Christian Entitlement

One of the big ironies of this election is that a man who literally has a golden tower to his own name, a man who basically embodies everything that Christians call Mammon, has a remarkable amount of evangelical support. The reality, of course, as everyone from Jon Stewart to Shaun King has pointed out, is that Trump is selling white Christian supremacy and hegemony. The fact that he has none of the values that they pretend to admire or the actual Biblical values of charity, chastity, honor, forgiveness, redemption and compassion indicates that even by their own barbaric standards they are modern Pharisees: hypocrites whose high-minded rhetoric is being used to mask much more pedestrian and even evil motives.

To understand how we’ve come here, it’s vital to understand the massive echo chamber that Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals have constructed. There is an entire industry that has been created to stoke their fear of persecution (which then prevents them from ever recognizing how privileged they in reality are) and at the same time give them the belief that they deserve to have their dominance. It’s not just in megachurches or through tele-evangelists, like the deceitful Pat Robertson who makes money off of slave labor in diamond mines thanks to coordination with a dictator: it’s also done through an intentional campaign of public culture, an entire parallel Christian culture of movies and music. So much of these films emphasize the importance of doctrinal obedience, the lack of critical reasoning, and Christian theocracy, rather than how to reach out to the poor or help the suffering. Aron Ra’s fantastic 2012 speech describing how the fundamentalists in places like Texas become honest about their grotesque behavior precisely mirrors how this election got the white supremacists to come writhing out of the woodwork. Similarly, this is how the intelligent design debate became prominent even when there was no scientific debate of any substance whatsoever: there was a deliberate, direct plan to de-secularize scientific education.

Let’s analyze a few examples to see how the victimhood narrative that the Christian evangelicals construct allows them to express their wounded entitlement, even as their own case for their oppression is laughably weak even by their own standards. Specially, we’ll be focusing on God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2 and Persecuted. The Bible Reloaded does a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style riff on these movies and on Jack Chick’s famous hatemongering tracts (noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as essentially hate speech): I highly recommend following the links and enjoying their humorous and good-spirited takedown.

With God’s Not Dead and its sequel, the hypocrisies begin even before we even talk about the movies. The producers, Pure Flix, were sued for $100 million. And the fundamental stories of the two films are at odds in directly contradictory ways. In the first film, an atheist Professor pushes his beliefs onto students and is the film’s antagonist; in the second film, a Christian high school teacher pushes her beliefs onto students and is the film’s protagonist. The total lack of self-awareness is staggering when combined with the victimization complex both films let the audience nurse. They don’t seem to realize that a Professor at a college being straightforwardly ideological would be far less destructive than in a high school setting with a captive audience and a legal requirement to attend.

It gets worse. The titles of both films don’t even understand why people say “God is dead´. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche could easily have said that God never existed if he meant that. Another philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, advanced a similar idea. Nietzsche’s original statement, in his flowery and metaphorical way, read, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” Nietzsche was expressing an existentialist argument about morality. His point wasn’t that God didn’t exist, but that God’s existence is immaterial to morality. There are Christian existentialists who have made the same point. Basically, it goes back to David Hume’s point that you can’t get “ought” from “is”. Even an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient being with a perfect perspective of reality and a perfect compassion and patience is no more necessarily right about what is good or bad, what is important and unimportant, than a human being. Just like you can like a movie that every professional reviewer despises and the reality that you liked it doesn’t change one iota no matter their arguments, so too is the knowledge or intelligence of a supreme being irrelevant to their moral statement.

Christians dislike this argument. They want to claim that God gives an objective basis for morality. Not only is this argument compelling, but it’s actually irrelevant. Even if there is objective meaning to the universe, human beings still have to go through the process of perceiving it. Any honest person would have to admit that real human beings have to go through the process of saying “God is dead, long live God” if they’re going to be deeply spiritual. But these movies aren’t deep and they’re not honest.

The first God’s Not Dead is practically below comment: it has some of the most laughable arguments for the existence of God (which, again, would still be immaterial to discussing “God is dead” even if those arguments were compelling because ontology is separate from ethics). They trot out everything from the idea that God not existing would justify any immoral behavior (which, even if true, wouldn’t mean God actually exists: what’s convenient isn’t what’s true) to claiming that the atheist has the burden of proof (the null hypothesis, that something doesn’t exist or that two things are not statistically different, needs no defense).

