Monday, November 08, 2004

Talking to the Faithful

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the divide on 'moral values' lately. At first it seemed that this was the dividing line that determined the election, but a closer look indicates that it played the same role it always has--no more and no less. But while this incorrect perception lasted, the question that was tossed about was: how do the secular talk to the religious? Can they? Should they?

There was a time that the left gained a good deal of its support from believers, who often saw the primary moral value of religion as charity, and saw the left as best suited to champion this cause. But during the Communist scare in the 50's, government charity was associated with Communism, which was of course, Godless and Evil. This line of reasoning has been pursued ever since. Never mind that Communism never existed, that it was only a red flag waved by what were essentially political thugs who had little interest in charity, to distract people while they ran a fairly generic totalitarian state. The character of these totalitarian states had far less to do with Marx than they did with the ambitions of their leaders. Nevertheless, the terms of the cold war skewed politics and discussion of values permanently.

The 'values' of Christian America can best be seen in the prurient nonsense spewed by the supermarket tabloids; news bites obsessed with subjects that are at best fringe issues to Christianity itself, drawn from a few isolated passages from the Bible. Homosexuality, promiscuity, and the use of drugs and alcohol provide titillating anecdotes, but these are not and never have been the focus of the core values of Christianity. These play to voyeuristic impulses, not moral sensitivity. Shock rockers like Marilyn Manson and Madonna make their names by playing on these superficial distractions. Abortion is a recent issue, never touched on by the Bible (indeed, there are passages in the Bible that would appear to condone even infanticide), and the Christian response to abortion has actually made the situation worse by delaying abortions till later in pregnancy, interfering with birth control and thereby making abortion more likely, and by making abortions themselves more dangerous.

Stated briefy, the core values of Christianity, and indeed of all major religions, are faith, hope, charity, and honesty. Faith and hope are essentially the same: a willingness to trust in oneself and others, and to face the world without fear. Instead, we live in a culture of fear. Faith itself has been trivialized to the rote belief of a few scriptural myths. It has little bearing on the real world beyond the mere act of testimonial--words, rather than action. If the facts do not conform to these myths, the faithful ignore them, or attempt to turn relativism to their own purpose. So much for honesty. Charity is for suckers. The poor are to be despised and spat upon, kept at bay by gates and police, and the rich enjoy their priveleges seemingly by divine right. Despite a growing gap between the richest and poorest, the rich demand more tax cuts and grouse about welfare bums. All the while, global financiers saddle impoverished peoples with crippling debt and call it responsibility, depite the fact that much of this money has been used to buy arms from the first world, worsening the misery of the third world and destroying what little ability they have to repay their debts. And Christians seem to have little or nothing to say about all this.

For those who wish to return to Christian values, and to those who wish to speak in terms of those values, I suggest that they try to understand what those values are. And to those who claim that America is a Christian nation, I echo Ghandi's comment about western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."