Friday, August 12, 2011

Liberals vs. Christianity


I am taking a long and winding road in this post because I think it is important to understand my spiritual journey and beliefs to understand the message in this piece. Little did I know that this post would have its roots in something my Twitter friend @JKelton1 tweeted the other night. Basically, she said that if she made the same derogatory statements about Muslims that many liberals make about Christians she would be called out as a bigot. Yet many liberals think those same kind of statements about Christians are acceptable. What an amazing observation. My wheels started turning, and so many thoughts and ideas sprung from her statement. The criticism of Christians comes from liberal Christians, atheists, and followers of other faiths. I frequently see on my tweeter timeline other liberals questioning the intelligence of those of us who believe in God. I see Christians calling out other Christians for their hypocrisy. I think if many of us were honest our faith or lack of faith has taken a long arduous path through uncertainty, questioning, guilt, and enlightenment. The truth is that Christians are different in their own beliefs, in their definition of God, and even how they view the Bible. Yes, there are many liberals who practice the Christian faith, and we need to rejoice in the fact that in our political party we have people who actually walk the walk of Christ instead of talking.

As for myself, my faith is personal. I rarely debate anyone about faith or lack of faith. I am making a rare exception in writing this post. One reason I refuse to debate is because usually civil discourse disappears 5 minutes into the discussion. Faith or lack of faith is a very intimate decision often times based on emotion, although I’m sure there are many exceptions. If someone asked me if I were a Christian, I could not answer yes or no, but that is the kind of answer many people expect. To some the Bible is the literal Word of God, and we all worship the same God. They believe that folks are saved by God’s Grace and by accepting Christ as Lord and Master. So if that is the standard for Christianity, then I would say no, I’m not a Christian. However, I believe the Bible is the most beautifully written book in literature—and believe me, since I have both a BA and MA in English, I have read some magnificent literature. I do not take the Bible literally, but I follow the teachings of Christ. Well, at least I try to follow them. The Bible is filled with contradictions and possibly propaganda, but this is my opinion about which I could be wrong. For example, one reason I believe this is that the same creation myth appeared long before the story of Adam and Eve as well as the virgin birth in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Yet, I do look to the Bible for guidance. After the loss of my wonderful father and the onset of one health problem after another, I read the story of Job. Job is about faith, not patience, and my faith was taking a beating, not because I blamed God but because I couldn’t feel God’s presence. I also don’t believe in magic, and of course, the Bible is filled with what I call magic. However, many of my friends do believe in miracles, and I totally respect that. I do not listen to them with skepticism. Faith is faith, period. You can’t argue someone out of faith with logic or reason or facts. If you do, then what they had was not faith.

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist Church in the Bible Belt of southeastern New Mexico. My dad taught Sunday school, and we religiously attended church. My mother, not my dad, was the biblical scholar in the family, and every Saturday night she taught my dad the lesson he was going to teach Sunday morning. As long as I can remember, my mother was a self-proclaimed agnostic and possibly an atheist by the time she died. One Sunday after church when I was in high school, my dad, sister, and I walked out of church never to return again. My dad said, “I’m tired of walking out of church feeling worse than when I went into church.” Although I was baptized in that church, I vowed I would never set foot in that Baptist church or any other Baptist church again. I went off to college and drank myself right into alcoholism.

I’m not recounting my story other to say I got drunk, acted like an ass, felt like crap, and then started the process over again. Eventually, my husband, daughter, and I moved to a northern New Mexico town where they attended a small liberal church. They were always trying to get me to go to church with them, and I eventually acquiesced. We struck a deal that when I went to church, my husband would take us out for Sunday dinner. I attended church with them as I continued my downward spiral into both alcohol and drug addiction. Spidery veins covered my face and my stomach was distended. I looked 50 although I was only 38 years old.

One Sunday I, who had denounced God or declared Him dead, prayed for help with my drinking. No, I didn’t want to quit because I was not an alcoholic. I just wanted to drink without getting drunk and feeling like crap the next day. Why I thought of prayer as an answer I do not know. Well, one week later I was in a rehab center in Oklahoma City and on my way to 25 years of sobriety thus far. In my journey through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, reading what we call the Big Book, and attending meetings, I began an amazing spiritual quest. That quest was only intensified when I helped other drunks find their way to AA. About now, you may wonder what this has to do with my topic—well, a lot actually.

