Friday 30 November 2012

In praise of fanatics

America is the land of fanatics. No, this time I’m not talking about politics – yet.

America is a nation that works hard and plays hard. Even in leisure, Americans are usually fanatic about something. But the thing that keeps us from laughing too hard at the fanatic habits of others, is that generally when someone dives into a hobby, they dive in all the way. They learn the whole thing from top to bottom, they know every detail. They earn their right to obsessive silliness by doing their homework.

There are Harry Potter fanatics who can tell you every password ever used to get into the Gryffindor tower, Beatles fanatics who can tell you who was really playing drums on their first single, cooks who can argue for hours on the one perfect way to make chili and barbecue, Civil War guys who can tell you every one of Lee’s battles in order in sixty seconds, Red Sox fans who can tell you exactly what kind of beer bottle they threw through the front window when Buckner blew the World Series, Star Trek fans who can spot when actors put on the wrong Starfleet insignia by mistake, all sorts of encyclopedic knowledge about car engines, stamps, golf, bird watching, trains, gardening, young adult fiction. So, they do their homework, and you have to respect that.

Except for Christians.

Most of today’s Christians say they are very devout. Perhaps they think they mean it. In theory their faith is at least as important to them as, say, Harry Potter is to the typical Potter fan. So you would think that devout Christians would be cracking open that Bible almost daily, right?

Sadly, no. If you listen carefully, you can tell that today’s Christians are dogging it. They are not even reading their Bible. If, indeed, they own one at all.

Today’s Christian fanatics are actually doing the Christianity thing all wrong, because they don’t know what the Bible really said. Depending on denomination, today’s Bible-beaters are liable tell you that the Bible demands that you go to church on Sunday, ordained as the Lord’s day, and take the Eucharist and the other sacraments; that it prescribes eternal hellfire for sinners, and sweeping the holy up from earth to heaven when they die, and purgatory for everyone in between.

None of which is in the Bible.

Current religious practice actually violates Biblical rules on idolatry and paganism: worshipping Jesus instead of the one God, praying to Mary and the saints, and celebrating the anniversaries of Jesus’ birth and resurrection, both of which began as pagan rites. Saint Peter – the Saint Peter – openly condemned pagan idolatry, and even criticized it in one of the letters in the Bible, explicitly rejecting the “forbidden worship of idolatry”. Instead of actually listening to what Peter said – and he was the boss, the first Pope – centuries of Christians prayed, pagan-like, to Peter idols! They named him the patron saint of fishermen, sailors, bakers, farmers, butchers, glassmakers, carpenters, shoemakers, clockmakers, potters, masons, bridge builders, cloth makers, and criminals. In other words a huge chunk of the Christian world has been engaging in idol worship of the guy who made it a rule that you can’t, you know, worship idols. If he really is up there at the Pearly Gates, he is surely rolling his eyes at the stupidity of the faithful. This is more an issue for the Catholics than the Protestants, but still….

Likewise modern religious teaching violates the precepts of the Bible: allowing confession without repentance and attaining grace without good works, baptizing children, and promising rebirth and heaven before the Resurrection. Today’s Christians get Christianity wrong because they don’t even bother to read the manual. Can you imagine a Civil War fan getting this many major things wrong?

This extends not only to practice but also to philosophy. Today’s evangelicals believe the Bible backs them up on political issues, a belief which often falls apart once you actually open up your Bible. The founders of Christianity, Peter and Paul, told their followers not to follow Biblical law as though it was the will of God, and even Micah in the Old Testament said you get along with God by doing good, not by following religious codes and rituals. This deeply undermines the evangelicals’ use of the Bible to argue issues such as abortion and homosexuality, both of which are implicitly condoned in the Old Testament anyway (see Numbers, Ruth, Samuel). Jesus and his disciples spoke repeatedly about paying your taxes and caring for the poor and the sick, something conservatives often forget. Christians get the politics of the Bible wrong, because they don’t read it. Possibly they just don’t want to see how much of a Democrat Jesus was, the unemployed hippie preacher peddling peace, love, tolerance, meekness, charity, and a great abiding love for the “47 percent”. A guy who showed no interest in women. Hmm…

Christians often try to win political arguments by whipping out conservative slogans which they believe, incorrectly, to be quotes from the Bible: “spare the rod and spoil the child, God helps those who help themselves, a fool and his money are soon parted, charity begins at home, idle hands are the Devil's workshop, God's mill grinds slow but true, as you make your bed you must lie in it, beggars should not be choosers, there is none so blind as he who will not see.” None of which are actually in the Bible. Lots of expressions which Christians believe to be Biblical, actually come from William Shakespeare or one of the other poets; occasionally they slap the “Biblical” label on the sayings of Gandhi, Marx, Lenin, and Jefferson and Jackson, founders of the Democratic party. Christians would know this stuff isn’t Biblical, if they actually read the book.

Christians often get the actual events in the Bible wrong too. The forbidden fruit wasn’t necessarily an apple, and there were two different forbidden trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.  Satan was not in the garden of Eden. Delilah didn’t cut Samson’s hair. Jonah wasn’t swallowed by a whale. Mary didn’t ride to Bethlehem on a donkey and the wise men didn’t see the baby in a manger. Jesus wasn’t necessarily a carpenter.

Also, Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. That was an error propagated by the Pope himself, Pope Gregory. He was the “infallible” Jesus Guy Number One, and he got that “fact” wrong, because he didn’t know the Bible, and read the scripture incorrectly. Another pope corrected the error. Thirteen centuries later.

Incidentally, the Bible is very critical of priests and organized religion, and it says nothing about Popes. The notion that any Pope, or indeed any mortal man, is infallible, is completely contrary to Biblical precepts. Particularly a Pope who dorks up basic Biblical facts like Gregory did.

Can you imagine how America would change, if Christians actually read their Bibles? Then we would find out what today’s Jesus people really believe. Do they really revere Jesus and his message? Or are they just using the pages of his book as fig leaves to hide their fears and hate behind?

“God hates fags!” Um, no he doesn’t. Because he made millions of them.

Right now, some Jesus person is hollering “Well, the Bible says that even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose! Hah! Take that, accursed liberal!”

Sorry, dude, that’s not the Bible either. Shakespeare again. Antonio in the Merchant of Venice. And then G. K. Chesterton.

Actually, the wingnuts don’t read the Constitution either. If they did, they would have run Bush out of town on a rail. But that’s another story.

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