December 27, 2006
Peace on Earth, redux
One cannot help but wonder what Jesus would think of today’s religion that bears his name, let alone the other two monotheistic religions that emerged from his homeland.
Certainly there is no peace on the troubled earth that we call the Holy Land. Nearly a quarter century ago, I produced a television documentary I called “Holy Land, Bloody Ground,” for which I journeyed to the Middle East. If the ground was bloody in 1982, it is saturated in blood today, and all three monotheistic religions have a hand in the carnage.
We kill, they kill, we all kill in the name of God. Christians are squeezed from the birthplace of Jesus by militant Zionist Israelis on one side and Islamic militants on the other. Ironically, Christian fundamentalists are egging this on in hopes that it will trigger the Rapture, when the chosen will have box seats as unbelievers are barbequed by a righteous God.
Not to be outdone, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favors an Islamic version of the End Times in which he nukes Israel and prompts the return of the Mahdi, a prophet of particular importance to Shiites.
In Iraq, devastated by a war prosecuted by right-wing Christian politicians in league with neoconservative Zionists, an Islamic theocracy is likely to result, widening divisions within the region and putting women back in their proper place behind veils and walls.
Even in this country, sometimes cited as the most religious in the Western world, the body of Christ is torn and tossed from one extreme to another.
Episcopalians, a denomination that in my youth was associated with an upper class viewed only from afar, are splitting on the question of homosexuality. To accommodate their homophobia, some American parishes are turning to a Nigerian bishop, the fruit of 19th-century Anglican evangelism in Africa.
In a peculiar religious soap opera, the family of America’s Protestant icon, Billy Graham, is caught up in a bizarre debate over where the esteemed evangelist is to be buried -- although he has not had the good grace to die, bless his heart.
Graham’s son, Franklin, who claims the mantle of evangelist leader but shows none of the compassion or humanity of his father, wants to bury Graham and his wife (also undead) in a strange memorial in Charlotte, N.C., that novelist and Graham friend Patricia Cornwell calls “a mockery.”
It is, indeed, somewhat bizarre, a Disneylike barn and silo where visitors are greeted by a talking cow. Graham’s younger son sides with Graham’s wife, who wants their burial places to be simple graves near their rural home.
This drama is symbolic of what has come upon the Christian faith in this country. Summed up, many modern churches are modeled more closely on Adam Smith than Saint Peter. Franklin Graham is an entrepreneur, in the manner of Jerry Falwell, Billy James Hargis and a host of market-driven preachers. His dad did well financially, but it is extraordinarily hard to imagine him wanting to be remembered by a talking cow.
Oh, I don’t know: after all, he represents a religion whose followers proclaim their faith by wearing an instrument of torture around their necks.
But overall it’s hard to disagree with McKay’s conclusion that the “self-righteous leaders who have sold their birthright for a pittance of political or financial power and who kill in God’s name” are “giving religion a bad name.”
Or, at least, an even worse one.
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