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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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Comment Preferences

  •  Dogma & Liberty Are Incompatible (none)
    Definition of Dogma:  the refusal to accept honest differences of opinion.

    Their greed will be their downfall -- Capt. John Aubrey

    by angry blue planet on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:37:43 AM PDT

  •  Good Diary! (none)
    If these people only read the bible... that thing with the stoning? and that other thing about a speck in someone else's eye? and the eleventh commandment?

    When I was a pothead, years ago, I found bible paper to have a rather different use. Right wing christians seem to be doing the exact same thing with the bible.

    Happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself, Ethics V,prop XLII

    by Mr Bula on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:39:45 AM PDT

  •  Okay. That was cathartic-- (4.00)
    but I still feel like crying.

    Is nothing secular?

    by aitchdee on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:40:00 AM PDT

    •  Tell her (4.00)
      That your faith is the faith expressed in the Beatitudes.  Gospel of Matthew.  She will have to take you seriously

      Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kindgom of Heaven
      Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
      Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
      Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

      And so on...
      This is why you are a liberal...and a Christian.

  •  I'm amazed (none)
    This has got to be the most beautiful, succinct description of belief I've seen.

    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.

  •  A longish quote, from Lewis Carroll (4.00)
    (...)"At that time", he went on, " a great tidal wave of selfishness was sweeping over human thought. Right and Wrong had somehow been transformed into Gain and Loss, and Religion had become a sort of commercial transaction. We may be thankful our preachers are beginning to take a nobler view of life."
    "But is it not taught again and again in the Bible?" I ventured to ask.
    "Not in the Bible as a whole", said Arthur. "In the Old Testament, no doubt, rewards and punishments are constantly appealed to as motives for action. That teaching is best for children(...) We guide our children thus, at first: but we appeal, as soon as possible, to their innate sense of Right and Wrong: and when that stage is safely past, we appeal to the highest motive of all, the desire for likeness to, and union with, the Supreme Good. I think you will find that to be the teaching of the Bible, as a whole (...)

    I think it is a wonderful reading of the bible: the new testament is the testament of adults.

    Pd: The quote is from "Sylvie and Bruno" a book not as magical but almost as great as Alice in Wonderland

    Pd2: I ommited a small portion of the quote in order to spare all of us some heated but unnecesary debate.

    Happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself, Ethics V,prop XLII

    by Mr Bula on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:48:58 AM PDT

  •  Aaaarrrgggghh. With such friends as this ... (4.00)
    "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."

    You need to offer to go through the Gospels and every recorded word of Jesus Christ and see just how often he condemned homosexuality (or abortion for that matter) and just how often he spoke of love and acceptance and how often he advocated justice and equality.

    She may be genuinely shocked that The Bible is not just Leviticus, Paul's epistles and a few lines from John.

    But truly, work with her, be patient. And please let her know that leftist is not necessarily amoral, but may often be morally strict. I say this since I, as a Christian socialist, am probably more of a 'leftist' and less of a 'liberal' than most here at dKos.

    Let's stop worrying about who will lead us in 2008 and instead work on who we'll be in 2005.

    by pHunbalanced on Wed May 04, 2005 at 07:49:35 AM PDT

    •  Arguing is hard against willful ignorants (none)
      And there are so many premises to be questioned, and so much barriers of distrust to brake down.

      But maybe making a person read the bible is a good idea. The ideas expressed therein are not from some liberal (and this is enough to discredit any argument), they are in the bible.

      Happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself, Ethics V,prop XLII

      by Mr Bula on Wed May 04, 2005 at 08:22:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Screw the letter, (4.00)
    just give her a copy of this diary.
  •  I don't think the burden is yours to convince her (none)
    If the burden is on you to prove yourself then she is no friend.  

    Thanks for the diary.

