Baggage

In his longish introduction to The Princess Bride, William Goldman sets up the pretense that he didn’t write the novel, that it’s a condensation of a much longer (and really boring) novel by someone named Morgenstern. The book we’re about to read, Goldman assures us, is the thoroughly edited “good parts” version.

Today I’ve been trying to understand the root of my hostility toward Christianity. I generally try to be tolerant, but when I’m in a sour mood I can be quite nasty. Now, I know that many Christians are nice people and have very progressive social views. I applaud their niceness and their progressive views! I’m also aware that many of them would insist that their character and their views arise directly from their religion.

I suppose that’s possible. I suspect that they would be nice people even if they weren’t religious, but I can’t prove it one way or the other.

Be that as it may, I can’t help feeling that their version of Christianity is the “good parts” version. They’re leaving out quite a lot — and not just those vile verses in Leviticus. They’re leaving out the part where people were burned at the stake by the Inquisition, or after being accused of witchcraft. They’re leaving out the part where Christians by the thousands marched off to the eastern end of the Mediterranean and butchered thousands of non-Christians during the Crusades. They’re leaving out the robust support for slavery that was provided by Protestant ministers well into the 19th century. They’re leaving out the way in which the cultures of Native Americans were systematically destroyed because it was felt that the First Nations people had to be forced to become Christian. They’re leaving out the misery of gay teens who are sent off to “reprogramming” camps or simply thrown out of the house and left to live on the street. And probably a few other things too.

The standard response of the modern liberal Christian, when presented with this list of evils, would be something like this: “Oh, but that’s not Christianity! Those atrocities were committed by people who didn’t understand true Christianity at all!” Christ had not entered into their hearts, blah blah blah.

If that’s the case, we’re left to wonder whether Christ is lazy or just hopelessly inept. But I don’t propose to dissect that particular bit of nonsense today. I want to confront the larger proposition.

I’m here to say, no. You don’t get to use the good parts version and ignore the rest of your religion, not when I’m in the room. Those atrocities were committed, in each case, by people who deeply felt that they were motivated by Christian belief — and they were. That’s exactly what motivated them, in each and every case. Their evil is not a separate thing from Christianity; it’s inextricably part of Christianity.

You don’t get to drop your baggage, or cherry-pick. You don’t get to sweep those mountains of evil under the rug. It’s Christianity, every bit of it. If it makes you hideously uncomfortable to recognize that, good! Maybe you’ll learn something.

If I am nothing else, I try to be intellectually honest. I try never to ignore inconvenient facts. The history of Christianity is a fact. You cannot shut the door on it. If you consider yourself a Christian, you own that history.

It might be objected that Christianity in the 21st century is not at all the same religion that it was in the 15th century, or even in the 19th. To a considerable extent that’s true, although festering pockets of Medieval thinking remain. However, this argument utterly fails. Why? Because Christianity began 2,000 years ago. If you’re going to look to an inspiring or supposedly miraculous series of events that took place 2,000 years ago as the fountainhead of the religion that you enjoy today, you can hardly pole-vault over the intervening centuries. Those same events, whatever they were, likewise inspired all of the carnage that spills across the history books.

In a song called “On the Road Again,” Bob Dylan said, “You ask why I don’t live here? Honey, how come you don’t move?” That’s my question for today’s liberal Christians: Why are you still in the church? Why haven’t you turned around and walked out the door? Why haven’t you started looking around for a different religion, a religion for adults? Why haven’t you tossed that dusty old book with the stories about how God commanded the Jews to commit mass murder onto the trash heap, where it belongs?

There are a lot of Christians today — the most vocal members of the fraternity, in fact — who are monstrously evil. We all know it. They promote suffering. They hate people who know how to think. And those are your fellow travelers. They read the same Bible you read. They have the same symbol hanging on the wall (a device the Romans used for capital punishment) that you do. They sing the same songs you sing.

If you hang around with zombies, you’re going to get your brains eaten. Or maybe it’s too late. Have you checked your brains lately?

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