abortion, Bible, catholics, church of christ, coffee, comfy chair, doing good, faith, faith and works, gays, inquisition, jews, missionaries, mormons, presbyterians, salvation, sin, social gospel, un-comfy chair, unitarians
On my rounds putting up concert posters for my choral group, I regularly stop at local churches, synagogues, and coffee-houses. The coffee-houses win the Warm Welcome Prize hands down, but the Presbyterians, Evangelicals, and Church of Christers are close. The Catholics and Jews are ok — locked doors, but, once inside, the reception is reasonably friendly.
The mightiest fortress is the Unitarians. You’d think they were guarding our gold supply. Though it’s just one church, this saddens, but doesn’t surprise me, an erstwhile Unitarian. Unitarianism is a flinty faith, really no faith at all, since human reason is its Bible and skepticism its catechism. No dogma, no saints, but also no heretics. If the Inquisitors had been Unitarians, torture would have been The Un-Comfy Chair.
These are admittedly limited encounters, but could they reflect differing attitudes toward missionizing? Many Protestants are active missionizers. They want to save souls, which starts with a smile, a hearty handshake, and a name badge. Catholics are a little more cautious, perhaps because ethnicity is still an element of the faith (you can convert to Catholicism but not to Irishism or Polishism). Judaism is staunchly non-missionizing. Though you can convert, being a Jew is more genealogy than doctrine. A non-believing Jew is still a Jew. Ask a Cossack.
Unitarians, too, are non-missionizers. Not that they wouldn’t, but that they can’t — no hell to save you from, or heaven to save you for; no Christ to absolve your sins, nor any doctrine of sin from which to absolve you. This was parodied hilariously in a Prairie Home Companion Joke Show: What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Seventh-Day-Adventist? Someone who knocks on people’s doors … for … no … apparent … reason.
I agree with the Unitarian non-theology that considers God unknowable and Jesus simply a great man. Still, self-styled intellectual superiority doesn’t excuse the closed door or the smugness that comes with smashing icons. What’s the matter with a little missionary-brand warmth, even if it’s only, Hi and welcome. I can’t promise you an afterlife of eternal bliss, but how about some heavenly coffee that’ll at least give you a 30-minute buzz.
Though I can’t subscribe to the Biblical God, with or without Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t arbitrarily condemn the faiths founded thereon. What real difference does it make what you believe, as long as you act rightly?
Take Mormonism, for example. What little I know about Mormon theology utterly baffles me. But I have also known and worked with a lot of Mormons, and found them to be good, warm people (though short on the coffee). Because of? In spite of? Who cares?
Religiously-inspired social/political activism is a vital part of doing the right thing. But here, beyond the simple person-to-person imperatives of being loving and kind, peaceful and generous, the question of acting rightly according to one’s religious lights gets complicated.
If the result is the anti-gay efforts of some Evangelicals, the answer seems simple — whatever the Bible may say, being hateful to those who are causing no harm to anyone is wrong. If the result is the anti-abortion stance of the Catholic Church, answering the question — Which is the greater act of love and kindness, protecting a mother’s life (in all the meanings of “protection” and “life”) or that of an unborn child? — is anything but simple. Nonetheless, the criteria are still: whatever dogma may say, is the deed loving, kind, peaceful, and generous?
Even an unbeliever like me sometimes longs for a Judgment Day, when the sorting would stand, not on whether Jesus saved you or you made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but whether (and to paraphrase a saying my mother stuck on the fridge), you have done something good for someone who will never be able to repay you. Otherwise, the wages of being non-loving, non-peaceful, and unkind — especially to someone who is in a position to repay you — may be … well, just ask the guy on the right.