Friday, 9 November 2012

How Obama saved Christianity

For four years now, Republicans have been screeching that the scary Muslim from Kenya was going to destroy American capitalism and Christianity. And the irony is that Obama has actually saved both.

More than anyone else, Obama saved capitalism. He stopped the slide in the markets and employment, he saved the financial industry and the auto industry, he saved five million jobs despite Republican opposition, and he began undoing the damage and the fractured policies of the Republicans who preceded him.

But he also may have saved Christianity.

For forty years now, Christianity in America has been hijacked by right-wing zealots who read the Old Testament but got bored and stopped reading before Jesus entered the picture. And they were so enthralled with this judgmental, Leviticus-driven view of the world that they tried to export these religious views out into the world of policy, politics, economics, science, education and medicine. They forced the whole country to put their most cherished political issues at the top of the agenda.

They went gunning after women on abortion and contraception. They went after our kids, and their own kids too, on school vouchers, school prayer, evolution, sex education, banning books, HPV shots. They hammered away at the separation of church and state by putting the Commandments in courtrooms and by pursuing faith-based initiatives. They invaded science by declaring war on stem cell research and cloning, infected the medical world with their views on assisted suicide, resuscitation and euthanasia, and showed their social brutality with their views on gays and lesbians.

Two thousand years after Saint Paul did all he could to expand Christianity by removing the need for the Jews and pagans of the Roman world to follow outmoded Mosaic laws, American Christians tried to take their faith backward, not just to the days of Jesus, but to the days of Moses, invoking the Torah to condemn anyone who didn’t meet their standards of behavior. As the Republican big tent shrunk, so did the Christian big tent.

So a lot of people turned away from Christianity. The rightwing loons made Jesus uncool. People who sang along with Jesus Christ Superstar 40 years ago, sang “Jesus is just alright with me” in the 1970s, joined the kumbaya guitar-strumming churches, boasted of being born again in the 1980s, began to feel embarrassed. Many left their churches, or suffered in silence while the faithful around them spewed hate and intolerance. The ranks of atheists, agnostics, Pastafarians, Wiccans, Buddhists and other “Others” grew by leaps and bounds. Polls showed that the number of people attending church went down, but the number of people claiming to be churchgoers went up: people were turning away from the churches but were afraid to admit it publicly and were looking for some other path to faith.

Now, sane people want to reclaim Christianity, to restore the Sermon on the Mount to their faith, to shift away from hate and toward compassion in hard times. Likewise a tsunami-like backlash is beginning to react against the unholy, destructive alliance of Republican politicians and Taliban-like evangelicals which dominated American society for thirty years.

Obama, when you look closely, is at the center of all this. He is breaking up that unholy alliance, forcing conservatives to reexamine what they really believe and to wonder where their intolerance has taken them. He is reaching out to his own allies without pandering to them: he is forcing his friends in the black churches to reexamine gay rights, and impelling his Latino friends to reconsider the bĂȘtes noires of the Catholic Church, contraception and abortion. He has put us on a path toward a future in which religion and politics stay in their own respective lanes, in which religious belief can grow, keep up with the times, and rediscover tolerance. It took the Catholic Church three hundred years to admit that man was an animal and the earth was a satellite, but perhaps modern religion, freed from the grip of the arch-conservative zealots, can move more quickly and remain relevant for a modern America.

But that can only happen with someone like Obama at the helm. Whenever a Republican takes over, evangelicals succumb to the delusion that they are God’s chosen leaders for our nation, that only their religious views matter, that you can’t be a liberal and a good Christian.

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