It’s the second film that really drives home the utter dishonesty of these people. The core conflict happens in a class about non-violent resistance. The main character, named Grace (yes, that’s how subtle these films are and how little respect they have for their audience), is asked if non-violent resistance is like Jesus’ commandment to love your enemy, and she quotes scripture.

Now, of course, that’s a reasonable question in a class about non-violent resistance. Dr. King certainly believed in “love thy enemy”. But the problem is that answering the question this way is actively misleading. It’s not just the questionable, but arguably benign, insertion of faith into a secular history class: it’s also a massive missed opportunity to be honest about the history of non-violence. The correct answer would be, “Yes, Matthew 5:44 does indeed say to love your enemies and pray for those who use you and persecute you. But non-violent resistance actually began with the transcendentalist Thoreau, who then inspired the Hindu Gandhi. Dr. King was primarily following in those traditions. Moreover, the idea of non-violent resistance isn’t just turning the other cheek as a moral commandment: it’s a tactic to accomplish social change when the other side has the power of force”. Grace’s comment without explanation would lead students to erroneously believe that Christianity was the primary inspiration for non-violent resistance, rather than coming from a secular philosophical tradition that had many religious and spiritual strands of influence.

The film misrepresents Constitutional law, common law, the position of the ACLU, and flat-out lies about a Houston case involving an anti-discrimination ordinance and subpoenas to preachers in order to verify that they hadn’t illegally mixed politics into their sermons (which violates the rules for tax-exempt status). It’s not a surprise that fundamentalists routinely support the idea that their churches should be allowed to remain tax-exempt even when they are directly partisan.

Despite all this, Persecuted with Dexter’s James Remar is possibly even worse.

The core conflict of Persecuted is a law that would effectively mandate religious institutions give equal time to competing religious groups.

Even if one is charitable enough to ignore that absolutely no one is actually proposing such a law and it would be so obviously non-Constitutional that no preacher would bother to comply and no officer would bother to enforce it, such a bill would, on its face, equally affect every religion. Christianity would not specifically harmed by it any more than anyone else.

It is a staggering task to put into words how much of a failure this is. Persecuted is not even theoretically attempting to describe a real-world event. It’s their fictional scenario that they themselves chose to create, and even in their own completely fictive narrative, they still didn’t present a scenario where Christians were actually specifically targeted. They are so unfamiliar with actual repression that even their wildest fantasies of being repressed are neither realistic nor logical depictions of subjugation and intolerance. It’s precisely what led Justin Chang of Variety to say, “At a time when the world offers us no shortage of examples of what actual religious persecution looks like, for a film to indulge in this particular brand of self-righteous fearmongering isn’t just clueless or reckless; it’s an act of contemptible irresponsibility”.

This entire industry produces outrage, fear and a sense that even a slight relaxation of Christians’ cultural and social dominance would lead to their immediate destruction. It’s no wonder that the Republican Party’s low-scale simmer of theocratic and white racial appeasement was eventually going to fail to sate the base.

No matter what happens in November, the process of obliterating the contamination of a superficially Christian ideology that is in fact about naked domination will be a long and challenging endeavor. Still, our neighbors deserve better than a religion that teaches them that decency, compassion, and even a sense of moral purity and self-denial is less important than obedience and violence.

This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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About Fred B-C (28 Articles)
I'm a freelance hope warrior. While I am still figuring out exactly what that entails, I write novels and short stories, write for video games, design board games, do inspirational speaking and life coaching, and generally try to make the world just a little bit more pleasant. E-mails at frchristie@ucdavis.edu are always appreciated! (Yes, even trolling ones).

