My dear family members,
I am writing to all of you, and in particular, to those of you who are born-again Christians. My aunt and uncle, my first cousins, some other family members a bit more far removed… this is for you, with love and appreciation and also with deep concerns.
And yes, I am also writing this for others. While you are the ones I know and love best, this is also for everyone who is not my immediate kin, yet who is also part of my larger human family.
So, my dear Christian family members… as I’ve often acknowledged, while I don’t share your particular religious beliefs, your real devotion and honest dedication to your faith have truly inspired me in my own spiritual journey.
At the same time, I must admit that I have not always appreciated your efforts to “convert” me. I have felt irritated by your belief that there is “only one true way”, and this has sometimes obscured a deeper truth, that your actions have been motivated out of genuine love and care for the well-being of my soul.
Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. I have just read something that has crystallized in me, a deep concern about the well-being of your soul, even with all of your deep faith and positive intentions…
Maybe it would be less awkward, to keep my concerns to myself? Yet the danger seems so huge! Regardless of whether you choose to read further or not, I want you to know that I now have a better appreciation for your underlying intentions. And that is why I am sincerely and humbly wanting to broach the subject of, as you might say, your eternal soul.
Those of you who are my close kin, you know that I believe strongly in the value of religious freedom. I have personally found inspiration in more than one spiritual path; Huston Smith has been one of my heroes in this regard. And so I have been very concerned about ongoing efforts to make this country a theocracy, a “Christian Nation”. This has led me to pay a lot more attention to what is taking place in the Christian scene, and to listen more closely to what different Christians are saying.
I’m sorry to say that some of what I have been hearing, has been truly horrible. As your niece, your cousin, your sister’s daughter, your family member, I am also the target, along with many others, of a vicious smear campaign, that would have you believe a lot of lies… that “us liberals” are secretly communists in disguise, stockpiling weapons, seeking to destroy this country. Some right-wing agitators have even been saying that we should be killed on sight…
Is this what you really believe?? Where do you think this horrible division is coming from, and who do you think stands to gain by sowing it?
I’ve long thought I would rather count myself among those who try to live the teachings of a man named Jesus, instead of among those who claim to believe that “Jesus is God” and therefore feel justified to kill others in His name.
Of course, I do know that those options are not the only ones. I know that you believe “Jesus is God”, and, I also believe, hope, and trust that you do not condone the killing of others in His name. Yet other “Christians” are starting to do so….
And so I am begging you… not to change your own religious beliefs, but to please speak out about those “Christians” who are in fact fanning the flames of hatred and calling for the murder of those who have different beliefs. Are they actually following Christ’s teachings — or are they following the complete opposite?
And then, I came across a particular article. Of course, I am not a Bible scholar. And I know that different Christians interpret the Bible in different ways — even as many claim to NOT be interpreting it at all, but simply“reading what it says”. Yet if even half of what this author is pointing to is true, I am SERIOUSLY concerned. Not just for “us liberals”, but also, for you.
I’ve been learning a lot these days about history, because I believe that unless we do so, we are likely to keep repeating it. One thing I’ve been learning about in greater detail, is the role of Christians and Christianity in Nazi Germany.
“The Failure of Christian Love in the Holocaust” is an article I found on the website of the Center for Christian Thought at Biola University, a Christian institution. I hope this source might lend it some credibility in your eyes, although I know there are tremendous differences even among evangelicals.
I have also been learning that there were a few Christians who actively opposed the Nazis, and in turn were actively persecuted by them. Here’s one good article on the relationship between the “Protestant Churches and the Nazi State”, that I thought was quite balanced. However, since to my knowledge it was not written by a Christian, you might not give it much weight. And so I found a different one…
As the Christian History Institute’s article describes it, the German “Confessing Church” was very different than the “German Christian” churches that supported the Nazis, many of whom considered themselves to be “good Christians”. The authors write:
“A fierce battle flared up — primarily a battle between two opposing groups in the Lutheran church. The Confessing Church set its face against the German Christians and their planned ‘co-ordination’ of the church. ‘The church must remain the church!’ was the battle-cry of the Confessing Church, while the German Christians saw themselves as the ‘storm-troopers of Jesus Christ’.”
