Friday, May 6, 2011

Tell Me All Your Religiopolitic

Well, I had originally intended to write this—my second blog entry—on the theological implications of zombie obsession. For those of you who would find that topic more interesting than mediocre reflections on a subject you’re likely already tired of, I apologize for buzzing about something more cliché.  For those of you who would rather avoid my nerdy rants about the horrific and supernatural, be forewarned: zombie reflections are forthcoming. 

For now, I’ll talk about something I’ve thought about far less (believe it or not), and I’d like your take on it. Basically, while watching the news this past Tuesday night, I was reminded that I’m often disappointed with the showing of Christians who visit with political talk show hosts. Allowing a few welcomed exceptions, it seems that they generally make us look like people who can’t give a solid account for our beliefs.

Of course, rationalists averse to Christian faith might respond by suggesting that Christians, in general, aren’t all that intelligent. Though I’m not here to build a defense for the overall IQ of the faithful, I have hung out with enough Christians to contend that our A-team does not doesn’t tend to make up the group that speaks most loudly. At least, not on television.

In addition, just to be sure that they get a good knee-jerk reaction from their viewers, the talk show hosts and commentators seem to work towards making their guests look (at least a little bit) foolish. Rob Bell’s recent semi-disastrous foray into the MSNBC political realm serves as a good case in point, don’t you think?

Though it’s hard to blame them for coming up short when put on the spot so publically, I do wish that these folks had better responses on the ready. If nothing else, Christian viewers themselves usually aren’t amenable to finding commonality with extremists or sentimentalists who speak from whatever end of the political spectrum they oppose. For those of us who care about unity and/or progress, this leaves us with our hands full; not to mention it makes more onerous the task of demonstrating to non-believers that Christians aren’t all potential (or confirmed) nutjobs who spend their time opposing one other. But I digress.

Of course, right now it seems that everyone is weighing in on the death of Osama bin Laden, either by celebrating it or cautioning against such celebration. Naturally, this makes excellent religiopolitical fodder for the talk shows. I don’t begrudge this, but I do wish I could turn on the TV and hear a more articulate Christian response—from the Left or the Right—to this sensitive issue than I’ve heard thus far. If you’ve come across one, please do share.

What stemmed this particular reflection is when on Tuesday night I caught an interview with Father Edward Beck on the O’Reilly Factor. Perhaps I'm an overly harsh critic, but I found it following the standard drill: he made a few solid points but ended up seeming as if he hadn’t thought things through (at least, I’m sure all of those who’d disagree with his starting place or conclusions would say so…and not just for the sake of disagreeing). The interview was followed up by the usual vitriolic commentary, potentially sealing Beck's fate as one more unreasonable Christian voice on the airwaves. 

Am I wrong here? If you think so, I’d genuinely like to know why...maybe I’m overlooking something. See what you think: 

Of course, I’d hope that most of us non-crazy Christians would align with Beck's being “uncomfortable with the killing of Osama bin Laden being celebrated like a Superbowl win”—frankly, I’ve found the fanatical mass-celebratory reaction pretty unsettling, whether coming from Christians or not. Touché, Father Beck.

However, I was disappointed when he began sending mixed messages: on the one hand he attributes bin Laden’s death to necessary evil, while on the other suggesting that we ought not respond to violence with violence, equating a non-response with forgiving jihadists who “know not what they do.” So, which is it? Necessary or unnecessary evil?

And as for the rest of us Christians, what would we say? Is it human to feel relieved at the news that a perpetrator of mass violence is no longer with us? Surely. Is it morally incumbent upon us to protect innocent people by doing what we can to end mass violence, even if it means resorting to violence ourselves? This is an age-old question on which Christians have disagreed; however, a strong case can be made that it is our moral duty to do so, and that this is a case of “necessary evil.” However, it seems of utmost importance that we view it as such—an evil—and thus a tragedy, not a cause for celebration. Speaking of which, are we at liberty to call Osama bin Laden “evil” as O’Reilly does? Father Beck is not comfortable issuing this judgment, preferring to call only bin Laden’s actions evil. However I’d contend that, of all people, Christians (should) acknowledge that humans are intimately tied to what they do; so evil actions, in some sense, lead to an evil person.

With the same breath, however, I’d tell O’Reilly that my faith stipulates that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Thus, while it may be natural to feel relief that bin Laden is out of the equation, it seems clear that Christians ought not endorse celebrating his demise with party horns in the streets. Because when we celebrate, we work to solidify the distance between ourselves and our “enemy”…but, the truth is, he is human. Thus we are much more like him than we’d care to admit. When we deny his humanity, we deny the potential we all have to commit murder, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise.

Post script: This is why I’m okay with the fact that bin Laden was afforded a ritualistic burial, with prayers read for his soul by his Muslim brother: the sailors on that ship seemed to sense that they should acknowledge the sacrosanct nature of God’s creation, the embodied soul. Regardless of how “evil” that soul may be (which, by the way, is God’s call, not ours), we are all tied to it—for we all were created out of God’s love; we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory; Christ died for the sins of all of the ungodly.

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories C. S. Lewis tells. He remembers speaking with a priest who once had seen Hitler in person, and asking him (rather foolishly) what Hitler looked like. “He looked like all men,” was the priest’s reply: “like Christ.”