of the literature of atheism and its presence in politics in history shows that is entirely more laughable than the far more modest claim of papal infallibility, and far more piously asserted and held than that dogma which most Catholics I know don't really believe.   Atheism is a prerequisite for membership in an influential elite that has its own set of group interests and self-claimed privileges.

Considering that the  college educated, especially elite college-educated and Ivy League class, "enlightened" ones who seem to dominate so much of the discussion must, by the numbers they claim to live by, could constitute no more than about a tenth to a about a thirty second part of the population - depending on how tightly that circle is drawn, the academic-media share that draws it should hardly wonder why the vast majority of people don't find them credible.   If you begin by ignoring about 85% of the population (more or less) you shouldn't be surprised when they have no problem ignoring you back, disregarding what you say and coming up with alternatives to pay attention to.   I'm only sorry that due to the foolish and false propaganda that identifies the "enlightened" media and academia with liberalism that the real left hasn't generated those alternatives in the numbers and of the size that we need.  Perhaps when Christian liberals realize that the New York Times, MSNBC, NPR and others are neither liberals nor that they respect us*, we will generate the same kind of infrastructure that the right has.

That the pseudo-left, even as it is critical of the corporate media, nevertheless, practices merely a variation on its real politique, materialist, scientism, only shows it has provided no real alternative to it.    Even the best of that, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, etc. has failed in that way and show no sign of improvement.   The publications of the liberal Christian  churches and Jewish groups are a lot more promising for the future, I'd guess.


But I am going to answer the question why I don't declare myself as a Christian or a member of any denomination.

The problem isn't that I don't find the words of Jesus or large parts of the Christian tradition to be convincing, absolutely, and confirmed in looking at subsequent history and according to my personal experience, it's that I can't choose from among the various alternatives.   No human institution is going to contain all of the truth and no human institution isn't going to present problems of error, corruption and other vicissitudes of the human condition.  Any choice to identify with one of them might be a very good choice but it, in itself, wouldn't entirely satisfy even my partial understanding of what was needed.   And I'm not entirely convinced that good choices among those would be limited to Christian denominations.

The problem is that there are so many good religions to join.   I'm considered by the Catholic church to be a member of that church since I was baptized into it, received communion and confirmation into it and have never done anything that would warrant them kicking me out.   It's the church of my parents and grandparents, a tradition I have a lot of respect for even as I have enormous problems with both its history and its present day practices.   I do like Pope Francis, even as I disagree with him over such questions as women being ordained and other basic issues.  He's a great step in a better direction that his two immediate predecessors.   But I also like the United Church of Christ, one of the great liberal institutions in my area of the country, which I only grow in respect for but I don't think I'd feel entirely at home there, either.   I've attended the local Friend's meeting and like a lot about that, though I find some of the members of it entirely too unitarian for my liking, in thought but even more so in narrow minded dislike of the kind I talked about above.   I haven't gone to the monthly programmed Quaker meeting a town over from them,  I suspect they would be quite a different group but don't know.   I was, several years back, attracted to the "Conservative" Jewish congregation nearest to me but the very nice Rabbi pointed out, it was based on a kind of community that I would probably find both geographically and temperamentally hard to really join into. He is a very wise man, though younger than me instead of older.    Episcopalians have the best music and an inclusive clergy, also a lot in common with Roman Catholicism, but they're not an exact fit either.   A lot of them are inclined towards the very thing I mentioned above but I think the ones I know are far more likely to take what Jesus said seriously than they were during most of their history.  The same for a lot of the liberal Christians, reduced in numbers, perhaps, but far more inclined to practice justice over promotion of rigid doctrine.   The law kills but the spirit gives life.  

I will throw in that I very seriously studied Theravada Buddhism for a number of years and while I have enormous respect for much of it, especially the ethical holdings and those Buddhists who take those very seriously and recognize that their meditation practice is one of the great gifts to the human culture and something that Christians could benefit from studying, adapting and practicing, I found its metaphysical basis unconvincing and its relative lack of an emphasis on justice unsatisfying.   That it was based on an admirable rejection of the developing caste system of India makes that rather mystifying to me.   I practice a form of meditation derived from Buddhist discoveries but in a context of the Jewish-Christian tradition that I doubt would please most Buddhists but which I find works.

