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I have been burdened with a heart-sinking task: for days I've been trying to write a promised letter to a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine. I've known her five months, and I've decided it's time to explain--to answer, with all loving kindness, her obvious unspoken questions. I know she doesn't understand how I manage to be a liberal Democrat and a Christian at the same time. I need to explain.

Another issue over which I've thus far bit my lip rather than confront is why the word "liberal" is not the same as "leftist." The latter word, as applied to me and members of my party, has recently begun to grate. Of course first I'll have to explain what leftist means exactly, 'cause when I asked her to define it, she could only say "extreme," "out there," and "anything goes."

She doesn't understand why I go to a church that "focuses on political issues such as accepting homosexuals" rather than "on a person's walk with Christ." I need to say to her, without irony, without bite, that it is her stripe of fundamentalist church that has politicized the gay issue, and as for my church, I guess I just prefer walking with Christ in love and inclusion rather than walking around town with a constant, prurient obsession with sexual sin, beating my breast in repentance when I fuck up, and waiting patiently, if grotesquely effervescently, for my holy rewards, little treats from above, when I manage to do right. But somehow, my church's approach is eee-ahh-erm maybe kinda wrong. She's not sure. There's just something about The United Church of Christ; it might not be altogether Biblical. She can't put her finger on the problem, so she has decided to talk her fundamentalist pastor about it on my behalf (um, this pastor is no one to me).

Here's another item that kinda bugs: for a lot of fundies, this woman no exception, God's short term rewards tend to be pathetically picayune, not to mention a little crass: say for example, a good hair day, or losing weight: "Lord, we just come before you today to thank you and praise you for the blessing of Sister Natalie's long, strong, lustrous nails." I mean, yuck. I want my friend to stop taking my hands and launching into prayer without consulting me. I feel silly.

I guess she also needs to know that not only do I disagree with her that Christian writer Tim LaHaye's revenge fantasy novels are any kind of masterpiece of American literature, much less "based on fact," but I think his Christian glee at the idea of sinners suffering (LEFT BEHIND WITH THE EARTHQUAKES, THE TIDAL WAVES, A HAIL OF LOCUSTS, GOD'S WRATH, AND OF COURSE A SULFUR-BELCHING BEAST) is another example of utterly appalling morals from the self-appointed department of moral bean counting, quite frankly. How to say it without being snotty is the question.

And maybe none of that is what I really want to say. Maybe it all goes deeper than that.

I've pulled countless books off the shelf, everything from John Stewart Mill to Tom Paine to Victor Frankl. I have reams of notes but I've made no compositional headway. I wanted to write a very genteel little letter; aimed to keep my equanimity and put my own partisan certainties in check. I duly warned myself: now don't you climb your soapbox and decide you're going to teach this woman a lesson. Don't you come on like a saint.

But damnit! I'm not a leftist! Nor am I an extremist. Nor do I think "anything goes." My emotions have run away with me; this letter-writing endeavor has brought me to tears. I'm no Stalin! I'm an idealist! An altruist! I care about people, always have--heck, I'm trying my best to care for this woman and her delicate feelings, though from the start of our acquaintance she's implied that there's something not quite right about my faith, my reliance on my own judgment, my consultation of conscience before I will up and say I believe in a thing. Apart from the fact that this kind of moral presumption is altogether typical, considering the source, the fact is, it hurts. It hurts me where I live.

So now I've ceased to care if she ever gets who I am ideologically (or why). I've lost the drive to sprinkle my letter with enlightening, glittering gems from history, comparative religion, politics or philosophy. I no longer care to make a handsome case for the wisdom of equipping one's self with reason and humility before questioning the morality of others. I simply want it understood that I am not a monster, and despite our differences, as a citizen of this country, a neighbor and a friend, I expect that my loyalty and goodwill toward my countrymen should be damn well be presumed.

It would seem impossible that anyone could believe that a such a large, diverse group of otherwise functional, non-psychotic people--people who have children that they adore and jobs where they diligently work, ups and downs, loves and sorrow, talents and weaknesses, passions and enervations--in fact the whole enchilada of human goodness and badness and banality that's common to all people everywhere--could secretly be as mean and dastardly, and I mean bad--bad for bad's sake, bad to the bone--as this friend apparently has decided the people of the Democratic party must be. Of course we don't hate our country or the troops, don't love the Taliban or Al Qaeda or insurgents, and it would be downright neighborly if our political opponents, particularly the Christians, would stop the endless, nasty rancor and think about what they're suggesting.

Apart from what Rush says, or Dr. Dobson, or Randal Terry, or Dick Cheney, or anybody with the last name Bush, it would be awfully darn nice if Christian fundamentalists would at least acknowledge that their fellow citizens who call themselves Democrats have arrived at their truths, like most people, with all due diligence, common diligence that simply must be accorded to any person whom you don't actually believe to be insane, fit for the asylum. To say otherwise is not only unchristian, it's uncivil. We are your fellow citizens! I want to yell from the rooftops, hey, all you Bible-based buggers! Your heedlessness, your presumptive moral certainty, and worse, your determination to impose your views on everyone is truly tearing down the country. You're behaving immorally; you're really, really hurting people! My character has been called into question with nothing more substantial informing that question than that I dared call myself a Democrat in public in America, 2005. In California.

Okay, so all high-mindedness aside, if had any guts, this is what I would say to my friend: I have come to the conclusion that mere belief has never a moral person made, so I suppose you're quite right when you say my faith is weak. In fact you may now decide that I have no legitimate faith at all, since I must tell you that after much thinking it over, it's clear to me that appeals to infallible divine moral instruction is an incorrect belief, as the believer therefore can never be mistaken (and indeed to wonder whether you might be mistaken is a sin--talk about self-reinforcing), an impunity that has led you to straight into moral turpitude. What is worse, your infallible document denies the intervention of conscience--your morals don't pass the smell test, and I do believe on some level you know they don't, and yet your olfactory sense is dead because your Bible said kill it. You people have killed your own consciences! On purpose! What greater crime is there?

Bottom line: to believe in the moral perfection of a literally construed Bible is to give yourself license to persist in moral error, as it is not possible, in the 21 century, to hold such a belief (the world is not flat, folks) and be truthful with yourselves. You either opted out of a tussle with moral dilemma (a.k.a. life), preferring your answers pre-chewed, or you have simply willed your own ignorance to justify cruelty and hate. Either way, it's craven.

Finally, I would tell this woman, whom I have tried very hard to call a friend, that the inhibition, the loss of spontaneity, and yes, the fear I feel when I'm with her, and others who think like her, tells me that if He is worthy of His name, she and her gang have got God wrong, whatever their Bible-values say. It can only be a mistake, an ethical error, to act upon so-called infallible instruction without weighing its soundness against reason, against conscience. It's unconscionable to make your fellows fearful to speak up for themselves, to say their truths aloud.

Okay, I'd say, so now you folks are going to turn the place upside down, make us a proper Christian Nation, stones for everyone. I don't know if my side can stop you, but I do know this, you heartless meanies: ethically, or in terms of sheer moral grit, all the Bible-based moralizing in the world can't trump the humble search of the person who feels bound to weigh his or her truths and actions by asking not will it please God, fetch me divine rewards, keep me out of the pit, and make me a hero in heaven--but rather, right now, right here, this moment, my fate after I die notwithstanding--is it good, is it truthful, is it kind. I sometimes wonder if you fundies are even able to discern it anymore (and indeed, if in my anger and hurt I have not lost my own way, my friend will never see this diary).


Originally posted to aitchdee on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:36 AM PDT.

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