[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]
I was sitting in a Baptist church in Maryland when I saw a spider on the pew in front of me. I was maybe 10, maybe 11 at the time and I remember thinking to myself, “if this was a poisonous spider and it bit me right now and I died, I’d go to hell because I haven’t been baptized.” Within the week, I had approached my parents, with all the gravitas of a child making a monumental decision, and told them that I wanted to be baptized. And so, sometime during the following months, I was stripped to my skivvies, dressed up in a white robe, taken out to a fount, dunked under the water and “saved.” Honestly though, I don’t remember any of the baptism, I remember the spider and the fear of hell and the thought that I would be tortured forever and ever.
By the time I was 13 or 14, however, my perspective of the world had shifted quite considerably. Nobody has a more finely honed sense of injustice than a sensitive child who is moving into adolescence. Not only do such people feel the injustices of the world, but, as they edge into their teens, they begin to burn with the self-righteousness that is inherent to all teenagers. By my early teen years, my sense of right and wrong was shocked and outraged at the notion that a being powerful enough to create a universe could be so petty as to condemn a soul to eternal damnation for simply not believing in him/it. I felt that this was a fundamentally insane proposition. If my own ethics balked at the proposition of punishment without end, how could something capable of creating a universe have less compassion than a teenage boy? The cognitive dissonance that I felt trying to accommodate what seems like emotions of jealousy, cruelty, and revenge to a supposedly “loving God” created an emotional impasse. I could either claim to be a Christian and yet not accept certain parts of the Bible (and, in fact, actively despising a god that ordered the slaughter of innocent children), or I could walk away from the whole thing.
I walked away.
Nothing in my experiences and life since has convinced me that I made the wrong choice, because, ultimately, I do not believe in the world view that is espoused by Christianity and other religions. I do not believe that there is a God.
Yet, I have a strong sense of ethics and believe myself to be a moral person. Not perfect, not angelic, but I am not a sociopath. Heck, I’m not even very mean to people I don’t like. I have survived my atheism with a strong desire for social justice, fairness, compassion, equality for all people, and peace. So I am deeply troubled that the religious leaders of this country seem so content to allow politicians to abuse the name of their God in the pursuit of material and personal success, that there isn’t a stronger backlash by religious communities against the Republican tactics of stirring up hatred and fear among their base in order to score dubious political points. I am deeply troubled that good Christians in this country stay silent while people at a Palin rally urge violence upon Obama, that they stay silent when Republicans put out patently racist material in their quest for power, or when our leaders lie, time and time again, to the American people (remember that bit in the 10 Commandments about not bearing false witness? Yes, I’m talking to you Senator McCain). I am deeply troubled when my own relatives smile away or laugh off or simply ignore the virulently anti-Christian behavior of Republicans and yet attempt to preach to me about “being saved.”
Actually, you know what? I’m more than deeply troubled. I am angry. I am angry at the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the Republican Party in general and the McCain/Palin campaign in specific; angry at all those people who claim to follow Christ’s teachings but who pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to support; and I am angry at those followers of Christ who have the audacity to claim some kind of moral high ground over non-believers when they refuse to stand up or speak out against the lies and corruption and injustices that have become part and parcel of our political and government systems. While they may not always say it aloud, many religious people believe that they are better than non-believers or those from other religions. So when they act vicious and when they allow violence and corruption to grow in the name of their God, I see their failures as deeply hypocritical. Christianity (and other religions, I just happen to be most familiar with this one), is supposed to be based on a person’s actions and not just what they say. Just because someone says they believe in God, or that they are Christian, or even that they are a moral and ethical person, does not make it so. Actions, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. As your own God says:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (http://biblebrowser.com/matthew/7-16.htm)
Claiming that you believe in a religion does not ensure that you actually follow the teachings of that religion, nor does it ensure that you are anywhere close to being a moral or ethical person. Talking religion or morals or ethics means nothing if you do not act appropriately.
Look, I’m not saying that every Republican in the country is a hypocrite. Far from it. I am not a fan of the Democratic party as a whole. If you look at the actions of both Republican and Democratic parties, you will find many of our so-called “leaders,” are saying one thing and doing another. However, at this point in time, the Republican Party is urging violence, is engaged in flat-out lying about their opponents, is attempting to rig elections, and is repeatedly engaging in actions that are not only un-Christian, but that are deeply unethical. I keep hearing lots of blather about God and Country, but I challenge anyone to show me evidence that the GOP is paying the slightest attention to the teachings of Christ or what is best for America. Certainly, they are invoking God and Country as ways to prophesize, to “cast out demons,” and to pretend that they will “perform many miracles,” but in instance after instance, their actions are lawless, hypocritical, and un-democratic.
If a godless heathen can attempt to live a moral life, I would expect all you good Christians to start acting like you have bothered to read your religious texts and are at least attempting to live up to your Messiah’s words such as:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. (Link)
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Link)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Link)
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Link)
“You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Link)
Every single one of us can be a better person. Every single one of us makes mistakes, treats others poorly from time to time, hurts people, and takes the easy way out. Each of us has been selfish, hypocritical, and cruel. Our moral standing in the world comes from how we take those moments of failure and turn them into lessons for ourselves and then how we act on those lessons in our daily lives.
Calling for Obama’s “death” is neither moral nor Christian. Calling Obama a baby-killer is neither moral nor Christian. Hating people who happen to vote differently than you is neither moral nor Christian.
You think of yourself as a moral person? You call yourself a Christian?
Start acting like one.