Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blogging Against Theocracy

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." [Matthew 14:22-33, NRSV]
If you ask me if I believe this actually happened, I'll say that I've never personally seen anyone walk on water. According to Jesus, you don't have to be divine to do it. Other religions have water-walkers, too. Like other Biblical miracle stories, it's wonderful poetry with levels of meaning. It looks back to the Old Testament, to Moses' encounter with God on Mount Sinai. It's about faith & about anxiety; the metaphorical storm can sink more than a little boat. I'd like to believe it literally, did as a child, but it's not important now. I struggle to believe what it tells me, because I am a fearful & doubting human being. Christian fundamentalists say this isn't enough, that the passage is true absolutely because the Bible is factually inerrant. Even Augustine, so much nearer the events than us, didn't fall into that trap. I'm also quoting from what a wider variety of Christians consider a hopelessly bad translation, one that will lead me astray. If you're not a Christian, there's no reason you should have to know this lovely story at all. But an evangelical Christian will cite this passage as one proof of Jesus' divinity, if not the definitive example.

This blog is always against theocracy. It is against the theocratic drive in politics & in culture. I am against one-size-fits-all religion. In most American towns, that one size used to be whatever protestanism you found in the churches on Main Street. It excluded Catholics, Jews, & people with no religion. Now it is simply "Christian." But there are still tests. The main test is that you have to make a lot of noise about being Christian, the right kind of noise. It's alright to be a Jew or a Catholic as long you acknowledge in some way the primacy of the conservative protestant view as the most authentic n expression of American beliefs & values. I am against pressuring people to hold specific religious beliefs, or any religious beliefs at all, or to have to pretend belief to get along. I do not believe we solve the problems of America by making America more "Christian."

I blog against theocracy by writing about religion with affection, humor, & exasperation. Sure, I'm nostalgic sometimes about my Eisenhower era childhood, with its suburban stability, general consensus on community "standards" (exemplified in my mind by the popularity of the Boy Scouts), & the casual, unchallenged public celebrations of Christianity. But my perspective encompassed all of a one square mile town with exotic outposts at the Jersey shore. I know I can't go back. Nobody can. My sentiment is really for neighborliness & civility, not for religious conformity. That protestants, Catholics & Jews were living peacefully next to each other in suburbia in the Fifties was a pretty big deal. It wasn't utopia, but it was a great improvement on the sectarianism of earlier generations. My parents' middle class generation knew exactly what they were overcoming.

The protestant right understands the importance of popular, secular culture; they knew it when they were throwing Elvis records into bonfires 50 years ago. They overestimated their ability to infiltrate & influence it. They believed that gaining control of government would give them the power to speed up the process. They've had such mixed success that I don't hesitate to say they've failed badly so far. They did succeed at creating an alternative culture, strong, diverse, profitable, & self-contained, & not very interesting. Five Christian radio stations in a market doesn't equal one top-rated popular music station that has no religious programming. Boycotts of Disney enterprises fail because kids are the most emphatic consumers of Disneyworld & they, not the Southern Baptist patriarchs, have the last word on the matter. Nobody has found a way to stop Harry Potter, or Halloween, or Sponge Bob, or hip hop.

Because I'm undecided about Jesus walking on water, I'm disqualified from joining churches I'd never set foot in anyway for a bunch of other reasons. They can have that freedom.

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Well said. I just want government to stay the heck out of my Church and for my Church to return the favor.

Your Gospel passage reminds me of a joke that politicians like to tell. I will use the name of a random pol for the joke:

Jon Corzine was standing in front of a lake with the Statehouse press corps present. Taking a step, he began to walk across the lake on top of the water. The headline in the following day's Star-Ledger read:

"Governor can't swim"

Okay, okay, it's funnier told than written, but you get the point...
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