What I'll be pondering this Thanksgiving

Last night, I caught bits and pieces of Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing Jeff Sharlet, author of a book about "the Family," "a secretive fellowship of powerful Christian politicians that centers on a Washington, D.C., townhouse." Its members are, it seems, quite powerful, and have an incredibly cracked view of Christianity. (A few of them are, sad to say, having a rather rough go of it lately.) They are deeply conservative, bent on power, and apparently of the belief that God's will for them is to take over the world through cultivating the wealthy and influential. (That they are so very proud of their Christianity while seemingly ignorant of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most beautiful and central text of Christianity, speaks to the warped nature of their belief system.) If Mr. Sharlet's reporting is to be believed, there is even a connection between the Family and the appalling anti-gay law on its way to enactment in Uganda.

This evening, as I sit waiting for the end of office hours before the holiday tomorrow, I happened upon a discussion of the so-called "Manhattan Declaration." By way of Andrew Sullivan, Conor Friedersdorf and Rod Dreher, I found myself at the blog of one "Ochlophobist." Having been once to that last destination, if I never find myself there again it will be too soon. Now, those three other writers (who have, let's just say, a few more readers than I do) have already weighed in, but let me quote the passage from Ochlophobist that gave them most pause:
This is the I’ll have my cake and eat it too phenomenon – I’ll send my $500 to the Christians Rightly Allied Against Perversion (CRAAP) fund to have them lobby against homosexual marriage, but I still want my 4 large screen TVs in the house so that my 2 kids can each play their video games while my wife watches Desperate Housewives and I watch the instruction DVD which explains to me how to operate the DVD players in my new 26 foot long Ford Explosion. What I do not “get” when I do this is that when I live in a manner that assumes the correctness of grossly gratuitous consumption, I live in a manner that assumes that homosexuality should be socially accepted. Why? Because like calls out to like. Homosexuality as a lifestyle and as a moral act is a decadent, gratuitous form of consumption in which the human person becomes commodified. In fact the normative accoutrements which gays and lesbians themselves often heartily embrace as representative of their lifestyle convey a pervasive quality of consumer oriented decadence (yes, there are exceptions; they prove the rule). It would seem that such a false ontology would naturally follow from a relationship based upon a sexual act which can never rise above entertainment. [emphasis added by Friedersdorf]
Let's just assume right now that Ochlophobist knows no gay or lesbian couples, or if he does, he certainly doesn't know them well (or care to). And let us also accept that I am incapable of expressing in words how galling the above passage is to me. I could type until my fingers were raw nubbins and still have spleen aplenty for such an appallingly arrogant and ignorant viewpoint, which would reduce my relationship, my home and my family to a sexual act, from a writer who styles himself an authority on something about which he knows nothing. To the Ochlophobist, I would merely ask that you read the last sentence of Romans 12:16 over and over and over until it sticks.

The last thing I'd like to highlight before I come to my point is from the last paragraph of the aforementioned Manhattan Declaration:
Because [fundamental truths] are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them.
And here I am, with my conundrum. For, you see, I am a Christian man. I love my church, and love what I consider to be the genuine truths about Christianity. (See above re: Sermon on the Mount, with the parable of the sheep and the goats thrown in for good measure.) I look at some of the hospitals and charities and universities founded and funded by Christian churches, and I remember all the good my religion can do.

But I cannot ignore the horrifying reality that much of contemporary Christianity is unquestionably malign. It combines an incredible pride with the stupefying belief that its believers are somehow persecuted. It claims to know, with unshakable certainty, the mind of God and congratulates itself for inflicting its beliefs on those who do not share them. Its adherents have controlled the government of the most powerful nation in the history of the world for much of the last decade (with no shortage of famous aspirants) and continue wield tremendous influence, and yet it clings to the notion that it is some kind of bulwark against the Powers that Be.

None of this is, of course, new, nor is the fact that it troubles me. But for some reason it weighs on me more heavily today. I have always been quick to defend religious belief and organized religion when the subject has been debated among my friends. Today, it seems harder to do so while remaining honest about how those beliefs are manifesting in our society.


  1. Dan, Elizabeth, Devin, and all the Gentle Readers of Bleakonomy the Blog -- Happy Thanksgiving. All the best, and may your day be spent with friends and family. Savor the moment, and be thankful for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  2. Thanks Gadfly!

    And, Dan, you know I'm no Christian. But because people misuse Christianity doe not make it untrue. Einstein's theory of relativity is no less true because someone made an atomic bomb. Nazi doctors did not make other doctors less good or less helpful.

  3. You, sir, elucidate my problem with humanity in general and some contemporary American Christian sects in specific. The hubris, self absorption, lack of critical thinking, and lack of compassion and empathy.
    Hope you surround youself this week with people who embody exactly those qualities absent in the blogger you found.
    Happy Thanksgiving.