Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bizzaro World

Tivo has really changed my television viewing habits.

I don’t idly flip through channels to see what’s on. What I do is check out my “Tivo Suggestions” folder. Because my “To Do” list has several of the news magazines in it, Tivo catches other public-interest programming. After several weeks of telling Tivo I really didn’t want news programming in Cantonese, Korean, or Cambodian, the selections have settled down to Charlie Rose, Face the Nation, Ben Wattenberg's Think Tank, and a few others.

Last night I was flipping through the Tivo suggestions folder and saw that Tivo had captured The Tavis Smiley Show, and that Tavis’s guest was former Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I checked the listing and saw that Senator Hart was going to be promoting his book, God and Caesar in America. Gary Hart was a real contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Ronald Reagan's pick, George H. W. Bush. Hart was a very smart guy, who said the kinds of interesting things that someone who is not up for office can and will say. I pushed “Play.”

Have you ever felt as if you have woken up in some alternate, bizzaro, reality? That was my reaction to this program. There was Gary Hart, Senator “Monkey Business” himself, telling me why what I believed wasn't authentic Christianity.

Now, Senator Hart did attend Bethany Nazarene College, then went to Yale Divinity. And I think that we need to make large distinctions between the message and the messenger. And yet...

In the interview Senator Hart displayed a real lack of seriousness about issues addressed by Christianity, and I don't mean necessarily political issues.
Hart: I indicate in the essay, I was heavily motivated, and still am, by the teachings of Jesus.

Almost all of which are contrary to the current religious right, which is very judgmental, very divisive. Jesus was non-judgmental, and very inclusive. And in the famous, famous, I guess that's the wrong word. The well-known Sermon on the Mount, those he blessed were the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, those who hungered and thirst after righteousness. The merciful.

I guess that this Oprah-ized gospel plays well with people who are, at best, casual readers of the Bible. But Holy Hanna!

First let's go to the tape: Matthew 5: 29-30, part of that "famous" "Sermon on the Mount"
If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Yeow! Hellfire! But maybe Jesus is ill represented by a single quote. Let's look a little later in Matthew, chapter 25, where Jesus addresses the concept of "judgement."
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...

...Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Now, we may debate the terms of this judgement, but I think that in this passage Jesus shows that He is indeed, judgemental.

Next Senator Hart takes on the issue of popular revivalism in American history:

Tavis: I wonder how that you think it is - how do I wanna phrase this? That we got off track? How did we get off track? That is to say, how did we end up, do we now live in a nation where the people, to your point, at least, the way you see it, the people who are talking to us every day about Jesus. So many of these televangelists on the right are not true to what Jesus taught with regard to how we ought to live our lives?

Hart: Well, it's the central question of our time, at least politically, I think. First of all, I think you have to go back to the sixties. The infamous age of sex, drugs and rock and roll. And a lot of people concluded then that America was losing its soul. And as you know, starting with Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening in the 1600s, America goes through cycles of reform and renewal and evangelical reformation and revival.

And this is one of those. What distinguishes this one from the Billy Graham and Billy Sunday and Jonathan Edwards revivals is it's very political. And I think it became political over issues like abortion. And that's what triggered people on the religious right to think the country really was on the path to Hell, and they had to do something about it. And they did it through the Republican Party.

Senator Hart seems to miss the great religious revival of the early 1800s that led great numbers of Christians to get very political--in the Abolitionist movement. That particular revival led to the Civil War and many Americans joining the brand-new Republican Party.

Hart also dodged the political questions of faith. Though he was able to trace the swing of many Christians from neutral/Democratic to the Republicans to 1972's Roe v. Wade decision, he seemed unable to make that connection to the $64,000 question of today's Democratic Party: "Why did it lose the Evangelical and mainstream Catholic vote?" He attributed that loss of support to the mean old Republicans hijacking the terms "faith" and "values," then emptying them of meaning.

When questioned about the popularity of the Republican Party’s message, Hart posits that the Republican Party has been captured by three distinct groups. The Christian Right has taken over domestic social policy, neo-conservatives have taken over foreign policy, and libertarians have taken over tax policy. All three groups are “out of the mainstream.” How does that answer the question of the dominance of Republicans in the recent election cycles was unanswered.

(In my view, all three of those groups feel that they are receiving short shrift from the Bush administration, not to mention discontent by secular groups such as the deficit hawks.)

In all, Senator Hart displays the same deafness to what is happening in current culture as many of the rest of his Democratic comrades, and that's too bad. Hart has the background, the education, and the pulpit, if you will, to engage the Evangelical Right in a real dialog about the role of God in American public life and Ceasar in the American church. I'm going to read his book.

But I'm not expecting much.

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