by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Complexity is the destiny of thoughtful individuals,
From which they will never be rescued.
In my view, one of the more unfortunate arguments made by the theologians of the Right misleads people on both sides of the present religious divide about the core of the message of Christ and of the Hebrew God and Mohammed. The argument of the theological conservatives is that the basis of choices in life must be made in the light of the “end times”, when peoples and individuals will be judged by God. They posit an opposite side that is without deep values and guided by self-interest. They see it as ‘either/or’.
Is Religion All About Payback?
The end-times belief is understood by many to be a core principle of Christianity – of most god-centred religions, in fact. Some teachers continue to emphasize the importance of the next life over this one. The Sunday Night service celebrant at my former home church regularly preached that loving actions (such as feeding the poor) weren’t enough for a good Catholic: obedience to what the priest taught was the ticket to a great afterlife. He was not in the majority but he certainly confused the picture for many.
There has been a refreshing shift from this belief in the past 50 years. (Can we credit Vatican 2, being now subtly repudiated by Catholic hierarchy?). Much thoughtful teaching has pointed more toward how we behave toward one another here on earth, with ‘judgment’ being considered God’s privilege, not to be grasped and not something we can influence by pleasing the divine. Do we truly know what ‘good’ is, and can we count on the interpretations of religious law – often contradictory – as infallible guides?
A Return to Judgment and Fear
In the theology of the American Right (its intellectual development over five decades chronicled in the “The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege” by Damon Linker), we are to guide all our thinking and actions in light of the eventual judgment of the Almighty. This God is unknowable but He did leave rules for humankind, to be interpreted by selected men (those prophets).
My assessment of the arguments presented by the leading lights of the movement – men highly regarded in serious religious circles – is that the basis for action is fundamentally fearful.
A God who is ‘watching and judging every act we make as individuals and as a nation”1, requires quite different actions than a God seen as loving all his creation. Rules are to be followed. One’s own judgment is untrustworthy.
Justification for Shock and Awe in Iraq
This had very practical applications in the initiation of the war against Iraq. George Weigel, one of the foundational thinkers of the Theocon movement, spoke and wrote in 2003 about the moral and religious justification for supporting Bush’s intent to go to war against Iraq2. War, regardless of damage to the innocent, is “just” and righteous, if undertaken to advance the cause of a civilization that follows the laws of the Judeo-Christian God. Such a war is bound to advance the cause of “all decent human beings on the planet”. Bush met often with Theocon leaders and applied their defense of ‘just war’ in his invasion policy3. The people of Iraq still suffer.
Judgment- or Love-Driven?
The alternative view of our relation to God can be declared as that of a loving connection with a God who remains with us whatever our trials and errors. This God seeks not victory over peoples who are at variance with his dictates, but encourages generousity of heart and mind between us all. This God seeks to strengthen us to promote peaceful resolutions to the crises and challenges of living on this earth. We are all his beloved.
The very popular spiritual guide from several years back, “The Purpose-Driven Life”, by Rick Warren, emphasized the judgment-driven life. The author encouraged people to set clear goals based on sound church teaching: a sort of religious “Power of Positive Thinking” (Norman Vincent Peale). The general idea is not problematic. Aiming toward worthy goals is – worthy. The discipline of follow-through is valuable. What’s missing is emphasis on individual responsibility to make choices based on personal understanding and circumstances. Choosing the correct approved path, rather than learning to discern the choice of one’s heart, mind and spirit leads away from an adult stance before God.
One way puts primacy on pre-determined rules: the other points toward figuring out what rules make sense in light of the outcomes. Questioning experience. This way one becomes who one was created to be, according to one’s gifts and learning, rather than another’s idea of what one should be.
There Aren’t Just Two Ways
And here I have betrayed the reader. I have so wanted to provide an argument against judgmental thinking that I’ve bought into that dualistic view of the world – as if there’s a simple distinction between right and wrong.
Often it’s not either one or the other. The approaches available to us are “both/and”. The conservation (Right wing) viewpoint and the liberal (seen as Left) are only two of many possible ways of seeing choice. My preference is clear. Yet sometimes I’m afraid and not generous. But other times I’m overtaken by the brightness of love. Regularly someone, an Other, points me toward more varied, creative and surprising paths than I could envision alone.
That’s where community and connection come in. Have to stay in the human game to keep the interesting options open.
- Linker, Damon; The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. New York; Anchor Books, 2006, p.33
- Ibid, p.130. Weigel, George; “Moral Clarity in a Time of War”, First Things, January 2003.
- Ibid, p.122. “In his September 20 speech [post 9/11]…President Bush indicated that from then on he would be taking