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An Easter Sermon
April 7, 2004
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 Christ's life.

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."

Really, Fred?

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 in paradise."

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 Republican?

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 odious.

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 philosophical boundaries.

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

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