12 Comments on Christian Entitlement

  1. mckennajanev // August 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm // Reply

    Personally, I haven’t seen any of the three movies you mentioned. But I really don’t think I need to. If I based my own assumptions and beliefs from all the movies I’ve seen in my life, my outlook and view on people and life would be twisted due to something all movies have in common: they’re man made. In almost every film (documentaries and educational films excluded), there is a great deal of emphasis, elaboration, and dramatization. Why? Because there is a message the filmmakers are trying to get across. Things like the plot and backgrounds are embellishments in order to make the viewer understand this message. Just because it’s a movie doesn’t necessarily mean one should view a certain group of people a certain way. I don’t put my faith in movies and I certainly hope you or anybody else does either.

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    • Absolutely. Do not get me wrong: I am not saying there is anything wrong about Christianity, or the Gospel, as a result of jerks misapplying it. My personal hero and role model for how to live life and change the world is Dr. King. Christianity is capable of tremendous heroism and positive social change. Many of my political mentors were Quakers who showed me how to be patient, decent, and kind when engaging in politics, lessons I still make sure to learn and relearn.

      But frankly, I do suggest you check out the Bible Reloaded channel, or the Atheist Experience videos readily available on YouTube. You will understand a lot more about how frequent a sense of right-wing religiosity is in this country, such that we have to debate the reality of evolution, the need to teach it in science class, and even nonsense like the Kalaam cosmological principle. If you’re an LGBTQ minority in this country, you are likely to have had at least one very bad experience with a Christian (and, sure, probably at least one very good one).

      The reality is that Christianity, as an institution in this country, has a specific right-wing, largely white, incarnation that is an ideology of domination (especially the dominionists), power and privilege. It’s an ideology that says that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. Of course it’s all gibberish when it comes to any kind of authentic reading of the Gospel. In fact, Christians of this kind are much more like a really grotesque misreading of Solomon’s poem in Ecclesiastes, saying that this life is all that matters and we should amass gold and be merry. None of Jesus’ very clear radical social message of compassion and justice slips in.

      Authentic Christians should be outraged. I know plenty of Catholics and Protestants who despise this nonsense. I have a friend who is voting Gary Johnson. He is a born-again Christian and he despises the politics of Trump because he’s an incredibly kind and decent guy who has never once been malicious to anyone, no matter their race, sexuality, social class, religious status or ethnicity. Sure, he’s also a young-Earth creationist, and I view his position as gibberish, but that doesn’t reduce his decency one iota. It just makes him selectively irrational, and frankly, aren’t we all?

      A really good primer for how Christianity has changed even in the black community is Levine’s seminal Black Culture, Black Consciousness. Christianity isn’t one fixed thing. It’s a living, breathing ideology, and its best parts have to be fought for. I hope that saying that there have both been Pat Robertsons and Dr. Kings is not hateful.

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      • I understand what your point is, Fred. But true Christianity isn’t an ideology at all.

        In the past (and I’m sure today), some people who call themselves Christians have made Christianity out to be something that projects the idea that a “believe in religion” becomes a “do-right religion”. Out of all the religions that are influencing our world today, many people believe the idea is to select the one that suits their personal tastes and then contentedly enjoy their belief choices, influencing others to do the same.

        We are literally bombarded with a plurality of ideological options competing for acceptance in men’s minds, but Christianity is not one of them. Conservative, fundamental Christianity may project that Christianity is a superior option that excludes all other options as inferior and unbelievable, thus justifying their attempts to conserve their own beliefs as the only fundamental faith. The more liberal, progressive Christianity may project a number of belief options to choose from, and then incorporate a number of other beliefs to whatever suits the individual best.

        These two views are ideological opinions, but not true Christianity–because true Christianity is not a choice of ideological opinion, but a choice of life or death.

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  2. Yes, “true” Christianity, as with anything, is an ideology. An ideology is not necessarily a bad thing. A worldview is not necessarily a bad thing. Democratic pluralism, secular Enlightenment values, and scientific naturalism are all ideologies. Ideologies on their own are neutral: what people do with specific forms is what makes them positive or negative.

    I understand that there’s a lot of pejorative about “ideology” or “ideological”, but all an ideology is defined as is a “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”.

