Thursday, June 29, 2006

Atheist/Agnostic Evangelical Christians

I received some spam just now. The subject line said, "Christianity in America Won't Survive Another Decade..." There's part of me that resonates with this sentiment. This is an atheistic and/or agnostic sentiment.

The spam continues: "Christianity in America won’t survive another decade… unless we do something now."

I think that if Christianity in America didn't survive the next decade, that would be a catastrophicly Bad Thing.

This spam message starts by saying Christianity in America WON'T SURVIVE. But then it says Christianity in America won't survive UNLESS WE DO SOMETHING NOW. Which is it? Will Christianity in America NOT survive or not survive UNLESS I do something? I suspect that the SOMETHING includes sending money to whoever spammed me.

All this is an atheistic sentiment because it presumes the success or failure of Christianity depends upon something humans do (or fail to do).

Does God get any say in this matter?

I've had the opportunity to visit a couple Baptist churches whose membership has rapidly declined of late. I feel a little bad about this. But my bad feeling is moderated by the knowledge that every true church is the property of God--not the preacher or the board or the membership.

I believe in the Sovereignty of God and I believe God works through people. But the ultimate ownership of a true church lies in God's hands. If you're someone like Kierkegaard or Bonhoeffer and you think there's something wrong with your church, it might be that it's not God's church. If there's any message we should take from Kierkegaard or Bonhoeffer, it is to make your calling and election sure, and apply that not just individually but corporately.

I'll grant that false churches may belong to the preacher or the board or the membership. And most probably such churches will not survive unless their owners do something. If you're in the business of selling Christian-oriented kitsch this will probably hurt your bottom line.

Therefore, here is my modest proposal for all those churches that won't survive unless we do something now: Get corporate sponsorship from those people who make so much money selling Christian-oriented kitsch. It's clearly in their financial interst.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Messengers we're not allowed to reply to

Months back I read a book by a New Yorker columnist that I found quite apt. And last week, a friend sent a book review this guy had written in the New Yorker. It looked interesting and decided to buy this book. I'm on vacation. So, I had to find a bookstore in Grand Haven, MI. The Bookman is a nice place. Not as mega-huge as Barnes & Noble, but bigger than most mom and pop stores. I like book people. The girl behind the counter looked up the book I was seeking in her computer and led me to it in the stacks. Since it was the first day of my vacation, I asked her where I might find the penny dreadfuls. She led me to the Science Fiction section and I accepted her recommendation. I was pleased to work with someone who like myself loves books and reads widely. As I was paying for the books, I looked arount for my daughter to let her know we'd be leaving soon. My eyes fell upon the visage of a beautiful blonde in a low cut blouse: Ann Coulter.

I had just read one of my favorite right-wing bloggers criticize her (agreeing with Mrs. Hillary Clinton) for insulting about the 9/11 widows. In the narrow context cited by the critics, Ms. Coulter's prose was indefensible.

When someone gets condemned by BOTH the Left and Right, I figure I'd better see for myself what's up. (For instance, I read The Duh Vinci Code, and found out that, yup, both liberal and conservative scholars were right that it's historical fantasy.) Thus, I added "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" to my purchase. I recited the reasons above to justify my purchase. Nevertheless, I sensed disappointment/disapproval.

Yesterday, I started reading Ann Coulter's book and I started laughing. This is red-meat for conservatives. If you're a liberal, you'll froth at the mouth. If you're a liberal with a heart condition, Yeah, read this book BEFORE the next election. I joked to my daughter, "Ann Coulter is crack cocaine for conservatives!" And I've been reading aloud passages and laughing ever since.

Then I came to chapter 5 "Liberals' Doctrine Of Infallibility: Sobbing Hysterical Women." This is the exact point where everyone criticizes Ann Coulter, so I paid closer attention. Here is the first sentence of this chapter: "Liberals are perennially enraged that Republicans are allowed to talk back."

I'll grant that the junior Senator from New York is enraged. I also see that this thesis cannot be attacked directly.

Ms. Coulter goes on to say that liberals have sought "sobbing hysterical women" to carry their message. When Ms. Coulter refers to "sobbing hysterical women" she is (figuratively) referring as much to Mr. Max Cleland and Mr. John Murtha as she (literally) referring is to Casey Sheehan's mother or any 9/11 widows. Ms. Coulter writes, "Finally, the Democrats hit on an ingenious strategy: They would choose only messengers whom we're not allowed to reply to. That's why all Democratic spokesmen these days are sobbing, hysterical women. You can't respond to them because would be questioning the authenticity of their suffering."

Now, that's an interesting point that hasn't made it into the open! Mrs. Clinton certainly does not want us to dwell upon this point and would dearly love to distract us from. It is a point that my friends on the right should not miss.

Let's suppose Mr. Michael Moore posits some goofball policy position. With the advent of Fox News and the non-traditional media, we can have a dialog whereby his ideas can be critiqued. Ms. Coulter has identified a key trick in the liberal playbook: select mouthpieces (sobbing hysterical women) who cannot be contradicted. If a "sobbing hysterical woman" proposes policy that doesn't hold together, like proposing we move our troops from Iraq to a quick-deployment staging point 5,000 miles away, I can't critique it because I am not a Vietnam veteran like Mr. Murtha. (How dare I be insensitive to Mr. Murtha's post-traumatic stress disorder!) We really can't trust the judgement of "hysterical sobbing women." We owe them a modicum of courtesy and sympathy, but that's it. When "hysterical sobbing women" make a career of their victimhood, we mustn't forget the limits of courtesy and sympathy.

Is Ms. Coulter over the top? Yes. If you agree with her, you'll get a huge laugh and if you disagree, you'll foam at the mouth. However, she has a point: Policy positions should be the subject of open discussion and debate. Shame on the Democrats for exploiting "hysterical sobbing women" to squelch policy debate.

Should Rush Limbaugh refer to the 9/11 widows as the "Jersey Girls" and should Ann Coulter refer to them as "harpies" or "witches of East Brunswick." Probably not. On one hand, I like the idea that such things give liberals an excuse to underestimate the Right. I enjoy the laughs that such over-the-topness evoke. On the other hand, I prefer civility in public discourse. It's enlightening that the Right manages to say some very tough things about the other side while never uttering vulgarities. However, I've never been able to scope out a Lefty blog without being exposed to multiple obsenities. Ms. Coulter does not use dirty words when she eviscerates her political opponents. Nevertheless, she does coarsen the discussion.

I think that Ms. Coulter muddies her thesis that "Democrats choose only messengers whom we're not allowed to reply to" with a second thesis that "personal tragedy does not immunize against criticism." I agree with both theses, but lament the fact that the first hasn't gotten more attention.