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Dec  2017 26
The Christian War on Christmas

Editor's Note: During this week of Christmas we re-visit one of President Gary Pelsuo-Verdend's previous blog posts.

"Love came down at Christmas

Love all lovely, love divine,

Love was born at Christmas…”

Christina Rossetti

 “God is love” 1 John 4:8

 “Perfect love casts out fear” 1 John 4:18

At the core of the Christian faith, in its heart of hearts, is the claim that God is love, that love is the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe because the Creator is love. That was an audacious claim in the first century of the Common Era, and if anything, the audacity of that claim has grown in subsequent centuries.

As humankind learns more about both the human brain and the Big Bang, claiming that love is the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe can seem like nonsense. Where is love found in the brain?

Maybe love is only a false name for a hit of oxytocin or vasopressin. Where is love found in the Big Bang, in dark matter and black holes and in the power of billions and billions of stars?

Any claim about the power of love is nonsense if there are not persons and communities that practice—that relate to themselves and others with—love. The Christian claim that God is love must be backed with Christian practice to avoid the charge of being labeled “nonsense.”

This Christmas, the gulf between Christian claims about love and Christian practice regarding love seems to be wider than in some years.

I think the real war on Christmas is being waged by Christians who claim Christ and live in and from fear and righteous hatred rather than in and from love.

Fear. Fear. Fear. You know those experiments where scientists implant a probe in the pleasure center of a rat’s brain, the rat hits a lever to activate the probe, and the rat keeps hitting the lever until the poor critter passes out?

Well, I swear we in the U.S. have people running for high offices who have implanted probes in the reptilian layers of our brains and are activating the probe again and again and again and again.

  • “Terrorists!” Action: Shield us from Muslims.
  • “Illegals!” Action: Build a longer wall.
  • “Mass shooting!” Action: Arm the whole population (gun sales are SOARING).

I grew up with fear. I remember the (now clearly ridiculous) school drills of ducking under our desks or hunkering down along a wall in a school corridor, training for what we would do if the USSR nuked Chicago.

But in the 1960s fear mongers did not have the channels to dial so directly into our reptilian brains as they do today, with our too-ubiquitous devices and screens.

Fear’s sibling is Hate. Create an Other and then hate and rebuke and banish her or him or them. It is the combination of Hate and Fear, often mouthed by those who claim to be Christian, that contributes to my sense that it is Christians who are the biggest threat to Christmas.

There is a war within Christianity for the soul of the faith. On one side of that war is a god who is the distant monarch whose holiness and honor is offended by human misconduct.

This god judges, judges, judges. Patriarchal. Stern. A consuming fire. I acknowledge, you can indeed find that god in the Bible. Those who find that god and claim to be His soldiers or “True Believers” also see themselves as authorized to carry out that god’s judgment, whether through pulpits or through militias. And, yes, one can find versions of that god and those True Believers in other religions.

Then there is that other god one can also find in the Bible. On the other side of the war for the soul of Christianity is the claim that God is love. God is like a loving father and a loving mother. God created human beings to love God, love each other, and care for the creation.

This is not a God without the divine equivalent of anger, but anger as an expression of love differs profoundly from anger as an expression of holy wrath against the evil-doing Other.

One can find a loving God in the Bible who creates a good world, in the compassionate act of freeing slaves from Egypt (yes, mixed in with the god who dealt harshly with the Overlords), in repeated acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, in covenant-making, in prophets of justice, and in the actions and parables of Jesus.

“Love came down at Christmas… Love was born at Christmas,” wrote the poet Christina Rossetti. For the Love side of the battle for Christianity’s soul, Rossetti has it exactly right.

Our interconnected, globalized, single environment, internet-ed world cannot survive well, and certainly cannot flourish, unless Christianity and other global religions evolve in the direction of Love and its siblings—hope, justice, and peace.

So, Christians, what do you think? Were Righteous Hate and Fear born at Christmas, or was Love born at Christmas? Our answer is in our actions.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Creator:Walter Albertin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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