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But what if I think 'people of faith' are a little crazy? contributor:tamra spyvey
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 But what if I think 'people of faith' are a little crazy?
Posted by Jan Frel at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2006.

Barack Obama is the latest politician to call me and my antifaith friends out as divisive and harmful for the Democratic cause. Thank God that I know better.

I have two people in my close family who are long-time members of some very weird Christian splinter groups. One of them, who I won't identify, is a Jehovah's Witness. This relative -- an adherent for more than 20 years -- walks around, knocks on doors, passes out literature with some of the most laughable illustrations I've ever seen in my life. The most common pastiche is one composed of what look like off-duty prozac-popping bank tellers walking around in mocked-up nature scenes that most resemble a Hawaiian golf course in the adoring company of fuzzy mammals -- such as smiling tigers and koala bears.

In the Jehovah Witness' world, this is supposed to be a depiction of paradise on Earth, when in fact it's litmus proof that 9th-rate minds are cooking up a weak broth of religious fantasy that makes the Left Behind series look as real as the pile of parking tickets in my glove compartment. Luckily for them, poor suckers like this relative of mine are satisfied with this Motel 6 version of Christianity.

My half-brother however, went for the most ornate and elaborate Christian sect I know of -- Eastern Orthodox. He worships five-star style, in an ancient church that hits, as he told me, "all the senses." Beautiful chanting, endless sticks of incense, gorgeous depictions of Jesus and his friends in mosaics and gold carvings, real relics that Jesus slept on that have healing powers, and endless cycles of feasting and fasting. Like a crazed Cubs fan who relocates to be able to sleep within sight of Wrigley Field, my half-brother moved to the old city of Jerusalem, just to be closer to the action. He truly believes that icons of saints and the Virgin Mary shed real tears, and that tombs of saints ooze myrrh and holy oils. He's been in Jerusalem for six years. Praying night and day, sometimes for me.

And I think he's completely out of his mind. If you are a believer, come and jump in my shoes for a second: if the prayers and chants he performs aren't in fact ordained by God, then what the hell is going on? What the hell is my brother doing? If God didn't write -- or inspire -- these prayers, some of which take hours to recite, then who did?

It makes me feel like these relatives are a bunch of suckers who pour their time in an energy sink, are stuck in an obsolete way of thinking, and make some very stupid choices in life based on these beliefs, involving everything from diet to seeing doctors.

And it seems to me that there's a very easy tool you can use to sniff out that something is very strange about religious faith: cold, literal comparison. Look at one church and its claims and compare it to another one. Like Jehovah's Witnesses vs. Eastern Orthodox Christians. Can my relative and my half-brother both be right? Their ways don't mesh, and make each other look pretty ridiculous when they're side by side. My brothers fervent passion for kissing the icons of saints is matched by my other relatives passion for converting Chinese immigrants with childish propaganda. They both have told me they think other sects of Christianity have it wrong... if you go back look at the true words in the Bible, they say, why then youll see that what Im doing makes perfect sense -- its what Jesus would have wanted me to do.

But both cant be true -- and because of the bizarre absolutist nature of the religious argument, they are both absolutely wrong. So what exactly are they doing if they arent serving God? Uggh, it makes me feel sick to my stomach to think about it. I try not to.

Theres the argument that religion gets more acceptable as it becomes less marginal; that a tolerant, pro-science outfit like the United Church of Christ is a reasonable vehicle for the worship of the Christian God. But ultimately, the insane component -- the God-worshipping component, orchestrated by priests and higher-ups who enjoy playing games of mind control -- is still there. Why cling on to this BS in desperation, I ask?

Sure, the Jehovah's Witnesses have an environmental bent, but it doesnt make the religious component any less crazy. Or, to go to slightly saner grounds, just because Jim Wallis talks about economic justice doesnt make his Christianity any less crazy to me. And, if I remember correctly, hes out in the public sphere because hes a Christian; his positions on various issues are there to burnish his Christian creds.

And thats where we get to an evangelical suck-up like Barack Obama, who recently attacked Democrats and lefties failing to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people. I think most of us acknowledge it, but why the hell bow to it? A long chunk of Kevin Phillips most recent book is one long Oh my God, this country is filled with religious nutcases -- what the hell are we going to do?!! Folks like Phillips have acceded to the fact that fanatics are there in abundance, but that doesnt mean in the slightest that the Godless and misotheistic wing in America should stand quietly in the face of that truth.

While Rabbi Michael Lerner has been right to point out that liberals need to offer a language and lifestyle that appeals to the same grievances that attract evangelicals and other believers to megachurches, the long-term right thing to do is politely, but stiffly refuse to accept any religious recourses to explain reality, even when they would appear to help our cause. And that means for me that the starting place is to challenge him on the grounds of what he has in mind when he calls himself Rabbi.

Taking that logic to lefty journalism, it means its not OK to say that God is a liberal, that God supports the minimum wage, or that George W. Bush and his cronies have broken all 10 Commandments. This is especially true because I know for a fact that most of the purveyors of these arguments are not believers themselves. And that makes them just as cynical and manipulative as the guys on the other side who wield Jesus in their eternal and holy battle to cut corporate taxes.

Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.
http://www.alternet.org/blogs/themix/38280/..more
 
 

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