There has been no escape in the past few days from news about the Tea Party victory over sanity and the Democratic Party’s complicity in murdering the baby that was job creation in the crib. If government policies were a baseball game, the score would be something like tax relief for the rich 10, education 1. A professor of mine in the 60s once joked that he could not support those of us looking for careers in the great War on Poverty, because “there’s no money in it.” Today, those looking for ways to put people back to work, wanting to extend unemployment benefits or provide tax relief for the folks on the bottom find compassion is not the in thing these days. It’s an “I got mine” world out there. You guys, well, you guys are not my problem.
This lack of compassion seems to be part of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. I was just reading a commentary on recent events by a catholic theologian whose writing I have been following lately. His complaint is that faith communities, liberal as well as conservative, seem to have “gutted the love ethic” and replaced it with a slavish surrender to obedience to authority.
It prompted me to write this response:
Someone once said if you asked members of the three abrahamic religions the first word that came to mind when they thought of God, for Jews it would be justice, for Muslims submission, and for Christians love. When I was a kid, living in a Christian environment, it was a truism that “God is love.” But some time ago channel surfing one day, I happened to tune into Pat Robertson’s 700 Club just as he was saying, “Christ came in love the first time, but the next time he will come with the sword.” I don’t know how many evangelicals take that idea to its logical conclusion, but the number isn’t small.
It’s not just the authoritarians running the Catholic Church who treat the Sermon on the Mount as quaint and largely irrelevant; the entire religious right is populated by people with compassion fatigue, if they ever had it to begin with. It’s the zeitgeist. It’s what enabled Catholics to team up with Mormons and Evangelicals to launch Prop. 8 in California and embrace reverse-Robin Hood Republicanism. To many a politicized American Christian, God is about anger and condemnation, not love. When I was a kid and I met a person who identified as Christian, the first question I wanted to ask was “Catholic or Protestant?”. Today, a more salient question would be “Love Christian or “Obedience to Authority Christian?”. In the Catholic Church you can ask “Vatican II Catholic” or “Vatican I Catholic” and get pretty much the same breakdown.
It’s a nostalgia for a time that never actually was, a sad longing for moral certainty, a magic diet for those who don’t want to exercise their thought processes. It’s what happens when you become more concerned with your own soul than the welfare of others. You make certainty and acceptance your gods, and love goes out the window. It’s ironic that the pope and the bishops claim to worry so much about the threat of the modern world to church doctrine. It’s making obedience the chief virtue and leaving love out in the cold that has made the church so unappealing to the modern world. If the churches made love central again, I have no doubt that many who have wandered away would find their way back.