I really don’t want a battle. I really don’t want a war… you know I am a non-violent activist, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as two of my heroes. And yet my fear is that if we don’t learn about history, and if we don’t learn from consider all of the bloody atrocities that were committed in the name of religion, we will be doomed to repeat them…
Speaking of committing atrocities in the name of religion, here is a page with images of the many ways in which the Nazis coopted Christian symbols. I am humbly asking for your help, in not allowing this to happen again…
As I try to wrap up here, I want to affirm some of the things we share in common, while also acknowledging those where we differ. We might agree that the rampant materialism in our society is a huge problem, and that greed is not a good value on which to base a culture. We might also agree that huge changes are called for, even if we might not agree on what the nature of those changes should be.
Along those lines, I was quite frightened to read the following by a self-described expert on atheism:
“The key to understanding Nazism’s popularity with Christians is the Nazi condemnation of everything modern. Germany after World War I was regarded as a godless, secular, materialistic republic which betrayed all of Germany’s traditional values and religious beliefs. Christians saw the social fabric of their community unraveling and the Nazis promised to restore order by attacking godlessness, homosexuality, abortion, liberalism, prostitution, pornography, obscenity, and so forth.”
Lots of echoes with what many see going on today, wouldn’t you say?
Yet while we might agree that materialism is a huge problem, I know that we do see some things differently — homosexuality, for one. You know that there have always been LGBTQ+ members in our close kin group; while your religious beliefs condemn this, you have done your best to treat us with kindness and love.
On my end, while I don’t personally believe in a white, male, bearded deity, my own beliefs are much more along the lines of the following:
AND — did you know that gay people, along with Jews and Gypsies, were one of the groups that was most targeted for extermination in the Holocaust?
Can you begin to understand how your LGBT+ family members might be feeling, whenever we hear “right-wing Christians” are advocating the murder of those with different political beliefs?
In closing, I agree that there’s a lot of immorality in our system— that’s what happens when a society worships the golden calf of economic profit, over the health and well-being of humans and the responsibility to care for the natural world that sustains us.
Still, I do not believe that the way forward is to move to a theocracy. As Chris Hedges reminds us ,“The road to despotism is always paved with righteousness. This was as true for Soviet communism as it was for German fascism. And it is true in the United States.”
Yes, Soviet communism was wrong. It was cruel and despotic and murdered many people, all under the cover of wanting to benefit “the people”. Modern-day capitalism is just as “Godless” as communism ever was, and is threatening to murder us all by putting oil company profits over the well-being of the Earth and future generations.
So what’s the answer, then? I don’t claim to know, but I do believe that we need to find it, together.
As both a journalist and a Presbyterian minister, Hedges believes that the liberal Christian Church should denounce the Christian Right as heretics; he also believes that their failure to do so, in the name of tolerance and cultural relativism, has given legitimacy to the “Christian” fascist movement. On my end, I’m not sure that every religious faction “denouncing” every other religious faction as heretics and apostates is the answer.
I do think it’s important that we all speak out loudly and clearly about our values. I also think that Hedges has a point when he says, “History has shown that it is unwise to tolerate the intolerant.” And I must admit how concerned I was to learn that the followers of Rev. Sun Yung Moon are still around, are big supporters of the current president, and bring guns to their religious services. (Of course, they’ve been told all this nonsense about liberals hoarding guns, so it seems that some of them are quite afraid, too.)
My dear Christian family members — I want you to know that with a few exceptions, I do not see most of you as “intolerant”. Yet I am hugely concerned, that your silence may be aiding and abetting those who are not just “intolerant”, but worse.
May we find a way, together, to bear witness to Love.