Mullday, Jesterary 21, 40 A.B.

"Come now, and let us reason together...."

Isaiah 1:18

     My wife told me a story last night that a friend had recently told her.
     Seems there was this atheist couple who got into a terrible fight.  The man ended up shooting his wife to death in front of their young son and then shot himself.  The son was placed in a good Christian foster home.  On his first day of school his teacher held up a picture and asked the class who it was of.  The young boy raised his hand.  "That's Jesus!" the boy exclaimed when called upon.  "The man who held and protected me when my daddy shot my mommy."
     What's your immediate reaction?
     Whatever it is, I suspect that it's the real point of the story. That is to say that I suspect that stories like this serve mainly as social litmus tests.  They have a way of instantly revealing whether the listener is "one of us" or "not one of us" on subjects too sensitive for direct questioning. 
     The person telling the story doesn't even have to realize that's what the point is, of course.  He or she quite often just assumes that they're talking to a person who shares all the cultural assumptions necessary for the listener to react to the story as the teller does. 
     When the listener doesn't, in fact, share those assumptions... well, the listener has a problem.  The listener can either pretend to share those assumptions in order to further social comity and happiness or he or she can react honestly and risk being attacked by the teller's social immune system.
     Not a happy choice.
     It is particularly not a happy choice when the story in question has as a basic assumption the complete inferiority of women, blacks, gays, or some other group which the teller of the story assumes you look down upon as much as they do.
     Experience has taught me that there's really no good way out of this bad situation.  To react positively to the teller's story violates one's beliefs and in effect encourages their opposite.  To react negatively rips the social fabric of our lives. 
     In the past I've gleefully ripped that social fabric in the belief that doing so was the just and moral thing to do.  Maybe if enough people did that to the teller of anti-gay and anti-black stories, I thought, the teller would mend his wicked ways.  If nothing else, he'd be denied the pleasure of my company as punishment for maintaining such primitive points of view.
     Yes, well - how nice to think so. 
     The fact is that that's no substitute for open and frank discussion between people with radically different points of view followed by the joint embrace of the resulting enlightenment.
     As if that ever has ever happened in my life....
     And so silence and withdrawal has become the third way for me.
     Along with writing the occasional journal entry which addresses these issues.

     My immediate reaction to the above story was one of shock and disbelief.
     Because it directly conflicts with my understanding of reality.
     The story rests on several assumptions I find objectionable, but the one I find most objectionable is perhaps the most obvious: Atheists are intrinsically bad.  And, of course, the corollary: Christians are intrinsically good.
     This despite the fact that the vast majority of wife-shootings in this country are almost certainly committed by Christians.
     I don't have actual statistics to back that up, but here are the ones I do have:
     The United States is the most religious of all industrial nations - and yet is the one beset with the most violence.  Japan - where there are almost no Christians - has far, far less crime and violence than any country where Christians are in the majority. 
     Within the United States, those regions where Christianity is most prevalent are the most violent.  Louisiana has the highest church-going rate of any state, yet its murder rate is twice the national average.  Conservative Texas has a murder rate three times that of liberal Massachusetts.  That den of secular humanism known as New York has a perfectly average murder rate.  Washington state - which has the lowest church-going rate of any state - has a murder rate 38% below average.  And as more than one commentator has noted, the spate of school shootings in recent years hasn't occurred in big cities run by atheists.  They've occurred in small, rural, often Southern areas where religion is not exactly unknown. 
     When one considers that it wasn't a bunch of atheists who ran the Inquisition, burned witches at the stake, kept slaves for hundreds of years, invented the phrase "Holy War", served under Hitler with "Gott mitt uns" ("God is with us") stamped on their belt buckles, or dropped atomic bombs on civilian population centers, one might begin to appreciate my immediate shock and disbelief when I heard a story positing that it's the atheist father who's inevitably lost to evil. 
     Even so, I would hardly go so far as to say all Christians are evil.  The facts as I know them merely make me highly allergic to the claim that there's a necessary and obvious connection between Christianity and goodness.

     Apart from this, the story bothered me for four other, more minor reasons.
     First: Although the story presents Jesus in a warm and fuzzy light, a moment's reflection had me wondering why.  Why didn't Jesus protect the mother, too?  Why doesn't he protect all the world's children?  While saving a single life might be highly praiseworthy in a mere human, it seems woefully inadequate for a deity who could, by definition, do so much more.  If even a mere human could have saved six people from a house fire but willfully decided to save only one, would we present him or her as a hero above reproach?  Why should we cut an all-powerful entity more slack?  Because he might send us to hell if we don't?  How nice. 
     Second:  The story furthers the idea that there's a supernatural person looking out for our welfare.  While that idea may give comfort to many, it might well also have the effect of causing us to do less to remedy the evils of this life for ourselves.  Why bother funding anti-domestic violence programs if Jesus will save the children caught up in it?  Why bother researching the causes of human strife and aggression when it springs from people who freely choose to be evil atheists and get what they deserve?  Why bother working to make your community a better place when you can simply pray that things will get better?
     Third:  The story says that the teacher showed a picture of Jesus and that the boy instantly recognized it as being of the guy who protected him.  This unfortunately overlooks the fact that A) no one knows what Jesus looked like and B) there are hundreds of varying pictures as a result.  It's a safe bet that the teacher didn't hold up a picture of a black Jesus, yet many people now believe most of our pictures are wrong and that he was indeed black.  Of course one can get around all this by saying that Jesus simply assumed the form of the picture he knew the boy would see in school, but really.  Spinoza explained my ability to move my arm by saying that when the desire to move my arm entered my brain, God became aware of it and moved my arm for me.  Forgive me for not being impressed.
     Fourth and finally:  The boy obviously wasn't attending a public school where the display of a picture of Jesus would be, uh, highly unlikely.  And of course it's even more unlikely that that murderous atheist dad had been sending his son to a Christian school.  So one gets the message (however subtly) that public schools are associated with evil and private, Christian schools are infinitely better and healthier.  It's a message that doesn't rely upon an objective study and comparison of schools but a made-up plot that panders to the pre-conceptions of its target audience.  This strikes me as objectionable propaganda at best and indicative of an unfortunate "bunker mentality" at worst.
     When it's not pissing me off, anyway.

     But hey, maybe it's just me.  I'm open to other interpretations.  I'm willing to entertain other points of view without taking it personally.  The realms of mind, reality, and their intersection are pretty big places, and I'm hardly claiming to comprehend every square inch.  
     All I'm saying is this is how I see things given my genetically-determined abilities and my experiences up to and including today.
     Those who are worthy and want the absolute truth can get it in my other, better, secret journal.
     Watch for me to appear in your dreams with the url soon.

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Attempt To Corrupt The Youth Of America

    (©Now by the Reverend Daniel Leroy Birtcher)    

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