Sunday, August 5, 2012

City on a Hill or King of the Castle?

I was reading a funny article this morning about the country's leading expert on the vice-presidency.  I know, right?  And right there was this ad about Billy Graham, which said "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ."
Now first of all, I thought he was already dead.  Nope.  At 94 he is still visiting presidents and preaching the gospel, planning one last stadium tour of the kind he used to be famous for.  I have to admit that, as evangelicals go, I kind of like Rev. Graham.  He is a lot less partisan and more politically moderate than many of his peers.  In fact, in one recent interview, he said that one of his chief regrets was getting too involved in politics. [Here] He is still an opponent of Gay Marriage, but how much can we really expect from a nonagenarian Southern Baptist?  He is also the same man who has openly asked his peers why homosexuality should be such a big deal: “There are other sins," he said in 1997, "Why do we jump on that sin as though it’s the greatest sin?”  Interestingly the look of the ad seemed to parallel the look of a lot of Obama-related material.
So anyway, all of this is by way of saying that I am not knee-jerk hostile to Billy Graham; if today's evangelical leaders were more like him, I think we would be better off.  But the phrase "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ" really set me off.
Why?  Well unless you are a Mormon (or a member of some other faith where the United States actually has a role of sorts in your revelation) you have no business ascribing a particular interest in the USA to God.  You can believe in that. if you want, and it is clear that a lot of people do, especially politicians.  But no priest, minister, rabbi, imam, bonze, or other cleric has any business making that kind claim from the pulpit.  To do so is a kind of idolatry; it makes a fetish out of the nation, and places God's concerns and Human concerns on the same plane, perhaps even subordinating God to man. Anyone who makes such a claim—from within any faith—makes a claim that  degrades that person's co-religionists around the world.  This is the disturbing underbelly behind John Winthrop's famous (an oft-appropriated) "City on a Hill" quotation, the city that  Ronald Reagan always described as "Shining."  If we are shining on a hill then where is everyone else?  Dirty in a valley? Tarnished in a hole?
I can't have hope (or not have hope, for that matter) "for America because of Jesus Christ."  I can have hope for mankind, for salvation, for forgiveness, for healing because of Jesus Christ.  But for the USA, not as such, no.  
Rev. Graham is a subtle guy, a pretty ecumenical guy, and what I was looking at was an advertisement designed to appeal to people who don't normally think through the theological implications of their patriotic or political feelings.  I am sure part of his point is, in fact, that there is hope for America, because God offers hope for everyone. But, you know, it doesn't take much to get me going, and I haven't posted since March.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where our thoughts cross: Me and Rick Santorum

Today is "Super Tuesday, a term that I find puzzling, because I have always found that the only thing "super" about Super Tuesday is that it is either Super Depressing or Super Not a Big Deal.  But this has been nothing if not an interesting year to be a spectator of the Republican Race for the Nomination.
Each of the candidates, even the ones who have already dropped out (OK, especially them) is a punch-line looking for a joke.  Some of them (I’m looking at you, Newt, Ron, and Herman) even seem to know it.  But the one with the most humorous potential is also the most humorless, and that is Rick Santorum.
I have to admit that Santorum fascinates me.  I disagree with just about every single word that comes out of his mouth—in that respect, he is no different from the rest of the G.O.P. field—but he does stand out as having a certain integrity.  He has that same quality of sincerity that John McCain once had, like one sincere statement in an ocean of advertising slogans.  If Mitt Romney seems like someone who will say anything to get elected, and Newt seems like someone who will just say anything period, Santorum seems like someone who is always under oath: to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter how wacky or unpopular (or factually untrue) that is likely to be.  I have to respect that much.  It makes me wonder if I can find any other common ground with him at all.
Nope.  Well, almost. There might one really small way in which he and I kind of agree about a small aspect of one thing.  Sex.  Yep.  Not contraception.  Not abortion. Not gay marriage.  Not the frantic denunciation of Woodstock and the 60’s. Not the implicit repudiation of feminism.  Not the phantom demons of gay polygamy or whatever other hypothetical sins Santorum has conjured out on the trail.  But just on sex, well, I wonder if Santorum hasn’t tapped into something.
I agree with Santorum that sex and sexuality is important, maybe even cosmically important.  And that is—almost—the limit of our agreement.  The one other thing we might sort of maybe agree on is that our culture often cheapens and trivializes that importance.
On everything that flows to and from that one point of intersection, me and Rick differ.  Rick’s theology on sex and the created world, from my point of view, is not only “phony” (his term, by which I mean "unfounded in Scripture," which means I am sort of trying to play by his rules, even though he is Catholic so the scripture thing isn't quite as weighty as it might be if he were protestant... whatever), but perverse and based on the principle not of a loving God, but a hating one.  I’m not saying I don’t believe in a God that gets angry, even wrathful.  But I am saying that I don’t believe in a God who’s wrath is principally motivated by everyday human sexual behavior.  The crime of Sodom and Gomorrah, as framed in Genesis, is not homosexuality per se, but rape.  The crime of Onan was not simply “spilling his seed,” but refusing to allow a woman to whom he was duty-bound to offer children to conceive them.  Paul’s many rants about wanton sexuality need to be viewed in the context of his rants about circumcision; that is to say that circumcision, like sexual fidelity, was both an actual thing, and a metaphor for many many more things having to do with being in right relations to God.  If you will offer your body to anyone (runs the symbolic reasoning) then what does that say about your soul?  That’s a legitimate question. But let us not forget that Jesus’s only words to sexual transgressors are words of forgiveness; his sternest rebuke is “Go and sin no more.”   I believe that God isn't directly concerned about sex.  God is concerned about relationships—ours with each other, and also with him.  That has implications for sex and sexuality; but not on the scale or of the kind that Santorum goes on about. That kind of theology may be venerable, but it is just phony.