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Mayfield: When Christians revel in ignorance

Rich Mayfield
Vail, CO Colorado

I don’t know if it is the impending celebration of one of Christendom’s favorite saints, but both the faithful and semi-faithful have been busying themselves this past week making the news and sometimes wishing they hadn’t.

Southern Baptists don’t officially recognize St. Patrick, but that hasn’t stopped some members of America’s largest denomination from going a little green. Forty-four Baptist elite signed a declaration this past Monday deploring the inaction of their religious body in fighting the good fight against global warming. Indeed, there was genuine dismay over the denomination’s continuing commitment to doing nothing while the rest of the world, including a Christian or two, is developing and implementing strategies to avoid the greatest calamity the earth has ever faced. The official Southern Baptist position, articulated at its 2007 convention, was filled with all manner of theological manipulations but what it came down to, according to Wiley Drake, then the convention’s second vice president, is: “We don’t believe in global warming.”

Kudos to those brave 44 but, speaking only for my slightly bruised Christian self, I have to ask: What took you so long? Why are Christians usually among the last to arrive at the same conclusions the rest of the world long ago thought settled? Whether it’s the abolition of slavery or the suffrage of women, the Copernican revolution or the theory of evolution, some Christians seem to revel in their ignorance. Inevitably, inexorably, most of these Christians finally join the rest of the modern world and announce, with considerable solemnity and professions of piety, their conviction that segregation is bad, women should vote and the earth is, surprisingly, not the center of the universe. Disposing a six-day creation may take a few more centuries.

Mormons made it to the news this week as well. Three Mormon young men to be exact, who were discovered desecrating a sacred Catholic shrine right here in Colorado. It would be grossly unfair to extrapolate such despicable behavior into a general condemnation of an entire religious movement, but it is fair to wonder aloud if 18-year-olds are particularly unprepared to represent a religion that claims to be moving rapidly into the mainstream. Immature minds that have been indoctrinated by religious absolutes may have considerable difficulty integrating the ambiguities inherent in the modern world. Religious traditions and cultural worldviews different than their own limited perspective would seem to ill-equip them to be citizens of a planet rapidly moving toward globalization.

Mr. Bush offered a speech this week to a gathering of Religious Broadcasters where he boldly declared: “that every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth has been given the great gift of liberty by an Almighty God.” A warm sentiment, indeed, and a cherished part of our Declaration of Independence, but one that even the most devout Jew, Christian or Muslim may find difficult to justify from their respective authoritative books. Religious monarchies, oligarchies and downright dictatorships have infused history with sobering examples of how glib spokesmen for God have defined liberty. Today’s complex and culturally competing world provides equally vivid examples of differing definitions. Is it fair to assume that at least some Iraqis would gladly trade President Bush’s grand theological doctrine for a little peace and quiet?

Across the pond, our allies in England were debating a bill on blasphemy this week. It seems there is a centuries-old common law that makes it a crime to have a laugh at the expense of You-Know-Who. The debate comes on the heels of an English schoolteacher’s imprisonment in the Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy-bear Muhammad. The problem is disallowing blasphemy against Allah means equal mistreatment of the Christian God, and that isn’t sitting too well among some of the faithful. “This is all part of a move by the atheists to turn us into a secular state,” decries Stephen Green, the national director of a local organization called Christian Voice.

All of which might have St. Patrick wishing we all do a little more whispering.

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to editor@vaildaily.com.


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