Friday, June 11, 2010

Missing the point in Manhattan

Can you imagine being a fundamentalist in the days of Isaiah?

You live your life according to the rules of Scripture, you do the things it tells you to do and you shun the things it tells you to shun.  Then all of a sudden along comes this guy and tells you that you are wrong.  Worse, he claims that God is the one that thinks you are wrong! Just the other day you brought your sacrifices to the temple and now this guy proclaims:

""The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?" says the LORD.  "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them."

Doesn’t that just make you angry enough to stone the guy?  How very dare he?  God doesn’t want your sacrifices?  Poppycock!!  You know this Isaiah guy can’t possibly be speaking the Words of God because you know the Bible.  You know that it was God who explicitly commanded those very things in the books of Moses.  Sacrifices and incense and holy days weren’t your ideas, they were what God told you to do in the Bible!  So where does this Isaiah get off claiming something different?  Oh but wait, listen to what else he said:

"Learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

Well now it all makes sense, doesn’t it?  He is clearly one of those liberal socialist hippie types who care more about “social justice” than about the Truth of the Word of God.

Yeah, somehow I think the Jewish equivalent of a Bible Thumper at the time of Isaiah may be shocked to see how the Bible eventually turned out…

The point I’m trying to make here is that it is very possible to be doing what the Bible tells you while completely missing what the Bible is telling you.  The reason I’m doing this is because I finally figured out what why the Manhattan Declaration bothered me so much.

See, from the moment I first heard about this document the wrongness of it made we want to blog about it and yet I had trouble pinning down exactly why it upset me the way it did.  Here you have this document signed by thousands of Christians, including hundreds of the most prominent leaders of the Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox churches and it basically states that the focus of Christianity should be the following 3 things:
Being against abortion,
Being against gay marriage and
Being for “Religious freedom” – which basically translates to the idea that Christians have the right to legislation against abortion and gay rights as well as the notion that they must fight all legislation supporting the legalization of abortion and gay marriage. 

There is just so much wrong there that I had trouble knowing where to start!  I finally get it now though.  The big problem here is not the hypocrisy that characterizes so much of the “pro-life” and “sanctity of marriage” proponents.  No, the problem here is the heartlessness of it all.

Basically, it tells Christians to be like my fictional Jewish Torah-thumper, to care more about bits of Biblical Law than about people who actually need our care.  The Manhattan Declaration really shows its heartlessness by telling Christians not to care less about the heavyweight concerns of Scripture – the poor, the disenfranchised and the lost – and rather invest their energy in fighting against the featherweight concerns*.  Claiming that sexual matters constitute a major theme in the Bible is like claiming Tom Bombadil is a major character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  If you take every verse in the Bible even tangentially related to sexual matters and place it on one end of a scale and then drop every verse on poverty, money and social justice on the other end the sheer weight of those verses would launch the sex verses over the horizon like a catapult.  How weird is it then that I can find large numbers of Christians who would happily condemn me for not condemning homosexuals but pretty much none who would condemn me for owning more than one warm jacket when there are people around me who have none?

I don’t know about you but I don’t have to try all that hard to imagine being a fundamentalist in the days of Isaiah – I already know because in many ways that’s exactly who I am.  If Isaiah was here now, he would be pointing his finger at me and telling me that I am the one missing the will of God.  He would be completely correct too, I am completely out of touch with the lion’s share of Biblical teaching – I don’t share with the poor, I’m not looking after the orphans and widows, not clothing the naked or feeding the hungry or seeking justice for the wronged.  I have no defense, I’m guilty.  

Its easy to make your religion be about following the parts you like with and only opposing those sins that actually offend you or set off your personal “ick” factor.  Actually caring about people the way God commands on the other hand is really hard!  Loving the unlovable doesn’t come naturally, at least it doesn’t for me.

I think we need more Isaiah’s.  Or at least we need to listen more to the ones we already have.

