Thursday, April 16, 2009

Misplaced Faith

I've been trying to find words to refute Ross Douthat's recent column in The Atlantic about how "feel-good theology" can be seen as a cause for the ills of the prior maladministration: the GWoT, the financial crises, and the various catastrophic missteps that marked the past eight years. Today I found them - reading his colleague Andrew Sullivan's first take on the Bush memos just released.

Douthat's assertion that there are correlations between "the kind of self-centered, sentimental, and panglossian religion described [in the article he references] and the spirit of unwarranted optimism and metaphysical self-regard that animated some of Bush's worst hours as President" is now demonstrably false. The Bush presidency was none of the sappy pseudovirtues Douthat detests: it was cruel, cold, calculating and demonstrably offensive. It exhibits none of the positive aspects of "moralistic therapeutic deism," and instead embraces narrowly exceptional, obscenely messianic, militant fundamentalism: there are but a few "real Christians" who are not afraid to do anything - at all - in the name of the Faith, who believe the end justifies any and all means, and who are ready to perform the most obscenely cruel acts on any who disagree.

Those of us who grew up with believers in such a narrow, small Xtian philosophy have known this for some time. It can be said that we, who knew what these monsters were beneath the veneer of righteousness, did all we could to call out their false platitudes and deceptive jargon to any who would listen. Too often, however, too many were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt: they were, after all, Christian - they couldn't possibly be as malignant as we said.

Now we all know better.

The memos tell a clear and illuminating tale of how far supposedly righteous Christian leaders were prepared to go, not merely to defend their own, but to advance their agenda. If these documents are any indication whatever, they indicate a most narrow, dark, bitter and malignant theology, blind to its evil and convinced of its rectitude, and more than willing to extend its aims far beyond the GWoT. This is not the tale of a "watered-down, anemic, insipid" theology; this is a tale of the same kind of absolutist cruelty that sacked Jerusalem a thousand years ago, exterminated whole towns, tortured and murdered even its own followers for heresy, and refused - to the point of executing whole sects - to accept its own fallibility interpreting its own Scriptures and admit to any fault in their horrific application.

Douthat, however, is right in one sense. The acceptance of "feel-good Christianity" was harmful in one key way. It gave these monsters room to maneuver, and it inhibited its followers from standing up against those machinations out of respect for the "faith" espoused by those harming us. Too few called to task those advocating and prosecuting the obscenity that the GWoT has now been shown to have been. Too few called up the Commandments, the Beatitutes and Matthew 22:37-40:
"And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
If Christianity has any hope of excising this false, cruel and hypocritical Xtian philosophy from its ranks, it must learn to remain skeptical, and not to fall silent when evil works its will in the Lord's name.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things I really like about reading your posts is that you do not dip into invective, nor do you engage in generalisms. That was what attracted me to Shakesville (then Shakespeare's Sister) two years ago when I first started spending time in the "blogosphere".

    In this specific post, I appreciate (as an Agnostic, even) that you delineate between "Christian" and "Xtian". So many of my fellow questioners and non-believers paint all who believe in a God with the same brush of derision.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, Boatboy!