As I reflect on my latest column inquiring into the nature of fanaticism, two recent letters to the editor come to mind: the first a response to what I’d written about scriptural origins of the extreme anti-abortion movement by a woman given to name-calling and admonitions that I seek forgiveness; the second a screed vilifying Doug Call’s appeal to reason and understanding by a woman claiming to possess ALL the answers.
Somewhat different topics. The tone, the same. No appeal to rational thought, no attempt to debate substantive issues. For these two self-proclaimed Christians, there is but one way — their way. Any other approach leads the doubtful mind down the perilous path to sin and eternal damnation.
For some time now, I have attempted to follow Mr. Call’s example. Everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to express that opinion in public. I sought for a way around smash-mouth politics by inviting Republican friends and associates to make clear their disgust with the crude deceit and nativism that threatens to seize control of their Grand Old Party. No takers.
Later, I tried to play the satire card by offering up the Ooga-Booga Boys as a wholesome, nontoxic alternative to the dangerous paramilitary Boogaloo Boys. Not a soul interested in puka shells, Hawaiian shirts and flip-flop sandals. Not enough outlets for testosterone, I guess.
In one final effort to use humor to defuse the polarization that first poisoned the public mind when Newt Gingrich found that demonizing his Democratic foes was a sure way to power, I offered up the Church of the Latter Day Dude as a foil to frothing-at-the-mouth Christian fundamentalists. Not a single taker.
In place of a generous spirit and attempts to understand that others might have something worthwhile to say, these two venomous, self-righteous evangelicals chose instead to spew against reasoned discourse.
So, the gloves come off. What do I really think of organized religion or, more specifically, Christianity? What follows is the first of several columns in which I will try to bring clarity to a most tendentious issue. As much as I might like to provide an easy target for the fire-and-brimstone crowd, let me say at the outset, I neither support nor deny the existence of a god. For me, there are far more pressing issues to wrestle with — like dealing with the causes of social and economic injustice. God? I’m indifferent.
I believe that the true purpose of human existence, our telos, is to grow self-knowledge not through slurping up dogma but through living life openly and learning from mistakes. I also believe there is a threshold of awareness attained only through hard work and my Kentucky mother’s “dark nights of the soul.” Once reached, this place of enlightenment instructs us that our private journey has become a journey of all. In whatever way possible — ever mindful of the uniqueness and individuality of all who seek — we share our story with those who still struggle over the same difficult path.
To interject God into the formula and saddle mankind with the stain of original sin and the prospect of suffering an eternity in fiery hell eviscerates the entire notion of personal responsibility for thoughts and deeds and reduces us to the status of lab rats in quest of the food pellet of salvation.
I concur with Nietzsche that selbstuberhebung — self-overcoming — is the only path worthy of the seeker. The brave soul wants no set of spoon-fed ethics but welcomes those which life has instructed are valid. No excuses for missteps. No devil really made me do it. I chose my path and, whatever ill resulted, is mine to own. Not to share with priests or some bearded deity in the sky. The only remission is living a better life in the future.
And here is where this week’s final beef with Christianity comes in. I reject those who preach — through every available means possible — that to be human is to be irretrievably flawed and that through our own efforts we can never attain a virtuous life or, of equal importance, create a more virtuous collective existence. This message is nothing more than a fraud perpetrated by those who seek to control through cynical manipulation of concepts like sin, shame, and eternal rewards and punishments.
McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.