Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” And now we have Anne Rice declaring on her facebook page this afternoon, “I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
And the thing is, I get it. It was the Crusades that turned me off as a child. And then I found out about the Spanish Inquisition (which no, I didn’t expect, but no one expects the Spanish Inquisition) and I was horrified. Then I started rethinking this whole ‘convert your friends or they’re going to roast in hell’ doctrine that was shoved down my throat as a child. Then I got really outside the box: I started rethinking hell itself. Then the world was my oyster, and by that point I was in Seminary. I didn’t even go to a liberal one. I went to a rather middle-of-the road one: Virginia Theological Seminary. It’s not known for its shocking outside-the-box thinking. I mean, in some courses you might have to read Jack Spong, but all the popular kids bitch about having to do so. I started rethinking sex, and gender, and sexuality. I started focusing on Jesus’ Summary of the Law (Lovelovelovelovelove). I went from being a Republican to a Democrat to an Independent to ‘blank’ which in New York State at least is the one true ‘none of the above’ option. It still stymies the volunteer poll workers. I do it because I vote not based on party, because no single political ideology agrees with mine, and that’s okay. I’ve started to question everything, which can be dangerous because babies sometimes get thrown out with bathwater. I get it. I’ve done it before. I’ve watched other people done it.
Note I’m still a priest.
But, I’m also like Amos – dude, don’t look at me when you think of religion’s insanity; I’m just a simple dresser of sycamores and God is only using me because no one else is listening. But I already blogged about that.
So, okay. I’m a Christian. ::waves:: And I have no wish to be an asshole. So, how does one do that? How does one be a) a Christian, b) non-assholish, c) have integrity at the end of the day? Behold: Sarey’s Brief Guide on How To Be a Christian & Not an Asshole.
1) Love God. Jesus did say this was the foundation of all that was worthwhile in religion. Love God with everything you’ve got. And if you’re confused about how to do that in a concrete and practical manner, fear not, because Jesus also said that it’s practically the same thing to say: Love Your Neighbor As Your Self. This implies that you love yourself. You know, in that healthy way, not in that enabling co-dependent way. So, love yourself. And love your neighbor that much, too. Who’s your neighbor? Oh, baby, who isn’t your neighbor? It’s everybody. Everybody, everybody, everybody – including and especially the people who annoy you, pester you, hurt you, gossip about you… love them.
…yeah, that’s it. It’s a one point guide. Pretty simple. Easy? No, not necessarily easy. It’s just simple. It’s not a difficult concept to get your brain around, it’s just difficult to actually do it. If you’re confused and would like more detail about this love thing, I’d happily refer you to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. Now, it’s true that those words were written for a certain people in a certain time to answer a certain very specific issue (specifically, there was a shit-load of infighting at Corinth, which we could understand as the Vegas of the ancient world, and people were separating out into factions, trying to gain power, and it was devolving into an ugly chaos that was bringing out the worst in everyone), but in Chapter 13, Paul does wax on quite eloquently and with surprising clarity that sings down the ages almost without a single need for cultural interpretation about love. Not romantic love, mind you, though it is a favorite reading at weddings. Paul is talking about the love-self, love-neighbor, love-god kind of love. And he describes it in graphic detail. He’s not inviting people to be in unhealthy co-dependent relationships, he’s not inviting people to be doormats, but he is welcoming people into a radically different way of being.
So, okay. If I had to add other points, if LOVE isn’t clear enough an instruction or if it seems way too theoretical and not nearly practical enough, it might go like this:
2) Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. And If Your Mouth Isn’t Where Your Integrity Is, Do That First. What do I mean by this? If you are a Christian and you strongly disagree with the teachings you’re being taught, go elsewhere. I guarantee you that there are Christian communities near you that share your values. They may be small. You may live in an area where people (publicly, at any rate) all seem to espouse the same point of view that you seem to disagree with. But I guarantee you that there are pockets of people who are yearning for something different, and they are yearning for the same thing you yearn for. This is the way the world works. You may feel alone, but you’re not. So first, figure out (if you haven’t already) what it is that actually matters to you, then put your mouth there. Stop being one of the people who only publicly espouse the popular view. Yes, it might put you in the margin, but it’s easier to find that new community that will support you and that you can support if you’re not still being one of the many mouthpieces of the very thing you cannot stand. (Or maybe you’re not a mouthpiece. Maybe you just say nothing and roll your eyes. Still not helping.)
It can be hard to make this change. I get that. But here’s the thing: God is not limited to one single church building, nor is God limited to one single flavor of Christianity, no matter what your religious leaders may be teaching you, no matter how you were raised. That’s just silly talk. Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, you’ve got Church, baby. Break out of that box and find what you need to support you. And then support them.
