Wednesday, June 01, 2011
A little over a week ago, Bill Maher gave a scathing critique of the popular Christian ethos. For most of Christianity, this critique went unnoticed. After all, most Christians don't tend to listen to Bill Maher - a liberal leaning Atheist with a propensity to drop the F-Bomb. However those who did, tended to respond to Maher with derision - He is an Atheist, what does he know about Christian ethics? or He hates Christians, and this is just another slam!
Maher was pointing out that American Christians tend to be more pro-war, pro-torture, and pro-military than the average citizen. This brought forth some sardonic wit from Maher as he noted that most of Jesus' quotes run contrary to the attitudes of many of his followers.
One can't blame Christians for being a little uncomfortable. If you are religious, the last thing you want is to be outfoxed by an Atheist who is pummeling you with your own scriptures. To top it off, Maher points out that the best historical example of someone living the Christian ethic was carried out by a practicing Hindu.
What is apparent to me, as I read the various responses to Maher, is that Christians don't really believe they are capable of loving their enemy. Loving your enemy, doing good to those who wrong you, turning the other cheek.... these have all been moved to the miraculous category. Yes, Jesus loved his enemies... but he also walked on water and raised the dead. In the minds of most Christians, they no more believe an enemy can be loved than they believe they will walk on water this evening. So, they quickly move past these commandments to ones that are more do-able... say, witnessing or going to church.
I also think Christians struggle to take these teachings seriously because their faith is often built on a faulty foundation. To love your enemy, you are going to have to put aside your needs, your pride, your need to be right - perhaps even your safety. You have to give up self-protection. Your ego is going to have to die... daily.
Then there is the Christian who follows Jesus because Jesus is going to make them happy, or healthy, or wealthy. Following Jesus causes blessing after blessing to fall their way.
With all of this ME cemented into the foundation of popular Western Christianity, is it any wonder that enemy-love gets scant attention from Christ's followers? Go to a Christian church in America this Sunday and you will most likely hear a message about Hell or what blessing God has in store for you next. A message on how to do kind acts for the person who opposes you, hurts you, hates you? How to joyfully surrender your rights and protections? Not so much.
But anyone who knows scripture knows the ways of the Divine tend to be a little counter intuitive. Look at Maher's two examples of people who followed the teachings of Christ. He spoke of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. with honor... those who humble themselves shall be exalted and established.
Please don't think I approach this tritely or as if it is easy. I don't often despise people, but there is someone in my life right now that I do. Every word this person speaks, their very presence raises my blood pressure. I literally take joy in speaking badly of this person to others.
If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles... You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
It is after hearing such words that I want to drop one of Maher's F-bombs; cause' it is hard and I don't want to do it. My ego and sense of self screams out for protection. But if we are ever to change this world, truly change it, it is the only way. Ghandi and MLK proved it. Jesus proved it.
In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers and must be welcomed. They must be paid attention to, not litigated. How can a Christian look at the crucified and not get this essential point? ~ Richard Rohr
Posted by Andrew at 6:19 PM