Conservative Christians

I just finished an interesting — in its way — conversation with a bunch of Missouri Synod Lutherans on Facebook. It turned into a bit of an argument, and I guess I lost — I can’t think of any rebuttal to “Blah, blah, blah.” I mean, “Neener, neener” comes to mind, but at my age it somehow lacks the pithy zing it used to have. So I offered the sound of a BFG9000 powering up, and walked away.

Editor’s Note: A BFG9000 is from the original DOOM video game, and it stands for Big F***ing Gun model 9000. It blows things up. If you’ve ever played DOOM and you hear one of those things power up, you instinctively seek cover.

I think it perhaps worthwhile to quote one of the comments from the thread:

“Conservative Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They were ‘conservative’ in their ‘ritual stuff’ not in truth ‘stuff’. Ohhh.. Maybe because their heart wasn’t in it.”

The entirely un-self-conscious arrogance of this statement is almost charming. You can hear echoes of a British Imperialist in India generously excusing the mental limitations of the inferior dark races when it comes to knowing how to dress properly for dinner. You actually feel slightly sorry for the speaker, because you know it puzzles and saddens her that these sincerely “conservative” Jews — more on that word “conservative” in a moment — had this “truth” right in front of them and somehow just … well, missed it. How could that have happened? You see the light going on in that Ohhh… They must have been exhausted from all their empty Jewish rituals.

Of course they were. Poor dears.

The way this all got started was a harebrained statement that “conservative Christians,” the 19th-century equivalent of the “religious right,” were responsible for the Abolitionist movement against slavery in the US.

It’s certainly true that Christians were involved in the Abolitionist movement, particularly the Quakers and Mennonites in the North. It’s equally true that Christians were involved in resisting Abolition and perpetuating slavery. I know a lot more about 15th-century Florence than about 19th-century Missouri, but even I know that the Southern Baptists were not Abolitionists.

The conversation turned to this word “conservative.” The Abolitionists were hardly “conservative” in any normal meaning of the term. They were social activists, “radicals,” “anarchists,” “libertines,” and “seditionists.” They stood for the downfall of the South and the decline of the God-Given rights of white people. No one would have thought of calling them “conservative.” That’s like calling water “dry.” And that raised an interesting point in my mind.

We’ve become so accustomed to “conservative Christians” slinging this self-description around like batter at a pancake breakfast that we’ve lost the irony of it. Since when is it “conservative” to amend the Constitution, undermine the Bill of Rights, rewrite science and history to fit Biblical and Dispensational mythology, and speak of genocide against people of other religions and races? Since when is it “conservative” to march and form blockades outside abortion clinics? I don’t know exactly what to call it, but “conservative” is one of the last words I’d choose out of the dictionary.

Unless, of course, you are Humpty Dumpty.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

And, indeed, this is where the conversation ultimately went. We finally established that “conservative” meant “like me because I’m conservative” which was “good”, and “liberal” was “not like me because I’m not liberal” and which was “bad”. The writer even went so far as to suggest that calling a talented photographer’s work “conservative” should be taken as a compliment. I’d like to see that play out. Perhaps I could loan the photographer my BFG9000.

I’ll admit I got a bit professorial at that point, which resulted in the devastating riposte of “Blah, blah, blah.”

Apart from the abuse of the English language as an aid to complete misunderstanding, this confirms something that has bothered me for years. One of the things that forced me out of Christianity was a growing understanding of the real nature of the Christian God, and the way in which language is used to conceal the truth.

Consider the story of the Garden of Eden, ten-words-or-less condensed version: people screw up, God curses and exiles them. Move to the Tower of Babel: people get uppity, God curses and scatters them. Sodom and Gomorroh: people screw up, God torches them. Samson and Delilah: Samson screws up, God abandons him to imprisonment and torture. The Great Flood: people screw up, God drowns them. The sons of Jacob screw up, God leads them into slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh screws up, God trashes his lands and army and kills his son. Moses screws up, God keeps him out of the Promised Land. The Israelites screw up, God sends them into slavery in Babylon.

See the pattern? Now here’s the kicker — why does God do this? Because He loves his people.

I’d say this was something to ponder with great astonishment, except that we know exactly this same pattern from somewhere else. Which, fortunately, I have never experienced, but far too many have.

Dad comes home, drunk, and beats the shit out of his wife and kids. Why? Because they screwed up and made him do it. But he only does it because he loves them.

Stockholm Syndrome, Battered Wife Syndrome, Abused Child Syndrome — in all cases, the abused rise to the defense of the abuser and stay with him. Why? Because they feel they deserve the abuse. It is their fault. They are screw-ups. They are sinners, and there is no good in them.

We move, then, to the last chapter of this mythologized family tragedy in the New Testament and watch the final act of blood sacrifice before an angry and implacable God. Who punishes us because He loves us. Because it’s our fault.

Now supposedly Jesus settled the matter once and for all with his horrible death. So why do preachers still preach Hellfire and Damnation two thousand years later? From whence springs Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”? Apparently Jesus wasted his last breath.

There was a lot of controversy in early Christianity regarding whether the Jewish Old Testament writings should be included in Christian literature, or if they should be burned and forgotten.  Various Gnostic sects argued that the Jewish God was not even a God, but a demiurge, an angel of the true God of Light who had succumbed to delusions of grandeur; that by defeating him, Jesus had freed us from our bondage to this evil God, so we should discard the old superstitions and move on.

When the Councils voted in the 300’s, they chose to accept the “propitiatory sacrifice” explanation of Jesus’ death. All other views were declared heretical, and that was that. We’ve inherited the Bible they gave us. We’ve inherited the God they gave us.

We’ve inherited a religion formed by committee.

It isn’t my place to accuse every Christian who loves their God of being a victim of some kind of literary/religious Stockholm Syndrome. That is almost certainly not true, anyway. Nor is this story of divine abuse the sum total of the Biblical texts, and there are other things, pearls that can be extracted. Carefully, wearing gloves.

It is, however, my place to decide whether I want to honor or worship the God I find in the Bible.

I do not. I don’t believe such a deity exists at all — the Biblical God is an imaginary monster dreamed up by humankind. The real divine energy is something beautiful, and something much bigger and stranger than this violent pornography passed off as religious truth — so I believe.

But that brings me back to the issue of “conservative” Christians, and their odd use of words.

If damnation to a Hell of eternal torment is an outpouring of Divine Love; If God’s Love for his creation results in repeated (failed) attempts to destroy it, culminating in the need for a blood sacrifice; If absolute and universal forgiveness for all our sins requires endless rededication and proofs of “faith” on our part — then it is no wonder that words are turned on their heads.

I see the simplistic religion of the “conservative Christians” as an exercise in what George Orwell called “doublethink,” where peace is war and war is peace, hatred is love and love hatred, pleasure is pain and pain is a virtue to be sought with a lover’s ardour. Where God is Love, and Love seeks to destroy and blame and punish. Where hate is the Godly response to rejection, and rage is righteous.

Where a talented photographer should be pleased to have his work called “conservative.”

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