Forgive them, they know what they do

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

AKMA wrote a response to my recent Shinto Commandments, in addition to Joi Ito’s writing, and Jonathon Delacour’s commentary on what we discussed.

AKMA is a Minister and a Professor of Theology. More than that, he is a Christian. He wrote:

Among the things I stand for is the premise that the God about whom Scripture and the saints have taught me is God, not in a perspectival or contingent way, but in a thorough, undeniable, absolute way. Not ‘among other gods,’ though I see the interest and functionality of a polytheistic world. I just don’t inhabit a world like that, and it would be false politeness for me to pretend otherwise. That doesn’t mean I want to stamp out other people’s ways of believing, or legislate against them, or get into condescending arguments with them; it just means that so far as it’s given me to know things, I know the God of Abraham to be God in a unique way.

AKMA could not write anything else, not without bringing into question his own beliefs and the Truth behind them, as he knows it. Belief is an all or nothing proposition – if you believe in God in a certain way, no matter how much you respect that others may not agree, you still have to believe your own truth is the Truth. You internalize as fact that there is only one God, and for AKMA, this is the Christian God.

I can understand this. To me, the key difference between AKMA and the “There is only one God and my God is the only right God” that Joi discussed is that AKMA does not insist others believe as he does. He respects each of our right to develop our own Truth, even if it doesn’t agree with his. My interpretation of his writing is that he doesn’t need others to believe as he does to bolster his own sense of what’s Truth. We don’t have to share beliefs to talk, or to co-exist.

At an intellectual level, I can identify with this, but I can also see a breakdown at a more emotional level – if our belief is Truth, then our belief is also Right, and that means all other beliefs are Wrong. Therein likes the conundrum: belief is both an intellectual and an emotional investment; once conversation, or other action, leaves an intellectual plane for an emotional one, a fundamental sense of rightness about one’s beliefs and sense of God or Gods are very much a part of the equation.

In AKMA’s comments, Jonathon acknowledges an individual’s sense of religous Truth, but he also sees the conundrum:

If the God of Abraham is God in a unique way, how are we to regard the other Gods that are worshipped by billions of non-Christians? If the Christian God is God in “a thorough, undeniable, absolute way”, does it follow that these other Gods are partial, questionable, and relative?

Clearly this cannot be resolved by suggesting that all religions share an underlying belief in the same God (or all paths lead to the same destination) since I suspect this propostion would please hardly anyone – apart from myself and a few others.

AKMA wrote something further in his essay, which I think goes to the heart of discussions of this nature, not only online but elsewhere. He wrote:

First, let me note that I am who you’re talking about. I may not agree with everyone to whom you’re referring — surely, surely, surely not with Roy Moore — but I want to make the discussion personal, so that people don’t feel as though they’re deriding an abstract, absent buffoonish blob. In that blob, you’ll find me, doing what I can, standing up as best I can for that which is true.

I respect, admire, and learn from much that some non-Christian traditions manifest and teach. I have no interest in making other people accede to my faith if they don’t acknowledge its truth. That’d amount to more of the haranguing, bullying, arm-twisting, behavior of which the world has seen more than enough. Nor do I write this in order to extract apologies from people who may think they’ve offended me (anyone who’d care enough to worry is someone I already like enough to expect they meant no offense, so there’s no need, honest). I write this because sometimes it seems as though anyone who holds a position such as mine can safely be dismissed as an arrogant, intolerant imperialist; and I hoped to make sure that someone who wanted to hold to that assessment knew to include me therein.

(emphasis mine)

Jonathon responded with Although my natural inclination is to apologize for any offense I’ve given you, I’d rather trust that I fall into the category of those whom you already like enough to realize that no offense was intended. Unlike Jonathon, my first reaction was not to apologize when I read the highlighted sentence. But I was confused by it.

Was the very fact that I did not feel worried enough of what I wrote to think of apologizing to AKMA mean that I’m not the type of person that AKMA would like anyway? Intellectually, I read this as nothing more than AKMA’s assurance that he wasn’t personally offended by anything we wrote, and that wasn’t the reason for his own essay. Emotionally, though, my interpretation gets a bit murkier.

Consider the original circumstances: I did not see my writing in the original essay as a condemnation of Christians, generally, or AKMA specifically. I am writing Truth and to me this Truth is that regardless of any person’s belief, there must be separation of Church and State in this country. I also wrote that if this separation is enforced in Alabama, then it must be enforced universally and consistently across the country; otherwise the act is hypocritical. If I condemned anything, it was this hypocrisy, and Moore’s own religious bigotry, which he tried to enforce using his secular position.

Reading Joi’s and Jonathon’s essays, and comments with each, I could see no overall condemnation of Christianity, but I’m not sensitive to this as an issue. To me criticism of religious fundamentalism is not the same as criticism of religion – but again, who am I to judge?

I can understand AKMA’s interest in putting a face to Christianity in these discussions. However, as we’ve seen in the past, it is the very act of stripping away the abstract, of making these discussions personal, that tips them over the side of the intellectual plane, where conversation can occur, and into the emotional one where Right and Wrong hold sway.

I will think on this discussion the next time I write about religion, and I will be writing about religion again because it’s becoming more and more core to our politics in this country and the world. As someone who cherishes AKMA and calls him “friend”, I will reflect on AKMA being Christian and what he wrote this weekend. However, as a writer my reflection will be momentary, an imperceptible pause in my writing, because my belief, my Truth if you will, allows me no more than that.

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