Saturday, January 03, 2009

And We're Missing the Whole Point

My chum Jerry sends me this, from the Wall Street Journal:

    U.S. NEWS - DECEMBER 29, 2008, 10:16 P.M. ET

    Homeless Shelter Evicted After Prayer Debate

    Associated Press

    HACKENSACK, N.J. -- A Bergen County homeless shelter is homeless itself -- again.

    The First Reformed Church of Hackensack dismissed the FAITH Foundation in a dispute over rules at its Christmas dinner for about 100 homeless people last week.

    Church officials say they wanted a sermon and carols before dinner was fed. But shelter director Robin Reilly started serving food first, saying some patrons hadn't eaten for 24 hours.

    Ms. Reilly says she'll try to find a new place to help the homeless. She's storing the group's supplies at another church for now.

    It's not the first time the foundation has lost its home. Hackensack officials closed its previous building because it lacked permission to serve food there.

    Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

To which I replied: Rituals are always more important than, you know, people.

I was being flip, of course, but it's true: churches as institutions have a nasty habit of coming to convince themselves that they--their traditions, their rules, their rituals, their clergy, their own continued survival--are more important than the mere people whom they purport to serve. I've seen it repeatedly in my own church, where sexual predators among the clergy are shuttled around and sheltered to avoid "scandal" and "protect the church." New flash: People are the church! And I've seen it in matters great and small in other churches as well.

And now this--the wonderful church boots out the homeless shelter because its people went ahead and fed the hungry first instead of forcing them to wait while the churchy folk preached to them. Perfect.

Without going back to look it up, I'm pretty sure Jesus' exhortation was to feed the hungry--not preach to them, then make them sing Christmas songs, then feed them.

And then so many of my priest and pastor friends scratch their heads in wonder because so many people eschew "organized" religion...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bet People Will Be as Stupid in the New Year!

This little gem appeared yesterday in the letters section of the local rag:

    S.D. is a Christian state
    Carole V. Ryden • Sioux Falls • December 30, 2008
    I read that Gov. Mike Rounds lighted Menorah candles on the Capitol step during Hanukkah. The Menorah has been the symbol of the Jewish religion for 3,000 years. South Dakota is a Christian state - not a Jewish state. It is inappropriate for government officials to do this lighting ritual. To what purpose is Judaism being singled out? I suspect this ritual is designed to show that South Dakotans stand in support of the Jewish religion. Why? Don't South Dakotans stand for all those who choose to worship God in their own way? I do. However, I object to Gov. Rounds going along with a minority group which seeks to Judaize the rest of us, such as insisting that we now say "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas. This is especially repugnant to me in light of the fact that Jews reject the divinity of Christ. I don't. You won't find any symbols or rituals of Christianity on Jewish turf. Gov. Rounds has violated the separation of church and state and turned his back on the Christian traditions of South Dakota.

Ah, and here we go again...the majority of people who live in X are Christians, or profess to be (not, experience teaches, quite the same thing), therefore X is a "Christian" country/ state/county/neighborhood/fill in your favorite pointless geographic boundary.

Ms. Ryden is of course half-right: South Dakota is not a "Jewish state." I have the feeling that I could have every Jew in the state over for lunch and we would fit comfortably in my backyard. (Not at the moment, when the backyard is snow-covered and the temperature is a brisk 7 degrees, but you get my point.) But she is also half-wrong, for neither is South Dakota a "Christian state." It's a "state," that's all, and under the Constitution of the United States (remember that old thing? We haven't seen much of it these past eight years) that makes it a secular entity.

Side Point One: Don't tell me you've read the Constitution and don't find "separation of church and state" in there anywhere. The phrase is not there, but the concept is. Don't be disingenuous.

Side Point Two: Observe how Ms. Ryden on the one hand insists that South Dakota is a "Christian" state but then subsequently complains that the governor "has violated the separation of church and state" by his lighting of a menorah. Well, which is is? If this is a "Christian" state--and by extensions I suppose she must mean that every state that has a majority of self-proclaiming Christians as residents must perforce also be "Christian" states--then "separation of church and state" has no meaning, and it thus would be impossible for the governor, or anyone else, to violate it.

Although I am unsurprised that such bigoted ignorance exists (I live in South Dakota, mind, and encounter such staggering stupidity and shallowness nearly every day of the week) I am a little surprised that someone would be so colossally ignorant as to put such an opinion to paper. And then mail it, or e-mail it, to the local rag. But I suppose the Cloak of Righteousness means you can say any stupid, shallow, prejudiced thing you like and be confident that (A) Jesus agrees with you and (B) anyone who disagrees with you must by definition not be a "real Christian" since, after all (C), Jesus agrees with you.

Although it is folly to try to make sense out of such ignorant ranting, one can't help but wonder how the governor's lighting a menorah signifies an attempt to "Judaize the rest of us." Is it that my laying eyes on a menorah would somehow compel me to convert to Judaism? If so, our churches should fair be bursting at the seams, since you can't turn around without seeing a cross hanging from someone's neck, or an ichthys on the back end of a car. Why, if symbols are all it takes to "-ize" people, there should be no non-Christians anywhere, so ubiquitous is Christian, or "Christian," symbolism!

I especially love the second-to-last line (by which point I imagine Ms. Ryden figuratively foaming at the corners of her mouth, as her tirade makes less and less sense and sounds more and more strident): "You won't find any symbols or rituals of Christianity on Jewish turf." So, so true. Nor will you find much in the way of Jewish symbols or rituals on "Christian turf" (one does occasionally encounter a Star of David in the Christian context). But again, she seems to be confusing the steps of the South Dakota capitol building with "Christian turf," when it isn't. It is, by law, custom, and common sense, "secular turf." Indeed, one could--and some probably will--argue that, because it's secular, there should be no religious symbolism at all there, but I consider such arguments to be silly. Put up a Christmas tree in the rotunda, light a menorah on the steps, who cares?

Well, lots of people, obviously. Which causes me to wonder why?

I mean, is the faith of Ms. Ryden and her ilk (that whole "war on Christmas" bunch that O'Reilly keeps bleating about) really so fragile, so shallow, so meaningless that the idea of the existence of a different faith is threatening? Are their beliefs so shaky that hearing "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" undermines their Christmas convictions? Is their brand of "religion" really so second-rate that they can advance it only by burying someone else's? Are they and their God really that small?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine Jesus getting too worked up over the lighting of a menorah, on the steps of the South Dakota capitol or anywhere else. It seems pretty likely to me that he himself may have lighted one or two, back in the day. Likewise, I doubt that he thinks that someone slapping a fish symbol on the back of his or her car makes him or her a Christian.

I'm almost certain there's more to it than that.

Slow Day for News

This, in its entirety, is my "Today's Headlines & Columnists" from the Washington Post:

Wow. I never thought I'd see the day when there is no news to report! It's really something! By telling me that "none of the modules you selected have content today," the Post is telling me that nothing worth reporting happened in any of these categories (my "modules"):


Well, of course, it stands to reason that TODAY'S HIGHLIGHTS would be blank, given that nothing happened today (or, I suppose, yesterday). But the others? Didn't the governor of Illinois appoint someone to Barack Obama's Senate seat, and the Democratic Party have fits? Isn't there some kind of hubbub associated with the Wall Street bailout (like, where's the money)? Isn't there a war or something in Israel? And certainly the Bush Administration has been up to something!

So I'm thinking "We are experiencing technical difficulties" would be more accurate than "none of the modules you selected have content today," yes?