Point of Fact: All the things that Anne Rice said in the above quote were all things particular to one very specific flavor of Christianity. To name names, that’s all Roman Catholic stuff. Me, I come from a different flavor of Christianity. As a body, we don’t actually promote any of those things. Point of fact: I’m a woman, I’m a priest, I’m not a virgin, I have used birth control, I’m pro-life and yet not anti-abortion, I’ve been a Democrat and still most closely associate with their view point, and I think being Gay is a perfectly acceptable ontological state. And you know what? I’m also a Christian. I also have God’s blessing on my life. God loves me, too. (And to be transparent, I think wielding ex-communication like the Roman Catholic Church does is a base and cowardly abuse of power. But that’s me. People of good conscience are allowed to disagree with me, and that’s okay. It’s still my view.) And back to Anne Rice, for her to say what she did doesn’t make sense to the rest of us Christians who aren’t actually her flavor of Christianity. There were many of us reading that quote who were very confused. Did Ms. Rice confuse Roman Catholicism with all Christianity? Does she simply not realize that The Church is actually quite a bit larger than Rome? Does she buy into the line that most RC’s are spinning: Outside Of Us, You’re Screwed? And to be fair, it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church that favors that line. Many conservative Christians like to use it. And the rest of us think it’s bullshit, but then again, we would. We’re outside of them, and thus by their logic, screwed. We shrug and pray for them. They’ll either come around in the end, or they’ll collapse under the weight of their own uber-controlling bullshit, like the Soviet Union and the Aztec Empire. Either way is okay by me. But as for you, if you want to be a Christian and not an Asshole, go find some other Christians who also don’t want to be Assholes and hang out with them. Perhaps you could introduce yourself, ala AA. Hi. My name is Sarah, and I used to be an asshole Christian. ::choruses of ‘Hi, Sarah.’::
3) Stand Up To Hatred. When you see people, especially fellow Christians, acting badly, being hateful, seemingly infested with the very demons they purport to be exorcising in others, do feel free to call them on it. Be warned they may not take it well, but please do feel free to call assholes on their assholish behavior and let them know that it’s not cool with you. Don’t sink to their level, mind. Don’t be an asshole in return. We’re trying to leave off assholish behavior, remember. But simply, kindly, inform them that it’s not cool.
In most places in this country it’s not okay to make a racist joke (I’m not naive enough to believe that’s true everywhere), or a sexist joke, or to make a demeaning remark, and in most places in this country it’s absolutely acceptable to inform the speaker that it’s not acceptable to say such things in your company. Just because someone has interpreted differently a writing that you both find to be sacred doesn’t give them the right to verbally shit upon your fellow human beings in your presence. I don’t care if they think being gay is an Abomination Unto The Lord, and I don’t care if they think Women Shouldn’t Speak In Church, and I don’t care if they think [fill in the blank here]. That’s nice. They can think that way, but there are other very pious, very learned, very holy, very Christian people who look at the very same text and come out with a very different understanding of the world, and this has been true all the way through the history of Christianity. We’ve never really agreed on things, we Christians, and anyone who tells you different is selling you a party line of bullshit. Further more, there isn’t much new we can come up with that someone hasn’t already mused upon in, oh, say the sixth century – we just have to do a little research to find out who said what, if we’re so inclined.
Assholes have no right to take over the public discourse, even if they are prone to yelling, threatening a painful afterlife that they have no power to deliver and getting in your face in an unpleasant manner. That doesn’t make them right. It just makes them loud, and usually, offensive.
4) Find friends. Seriously now, this can be tough stuff in this world, being a Christian and not an Asshole. Find yourself a support group. That support group might actually be a church, but it might not be. But seriously now, find some like minded people to give you support, because it might not be easy and it especially won’t be easy at first. But you can totally do it. And it’s worth it, really, because when you come right down to it, Jesus said and did some bloody amazing stuff. The guy stood up against the Roman Empire for heaven’s sake. And yeah, they killed him for it, but what he was preaching (lovelovelove) is radical today, it was even more radical then. He got killed for saying that maybe God is not just in the temple, maybe God is closer than breathing, maybe God is like our Father. He got killed for believing so clearly that what we thought made a difference in how we lived that he was able to heal people, to perform wacky miracles that really only made boatloads of sense if you were from that culture. He got killed for preaching that the way of love was more important than pax romana. So if you’re going to walk this walk and talk this talk, a walk and talk that have gotten stronger people than you killed, do find some support first. Because it’s much, much easier to say ‘fuck you, I’m leaving’ than to say ‘fuck you, I’m staying’.
This is Sarey, signing off. (Which is to say, ‘Fuck you, I’m staying.’)
[Editorial Who-Ha: this blog has spawned further conversation. Check it out at CaffeineCoquette’s blog post: Christianity Needs Better PR.]