Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Amazing Grace

I used to be relatively active in my local Episcopal church.  About a year and a half ago, I found prayer no longer helped me.  Due to some difficulties in my personal life, I found solace and wisdom in the sermons of two remarkable clerics, Jim Bradley and Mary Gates.  Jim retired and maybe I need to go back and listen to Mary.  There are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.

But one the themes between the two and their two churches is the idea that we are fallible and need strength.  I'm reminded of Lincoln's famous thought: "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side..."  The central issue is how any person or group defines and perceives God.

Conservative Christians are always more focused on the Old Testament and the more vengeful, wrathful God therein.  Liberal Christians focus more on the God of forgiveness and mercy of the New Testament.  If you define God as that God of mercy, then you yourself must be merciful.  You must work to put yourself on God's side.  If you are more in tune with "his terrible swift sword" then you should work to become the sword.

What Obama said at the national prayer breakfast was that we should tend to the mote in our eye before we tended to the beam in our neighbor's.  That we should judge not, lest we be judged.  And he said that because that is the God whose side he is trying to get on.  For Erick Erickson, that God is a sham, so Obama isn't even a Christian.

Of course, one great example of the violence done in the name of Christ were the sectarian wars that ravaged Europe from the time of Luther to the Treaty of Westphalia.  The doctrinal differences were not the same, but competing visions of God and Christ and salvation led to the slaughter of millions.  Some of that was politics masquerading as faith, but it's not like that tendency has gone away.

Christianity remains a schismatic faith.  From the very origins of the religion, you had Gnostics, Arianism, Marcionism and Adoptionism, to name a few.  You had the Orthodox/Rome split.  You had the various heresies of the Middle Ages.  You had Luther.  You had Calvin.  You had Anabaptists.  You had Joseph Smith.

And yet the fascinating thing is that each increasingly narrow slice of Christianity tends to see itself as the proper articulation of the faith, with the exception of the liberal churches.

It is this liberal movement - Unitarians certainly spring to mind - that seeks to reconcile the various branches of Christianity.  It is the conservatives who cling to the divisions.

Which impulse is more likely to be on God's side?

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