- An editorial from Monte McClain –
The current best seller nonfiction book list contains two books written by atheists challenging the practice of religion, asserting that it actually contributes to turbulence, turmoil and terror in our world as opposed to spreading peace, community, and unity. The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins) and Letter to A Christian Nation (Sam Harris) are challenging challenges to the belief, practice and worldview that shape our lives as disciples of Christ as well as that gather us into a community of faith. As I read the latter, I found myself wanting to shout out, “but… I don’t live my faith like that!” What was described and criticized in terms of Christian doctrine, dogma, and political stance only hints at describing a part of the larger diversly different Christian Community in our United States.
These books were written to a supposedly Christian nation in order to share the atheist perspective on what is happening in our world, both near and far. The books address a Christian nation that affirms its Christian belief in the ever-advancing selling date of
Christmas Decorations (even before Halloween this year), forces disciples of Christ to hide their brokeness in ways that lead to hypocrisy like we see in the example of Ted Haggart, and that seek to proclaim their political importance through involvement in both principal political parties both of whom seek ardently to position themselves as the “voice” of the Christian establishment and culture (not to be faithful as much as to convert more undecided voters). Yet Jesus of Nazareth was born in total poverty, far from the WalMart-wars-of-welcome at Christmas time that might return this season. Jesus attacked the hypocrisy of the religious establishment of his day by lifting up such models of faithfulness and faith-full living as the poor widow, the Samaritan, and overlooked, expendable little children. Jesus commented consicely on the politics of empire by saying that one should give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s. It seems to me that we spend so much time fighting over which and what “neighbors” we are willing to love, that we rarely get to actually loving our neighbors as Christ loved us. As I ponder the approaching of Advent I’m struck by the reality that the man – we believe to be the King of Kings, the ultimate Savior of all the Universe – was born in a needy world characterized by imperial wars and nation building, ethnocentricism, racial oppression, and an emerging world order in which the mega-rich were the super-powers of the known world. Is our time and world really that much different than Nazareth, Bethelehem, and Rome were 2,000 years ago? Are we really that different than the inn keeper that had no room for the young couple expecting a baby that night, or the outcast shepherds who dared to wander into town to see if they rumor that they’d heard in the fields was really true, or just too good to be true?
As I think about those books in the best seller list, I wonder if we really are living in a Christian Nation. Maybe we are. Maybe we are just in “name’s sake.” My response to those books would be to seek to engage in a discussion with their authors, or to sit down and talk with people that might share similar criticism or perspectives. In our culture today we’re so quick to be polarized to see things in black-and-white, and to rapidly decide that we’re right and they’re wrong. These politics of polarization seem to only add to our unchristianess. Jesus wasn’t wishy washy or a relativist, but the only time I remember him drawing a line in the sand in a discussion over a topic was literally when the woman was brought to him caught in adultery, and when he overturned the tables in the Temple. Maybe we all – myself included – often forget who and how Jesus really was. Maybe we have let our culture invade our minds and imagination so that when we imagine Jesus as the Messiah we give him the cunning of James Bond, the mind of Bill Gates, the looks of George Clooney, and the political views of the Bush or Clinton families. I fear that, oftentimes we forget that Christian and Capitalism aren’t actually the same thing. We overlook that Jesus was more interested in transformation than power, in people than policies, in giving hospitality, compassion, and grace than he was in receving it. May these next four weeks of Advent be a chance of reflection, renewal, and reversal of the ways in which we see, know, and experience our Christian discipleship and practice our spirituality – whether we live in a Christian Nation or not.