A young man named Steve whom I taught in both junior high and high school got clean and sober not too much longer after I did. I adored that child. He helped me facilitate the recovery group for students. In that group we shared our strengths, hopes, fears, and experiences. Needless to say, I heard stuff that would make most people’s hair curl. One snowy day a friend called me with the tragic news that Steve had died in a car crash on a slick Colorado pass. He was clean and sober. His death was so devastating to me that I cannot write about it now without tears running down my face. His funeral was to be held at the First Baptist Church in this northern NM town—not my church, but a Baptist church, nonetheless. Of course, I attended with hundreds of others from the recovery community. I learned in AA that if I heard only one good thing in a meeting, then it was a good meeting. I just instinctively listened and heard one of the most beautiful sermons I have ever heard in my life. It was a good meeting.

My epiphany that day was that if I open my heart and mind to any spiritual message, I will hear what I need to hear. And so now I come full circle. Do I believe in Jesus Christ? Yes. Do I believe that He is the Son of God? I just don’t know because that is part of my continuing journey. Do I believe in Heaven? Again, I don’t know, but I believe in Heaven on earth. When I do something good for the underprivileged, when I bring someone into AA, when I look at my husband, my children and grandchildren, I experience Heaven. My Higher Power is not a cruel, angry, vindictive God so I don’t believe in Hell. He didn’t take Steve from me or his loved ones because He wanted him in Heaven. Steve died because the driver took an icy curve much too fast. I don’t believe my Higher Power works that way.

I cannot think of a faith in the traditional sense of the word that doesn’t practice love and compassion, and yet, throughout history, those religions have been held captive by extremists at some point. Followers have also committed countless acts of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes we liberals who are so quick to point out the failings in Christians overlook those same failings in people who practice other religions. And yes today, as in other religious faiths, we have extremists who have captured the Christian faith.

It’s not my place to question anyone’s faith or lack of faith because you can see I’m a pretty unconventional Christian. I have believed what Christ admonished us to do in Matthew 6:5-6 long before Rev. Al read the passage on MSNBC in context to the Rick Perry revival meeting. I believe my relationship with my God is personal and private, and I will not denigrate that relationship by proselytizing to all around me. I won’t refer to the Rick Perrys of the world as hypocrites since I am a practicing hypocrite. I don’t want to be nor try to be, but I’m a human with all the accompanying weakness and character flaws.

So I tell my story about my spiritual journey to demonstrate that we are influenced by our experiences and individuality. Also, to illustrate that Christian thought is probably as varied as Christians themselves. It is a mistake to condemn Christianity and its believers for the unconscionable way some who profess Christian faith behave. Instead, judge them by their actions and words. If you do that, you will see neighbors, friends, and family who help others on a daily basis without the need for praise or recognition.


liberalcrone said...

Nicely done. Your take on Christianity is much like my moms who was one of the most Christ- like people I've ever known ( and also a liberal).
I am an atheist and my argument is with all religions equally. They just don't make sense to me, but I have no argument with folks who believe - as long as that belief isn't inflicted on others.
I do think that the reason American atheists are more likely to " call out" Christians is -because it is the majority religion in this country and has found itself in the seat of power. I find complaints that Christians' are discriminated against here as laughable as saying white men suffer discrimination. As a liberal who believes strongly in religious freedom *and* in separation of Church and state I am more likely to defend the rights of Muslim - Americans, who are the victims of much bigotry, than I am of Christians, who sit in seats of power. It's really that simple.. It's the old liberal "siding with the underdog " habit. In the U.S. all religions are *not* treated equally. That to me, seems obvious.

Extreme Liberal said...

That was beautifully said Desert Crone, now I know why I like you so much. Thanks for sharing. I too try not to say derogatory things to any group, be they Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever...well, maybe Scientology once in a while but that's different. :)