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The Religious Wrong

How Conservative Christians Fail At Ethics

January 14, 2005
Sharon Isikoff

Religion should support the best in man, not the worst. It should help us to adhere to the highest principles, to be as good as imperfect human beings can be. Religious fanaticism clearly does not pass the ethics test.

Whether you are considering the sanctity of life, the golden rule, virtues like charity, or sins like pride, there are so many ways that Conservative Christians who see the world in the absolute colors of white and black, right and wrong, consistently fail to find the best in themselves.

The Sanctity of Life

The Christian Right allows no exceptions to their prohibition of abortion. But how about if a woman with a bad heart condition, say cardiomyopathy for example, is criminally assaulted and raped? She manages not to die from the trauma of the attack itself, but is now going to die from the overwhelming of her heart by the stress of the resulting pregnancy. Neither she nor the unborn fetus is likely to survive. How does denying her a "morning after" pill or a very early abortion protect life?

Fighting to preserve unborn life while not protecting women's lives, by offering real and accurate sexual information in schools and by making birth control available, is not consistent or ethical. Pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, has a mortality rate associated with it. Hundreds of women die each year of toxemia of pregnancy and from pregnancy complicating other disorders.

I am no more in favor of abortion as a means of birth control than the Christian "right" is (and having been a pathologist who saw the results of the procedure first hand, I understand the horror), but it is wrong to not consider the situation.

And while I know how joyful adoption can be, I also know how painful it can be. Do you really believe it is respectful of life to bring children into the world who will die in pain shortly after birth from horrible genetic mishaps or deformities like anencephaly? Perhaps you do, but if so, would you please make arrangements to adopt some? Or at least to pay their hospital bills so that their parents can afford to try again to have a child with a real chance at life?

And while we are talking inconsistencies, if you really believe that life is sacred, how can you support the following concepts?

  • Fighting to preserve unborn human life while fighting wars that kill children, men and women.
  • Fighting to preserve unborn life while okaying (or standing silently by, which is the same as okaying) torture and the death penalty.
  • Believing that only human life is sacred, and really only human life that looks just like you.
  • Believing that you can protect human life but at the same time not worry about protecting the environment that supports all life.

Love Thy Neighbor

I have no doubt that some of the most loving people in the world are members of the Christian Conservative movement. I have personally been loved to death by some of them. But I am ethnically Jewish, and religiously indeterminate, and they all agree that since I do not agree with them, I am damned.

For this reason they insist on trying to convince me of their rightness. And all I can think of is how wrong that is. So many of them believe that you should love thy neighbor unless he is a slightly different color or religion or sexual orientation or political party or any other difference that you (or your bible or your minister or your tv evangelist) choose to define as objectionable. And then love him, but insist that he is sinful and damned and should change and be the same as you, because you want him to be saved and not be left behind when the apocalypse comes. Or love thy neighbor unless he is too needy and requires your tax dollars to support a government program that helps him.

The Virtue of Charity

I have a friend who is a teacher who is opposed to the program which provides breakfast at school for needy children. This, in spite of the fact that studies have shown that a child who has not eaten breakfast will not learn as well as one who has. She objects because she feels the program provides for too many children who are not really needy.

I could understand if she objected on the basis of the programs supplying non-nutritious foods like toaster pastries which only contribute to Americaís obesity problems. But to deny food to the needy because a few people might be taking advantage seems a bit short of charitable.

Her objection to welfare is similar, that there is too much cheating and women just have babies in order to get more welfare money. Her attitude remains the same, even though she recently visited South America and observed first hand what happens when societies become polarized between the very rich and the very poor.

If you want to live in an armed fortress to defend against your poor and discontented neighbors, then you are right to condemn welfare. Let the poor fend for themselves, let natural selection reign. (Oh, wait a minute, if you are a Christian conservative, you do not believe in natural selection... never mind about that part).

Even if charity was not considered a virtue, in my book, just for self-preservation reasons, it is wise to care for the poor to a certain level in order to avoid armed conflict. Resenting the taxes that help avoid the polarization of our society is wrong.

The Sin of Pride

I have no objection to your having faith that you have selected a righteous path. I object to your insisting that there is no other path that is righteous. You have faith, you believe that you are correct, and that is fine. But you are not all-knowing and all-seeing, nor any wiser than the millions of other human beings on the planet, most of whom have chosen other paths.

Unless you claim you are all-knowing and all-seeing, you cannot be sure you are right, you can only be sure in your faith. If this is the case, then other people with other beliefs deserve your respect of their faith, which includes not insisting that they switch to yours.

You are claiming that your answers should be taught in schools and posted on government buildings, because you are the only people who are right, and therefore smart and special. Every group believes that they are smart and special. That, my friends, is pride. Black pride, Gay pride, Christian pride, Moslem pride. All pride.

If you claim to be sure you are right, and therefore all-knowing, you are guilty, by your own definition, of the sin of pride. You have usurped the position of your own Creator by insisting you know it all. And you have denigrated the whole concept of God by claiming to know exactly what God wants and what Godís will is. What a puny God that must be, that you, a lowly human, can be so sure of what God wants, or even of what God is. If you think this way, you are prideful, and that is a sin, and it is wrong.

Forgiveness

And while on the subject of sin, I would like to question the idea that one may sin and sin and sin and still be a good person and be "saved." Yes, humans are imperfect, originally sinful if you choose to call it that. And yes, forgiving the sins of others is an important part of coming to grips with that lack of perfectness that is part of the human condition.

But to me it is wrong to comfort yourself by saying God will forgive you for anything as long as you repent later. You can hate homosexuals and women, resent government charity, be pridefully sure of your righteousness, and even rape and murder, and as long as you say you are sorry and truly regret all that before you die, you are as eligible for redemption as the saint who devoted her life to charity and never hated or harmed a soul.

What kind of a message is that? While no one is perfect, religion should not be so easy. It should insist that we try our best to be good, and that we should do our best to right wrongs that we have done to others, to ask other peopleís forgiveness before we ask for God's. Only then should redemption be possible.

Well, you say, that is not what our religion says, only God's opinion matters. And are you certain that it is God's opinion that it is so easy to gain forgiveness? You know God's opinion? Well, there you go again... you and your pride.

The Religious Right

So how can we avoid being a part of the Religious Wrong? Stop assuming that life is so simple, so black and white. Accept that you cannot know it all. Accept that your faith is a valid path for you, but that it may not be the only valid path. Fight wars only when absolutely necessary, not on the basis of religious differences. Accept laws that truly promote the best in humanity, preserve the sanctity of all life, including women and other species, respect our neighbors no matter what they look like, and care for the poorest and least able among us.

Do not promote laws that limit freedom and dignity for particular groups just because they are different. Remember that none of us knows everything, none of us can know fully the will of God. Believe as you will, but let others believe as they will without interference.

Who knows, perhaps we are all wrong, perhaps the idea my daughter came up with is right: the apocalypse may have already occurred and we have already all been "Left Behind."

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