    And the important thing is to recognize that, even when we’re being moderate, we’re being “ideological” at least in the sense that we’re privileging a particular narrative of reality. Yeshua of Nazareth had a way of thinking about things, and we can see even in the Gospels that sometimes other people made him see things in a new light. My favorite example is the Canaanite woman at the well. It’s clear to me that, being a little nationalistic, he felt that he was preaching to his own people. But when she points out that even dogs can eat crumbs, I think he realized that truth is appealing to everyone and he adjusted his worldview back to his more ecumenical view of all of humanity. Reza Aslan talks about the fascinating nature of that tension between his muscular, masculine nationalism and his much more sensitive, feminism ecumenicism and cosmopolitanism. To me, that’s a pretty dang good model to draw from for political people, and Dr. King, following in that teaching, hit the balance perfectly.

    So to say Christianity is a choice of life or death is, frankly, silly, and actually a little insulting to the genius of Yeshua of Nazareth. Anyone today can read Yeshua of Nazareth, just as with Siddhartha or Socrates, and see a host of lessons that directly apply to issues we ourselves face today; poverty, racial injustice, imperialism, national self-expression, ethics, compassion, etc. I’ve written about how the golden rule is a really smart ethical principle not just because it’s logically coherent and perfectly consistent (the golden rule prevents you from having two maxims of behavior for no good reason) but also because the golden rule when practiced rigorously FORCES you to think about what you really want and need and what others really want and need. It stretches your empathy. To call all of that a “choice between life and death” is ludicrous.

    And so it’s precisely all those thousands of years of philosophy, teaching, science and traditions that people want to hold onto. And even when we can recognize that it’s not really core to the faith that gay people can’t get married in a secular state (for those of us that are Christians), it’s scary to seemingly diminish or water down all those traditions that we know are positive. So there’s a perpetual cycle in history when it comes to religion and tradition: a cycle of honoring the past, but also profaning the superficially sacred to honor the truly sacred.

    I think you’re failing to understand the very appeal to billions of people of your faith. As The Bible Reloaded pointed out in their video on Time Changer, when a character is shocked that people are choosing their church based off of what community options it provides: it’s ridiculous to think of church just as a place where you go to read and pray, because that’s the DEFINITION of church. Just like a car can be more than a Yugo, so too can a church be more than a boring obligation on Sundays. A good church will be a blessed community.

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  3. mckennajanev // August 30, 2016 at 8:24 pm // Reply

    The definition of ideology, according to Google (and as you pointed out), is ‘a system of idea and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic and political theory and policy’. Christianity is so, so, so much more than a basis of economic and political theory and policy.

    Christianity is about a relationship with God and growing closer to Him. It teaches that mankind was created to have a fellowship with God but sin separates man from God. God then sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as the perfect sacrifice to die for our sins. After his death, Christ was buried, rose from the dead, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believers forever.

    We can accept what Jesus did for us, or we can choose to reject it. Acceptance results in eternal life; rejection results in eternal separation from God. (Thus, we have a choice of life or death.)

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    • Yes, and a Lamborghini is more than just some car, but it’s still a car. Christianity is a worldview. And every Christian alive doesn’t use that worldview all of the time either. No one worldview lets you slice up the world perfectly: you have to change your lenses. The issues become when we get stuck with the wrong lens for the wrong situation. That’s what happens with Christian entitlement in this country: they have on the Christian lens and identity, thinking of what happened in Rome, and fail to be able to take those lenses off and think as an American or as a global citizen and realize that, no, they’re not being oppressed.

      So your description of the core of the faith, which isn’t even CLOSE to an exhaustive account of even the basics (again, no golden rule), is a non-trivial way of looking at the world, complete with an ontology (usually accompanied by an epistemology) and a sense of how ethics operate. Again, nothing wrong with that per se. The problem comes around when one takes that belief system and tries to then pretend that, say, evolution isn’t real, instead of being like the Catholic Church and recognizing that God made nature and thus clearly that is how it was done.

      And the living, breathing faith groups in this country take that core ideology, insofar as they agree even on that (is Hell real or is it non-existence? ask a Jehovah’s Witness and you get a very different answer from a Baptist and a Catholic), and run very different directions with it. Black churches tend to emphasize Jesus as the advocate of social welfare. Conservative churches try to pretend that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley, thinking of God as giver of prosperity rather than Jesus as the condemner of those who amassed wealth while others are in poverty.