So, I think I'll remain unchurched, more or less.  I won't even call myself a "Christian" because so many people think they know what that means and what they mean has nothing to do with what it would mean if I used the word.  I would include a lot of Christians in that because so much of the claim on the word has nothing to do with Jesus or the Jewish prophetic tradition, the law or anything to do with the greatest of all innovations in that line, justice and equality.   I think a lot of those who claim the term for themselves are liars and hypocrites and do nothing but discredit the word by their actions.  I don't think it would be useful to take the word on while that's one of its most commonly misused denotations.   Though that was what the sci-ranger, atheist blog boy wanted it to be understood as meaning.   I have noted a number of times that they and the "Christian" right have a lot more in common than either of them would like to admit.

*  Not to mention that they don't deserve any confidence or respect either.  But I might get into one of the very emblems of that cultural elite, Thomas Friedman's call to now support ISIS and the fact that he can still work in that media more than a dozen years after his support for the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around such an enormous symbol of the total decadence and dishonesty that represents.   And he's only one of those who could be chosen.

Update:   About two hours after I posted this, this interview with Garry Wills (not to be confused at all with George F. Will) on the past, present and future of the Catholic Church was posted.   He notes many interesting things about how, contrary to what traditionalists and neo-atheists like to claim about the monolithic, dictatorship they represent as the Catholic Church, that it is a far different entity.   I like his point about how bishops will say things they know the current pope will like and not say things they know he'll dislike as a means of advancing themselves - for good or bad depending on the pope - but that Catholics have a long history of just ignoring what Popes say when it doesn't match reality.

I also would point out that he expresses the hope that the Catholic church becomes more Protestant, which sort of goes along with what I'm saying about not choosing among the various ones because they all have their good points.  I think the decline of the old liberal churches (a decline, itself, over sold) has been far more of a disaster for liberalism in the United States than the wise refusal of the various anti-religious cults.   I'm hoping that trend continues as the new atheism gets ever older and more revolting.


  1. I'd just been through the Wills interview (lightly; I'll read it again later), and glanced at the comments, which included the usual measure of complete dross (no gold yet, by the way). Already monkeys flinging poo about the Catholic church of their imagination, disregarding whatever reality Wills presented (and his summation of the Church as an institution was, I thought, particularly fine).

    I especially liked what Wills said about what Francis (or any pope) can do and not do. Reminds me of the people demanding Elizabeth Warren run for POTUS because that will solve all our national, international, and political problems.

    As if.

    Funny how people who scream on the internet (or write articles on the internet) can't seem to understand a "superman," an "ubermensch," is not going to solve everything and fix all our institutions so they suit each of us particularly and individually. More and more of the internet I find to be similar to children playing in a sandbox, each demanding the others there play the game one person wants to play; but each, of course, demanding to be that one person.

    I don't know that the internet has infantilized us; but it isn't improving us by one jot. Of course, what would?

    I am working out my spirituality with fear and trembling, but I'm giving less and less consideration to what the critics of my approach would say, and considering more and more what I think is valuable is what matters. I am, for example, less and less interested in ideas, and more and more interested in what actions help people in need. Or just people.

    Tolstoy's question, "How should we then live?", seems the most burning of all. A recent post on Salon about American racism had a lot of initial comments complaining about having to consider the issue personally, about having to take on the responsibility for the racism that made this country what it is, this culture what it is. Shortly after that, the comments turned to how dumb racists are. The latter is a much easier topic to consider; but it's barely worth consideration.

    So slapping labels on people, declaring your group the only one with sound thinking, drawing circles about you and declaring "I am holier than thou" (which is what they mean, even if they are atheists): I'm tired of it. It's just children shrieking because they can't have their way.

  2. I think Warren should run for Pope, then declare Quakerism as the One True Religion.

    *eats vanilla-flavored unicorn poop ice cream thoughtfully*

    1. Nah, wouldn't suit you. Look at how the congress bosses around the District of Columbia, I can't imagine them getting a say in what Quakers do. They'd probably want to sell off the meeting houses to rich people to convert into 16th homes.

  3. Oh, I would start a splinter sect called Unfriendlies. Or maybe Forsakers.