Andrew Sullivan's latest editorial for Time Magazine entitled "My Problem with Christianism" takes a few shots at the conservative believers in the Christian church who's views are given some semblance of respect in the Republican party but not much in the Democratic party in the United States. Mr. Sullivan notes:
The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many. There are evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power. There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society. There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is. They have no problem living next to an atheist or a gay couple or a single mother or people whose views on the meaning of life are utterly alien to them--and respecting their neighbors' choices. That doesn't threaten their faith. Sometimes the contrast helps them understand their own faith better.
Now, I happily accept my identification as a member of the "Christian right" as Mr. Sullivan calls it. I don't agree with everything that some of the leaders of the Christian right claim (some of the statements by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell coming readily to mind), but I no more reject the identification on that basis than I reject identification as an American on the basis that we have had some pretty bad people saying and doing stupid things in the name of America. So, I take it as a personal affront when he says "There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is." Exactly who is it in the religious right who doesn't "respect the freedom and conscience of others"? I may hang out with a rather different group of Christians than others, but I don't personally know any Christians in my group who don't respect the freedom and conscience of others.
He says that these other Christians "have no problem living next to an atheist or a gay couple or a single mother or people whose views on the meaning of life are utterly alien to them--and respecting their neighbors' choices." Again, who is he talking about? I have atheists living on either side of me, and I don't have any problem with that. I have worked with people who are gay, and a gay couple used to live down the street from me -- no problems. The godparent of one of my children was a single mother! And I am not setting myself up as some paragon of virtue -- no one I know of in my conservative church would have any different feelings about any of these things! So, who is it that Mr. Sullivan is addressing?
You see, Mr. Sullivan, who seems to claim to be a Christian -- and I will accept him at his word even though I suspect he is what many would call a Country-club Christian given that his faith does not seem to be reflected in anything he writes unless it is to set up a defense to claims that he hates Christians ("How can I hate Christians, I'm one of them!") -- appears to be demonizing Christians. He is claiming that Christians -- at least those on the right -- are hate-filled fascists who want to control everyone's thoughts. But that is a straw-man argument since the types of conservative Christians he describes, if they exist at all, are a infinitesimally small segment of the Christian community that claims to be conservative.
Talk show commentator Hugh Hewitt pulled no punches in evaluating what Mr. Sullivan had to say. In a post entitled "Sullivan Hits A New Low: Hate Speech As A Substitute for Argument" he states:
Like others on the left, Sullivan is a serial destroyer of straw men, especially as he declaims about the "Christianist view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike."
Who, exactly, believes such a thing? Sullivan names no names. He mentions Delay and Limbaugh, but far enough removed from this description as to have deniability. When Sullivan gives us a definition of Christinism backed up by a list of say, 25 prominent Christianists and data to prove it, then he will have made an argument. Until then he's just spitting out venom.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sullivan is not alone. His views that Christians ought to be demonized if they hold to conservative views (which are, in my opinion, often in line with Biblical teaching) are held by many, many other writers on the skeptical left.
Today, for example, Counter-Punch, "America's Best Political Newsletter" according to Out of Bounds Magazine (whatever that is), published an incredibly silly article entitled "Meet the Shock Troops of the Christian Youth: Battle Cry for Theocracy!" While I think that the title is self-explanatory, the content shows the singularly ridiculous claims of this newsletter.
If you've been waiting until the Christian fascist movement started filling stadiums with young people and hyping them up to do battle in "God's army" to get alarmed, wait no longer.
In recent weeks, Battle Cry, a Christian fundamentalist youth movement, has attracted more than 25,000 to mega-rally rock concerts in San Francisco and Detroit and this weekend they plan to fill Wachovia Stadium in Philadelphia.
They claim their religion and values are under attack but, amidst spectacular lightshows, hummers, Navy Seals, and military imagery on stage, it is Battle Cry that has declared war on everyone else! Their leader, Ron Luce, insists: "This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent--the 'forceful' ones--will lay hold of the kingdom."
A glimpse at Battle Cry's Honor Academy, which trains 500 youth each year and preaches that homosexuality and masturbation are sins, reveals a lot about what kind of society they are fighting for. Interns are forbidden to listen to secular music, watch R-rated movies or date. Men can't use the internet unsupervised and the length of women's skirts is regulated. The logic behind this, that men must be protected from the sin of sexual temptation, is what drives Islamic fundamentalists to shroud women in burkhas!
No one is suggesting, to my knowledge, that we become a theocracy, and if there is some fringe character in the religious right actually saying such a thing, then I personally denounce them and their position. But here is some more of the over-the-top statements by people who hate conservative Christians -- we are fascists. We are fundamentalists. We are like Islamic extemists because in a voluntary campus-type setting we regulate dress and Internet access. (Incidentally, note how its probably the view of this writer that people should be able to get together and live in any type of lifestyle they want -- unless you happen to want to live a lifestyle that adopts traditional Christian views of morality, then it is wrong and fascist.) And by the way, it is not some extreme religious viewpoint that says masturbation and homosexuality are sins. Until 20 years ago, these were views that virtually all of Christianity accepted although some -- like Mr. Sullivan, apparently -- have fallen away from these very orthodox Christian teachings.
Really, people need to recognize that the present view about Christians is largely demonization without much substance. But it doesn't surprise me, since Jesus himself warned almost 2,000 years ago in John 15: 18-23:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.