The Religious Wrong
How Conservative Christians Fail At Ethics
January 14, 2005
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
- 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
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.
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."