When your religion and moral code collide


In the spirit of this new series of columns I've launched on the need to listen to each other more (and yell less), I wanted to highlight this fine piece in the New York Times about those evangelical Christians who are now finding themselves wondering whether their religious movement is tainted by its support for men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

Yes, it's tempting to sneer. I know. I am not religious. Especially not Christian. And among all Christians, I find evangelicals the most difficult to not lose patience with. I realize I'm generalizing when I say this, but if you're going to start a conversation with a sincere belief that Jesus Christ is not only a real person (and real god) but also your very own personal friend and saviour, I really don't have much to say. Congratulations?

I find most religious beliefs simplistic and - how to put this delicately - amazingly self-serving. You can find just about anything in there to justify whatever you already thought of doing. You see this sometimes when people argue back and forth citing the same holy book at each other until they can't continue anymore, like exhausted jousters whose holy lances had finally come to rest against each other, unable to make another move.

That doesn't mean religious people are bad, far from it. A great many of them are admirable, and lead exemplary lives. There are immensely more good deeds performed in the name of religion than bad ones. There are also good deeds performed in the name of no religion, and bad deeds ditto. That's because people are the ones doing the deeds, and people use whatever justification they want to do their thing. You don't need religion to be good. And it's not because your religion is infiltrated by, erm, let's call them "deplorables", that you're necessarily in the same basket. But let's just say staying too close to bad people lets outsiders think you're one of them, too.

Back to the evangelicals in that Times piece. You can see they're struggling. White evangelicals overwhelmingly support guys who have no moral claim on political authority. And that's a problem.

The editor in chief of Christianity Today did not have to wait for the votes to be counted to publish his essay on Tuesday bemoaning what the Alabama Senate race had wrought.

Whoever wins, “there is already one loser: Christian faith,” wrote Mark Galli, whose publication, the flagship of American evangelicalism, was founded 61 years ago by the Rev. Billy Graham. “No one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”

The sight of white evangelical voters in Alabama giving their overwhelming support to Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate, despite accusations of racial and religious bigotry, misogyny and assaults on teenage girls, has deeply troubled many conservative Christians, who fear that association with the likes of Mr. Moore is giving their faith a bad name. The angst has grown so deep, Mr. Galli said, that he knows of “many card-carrying evangelicals” who are ready to disavow the label.

The evangelical brand “is definitely tarnished” by politicization from whatever side, Mr. Galli said on Wednesday. “No question about it.”

These are people who are trying to do good and be good, and who are having trouble reconciling their faith with their politics. As someone who's neither a Christian nor a Trump supporter, I have a good bit of trouble not rolling my eyes. Like, man, you're just starting to see this as a problem? Yeesh. It's been obvious a while...

But like I said at the top, in the spirit of this new series, I want to try and be more patient, more open, and give these folks - with whom I have very little in common - a chance to find their way out of this metaphysical mess. They're already going against the majority in their movement, by publicly and openly taking a stand in favour of moral probity over other concerns. The amount of sneering that will help them find that happier place is roughly zero.

So, I say, by all means do that soul-searching. I believe you'll find your way. I'm here if you need to talk.

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