Friday, June 29, 2007

Of T-Bones and Caffeine

My Mormon Fairy Godmother recently lost her patience with me when I ended an email message to her with the following typical (for me) wisecrack: “If God wants me to burn for eternity in fire and brimstone for my morning coffee and red wine with dinner, I probably wouldn’t get along with Her anyway. It has to do with Sam Harris's claims in "The End of Faith.”

The gist of the standard LDS rebuttal, restated very effectively in my friend's messag to me, professes that “conversion” means having the "light" of Christ’s truth revealed, and in turn that means a change of lifestyle and giving up all of one’s vices... unless one is “stupid.” It was my friend’s use of that word (more than once) that told me she had finally become impatient with me. In responding to her, my first reaction would be to point out that there are probably billions of people on the planet who would use the same word to describe those who preach that only the believers in Joseph Smith’s religion are committed to living a lifestyle consistent with the light of revealed truth. My second reaction (and a more typical one for me) would be to quote John Stuart Mill who said: “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people… it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” I’ve been called many things in my life, and stupid is an epithet I’m quite familiar with, but not once in my memory have I ever been accused by anyone of being conservative. Therefore, the odds are that I am not stupid, though I may be crazy, still, (after all these years.) In any case, my dear Fairy Godmother need not worry about offending me; though sticks and stones may break my bones, her words certainly could never hurt me. I admire her far too much to let that happen.
Of course I realize she will probably become impatient again when she reads this, but perhaps it will make her happy to know that I am supporting Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, and if I were faced with a choice between Edwards and Romney, I might vote for Mitt because he's such a certified flip-flopper I'm sure he'd switch to the Democrat party before seeking a second term. I like firsts, and if we can't have the first woman president, I want to have the first Mormon president. We've already had our first black president, and plenty of crackers and lawyers have had a chance to insure manifest destiny and tinker with their particular brand of the American Dream. I think Mitt would be a lot like Arnold in California, and I believe Arnold would be the next president if the constitution allowed it. I'm in favor of repealing that anachronism from the Consittution by the way, along with the electoral college.

Of course the above prologue is no rebuttal to the gist of my friend’s real argument about the meaning of faith, but I’m prepared to address it, and have formed the beginning of a thesis in my head. I’m looking forward to expanding and exploring my thinking about such issues in this venue; as I’ve said before, what else on earth is a blog for? And as others have said before: the best way to find out what we think is to constantly write about our ideas and beliefs. So here goes:

Dear “Adopted Fairy God-Mom”,

I’m a spiritual person because of the gut grabbing awe and terror which the beauty and the inconceivable vastness of the universe inspire in me. One of the reasons I’m a religious person springs from the common sense logic of Pascal’s Bet , which I have ultimately come to accept for my own peace of mind and comfort. (Of course it may not really be such a good bet after all, from the perspective of the probable future fate of our benighted, fragile planet—the Mother/Father of us all, in a very real sense. Note: I’ll add my explanation of that particular bit of deductive reasoning later, should anyone be interested.)

I am also a religious person because my parents and grandparents were, and many of the people in history whose accomplishments I most admire have chosen to worship a god—Thomas More, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Mother Theresa, L. Ron Hubbard... just kidding about that last one. I’m convinced by their examples that I can be most effective in my determination to “love the Lord by serving the Lord’s Children” if I work in the context of a group of organized Christians who choose to believe and act as I attempt to do. Over the past 12 years I've chosen to practice my religion by supporting activist Christians in the membership of two Honolulu congregations: Pacific Community Church (now known as Anuenue Christian Church) and since 1998, Church of the Crossroads. More than any other that I know of, the latter congregation is one whose members choose to be in solidarity with them, have taken progressive stands on social issues, and ministered to the outcasts, despised, and oppressed in Hawaii. They have seldom shrunk from what they see as the Christian duty to speak inconvenient truths to the powers that be. Along with other members of United Church of Christ Congregations across our all too often disgraced nation, they have been shunned and despised by fundamentalists and evangelicals, but far more frequently than not, it has eventually been acknowledged as being on the right (and the righteous) side. In today’s culture wars as much as ever, members of U.C.C. congregations are the leaders in the struggle for peace and justice, and our Honolulu Congregation of “Crossroaders” is consistently at the leading edge of the movement, from the fight against the coming global climate catastrophe, to the civil rights struggle of the 21st century—promoting fairness and equality for all families and sexual orientations. As the bumper sticker I recently ordered for my car says: “Gay Marriage Doesn’t Scare Me; Hatred and Inequality do.”

I do not accept literally every word I read in every book of the Bible, and certainly not in the books of Leviticus (in which stoning is prescribed for every “abomination” from the sin of Onan to touching the skin of a swine) or theBook of Joshua (in which God dutifully follows Joshua’s command to stop the sun’s movement in the sky for a whole day, in order that his chosen people can finish their extermination of the Israelites’ enemies.)

As Clarence Darrow is said to have explained to the court during the Tennessee Scopes trial, this requires literal believers to deny the most basic principles of science taught in public schools from 1st grade on. In any discussion of the slaughter of Jericho’s inhabitants and the armies of the Amorites, as described in Joshua (Chapters 7 – 10) a committed fundamentalist / literalist must be prepared to assert and admit either that (1) our globe actually stopped turning, so the sun’s light would continue shining down on the battle, and thus that an understanding of the Bible’s language does sometimes require “interpretation”, and / or (2) that the human powers of reason and observation are essentially useless to, and inconsistent with, eternal salvation for practicing Christians.

So, I am resigned to being a “Jack Mormon” at best, regardless of what happens to me in the future. Lightning may strike; visions of Golden Tablets may appear before my eyes; I may receive thousands of email messages monthly from the LDS faithful around the world begging me to join them in an LDS crusade to end global warming; all of these would be good reasons for me to “convert”; but knowing what I know about myself and my character now, there’s no way I can believe I’d ever swear off that early morning mug of caffeine courage, or the obligatory and blissful glass of cabernet sauvignon with a fine steak dinner. Likewise, I doubt I could ever be more than a “Jack Buddhist”, knowing how hard it would be to give up those tenderloins, and T-Bone steaks.

Finally, no one can tell me that Mormons don't have vices of their own. Until their Prophet / President's epiphany in the 1960's, the "Sons of Ham" were persona non grata as Elders / Priests of the church, though the Jim Crow era was coming to an end in the U.S. It didn't escape notice of the sports fans in the Western Athletic Conference back then that the Prophet's "conversion" changing the status of African American men in the church occurred coincidentally when several university athletic departments were threatening to boycott Utah's Brigham Young University's sports teams on grounds of racism. And apparently even the most devout LDS believers routinely refer to the beliefs and practices of non-members as "stupid", a vice that seems clearly inconsistent with Jesus's admonition to "judge not, lest ye be judged." Maybe the Savior meant something different than it seems when he gave us that teaching, as I'm told he did when he talked about the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle. But my common sense tells me that I know how to interpret the injunction to remove the beam in my eye before pointing out another's mote, and I believe this principle overrides anything Leviticus says about pigs or sodomites. If you think I'm incorrect, tell me why? Let's discuss it, if not debate. I look forward to the conversation.


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