Falwell's Ghost, in California
I was explaining the Bible to jerry. That's his coffee table.
Jerry: "so is this the part where it says, I am your angry task-master, you must obey me and kill other people?"
Jo: (goes silent)
It says, I am the way, the truth, and the light. It's a mystical statement. It's practically exactly the way the Tao de Ching begins, the Road you can name is not the real road; the name you can say is not the real name. It's mysticism. Where are you getting this stuff, anyway?
Seriously, you do-gooder Christians with big well organized churches have a lot of basic disinformation evangelism to do. Jerry's smart, in touch, and we've been having this conversation for six months. He's pretty exemplary of at least 50% of the well educated and liberal out here. I get to have a similar conversation in San Francisco every time I meet a stranger who discovers that I go to church : how could I believe that crap? hasn't anyone told me yet that it's patriarchal and power-hungry? Don't I know that it's all about killing and hating? Decades of exposure to Falwell (the only Christian voice to penetrate to the unconverted) have done a lot of damage.
Hearing the wrong Christians interviewed on Fox News and chatted about in the New York Times means a version of Christianity twisted beyond recognition. The New Testament, in the churches of the South and Midwest, has relatively little to do with hating or excluding. Instead, it focusses on the main substance of the Christian scripture, becoming a good listener and expressing loving speech through a connection with a force of love bigger and grander than that expressed by any given particular human over the course of his life. I realized something strange in the midst of this conversation with Jerry. I've spent most of the last ten years learning how to talk about the Christian Right and Christian Left, to draw political lines about who's right and who's wrong. But I wasn't cultivating my speech about love, or honing my testament to the deep, spiritual, inward experiences I've had.
I'm shocked when other people don't understand think Christianity is an institution whose prime purpose is the cultivation of those experiences in a supportive community. But I myself am part of the problem. I'm used to drawing lines in the sand between those Christians there with their hate-preaching, and our Christians over here. I'm great at describing when, how, and why those divisions arose. But on a regular basis I'm not part of the tide of those actually sharing, or enthusiastically advocating, the kind of ecstatic experiences I regularly experience in my readings of the Sermon on the Mount, the psalms, the Sufi scriptures, and the Tao. Evangelism is supposed to be about the healing of broken souls, the outreach to people with a certain hollowness in their lives.
Religion is not just about politics, that much seems obvious. The political aspect is important and dear to those of us trying to distance ourselves from the angry harmful nonsense of Falwell. Activists tend to be warriors and statesmen in this game, drawing lines and collecting help. They (we) tend to blame the media, exhort pastors to preach on political topics, and encourage a healthy, political body in the church, engaging the progressive world view. They tend to leave the preaching, meditation, witness, exultation, sharing of experiences, deep listening, and descriptions of love to priests and preachers.
Maybe too much. Maybe Falwell has won because too many Christians on both sides, right and left, engage the politics without the love.