To set the stage, Hackman quotes approvingly a Bill Maher rant in which Maher claims that Christians who share his (Maher's) excitement over Osama Bin Laden's death should stop calling themselves Christians:
New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.Hackman agrees and asserts:
For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you I’m buying space lasers.”
Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies.
And Gandhi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.
But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog to rip his nuts off.”
Christians, I know, I’m sorry, I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t.
I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing.
You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.
And if you believe the Earth was given to you to kick ass on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian – you’re a Texan.
Let's face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian. However, we have turned Christianity into a club where I am in and you are out. Instead of spreading Jesus' teachings - that the Kingdom of God means you love your enemy and bless those who curse you - we encourage people to join our church or get them to do an "accept Jesus" prayer. Then, with our blessed assurance in tow, we go on to live just as self-absorbed as our darkest corners dictate.Kyle gives some qualified agreement and says:
Let’s face it, if the ethos of Jesus Christ doesn’t apply in the real world, with all its nuances and morally messy difficulties, then it’s bubcus. If it doesn’t apply when Christians are faced with the annihilation of their families or their country, then it’s a crap system. An ethos is only worth something if it applies in the worse situations imaginable.Several points in response.
Maher is more or less right when he says, “…nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark. Kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, ‘How could a man suffer like that and forgive?’ Not, ‘Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes.’” You can’t say you’re a follower of Jesus when you rejoice in revenge, torture, and war.
If Christians respond to their enemies the same way that others do, then there’s something really big missing in the practice of their religion.
- On the main point of whether Maher has brought up an important insight on Christianity and Christians, here: I think that Hackman and you err a bit in seeing Maher as making a valuable contribution here, perhaps misled by the fact that he's ostensibly making a provacative point about an issue which you feel strongly about and are frustrated that more Christians are not more activist about.
Let’s face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian.At the risk of sounding mealy-mouthed here, I think part of why Hackman finds Maher's typically angry rant appealing is that Hackman has allowed himself to fall into, like Maher, thinking that most Christians are asshats.
Now, as Maher says, this is fine if you're a non-Christian and you think it's just fine to hate a large portion of the world's population, but it's problematic if you're a Christian. Hackman is angry that Christians do not, by his reading, love their enemies. His response, however, is apparently to decide that Christians are people that he can hate. As Foghorn Leghorn would say, "That just don't add up." You can't revel in hating Christians because you think that they in turn hate other people too much. At least, not if your claim is that you are Christian and that Christians are supposed to be marked by their lack of hatred for others.
- Once we leave aside the "asshats" complaint, which basically boils down to Hackman saying that he doesn't like most Christians, how much validity is there to this argument that most Christians who aren't pacifists need to come up with another name for themselves?
First off, I think we could agree that this is a highly unattractive way for a Christian to try to make a point. Christ made even stronger points about a number of other moral issues, but I don't think that Kyle or Hackman would necessarily be as quick to endorse some far right wing commentator who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you're divorced, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."
Or even a poverty advocate who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you haven't sold all your possessions -- all of them! -- and given them to the poor, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."
These are bad ways of making an allegedly Christian point because they don't exude love for the other, they do not echo the beatitudes, they exude scorn and derision. There's more of the Pharisee in this approach then there is of Jesus.
This isn't to say that Jesus' sermons were all about fuzzy animals, flowers and rainbows -- but at a basic level, scorn doesn't convey love, and rage doesn't convey pacifism.
- Alright, so leaving aside the idea of some Christians finding another name for themselves, is there a core nugget of truth here?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, Maher has (in his effort to make the case that Christians should abandon Christianity because they were never Christian anyway) successfully come up with some examples of hatred and vindictiveness so extreme that he's right. If you look at a crucifix and think, "Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes," then there is indeed a good case that you're not working within a Christian frame of reference.
If you would much rather that terrorists on the far side of the world be torn apart by attack dogs than that they have a conversion of heart and stop being terrorists, then you are putting violence and revenge above Christian forgiveness.
And if Christians really are thinking that way, then they need to reexamine their feelings based on the teachings that they take the name of.
That said, in the second half of Kyle's post, he seems to want to make the case that the tension which Maher's rant points to is that any idea of just war or violence on the part of Christians is necessarily in conflict with the beatitudes and with Christianity. Now, Maher might agree with this, especially as his entire point is that Christianity itself is irrational and not even lived out by its adherants. Further, Maher is engaging, from the outside, in what many people think that Christianity consists of: Reading the bible in a vacuum and then announcing that Christianity is whatever your first impression of what Jesus was "all about" suggests. Thus Maher's conclusion that Christians must not merely renounce hatred and revenge (which they clearly musted) but that they just endorse total non-violence.
However, we as Catholics do not approach the bible in this contextless fashion. We come to it through the Traditions and doctrines of the Church as developed by the Church Fathers and by saints and theologians down to the present day. And looked at this way, just war and self defense (when properly understood) are not cases of people 'lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor”', they are what Christ's Church teaches.