January 9, 2009

More on superficial spirituality in our culture

Thinking about people misusing faith, I am struck by a couple of links today.

James Fallows notes a disturbing trend of President's ending every speech with "May God Bless America" and comments that it was not always so.
"But then Ronald Reagan began using the phrase to mean 'The speech is over now,' and ever since then politicians have seemed afraid not to tack it on, perhaps out of fear that we'll have the aural equivalent of phantom-limb pain if we don't hear the familiar words."
It still strikes me as odd that conservative Christians claim to be persecuted when the powerful all go out of their way to be the most Christian.


Then, we find that Joe the Plumber simply will not give up the stage. I will say this for the man. He makes Sarah Palin look positively intellectual. Good old Joe is going to Israel to report on the war, because, as he put it, we "aren't getting the real story," or something to that effect. As Jon Stewart noted last night, Joe is hard at work trying to prepare, you know, learning "how to pronounciate some of the names." No, that is not a typo.

But this was my favorite part:
Wurzelbacher said he was not concerned about heading into a warzone for a 10 days.

'Being a Christian I'm pretty well protected by God I believe. That's not saying he's going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance,” he told WNWO."

See, that is the problem with all the people suffering in the world. They aren't Christian so God doesn't protect them.

I am with Jon Stewart. Can't Joe just GO AWAY? Now.



Evil Jungle Curry said...

Hi, Streak,

I am interested in your articulation of "misusing" faith.

Superficial spirituality I am quite familiar with. Actually, that's something that I think I've engaged in from time to time, and am most uncomfortable with myself when I've done that.

I am not certain, however, that I understand what you mean when you speak of "misusing faith."

In your eyes, what would be an appropriate usage of faith?

Is your discomfort more with their faith, or the expression of it?

What does it look like when *you* misuse your faith, or is that something that only the them do?

I'm asking sincerely, without wax, and not baiting or trolling--I was just struck by the phrase of "misusing faith," and thought to explore my discomfort.

Streak said...

My discomfort with misusing spirituality is an athlete who assumes that they are good at their sport because God favors them. Or that Joe the Plumber believes that being a christian will protect him.

Do I misuse my faith? I don't know. Perhaps. I think the way I define it is that people assume that their beliefs, fears, biases, and desires are those of God. Perhaps I do that at times when I believe that God too wants peace and tolerance. Perhaps I can step into a place of arrogance where I assume that God agrees with me.

I try not to. I don't assume I succeed.

Bootleg Blogger said...

Streak, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you are using "faith" less as the strict, narrow definition and more in a broader sense that is more a synonym for "religion" or "beliefs"(?),

At this point, what does "God bless America" mean? It's a statement, not a request so I guess it's ok to tell god what to do? Listen to the song of the same title.

Joe makes no sense. What good is protection if it won't stop a mortar? Are you protected or not? I guess the guys coming back in coffins or with injuries weren't christian enough? I'm confused.

I may run with the wrong crowd, but the people I've encountered on my journey that have been the most "faithful" or have emulated the teachings of Jesus the most to my observation have seldom been the most successful people in the world by just about any conventional measuring method. Most of their lives, ironically, have been full of what I would consider hardships, tragedies, and even persecution. Regardless of their religious category they've been wonderful, caring, and generous people. They also tend to be quieter about their beliefs and less arrogant about knowing exactly what god wants for everyone.

To further pick on the previous Tebow example, could the mixture of a number of factors such as our liberal, constitutional democracy with a strong rule of law, public schools with athletic programs, a public infatuated with college sports, and an individual with a strong work ethic and great genetics could have as much or more to do with his athletic success as god?

Misuse of faith- probably a broad topic for discussion, but I'd sure include using religion or religious speech as a marketing tool, equating material and professional success as indicators of god's favor, and any implication that lack of "success" indicates a lack of god's favor.

Anyway- starting to ramble-BB

leighton said...

I'm kind of tired of hearing about Wurzelbacher too, but it doesn't seem reasonable to expect an attention whore to do something other than attention whoring when he can make a living at it. I'm a little frustrated at his conservative media enablers, but more frustrated at mainstream news outlets who seem to think covering a long-failed campaign prop is more important than, say, probing the Federal Reserve's refusal to disclose how they chose the four firms who will be handling the government's toxic mortgage acquisitions.

Not a person of faith here, so I don't think it's useful for me to guess whether there are proper vs improper uses of faith; but maybe an alternate phrasing that would avoid hot-buttons is "use of unhelpful or destructive religious language." I'm sort of sympathetic to Ed Hirsh's idea that a national religion can serve as social lubrication by providing essentially meaningless platitudes for people to affirm (e.g. it might be okay that "God bless America" as used by the overwhelming majority of politicians doesn't actually mean anything more than "You may clap now"). But there have been so many powerful groups over the years that read our banal deistic invocations as affirmations of their specific approach to matters of conscience over against citizens who under law are coequal participants in the Republic, that I also wonder whether this ceremonial deism might not be doing more harm than good in places.

Streak said...

Bootlegger, I think you are right. Reminds me of the Thomas of Assisi line about preaching the Gospel at all times, "if necessary, use words." While I am unsure about the preaching, I am quite confident that I am more impressed with those who treat others with respect and dignity and compassion, and not with the braying asses like Joe the Plumber.

Leighton, that may be the best point about this guy yet. You are exactly right. Why expect a media whore to do anything different? And the media responds because they have no principles about what constitutes news, but are only concerned about what sells. Whores covering whores, you might say. Jon Stewart had a bit on the other night about media coverage of the living Presidents getting together, and the media could only talk about what they ate, and what color tie each wore. Of course, just the other day the media obsessed over the food choices for Sasha and Malia.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

Oh, come on now. Everyone knows that bad things never happen to Christians and that the baddest stuff only happens to atheists.

We're talkin real world here, Streak!

Streak said...

Paul, you may be right. :)