Saturday, September 28, 2013

Teaching Christian Values?

A few weekends ago, Mrs V and I went to South Carolina for the Labor Day weekend. Mrs V's best friend lives in Greenville, and we love to get down to see her, and her husband.

One afternoon, as we drove back from Downtown Greenville, I spotted a martial arts centre with a sign in the window saying 'Christian Values Taught Here'. I was confused and asked rhetorically 'what are Christian values?', to which responses of 'restraint', 'discipline', and 'self esteem' came back.

Now, forgive me if perhaps I am a little naive, but while those 'values' are generally regarded as being positive I fail to see how they are specifically 'Christian', but that is not the thrust of this post. My problem here is teaching 'Christian' values through the medium of cramming someone's head in.

Again, forgive me if I am still something of an idealist, but if a person if going to claim to be a Christian and to uphold Christian values then the teaching of Jesus must surely be the paramount ideology that defines that person's life? To put that another way, if Jesus said something in the Gospels which directly contradicts other parts of the Bible, mainly the Hebrew Scriptures, then the Christian, if they are to be truly a follower of Jesus of Nazareth must go with Jesus every time. Let's look then at what Jesus had to say about how his followers should respond to violence.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” - Matthew 5:38-42
Hmmm, that's pretty unequivocal really isn't it? If someone slaps your cheek, then the Christian response is to turn the other, not roundhouse kick the assailant in the head. Would I be right then that martial arts centres that trumpet their teaching of Christian values never actually win a single bout, because the kids will just stand there and take it, because they have been taught the Christian value of non-violence?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus of Nazareth is quoted as saying:
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' - Matthew 5:3-10
Strangely Jesus doesn't have any blessings for the kind of Christian values that are taught with the punch to the face. Meekness, mercy, and peacemaking are the hallmarks of Christian values if you take the teachings of Jesus seriously, all things which are antithetical to the macho world of martial arts. Oh and don't get me started on the whole 'self-esteem' thing, especially not when the Jesus of the Gospels expects people to hate 'even his own life' in order to be a disciple.

This really gets to the heart of much of my problem with swathes of American Christianity, it doesn't seem to be particularly Christian. It wants to get its knickers in a twist about homosexual couples having the same legal rights as heterosexual ones, but doesn't keep its own house in order by rebuking those who think bashing someone other the head is a perfectly legitimate expression of Christianity. I have said before that there are times when I think that American Christianity is a myth, rather there is a lot of American Religious Nationalism that has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and as such is not Christian.

I find a saying of Mahatma Gandhi to be most apt:
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Invisible Festival

Where I live, Virginia if you are not sure, is one of the most religious places I have ever lived. As I have written about before, there are churches on practically every street corner, as well as a couple of churches in between the corners.

Religion, the Christian religion that is, is very much part and parcel of life and society in this neck of the woods, and in much of the US it seems, especially the South. As a result of this open, and accepted, religiosity I find it astounding that there is no holiday for Easter, no Good Friday, no Easter Monday, they are just regular work days. This weekend is the most important festival of the Christian calendar and in this most religious of nations it is not a holiday, I find that astounding.

 Of course there are the usual symbols associated with Easter, painted eggs, fluffy bunny rabbits and indulgent amounts of chocolate, but you would have thought that with so many people cramming into churches each weekend there would be more of a focus on the Gospel narratives of the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the popular culture.

 I guess bunnies and eggs are just an easier sell than the bloody and painful realities of being nailed to a plank of wood.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

'The Bible' is Awful

It was a Sunday night and I had just got home from working at the Starr Hill Brewery. Just to bring you up to speed as I haven't posted on this particular blog since 2011, I am currently without full time employment, having been laid off from my last job, for a company called Silverchair, back in October. My gig at Starr Hill is part time, basically serving beer to visitors and talking about it - I like to think I am pretty good at it.

Having eaten my dinner and wandered down into our living room to rot my brain by watching television, more updates, Mrs V and I bought a house last June, when I had a nice job with a good income. On the History Channel that particular Sunday was part one of the new mini-series 'The Bible', so we decided to give it a whirl.

Now, Mrs V are not church goers, or religious in general, but we do have religious backgrounds, in my case even studying to be a minister, and we share an interest in religion as an expression of the human experience. I have come to expect little from the History Channel, other than Jesus, Nazis and aliens, but 'The Bible' really scrapes the barrel.

'The Bible' is essentially a dramatised version of an insanely abridged potted history of the Jewish people that takes a literalistic interpretation of the Old and New Testament texts and presents them as authentic history. Even the early stories of Abram, Lot and Lot's wife are presented as historical fact rather than the hagiographical accounts of a people's origins, to put it bluntly 'The Bible' is disingenuous to the core.

I spent most of that first episode muttering to myself, and occasionally exclaiming quite openly that the fare being served up was a pile of steaming shite. I guess I should have been wary when in the story of Abraham they used the names 'Abraham' and 'Sarah' all the way through rather than 'Abram' and 'Sarai' - see Genesis 17 for the reasons behind the name change. 

As the show progressed though I realised that there was another historical problem, the cast all looked as though they had been aboard the 3 legendary ships that carried the early Anglo-Saxons to the British Isles, white, blue eyes, you get the picture, not a Semitic feature between them.

I guess my major problem with the entire show is that it is a complete failure as a work of historical inquiry, as such, and forgive me if I am being zealous about history, has no place on the History Channel (neither does a lot of the shit they serve up but that's a different rant). Shows about the history of the Bible, sure, that would actually be interesting, unless they went along the 'God wrote it' line rather than the truth that it is a collection of ancient writings which have little internal correspondence to each other. A show about the history in which the events of the Bible are purported to have taken pace, yep that would be interesting too, if we could ever get some consensus on when the Exodus took place for example.

As it is, 'The Bible' simply sucks at best and is an act of simony at worst.