Two stories caught my attention this week as I was contemplating all things theological. Having a newborn will do that to you. My son is ten days old and is already giving his mother fits playing the only power card in his 7 pound existence. He refuses to breastfeed. He cries because he’s hungry and in a fit of stubbornness normally reserved for Cold War negotiations, he refuses to latch on. It’s difficult to remember that his cute face and adorable smile (or is it gas?) shares with the rest of the human race the same depraved nature. My son is warped. Left on his own, he will be self-centered, foolish, and vicious. No amount of practice, guidance or teaching, will ensure he doesn’t become this way. I hear the echoes of the garden and the curse in my son’s cries. This is the state of us all: warped and incapable of making ourselves right.
I was thinking about all of this, when I happened upon the story of A.J. Jacobs and his experiment in living biblically. It seems Mr. Jacobs, editor for Esquire and a self-professed agnostic decided to go on a spiritual journey by attempting to follow all the commands of the bible for one year. The Today show had him, on the subway, in his clothing that was carefully not made of mixed fibers playing an honest-to-goodness lyre and singing psalms with what looked like a 6 month growth that actually made me have beard envy. When asked what was the hardest part about living biblically, his answer was obeying the commandments against coveting and bearing false witness. While still professing to be an agnostic, but more open minded after a year of living biblically, Jacobs explained that he was enlightened by the experience but was glad to go back to his normal life.
Now I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know the details. What I saw in his face was a sort of cynical exasperation at the thought of trying to fulfill all the requirements of biblical holiness and a smile that betrayed the fact that his project might have changed his daily life but didn’t change his heart. He left me with a kind of sad hopefulness. Sad at his exasperation and hopeful that he might find some answers. I was reminded of Paul’s lament:
Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)
And how sad it would have sounded if he had left it at that and had not added:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!.” (Romans 7:25)
Which brings me to the second story of Ann Coulter and her incredibly ham-fisted attempt to explain what Christians believe about other religions—specifically Judaism. When asked by Donnie Deutsch of the “Big Idea” what her idea of a perfect America, she responded:
It would be like the Republican National Convention in 1994: They were all happy, Christian, and tolerant.
Deutsch responded incredulously:
We should all be Christians?
The thought that anyone would want the whole country to share a single worldview, apparently to Deutsche was akin to asking if yellow-cake uranium should be sold at K-Mart. Coulter went on to say that Jews needed to perfected and that Christianity was the short-cut to salvation like “Federal Express.” Yeah. That’s what Paul meant when he said:
For it is by grace you are saved, and not of yourselves but it is a gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But what I found incredibly annoying is how she was branded an anti-Semite for suggesting that Jews should give up their religion and become Christians. Deutsch went so far as to talk about her view in the same breath with that of the president of Iran Ahmadenajuad (I protest his fascism by refusing to learn to spell his name) who wants to wipe Israel off the map. What Coulter should have done after the uncomfortable commercial break, was to distinguish from religion and race. Christians want everyone to become Christians—that’s the great commission, but what we don’t ever subscribe to is the idea that someone’s race makes them “less perfected.” What Coulter meant was lost in haze of bad theological explanation of the kind that none-the-less will sell copies of Coulter’s new book.
The truth is that the idea that those who believe they are right want everyone else to share that belief only gets apoplectic angst when Christians do it. When Richard Dawkins says that religious people are definitely stupid and possibly wicked and that the world would be so much better without religion, he is in fact engaging in the very same dogmatic, narrow-minded recommendation that Coulter is, only he isn’t on the business end of very many prominent newspaper op-ed pieces. If Coulter is guilty of diabolical elitism then so is every vegan, politico, P.E.T.A. and Greenpeace protester, and yes your friendly neighborhood militant atheist. Evangelism isn’t about Fed-exing ourselves to God but neither is it about elitism. Everyone is warped. Christ didn’t come to make bad people good, he came to deliver each of us from the warped character that beats in our hearts from the moment we are severed from our umbilical cord. And our desire that everyone become Christians isn’t born of bigotry or bad theology. It’s born of compassion and love.
Coulter’s comments aren’t diabolical because coercing people to be Christians isn’t so much immoral as impossible—about as impossible as trying to live up to all the commands of a holy God even for a year. There is no Fed-Ex fast track to God, there is no track period. There is only acceptance, a giving up of all our efforts. The world is changed one heart at a time giving in to the invitation of Christ and that has nothing to do with a Fed-ex or growing a beard and playing a lyre.