While doing my freelance copyediting work at a midwestern cafe this afternoon, two clean-cut, friendly, white men sat near me and began to chat about their passion for Christianity.
One was a missionary, about to embark on travels to bring the word of God to others. His hands kept caressing the cloth-covered Bible in front of him. He was vague about his group and its history as well as what, if any, church it was connected to.
The other was moving to town, and explained that he wanted to find a church to attend. “I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. I know I’d like a church where I ask questions and engage in dialogue, though. Christianity’s the only religion that is open to that.”
He noted that he’d never actually read the Bible (at which point his missionary pal flipped open his own copy, now caressing its pages), but he’d learned so much from conversations at previous churches. He didn’t believe in the institutionalized church nor a particular institutionalized vision of God, yet was sure that he had faith in a higher being and higher purpose.
His friend now read a few Bible quotes, feigning a disinterested calm, yet clearly wanting to steer his friend toward his views, to which the church-seeker responded, “People used to need unquestioning religion, unquestioned priests and Bibles. That was way back, when times were dark and scary; when they were dangerous. Now we live in times when all is well.”
The Bible reading picked up, and both became lost in a Christianity that seems incapable of recognizing the reality around it — christian acts as well as the far greater devilish dealings afoot, whether impoverishment and displacement via austerity, or an un-Christian white supremacy.
This, in the land where big billboards show big-eyed newborns as proof of God and nonaborted “life” even as parents can barely afford to put food in the mouths’ or roofs’ over the heads of their real-life babies. This, in a place where when I went to a doctor’s office a few days ago, the bulletin board had images of the American flag and Pledge of Allegiance thumb-tacked next to a calendar displaying a bloody cross and a quote about Jesus dying for our sins and redemption. This, in a country where what’s rising from the dead is fascism, and where most people — “even” progressives and Bernie-salivating leftists — can’t seem to hold two critical thoughts in their heads at once: that one can oppose the hate and growing power of the Far Right, and at once not see salvation in electoral politics.
We can stick our heads in whatever books or campaign hype or other fantasies give us faith that all is well. But civil war, as race and class wars, loom large on these stolen and occupied lands called the United States, so sadly trusting in a god never cared for most of us anyway, and indeed already killed so many in his name.
Or we can show ourselves a better world, in this, the only world we have left — at least for now.
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, art of resistance, Turtle Island’s walls, 2015.)