Saving Grace

I’ve been thinking about the latest manufactured outrage over some right-wing commentator — Ann Coulter and her theological debate with Donnie Deutsch — and I have to say I just don’t see the big fuss.

I think I’m in a fairly good position to discuss religion. I’m an agnostic, so I feel I can be fairly objective. I was raised Methodist and have had several devout, fundamentalist Christian friends, so I have a “window” into that viewset. I spent several years deeply involved with a Jewish woman, so I’ve had glimpses into that faith. And as a godless infidel American, I’ve had ample opportunity to learn just what Islam thinks of and wants for me.

During their discussion, Deutsch turned his focus on Coulter’s religious beliefs. And Ann — who was probably surprised to be asked about such intellectual, abstract matters on the home network of Keith Olbermann — responded with the standard Christian answers.

One standard tenet of Christianity is the idea that all people would be better off if they converted to Christianity. In fact, it’s one of the duties of Christians — to bring Christ’s message to as many people as possible. It’s done out of the best of intentions — they believe that those who do not accept Christ are doomed to eternal damnation, and don’t want that to happen to anyone.

Jews have been a thorny issue for Christians for centuries. The core of Christianity is Judaism — the Jewish Bible makes up about half, roughly, of the Christian Bible. Christianity believes that the Jewish Bible is absolutely valid and accurate. Where they split is whether or not Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophesies about the Messiah.

So, to the Christians, the Jewish beliefs are perfectly valid — but incomplete. They need to “perfect” their beliefs to take into account Christ’s role as the Messiah.

But they’re not too pushy about it. Recently, the Catholic Church announced that their theologians had thought about it and yeah, the Jewish Covenant with God was still valid; they did NOT have to accept Christ to make it into heaven.

The sighs of relief of Jews all over the world were palpable.

OK, that’s a bit over the top. The main significance of that was not for Jews’ afterlife, but their present one. That little move stripped a lot of people who had used Catholic doctrine to persecute Jews of that particular facade.

Yeah, it’s not the most obliging belief. But, really, what does it mean in everyday life?

Not a hell of a lot.

I have a very dear friend who is a very devout, very fundamentalist, very evangelical Christian. And I know that — in her heart of hearts — she prays for me to convert to her beliefs, and fears that I’m going to Hell if I die in my current state of grace. (She’s told me as much.) But she does not make that the focus of our relationship (which is this strange sort of half big sister, half surrogate mother sort of thing).

One of the ways Christianity differs from Judaism is their attitude towards evangelism. Christians see it as a sacred duty; Jews see it as just plain wrong. One of my favorite oxymorons is “evangelical Jew.” They not only don’t want to convert you, they don’t want you to convert, either; becoming a Jew when you weren’t born one is WORK. (Take it from someone who once briefly looked into it; I got as far as the “ritual shedding of blood” and said “no, thanks.”)

But back to the point: one of the defining elements of any religion is the belief that your faith is the best, truest way to relate to God. If you don’t believe that about your faith, you’re really not that much of a believer. And of the Big Three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in order of age), the two bigger ones are very much about converting non-believers.

But Christianity has grown considerably less obnoxious about it over the centuries. They no longer actively seek to convert people by force or coercion. Yeah, there are some irritating sorts (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind), but if you don’t want to be a Christian, then don’t be.

And then there’s Islam. It’s the only faith that is still pushing conversion by the sword — witness numerous terrorist videos, where hostages are “asked” to convert to Islam. And it’s the only one that still punishes apostasy — leaving the faith — with actual, temporal consequences, usually death. Witness Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Salman Rushdie.

So, did Coulter really insult Jews by saying she wishes they were “perfected” and brought to Christianity? I don’t think so. That wasn’t her message, it was her response to a question. She is not actively pursuing it, over their wishes and resistance.

Nope, this is pretty much the next phase of Operation Silence The Right, much in the same vein of the attacks on Rush Limbaugh and the “phony soldiers” contretemps (where the attacks required lifting sentences out of context and a bit of interpretation), Bill O’Reilly and his alleged “racism,” Michelle Malkin and her deciding to not simply take Harry Reid’s staff’s word on the Frost family’s status as “SCHIP poster child,” and the revival of the horribly-misnamed “Fairness Doctrine.”

it’s odd. I don’t like Limbaugh, I think O’Reilly is a blowhard and a bit of a modern-day P. T. Barnum, Coulter is a bomb-thrower of the first order and should only rarely taken seriously, and Michelle Malkin seems to almost revel in being a lightning rod. But the principles behind the attacks against them — an attempt to silence folks whose speech makes some people (in my opinion, the “right” people) uncomfortable — is far, far more abhorrent than anything they have said.

And at the core of all these? The usual suspects. George Soros and his network of interlocking organizations. Moveon.Org. Media Matters For America.

Color me unsurprised.

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