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  4. mckennajanev // August 30, 2016 at 9:08 pm // Reply

    Comparing Christianity to a Lamborghini is way out of context. And changing lenses? If I (or anyone else, for that matter) doesn’t like the way something looks through one pair of lenses, I’m supposed to take them off and change them out for something that pleases everyone else? If I did that, everything I believed in and put my faith in would mean absolutely nothing.

    I understand what you’re saying about people having different worldviews. But saying Christianity is just like every other worldview just isn’t true. Everything I said up there about Christianity is the core. That’s what separates it from every other religion and worldview; it’s not a bunch of rules and basic principles. Jesus is the Messiah, and He is what we put our faith in, not rules and basic principles. In His Word He gives us commandments, yes, and we obey them by following Him.

    I am a Christian because I know it’s the truth.

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    • Luckily, I do not compare Christianity to a Lamborghini. I pointed out that something is a thing even if one can argue that it’s more. There’s an episode of NCIS where Gibbs talks about a bomb-detecting dog and says, “That’s not a dog, it’s a Marine”. No, it’s a dog AND a Marine, and it’s insulting to dogs to say otherwise.

      Similarly, Marxism is an ideology, and while it can certainly be misapplied in ugly ways, it’s brought people as much earnest and positive fervor as Christianity has during its time. You may believe Christianity is true and other religious approaches are not, and while I disagree that’s your right to believe that. But Christianity is not, within its own internal logic, somehow more advanced than any other faith system or approach: it’s different, and that different may make it more accurate or more positive in its outcomes, but it’s still an ideology.

      Who said anything about pleasing anyone else? When you go onto the road, do you use the Bible as your guide, or the rules of the road as laid down by your state and the federal government? When you do math, do you do Biblical math, or do you do actual math? Do you think pi is 3 because the Bible offers that figure once? Do you use the Bible when looking at a Constitutional dispute, or do you use the Constitution and case law? That’s my point.

      The Buddhists say that the Buddha’s path is the solution to suffering. Islam says that they are the path to God. Why do you reject those ideas? Presumably, you believe Christianity is TRUE, not more internally logical. If you think that Christianity is more internally logical, you’re objectively wrong.

      I think that anarchism is “true” or valid and I think that fascism is not. That doesn’t make anarchism or fascism not ideologies. And that doesn’t make the sincere feelings others have when they believe their fascist nonsense non-existent. Their worldview doesn’t not exist because I disagree with it. They are wrong, and their position is vile and in my view cannot be held by a sincere person, but that doesn’t make it not an internally consistent position.

      When I have my sociologist hat on, I am not acting as a Buddhist. If I find something as a sociologist that makes me uncomfortable as a Buddhist, I still make the argument and present the information: to do otherwise would be dishonest.

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      • mckennajanev // August 30, 2016 at 9:38 pm //

        Fred, I get everything you’re saying. Like you said, it is my right to believe what I believe, and the same goes to you. The thing is, what started out as a comment turned into a discussion that could go on forever. Clearly you’re not seeing my POV on this, and that’s fine. I personally don’t know how much research you’ve put into Christianity or how much you’re assuming. Only you know that. I can only speak for myself. What I do know is not everything has to be deemed logical in order to be believable. That’s what faith is about. It doesn’t matter how many other religions there are. God says if we earnestly seek Him we will find Him. I’ve had my share of doubts but God brought me back. I’m not going to go on about my story, but there is a reason I believe what I do. My faith isn’t based on what others have told me or what the world has told me; its personal. I never intended to argue, but I know what I believe. You are very knowledgable and well learned but there is so much more to life and why we are here. Signing off for now, but I know we both will have more to say in the future ✌️😊

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  5. Yes, you have faith. That’s fine. I have faith in a pantheist God, based on my experiences with the universe and my direct connection to It. All I’m saying is that you look both ways before crossing the road, and that I do too. That’s an independent claim from faith in God.

    And when it comes to whether or not someone is persecuted, that is not a question of faith, that is a question of evidence. It is not necessary or logical or guaranteed that any one group or another is persecuted. You have to actually look.

    Have a good day, sir.

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