MANNERS AND SPIRITUALITY
Last month I wrote about trendy atheism and mentioned concerning the abuse some believers can throw at unbelievers. Actually one doesn’t need to be an atheist to experience what the unbelievers complain about. Even my (essentially Christian) Lennon articles (April and May archives)not apparently seen as religious enough prompted an incredible tirade I didn’t publish in Comments but which included such lurid observations as: "Where will you go after that carcass of yours hits the ground and you are buried in a grave 6ft under. You don’t really care now eh? One day you will care and like those others screaming in hell for mercy, your time will come and when it does come, don’t say you haven’t been warned...you just didn’t want to believe your place, sir, is in the Lake of Fire with all unbelievers and heathen…...” The correspondent, at a guess from the American South, unlike some more truly religious individual didn’t say he would pray for my supposed blindness but merely “pitied” my madness and delivered his warnings - with doubtless some of the Schadenfreude atheist Dawkins noted of such persons.
While most Christian bad manners I’m familiar with are a bit more subtle they’re still ghastly enough to be memorable. But before giving examples let’s be absolutely clear why the matter should receive serious attention and isn't mere gossip.
In the best of all possible worlds Christians, especially in any representative, influential positions, should function as some kind of example or “witness” trying to practice the presence of God and/or attempting to perceive Christ in others. If they can’t do that, and obviously we can’t all be saints, they can at least express the generosity and concern implied by good manners. Courtesy should be (as in Buddhism) regarded as an aspect of spirituality itself. Failure to display good manners (which is a failure in sensitivity hence to “do as you would be done by” or to be “meek”) is openly criticized, not just born in silence by Jesus - vide his dealings with Simon the Pharisee who omitted to offer customary greeting dignities (Lk. 7:45). Moreover to the extent you hurt, offend and let others down you're requiring them to be half saints in the constant forgiving process you impose on them if they are not to become embittered.
In the last two centuries the notion of good manners as basically Christian owes something to Cardinal Newman and his Christian Gentleman ideal. Today, simple courtesy is less and less in evidence among Christians and I’m not referring to obvious cases like Bishops inexcusably turning away at their convenience from the distress of those who have suffered clergy sexual abuse and the like. It’s a whole wrong (unregenerate?) mindset one encounters again and again.
GOOD SAMARITANS IN REVERSE, AUSTRALIAN STYLE
Recently I’ve been in touch with a post grad student leaving China for studies in Australia who needed connections for his arrival in the new country. It chanced too he’d been developing an interest in Christianity, a reason he’d been keen to re-establish contact with an old school friend who converted to the faith after arriving in Australia a decade before. This lady appeared happy to help the student/immigrant settle in offering to let him spend the first few days at her home.
A week before he was due to leave she decided this was inconvenient unless for one night. Emphasizing the point she made no effort personally or through friends to collect her friend at the airport thus costing the not wealthy student hugely in taxi fares to reach her home. When she took him out for his first meal in a foreign land (he’d only ever left China briefly once and not to Australia) her way of treating him was to make him pay for both of them. Her alternative to the promised free home stay was to book him some inconveniently expensive accommodation the student was too weary and jet lagged to resist. This woman’s bullying of work subordinates of the Melbourne university with which she’s associated (and whom she might have used to help the student) was noted. She didn’t assist the visitor to find accommodation – she could at least have directed him to some Chinese community papers and centres in Melbourne – but when he did track down what some of us felt was a bargain she could only sneer he’d found somewhere too dear. As though she herself had not been the main cause of his expenses since arrival. And of course this woman didn’t offer to take her guest to any church.
Such a person shouldn’t be dealing with any student’s welfare and shouldn’t hold membership in any church when their conduct would fit a good Samaritan in reverse. I imagine this woman originally adopted Christianity because she saw it could serve some personal advantage as an immigrant. The tale doesn’t end here:
I spent hours on the Net and phone trying to sort out the mess the lady’s unreliability occasioned and found other Christians no more helpful. Before the student left China I thought I’d discovered a good church associated hostel in an ideal area and rang for details. No one was available so I recorded a message. Still receiving nothing after several hours I sent an email and recorded another message to draw attention to the email. Three days later I received a crazy response inquiring did I still want the requested details because as I hadn’t rung back again that was doubted. I emailed saying of course I still wanted answer to my original queries as there was someone who needed cheap accommodation and could use somewhere church associated. I’ve never received a reply. What efficiency and concern (or intelligence?) does that represent? (Let’s not even speak of evangelical concern. That would be beyond the pale but if the religion wants to increase numbers it doesn’t have people running it to help the aim).
