Sunday, December 23, 2007

In which I get all Biblical

It's that time of the year, when we celebrate the birth of that radical cleric from the West Bank, known to have ties to Iranian intelligence -- "wise men from the East" being pretty flimsy code, if you ask me. Surely this dude's been wiretapped by the NSA? He went around Israel refusing the recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, preaching revolution, and even resorting to violent protest. Pretty shady dealings all around.

If you can't tell, the holidays put me in a pretty grinchy mood, not helped by my choice of part-time employment. Christmas, frankly, is one of the only times I actually spend time thinking about Christianity, Jesus, and my relationship to those two concepts -- Easter being the other biggie, no surprise. It would be easier for me to take contemporary American Christianity more seriously if it didn't produce such outright blasphemies as the notion that Jesus wants you to be rich.
In three of the Gospels, Jesus warns that each of his disciples may have to "deny himself" and even "take up his Cross." In support of this alarming prediction, he forcefully contrasts the fleeting pleasures of today with the promise of eternity: "For what profit is it to a man," he asks, "if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" It is one of the New Testament's hardest teachings, yet generations of churchgoers have understood that being Christian, on some level, means being ready to sacrifice--money, autonomy or even their lives.

But for a growing number of Christians like George Adams, the question is better restated, "Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?"
Because apparently, the King of Kings was whipped forty times, wore a crown of thorns, and died on the cross so that we could all have two-car garages.

Let's say, for a moment, that it was somehow difficult to discover passages like Jesus' declaration that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Let's pretend that the Bible didn't have pretty explicit things to say about people who created idols out of gold, or people who betrayed their prinicples for 30 pieces of silver. What's pretty clear to me, in this movement, is that what we're seeing is Christianity stripped of everything that makes it Christian.
That language is reflected in Your Best Life Now, an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. "To live your best life now," it opens, to see "your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass ..." you must "start looking at life through eyes of faith." Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement.
I bet. Wouldn't want suffering or sacrifice to be part of our faith, would we?

So why is this bothering me so much? Well, I've worked in retail for most of my adult life now, and for most of that time it was perfectly acceptable to simply say "Happy Holidays" to customers, on the understanding that if you were a Christian you were welcome to take that as "Merry Christmas", and if not, not. But a few years back a bunch of assholes and loudmouths starting harping about how retail workers saying "Happy Holidays" was really an attack on Christianity, part of the War on Christmas, and so my co-workers and I started getting yelled at by customers for tidings of comfort and joy.

So the response has been entirely predictable: Most retailers I know of now simply don't say anything. I refuse to volunteer any kind of seasonal greeting unless the customer offers it first. Christmas has gone, for me, from being a crazed if somewhat pleasant exchange of money, with some pleasant greetings on the side, to non-stop craziness. With very little in the way of pleasantries. All because my coworkers and I were accused of taking Jesus out of Christmas. It's hard not to feel like I've been robbed of a basic measure of civilized manners, all because of some freaks.

Well, look around people. You assholes are taking Jesus out of Christianity itself, all because you don't want to think of what Jesus would say about the statistics on western obesity and third world hunger. To believe that Jesus wants you to be comfortable obviously misses how uncomfortable Jesus' teachings actually are. But we've already seen church leaders demand that politicians understand torture is a Christian value, and that protecting fertilized zygotes is more important than keeping the Earth from burning, so I suppose having churches devoted to the idea that Jesus drove a hummer isn't the worst thing in the world.


Mike said...

Testify John...and Happy Holidays!

Chet Scoville said...

Indeed. These goons have done more damage to Christianity than Christopher Hitchens could have done in a million years.