* Think I’m exaggerating?  Here is a quote from an interview with one of the men behind the Manhattan Declaration:
“They say they also want to speak to younger Christians who have become engaged in issues like climate change and global poverty, and who are more accepting of homosexuality than their elders, the same source informs. They say they want to remind them that abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom are still paramount issues. “We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues,” said Charles Colson, a prominent evangelical who founded Prison Fellowship after serving time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. “A lot of the younger evangelicals say they’re all alike. We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues.””
See?  He comes right out and says it, opposing the gays is more important than dealing with poverty.


Plucky said...

I understand and agree with you to a point . . .

Religious freedom is not even a biblical principle other then the spiritual freedom we are granted in Christ no matter if we are "slave or free" . . . To make that a paramount issue is poppycock.

Gay marriage? Once again, the New Testament letters written by Paul were to the church, not the world. I don't think it is appropriate for Christians to engage in homosexual behavior, however why we think this issue is so important in our society is beyond me. Legislating morality didn't even work for God, that's why he sent Jesus to die for our sins . . .

However, the point in which I differ with this post is that I think the scripture you quoted, "Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow," could easily be applied to the murder of defenseless unborn children and to the women that are often thrust into such a seemingly hopeless situations/decisions . . .

I agree with your statements on poverty being a priority. I also think that the care of unwed mothers and the sanctioning against abortion is absolutely biblical.

GumbyTheCat said...

Well, if it makes you feel better, it is impossible to live fully by the Bible. Partly because the danged book is so contradictory.

I feel that the maybe-existing Jesus preached an ideal to strive for, not necessarily an attainable ideal for most.

I had never heard of this Manhattan Declaration before but item 3 rankles me the most:

"3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image."

I realize this is a Christian thing but it bothers me to see people call for "religious liberty" when what they are really calling for is "religious liberty, as long as the religion is Christianity". Sigh. As time goes on I am more and more sickened by the lack of tolerance by Christians for those of differing beliefs, or no beliefs. Since I became an apostate the fundies in my discussion rooms have been telling me that eternal unbearable torture is a fitting punishment for my "crime". Yeah, as if that's gonna make me run back into the fold. NOT.

Hope you're well my friend!

GumbyTheCat said...

Plucky, I love your comment "Legislating morality didn't even work for God, that's why he sent Jesus to die for our sins."

I wish the religious right in the USA would get that simple point.

RandomSue said...

Wow Gumby, I am so sorry that you get that kind of response from Christians. It's people like that that make the rest of us look like asses.

You are so right. That kind of abuse is in no way going to draw you to Christ. It leaves me wondering what exactly their motivation or purpose is in this. Seriously, how often does the bullhorn, turn or burn tactic work?


Eugene said...

Tim, just to clarify I have no problem with people who are actually and consistently pro-life. I completely agree that those people who actually care about the unwed mothers and their children and are actually willing to provide alternatives and give care, rather than condemnation are doing good work.

My problem is with those who believe being "pro-life" means shouting at girls outside of abortion clinics and showing schoolchildren pictures of abortions. These people offer no solutions and are part of the problem. For starters they tend to be the same people trying to outlaw sex education deny birth control. Then when someone gets pregnant in a bad situation they act as if life is precious but they don't seem to really believe it. They oppose welfare and legistlation that would make it easier on mother and child. They don't do much of anything to allieviate the poverty that these unwanted children often have to grow up in. If due to growing up in such a messy situation, that child commits a crime they will be the loudest voices to have him tried as an adult and when it comes to penalties they tend to be very much "pro-death".

I fear that a lot of the people who would sign something like The Manhattan declaration would fall amongst the latter, rather than the former.

Eugene said...

Like I said, my problem is with heartlessness - caring about the rules but not about the people.

Or to quote The Slacktivist:
""Love is the fulfillment of the law," the Bible says. When love is perceived as a violation of the law, something has gone horribly amiss. "

GumbyTheCat said...

RandomSue, I believe that the Christians who say these horrible things are only trying to elevate themselves, not to try to get someone to come to Jesus. I have noticed that the more stridently fundamentalist a Christian is, the more insecure in his faith he tends to be. Damning someone to hell is their way of defending against what they feel is a personal attack. Yes, many Christians think that when someone tells them "I am not a Christian", that it is an attack on their faith and an attack on them. Their fears and insecurity cause their angry, defensive lash-outs.