I hesitate to write about religion, because my feelings about it change from day to day. I hesitate to offend, although I have been deeply offended.
The first time someone told me I needed to "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour," I was at work. The speaker was a salesperson visiting from another region and we had known each other all of five minutes. I'm not proud of this, but I laughed in her face, but only because my (Jewish) boss came up behind her and had overheard. His jaw dropped in horror and I couldn't contain myself. I couldn't think of a more inappropriate place to be talking about religion.
A couple of years later, a woman in Alabama spoke about God to me, a perfect stranger, assuming that we'd have the same view of things. That time I was able to keep my mouth shut. You see, I was raised to repect religion as a private thing. If you knew someone well enough, you could talk about it, or in the case of my Jewish friends, ask about it, but it wasn't a conversation you had with the stranger on the train.
That's not to say that I object to the prayer that opens Town Meeting or that I'm offended by the Nativity on Boston Common. I think it's a bit sad that my kids won't be taught to sing "The Little Drummer Boy" or "Do You Hear What I Hear?" along with "Jingle Bells" and "Spin the Dreidel" for their Christmas concerts at school. I can accept that Christmas and Easter are woven into the fabric of American life, though I wish that we heard more about Passover and Hannukah.
I was raised Catholic, I'm raising my kids in the Episcopalian church. Both are Christian religions, but I don't feel I can call myself a Christian. And that bothers me.
Because of people like Jerry Falwell, American Christianity has come to stand for a lot of things that are antithetical to the rest of American values; freedom, equality, individual rights, dissenting voices. It has come to stand for hatred, intolerance, manipulation and control, and anti-intellectualism. It reveals the true intentions of religious leaders more concerned with the power of God than the love of God. For all of their attachment to displaying the 10 Commandments in a court of law, they have all but abandoned the teachings of Jesus with regard to loving your neighbor as yourself and caring for the poor (except when it comes to government grants for their churches). More than that, in a weird conflation of Christianity and capitalism known as the Prosperity Gospel, it has become a sin to be poor.
The problem with people like me, who usually keep their religion to themselves, is that we have allowed the word (not to mention the Word) to be co-opted by the loudest and most hate-filled among us, preaching compliance rather than compassion. We've been drowned out by religionists who would have us all marching lockstep to the same simplistic, black and white view of the world. You can hear them marching, can't you? Us. Them. Us. Them. Us. Them. Us. Them.
Now I know that not all Christians are like this. With Falwell gone, it would be nice to reclaim the word "Christian" and refill it with the meanings of compassion and humility. It would be good to reemphasize that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. It would be wonderful to know they are Christians by how they love one another AND everyone else.