This semester, I have tried to focus on the experiences, the feelings, and the values that tie us all together, rather than the beliefs that separate us.
But it seems everywhere I turned last week religion was in my face. Unable to ignore it, I wanted to look at the issue again, not so much with assertions of my own beliefs and biases, but more as a disinterested observer looking for points of commonality.
Fox News set the religious tone for the week, with John Kasich interviewing Brian Flemming Jan. 28. Flemming is co-founder of the online Blasphemy Challenge, in which people deny the existence of God and denounce religion. Kasich accused Flemming of being angry, despite his visibly calm composure and responses. He also accused Flemming of manipulating young people. However, the majority of videos show people in their late teens or twenties; that crowd is usually a little old for manipulation.
The interview ended with Kasich telling Flemming, “But Brian, I hope you turn around.” As if non-belief is an inherently bad thing.
On Tuesday, I watched a new HBO documentary, “Friends of God.” The film was made by Alexandra Pelosi, known for her 2000 documentary “Journeys with George.”
Pelosi visited many major churches, including those of Jerry Falwell, Joel Osteen and Ted Haggard. (The film was completed just days before his admissions of “sexually immoral conduct.”) She talked with people she came across along the way, including a Christian stand-up comedian, attendees of a Christian car show, and a few evangelical “average Joes.”
I was refreshed Pelosi did not try to vilify evangelical Christians. She instead captured them in what I imagine is their essence: Relatively normal people, except they structure their entire lives around Jesus and the Bible.
Wanting to see another angle on evangelicals, I watched “Jesus Camp,” recently released on DVD. The film borders on disturbing because the children are clearly being indoctrinated.
No 10-year-old finds Jesus through his or her own searches and introspection, and with a wider knowledge of the world. To see these kids crying out of their constant need to repent of sins is heartbreaking. What sins do children commit? Perhaps God hates feeding broccoli to the dog at dinnertime much more than I ever suspected.
When the films were over, I came to a shocking revelation: The evangelicals have no interest in compromise. They have an absolute truth, found in the Bible, and use a lot of militant language, particularly “war” and “battle.” They do not like those who question their faith, and simultaneously denounce non-evangelicals, including “traditional” Christians.
On Wednesday, “Nightline” featured a segment on the Blasphemy Challenge. The interviewees asked their location not be revealed, as they had received many death threats for their blunt messages of atheism. Who was the last Christian forced to “hide” for fear of his life?
To end the week, I read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.” He is a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, an evangelical-turned-agnostic through research.
In his studies of early manuscripts – which required he learn both Greek and Latin – he found many were copies of copies of copies of the original manuscripts, and copies of the same passages varied drastically at times. He found many parables were added hundreds of years later, and in at least in one case a millennium.
In short, he concludes the Bible is not the inerrant word of God. The book walked the wide line between the atheist news reports and the evangelical documentaries, offering yet another perspective on Christianity.
I think the absolutism of evangelicalism is dangerous, largely because evangelicals ignore well-established scientific and historical facts to advance their agenda. They take a “with us or against us” mentality, which strengthens their base while alienating non-believers; it may even strengthen the opposition of non-believers.
I understand the need or desire for a higher authority, someone or something to appeal to when we don’t seem to have the answers. For myself, deep introspection usually does the trick; God does it for others.
Last week ended with the realization that God is not the enemy, nor necessarily dangerous. However, we should be wary of the radicalized theology of some of His believers.
Can we all at least agree on that?
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.