    Never have so few taken so much from so many for so long.

    by mapKY on Wed May 04, 2005 at 08:06:40 AM PDT

  •  Quote her Micah 6:8 (4.00)
    You have already been told, O man, what is good, and what HaShem requires of you: only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

    That's the 1917 Jewish Publication Society's translation, updated into modern English. You might have to explain to your friend that "HaShem" (which means "The Name" in Hebrew) is a polite circumlocution for the name of God, which pious Jews do not utter aloud. Nothing in there about smiting the sinner (or even castigating him). Nothing in there about obsessing over breasts on television, or "dirty" words in other people's mouths. Our job as people of faith is to be right with God in humility (a virtue which almost no fundagelicals seem to remember anymore, so overwhelmingly convinced they are of their own self-righteousness), to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves and those whom society casts aside and would just as soon forget. We're to stand up for the rights of all, not just those of the favored few. We're to do what Jesus commanded in Matthew 25: feed the hungry, give drink to those who thirst, welcome the strangers and the outcast, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick or in prison--and recognize that we are ministering to Jesus as we do that. Jesus also told us that the greatest of the commandments was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the next most important one was to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do you love your homosexual neighbor if you keep refusing him his civil rights? How do you love your Hindu neighbor if you keep telling him to convert or be condemned to everlasting flames? It's not our business to get anybody else into heaven. It's our job to make sure we don't wander off the road that leads there ourselves.

  •  For what it's worth (4.00)
    I wrote this yesterday as a "floor statement" for the Frist protest:

    I believe in a politics of compassion, of concern first for the least--for the poor, the sick, the elderly, children, the discriminated against and outcast, vicitms of violence and hunger the world over. I believe that as a basic expression of our shared humanity, a moral government should seek to do right by these first--and that we should be least concerned with helping the already prosperous. And this is the meaning of my liberalism.

    I don't think I'm alone in this, in fact I think most people agree with my priorities. Yet commonly the decisions made by our leaders bless the already-fortunate at the expense of the less well off. Part of the reason is that business and financial leaders spend vast sums of money advocating for their own benefit and cynically standing against the benefit of ordinary people. Another reason is the rise of propaganda favoring such economics as morally correct, produced by conservative think-tanks lavishly funded by the same business and financial leaders. They have even exploited religious conservatives in the service of this upside-down and un-Christian economic morality, by standing in solidarity with social conservatism. The power this alliance offers is especially irresistable to fundamentalist pharissees who aggressively seek to conform society and government with the laws of their religion.

    Yet ultimately the changes this conservative alliance seeks are antithetical to religion and human morality. They are against life, health, and liberty. They are not the American way, and certainly not the Christian way.

    There is no single perfect ideology for achieving a compassionate and healthy society. Liberals and conservatives, and all people of goodwill, must engage in an ongoing good-faith conversation about issues like healthcare for everyone, poverty here and worldwide, durable peace, and the promotion of family and community wellbeing. We can do better if we work together.

    •  great text (none)
      specially very clear. I think the clarity comes from being firm on your values and from not being careful so as to not offend anyone. This, and not a move to the left, is what many on kos think is the right path for democrats: liberalism with balls.

      (women, by the way, are included in that statement. liberalism with boobs?)

      Happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself, Ethics V,prop XLII

      by Mr Bula on Wed May 04, 2005 at 08:31:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Elizabeth - (none)
      This is really and truly great. I agree with the other poster, your points are wonderfully lucid. Somehow you got a 3 from me-- completely unintentionally--as did one other comment I meant to rate excellent above. Fluke or fumble fingers, I don't know which. Anyhow, I changed the 3 to a 4, here's hoping it worked.

      HD

      Is nothing secular?

      by aitchdee on Wed May 04, 2005 at 09:09:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you all very sincerely for reading (none)
    I appreciate the good advices, too. You are mighty helpy people :)

    HD

    Is nothing secular?

    by aitchdee on Wed May 04, 2005 at 09:12:41 AM PDT

  •  i've always said (none)
    there's a profound difference between a christian and a jesus freak.

    a christian is someone who accepts jesus christ as his or her personal saviour.

    a jesus freak is someone who accepts jesus christ as my personal saviour.

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