There are many things that alienate me from the various groups to which I (nominally) belong. The starkest ones arise in the context of religion. I strive to be a Christian — usually falling fall short of what I understand to be Christianity's ideals. Yet I feel utterly alienated from vast segments of modern, American, public Christendom.
Take the issue of atheism. I can't find it in myself to be threatened or outraged at the existence of atheists — even aggressive, litigious, or obnoxious atheists, who grab headlines but strike me as a relatively small group. I can disagree, or even be annoyed by, some Establishment Clause lawsuits by atheists (just as I can be irritated by Christian legal positions in such matters), but I can't quite get to the point of incandescent rage.
So when a group of atheists filed suit over the presence of a cross at a 9/11 memorial, my reaction was not fury. I noted that my classmate David French was on the case and snarked mildly about the atheists' approach to the standing issue, but it didn't spike my blood pressure. Nor did it provoke rage from David, who is a religious-freedom advocate and as devout a Christian as you are likely to meet, but was also the law school classmate to whom we would appeal for the viewpoint of the hypothetical "reasonable person."
Alas, American Christendom — or what passes for Christendom — is not populated exclusively with people like David. It's an exercise for philosophers (or polemicists) whether it is even made up mostly of such people.
Rather, American Christendom is also made up of people like the visitors to Fox News' Facebook page who commented on the 9/11 cross lawsuit story.
It is made up of people like Hans Anderson, a student at MSU:
It is made up of people like Eileen Rourke:
It is made up of people like Sindy Clock:
It is made up of people like Casey M. Jones:
It is made up of people like Michael Perri:
Surely there is a strong component of the GIF Theory here — people perceive using their Facebook accounts as semi-anonymous, even though (as the now-Google-famous people above are finding out) it isn't.
Even so, I find these people, and their ilk, much more threatening and infuriating than even the most vexatiously litigious atheists. I have friends and family members who are agnostic or atheist; many of them keep the spirit of Christ's words about love, compassion, and humility better than I do. Yet segments of our society are prepared to treat them in some contexts as second-class citizens. The self-described Christians above do not think that they will cast themselves outside of acceptable society by talking like that — and they are right. Rather, they are reacting to a sick culture that renders such commentary acceptable or even encouraged. Some [edited to add "some"] Conservative Christians complain that the culture reviles them, and perhaps some segments of it do. But everyone who tolerates this sort of invective — everyone who participates in a culture that signals that this rhetoric is acceptable — is hurting not just American culture but American Christianity.
It's a vicious cycle. To the extent we allow this sort of thing be the face of American Christianity, more people will choose another path — which will make such self-described Christians even more threatened and more prone to saying such things, and so on. Imagining American culture as a struggle between Christians and atheists may lead to short-term political gain for some Christians, but it spells stagnation and long-term spiritual decline.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017