By Medicine Hat News Opinon on April 14, 2018.
I grew up in an immigrant family, culturally isolated. I was also the product of ‘the middle child syndrome’, often feeling left out, overlooked, ignored. It left me painfully shy, socially awkward, and obsessively introverted. To make things just a little worse, my family attended a German Baptist church in our neighbourhood. Everyone spoke German, sang German, prayed in German, and there was always an unspoken hint that the outside world was strange, maybe even a little dangerous. Christianity was therefore experienced as a fortress from which I looked out at the foreign world.
And that was actually a good thing. It forced me to find a source of comfort in my own thought world. And from within this world, another fortress of sorts, I would look out at people and wonder how they could be so carefree, so casual, so confident. I wondered what it would be like to inhabit one of those confident bodies. I became a keen, almost obsessive observer of people. I became aware of how subtle body movements revealed the inner feelings of a person. I was sensitive to little signals given by a certain kind of smile or the placement of a hand or the tilt of the head, or the quick flickering or shifting of an eye. In short, my life was spent watching humans and wondering about humanness, and there was no end to the mystery.
By Grade 10 I had somehow found friends. I had even learned how to make people laugh and had generally gained enough confidence to try to walk in the shoes of one of my favourite teachers, Mr. W. I became a teacher and truly enjoyed my 33 years with students (most of the time). I credit my painful early upbringing for giving me the qualities that made me sensitive and responsive to the needs of students. And I was grateful for being able to spend my days watching, puzzling about, and guiding young humans. It was a spiritual journey more than a job.
Which brings me back to my early experiences with Christianity. I mentioned above that we had a kind of ‘fortress mentality’ in those years. We were ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ the world, we used to say, and were careful to guard against the erosion of our innocence by all the temptations around us in the larger society. There was always a wispy odour of shame/guilt over us, as if we were harbouring an unspeakable secret. And we were. We had been told that everyone else was going to hell. Our Christianity oozed judgment, mistrust, and fear.
What a difference a generation makes. Modern Christianity, especially the version referred to as the ‘Christian Right’, is loud, celebratory, militant, and entrepreneurial. “Christian Right’ is a brand and, like the glitziest commercials populated with good looking people with good hair, good teeth and good bank accounts, the Christian Right is selling a product. Look at us! See how much fun we are having! See how all our worries are washed away? You too could be this happy, this pleased with yourself, if only you would walk down this aisle and buy some new clothes and a new lifestyle. And all you have to do is learn a few songs, a few verses, and practice regular attendance. Piety is optional, as is theology, exegetical studies, and principles. But don’t forget tithing.
But even worse than the overt clubiness and crass merchandising of a lifestyle is the moral bankruptcy of the message. Come and be saved and you’ll prosper. And don’t worry about the dis-ease and unease of the world. It’s in God’s hands. Don’t worry. Be happy. Still worse is the uncritical romance the Christian Right has with Conservative politics. Exclusion, division, damnation pave the way to their desired legislative agenda designed to turn the clock back to the 1950s.
Michael Coren, writing in the Globe and Mail on March 31, said, “When I argue that Jesus demands us to struggle for peace, to welcome the marginalized, to embrace the LGBTQ+ community, to reverse economic injustice, to smash down the doors of prejudice and oppression and to confront climate change, I am inundated with emails.”
These emails are from grateful people who had forgotten what Christianity was really all about because of the noise from the Christian Right. The Christian message has been replaced with a narrow political agenda. The message of love has been sidelined by a drive to ‘purify’. Their new gospel is “shove all those ‘alternative people back into their various closets, remove sex education from the schools, deny women the right to choose, resist immigrants, and don’t worry about people who need a hand. Oh, and don’t forget to vote for Jason Kenney in the next election. He, like Trump, is God’s man.
Peter Mueller is a long-time resident of Medicine Hat who, in spite of all the evidence, continues to believe we can build a better world.
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