This post is in response to an article published on Steve’s blog. I started to write in the comments section and ended up writing too much, so I’ve brought the comment here.
There’s a lot of really good stuff in this article—some great ‘meat’ that’s unfortunately compromised by gristle and bone. I’m sure the author’s intentions were good, and I agree with a lot of his assessment. But the assumptions made here are only caricatures of American Christianity, and seem more like a strange exercise in pious objectification. I think he’s been a bit reckless with the word “we.”
The very notion of “American Christianity” or “American Christians” is a vague abstraction, and is incapable of representing the particular nature of real life and particular real people, each of these being complex and varied. I don’t find it very helpful to reduce millions of very diverse people to a stereotype that represents only the loudest of the bunch, and even then only comprehends a slice of our many-nuanced situation. It’s a good exercise to compare ourselves to other cultures, but it’s important to remember that such comparisons can only go so far. There are very real differences between us that make some things important to address here that aren’t there (whatever they might be). Moreover, while humans are basically the same everywhere on a basic level, we are each fashioned by our society and wind up very, very different. And just as each human has his own sins, each culture has its own weaknesses. It doesn’t seem wise to compare the merits of one against the other.
Just because the American religious climate is drastically less oppressive or violent doesn’t make it any simpler or sillier–just different. What we deal with has an insidious character all its own. Now, there are no excuses that can (or should) be made for not feeding the poor, not evangelizing, not loving enemies, and the various other sins mentioned in this article (which, by the way, all happen in other countries). But saying that we are “wusses” simply because we are fortunate enough to have different issues to address, to me, smacks of the sort of anti-American rhetoric that makes so many people think the Orthodox Church is irrelevant, isolationistic, and contemptuous. Calling such people names—those who are navigating the cultural milieu they’ve inherited best they know how—is itself a distraction from the work of the gospel and the sort of preaching that is most effective in changing lives, and awakening the sleepers.
Yes, some American believers get up in arms about pointless minutiae. But not all. And it’s worth noting that sometimes today’s minutiae are the first grains of tomorrow’s landslide. I’m not saying everything some American Christians fight for is necessary or helpful. What I am saying is that it’s not always so easy to tell what is and isn’t important. It’s rather a human problem to be weak and limited in understanding, don’t you think? My feeling is that our default position should be compassion—the truth spoken in love. But for me, this post misses the mark in that regard. The way it is written, ironically, sounds a bit like the bully attitude the writer protests, and not enough like the rebuke of a friend that yields repentance.
Are we meant to be passive victims at the secular world’s hands? As much as I’d like to think that’s how all the saints and martyrs actually handled themselves, the Synaxarion begs to differ. Just for instance–didn’t the martyr Paul file a lawsuit based upon his rights as a Roman citizen? Haven’t there been other saints and martyrs who didn’t behave like sweet little lambs, docilely accepting maltreatment? I don’t have time to drudge up a bunch of examples at the moment (though there were some recent ones from the Synaxarion readings—Bassa of Edessa destroying the idol of Zeus comes to mind). But they’re there. Sometimes standing up for the truth looks a lot more like turning over tables and fashioning a whip than serenely taking one on the chin. Though it’s not always easy to know what exactly that means. Life is complex. Following God in this complex life isn’t any easier.
I’m glad that the writer addressed these issues. I just wish his timbre and approach had been different. I think we need to be very careful to not sound like the man who came to my university campus every year with his giant placards pointing out everyone else’s sin, calling names and stirring up anger. If he loved us, it wasn’t obvious. I think it should be.