By Jeffrey Ritchie
Religion tends to get a bad rap among liberals and progressives,
and that's too bad, because to be a progressive is to be intensely
and profoundly moral. We don't take advantage of the "Everyday
Low Prices" at Wal-Mart because we know that shopping there
increases the misery of sweatshop workers in Asia and the
poverty of low-wage workers here at home. We recycle (and
in some municipalities, we pay extra to do it) because we
know that reducing the volume of waste going to our landfills
is the right - and smart - thing to do.
But when right-wing fundamentalists accuse us of being immoral,
we often cede the moral high ground (which we should never
do) and instead engage in attacks on spirituality in general.
At the popular website www.bartcop.com,
they use the phrase "religiously insane" to describe almost
any type of religious expression. As much as I adore Bartcop,
that's not the right thing to do, and it's certainly not politically
smart to alienate millions of people who believe that "Love
Thy Neighbor" ought to be a cornerstone of governance.
So let's take another look at religion.
Easter is coming up in just a few days. For Christians of
all denominations, this is the most important day on our spiritual
calendar - if not for the death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, our entire religious existence is nothing more than
potluck dinners and a few hours wasted every Sunday morning.
Easter is it - everything that you ever need to know about
being a Christian is compressed into those last few days of
Fundamentalists have developed an odd take on "The Passion
of the Christ" even as they pay millions to go see Mel Gibson's
splatter-fest of a movie. In their view, Christ underwent
to agony of the cross just so folks in Citizens for Community
Values can decide who can't get into heaven. Christ willingly
underwent one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable so that
the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka could show up at the funeral
of AIDS victims waving a sign that says, "God Hates Fags."
The Gospel according to St. Luke depicts Christ being crucified
along with two other criminals - both of whom it would appear
were justly convicted and sentenced for their crime. When
one of the criminals asks Jesus to "remember me when you come
into your kingdom," Christ does something that must appear
perplexing and downright "unchristian" to the right wing.
Christ tells the criminal that "today you will be with me
Say what? Shouldn't Christ have first asked what the criminal's
views were on abortion? Shouldn't he have checked to make
sure the criminal wasn't gay? Shouldn't Christ have at least
- I mean at very least - made sure that the criminal was a
Their brand of Christianity boils down to an ecclesiastical
winnowing process where only the select few can get into heaven.
Fundamentalists view God as a Donald Trump figure, who at
the end of our life says, "You're Fired," and sends most everybody
to hell. Fortunately for most of us, that's not the kind of
Christianity practiced by Jesus Christ himself. Forgiveness
sought is forgiveness given. No strings. No conditions. And
anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is peddling something
I've always found it curious that fundamentalists expend
so much energy on causes that are of so little significance.
Their ongoing campaign against equal rights for gays and lesbians
is probably the most obvious. I'm certain that as the fall
campaign heats up and the Defense of Marriage Act becomes
an issue, fundamentalists will be quoting scripture left and
right trying to convince people that Jesus Christ doesn't
want gays and lesbians to have health insurance.
Just to save your doing to the research, I've checked and
the word "copay" doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible. So
I think that maybe Article 12 supporters are peddling something.
Another colossal waste of energy and emotion concerns evolution
and the inappropriately-named "creation science,"
which isn't so much a science as it is a series of selectively
applied footnotes attempting to buttress a religious doctrine.
The truth is - and you may feel free to quote me on this -
the first chapter of Genesis is one of the theologically least-important
(and certainly among the most boring) books of the Bible.
If you're a Christian, here is everything you'll ever need
to know about the creation of the universe: God did it.
That's it. If you'd like to engage in an all night bull
session over whether God did the deed in six twenty-four hour
periods, or if he simply stirred the cosmic soup and waied
twenty billion years for the results, I can be available next
Friday night if you bring the beer. But let's remember one
thing - it doesn't matter which answer is right, or if both
of them are right, or if neither of them are right.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
So you'd think that fundamentalist Christians, who believe
that they alone possess the ability to love God, would stop
treating his creation like it was a vast outdoor toilet. At
the risk of sounding dogmatic, you cannot profess to love
God on the one hand, and advocate the rape and pillage of
his creation on the other. If you love God at all, you'll
also love snail darters and humpback whales and all of the
Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
So it's not that liberals and progressives aren't moral,
God knows, it's that we interpret the scripture in a different
way than do fundamentalists - and as it happens, we interpret
scripture in a way that appeals to many people who have no
religious upbringing or who positively don't believe in the
existence of a divine being. Social and economic justice,
whether done in the name of God or in the name of common decency
or in the name of good citizenship, are values that cross
Progressives who are also people of faith shouldn't shy
away from their beliefs. I think we can all agree that the
world would be a much poorer place if Martin Luther King,
Jr. had not turned his religious beliefs into a political
movement. The fact is that for all the conservative bluster
- and conservatives apparently have cornered the market in
bluster - liberal politics and religious faith go together
quite nicely. And for progressives who are either atheists
or agnostics, recognize that in the faith community you will
find strong allies who share a commitment to peace and justice
in the world. For this generation and for those that come
after, we dare not be divided this fall.
Let the church say, Amen.
Jeff Ritchie is a writer, activist and owner of www.progressivecincinnati.org