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5/22/2005 12:57:00 PM | Andrew Seal

The Invasion of the Bible Thumpers

The latest installment in the NY Times’ rather topical, mostly less than insightful mini-series on class in America is about evangelical Christians who are staking their claim on the Ivy League. As I read it, I reacted with a mix of dread and bemusement.

But then I got to thinking about that reaction. I started to question what precisely it is that has given me such a distaste for the evangelical brand of Christianity. I don’t really like zealotry period, but I tend to accept it or at least laugh at it when it comes from the secular left. “Oh, those anarchists, they’re so naïve!”

Maybe it’s that I resent partykillers. Maybe I just mind the impenetrably holier-than-thou attitude, which amounts to barely disguised condescension and blatant intolerance. But then I turned that accusation back on myself. Those were exactly the reactions I have to evangelicals. Forcing tolerance on the intolerant is no more ethically valid than forcing abstinence on the horny, even under liberal values.

But what really gets me about evangelicals is that proselytizing takes total precedence over social action. Perhaps to them, proselytizing is social action—it certainly is to Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. But how constructive is that? I don’t think very. (I acknowledge that many evangelical churches do have soup kitchens or other things, some with no strings attached, but for the most part, their mission is to save your soul, not fill your stomach.)

To me, faith is equivalent to love, and the best kind of faith is not coerced or obligatory. Faith, like love or freedom or virtue, is voluntary. And the only way, I believe, to make the choice for faith—of any sort—in democracy, in Allah, in Jesus Christ, in tomatoes—is to make the conditions available wherein a fully voluntary choice may be made, where someone can praise and love the object of their faith with an unburdened heart.

The adage “If you want peace, work for justice” can be restated: “If you want faith, work for justice.” Rather than attempting to turn all of us "heathens" into abstemious, clean-mouthed, desireless genuflectors, go save a country. Go lobby your Congressperson to stop genocide. Go donate that money to a real charity. Don't wave your cross in my face, help the poor.



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