THE RUDENESS OF THEOLOGIANS AND WRITERS IN RELIGION
Several years ago when I met the late Robert Funk of The Jesus Seminar with the almost psychic reactions I sometimes have I recoiled from what felt like a vibe of unacceptable coldness and arrogance. I considered this exceptional but it’s my experience theologians are too often either pompously imposing on those around them or unnaturally defensive as though people are a threat to them or the church. One American Methodist theologian I haven’t personally met but who’s obviously ultra-defensive has a busy blog where at one time he actually posted his own Ten Commandments for those presuming to write to him! Not surprisingly quite a few of his Blog communications are reverent thanks and praise items.
You can’t communicate with this person unless publicly in message to his Blog as he supplies no contact I’ve found even through his college in the normal way. But I did discover a hotmail address established for contact regarding a debate he would be having this April with a church leader on gay issues. I wrote there a month in advance. I recommended looking at my article What’s Missing from the Church Gay Debate (March archive) and mentioned my A Special Illumination book (relevant for study of gay theories and theologies) though also honestly mentioning that this wasn’t the sole or even most important issue I wished to be in contact about.
I assume that using this hotmail address when I wouldn’t be attending the debate contravened one of this person’s 10 Commandments - or even a new eleventh. Anyway, I've never received one line of acknowledgement. OK...one can’t respond to every message (would I care to myself?) and it’s possible the message was a victim to spam deletes. However....this was a temporary address with a specific theme I wrote into. And this ultra busy blogger, long text author of everything would be the last person to be too inhibited by work loads to supply a sentence. Plus the relevance of my message as an expert in gay issues in religion would place more obligation than for some messages. What looks like an insult probably was. If so it’s no exception in theological circles and I’m even used to it whether for myself or others.
For example, there’s an American divinity college that teaches in my specialized line that neither I nor and another Australian theologian have managed to receive a response from, though they could well organize their courses around our books. That in itself is possibly a reason to ignore us, though numbers of people suggest it’s more likely that not being Americans in America is enough to be dismissive of us, so that we’re victim of a kind of “can any good thing come out of Galilee?” attitude which especially Christians should avoid. Whatever the cause omissions of this kind throughout America to acknowledge or assist have contributed to my and the other theologian’s problems with publishing, media, our studies, our work and just about everything. Whatever precisely is involved indifference, resentment, sometimes the plain lies of Christians (as mentioned in Part Two) makes an incredible picture.
However as regards indifference one will find the same from Christian writers including such as a leading one on spiritual issues otherwise full of sympathy for those “disappointed with God” and suffering various problems. His writing sounds great and is widely praised but one wouldn’t need to be disappointed with the author himself. I wrote him some insightful comments on his themes and also described some of my own problems which common politeness or concern might have answered however briefly. In this instance I couldn’t write to him directly.
The contact link from his website provides no (direct and personal) address - but shouldn’t a writer of helpful books wish to give help as part of his vocation? He is published by (the Murdoch owned) Zondervan Press who in their controlling way don’t want the hoi polloi to contact authors unless positively. With artificiality and arguably total disregard for religious and spiritual integrity in these matters, Zondervan Press, to whom their author links you, censors out difficulty by telling people to write to their authors saying how they inspired you. (American positive thought!) Hopefully you’d do that if you were inspired; but what sort of Christian organization is this so sold on the publicity set up? (Indeed what sort of Bible selling Christian organization is so remote from movements of the Spirit that in its worldly, commercialized way it can’t be approached except through agents and in line with the whole scheme of dismissive American competitive values?). And what sort of Christian author even if he disliked my message - it was hardly unflattering and unsupportive - would not bother for one line of acknowledgement or encouragement to another writer?
Perhaps the fact I deal with a whole variety of difficult subjects including gay theology is a grounds to throw me to outer darkness without normal attention to manners (though if I really do profile as “the enemy” that should be an opportunity to love one’s enemies!). On the other hand honesty requires me unchauvinistically to admit that those of the alternative world aren’t notably better. While I’ve had the support of some within it, on the whole I couldn’t associate many among such as gay Christians with any better behaviour - if anything they’ve repeatedly let me down. One of England’s leading gay Christian groups several times promised to review material of mine and again that of the gay theologian already mentioned but never after several reminders and 18 months delivered on the explicit promises and never promoted our groundbreaking material so much as to put our books in their lists on the Net. One of America’s leading Catholic gay writers himself flatteringly written about in my A Special Illumination was so unsupportive he had no more to say to me than to suggest I order his latest book from Amazon, a rudeness almost breathtaking.
All I can say is it’s as well I’m not a person to judge philosophies by their practitioners or I would have no faith at all. I certainly haven’t been “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. It’s doubtful most Christians I’ve met would even grasp what being any witness might mean…...
(In Part Two I’ll look at the strange manners of Christian Journalists, Publishers and others and draw conclusions)