I'm Angry! We're Persecuted! Read This Column!
My editor on my book Faithful Citizenship ruefully told me that it would sell a lot better if I were throwing bombs, and don't I know it. My most-read column at Patheos, my theological dismantling of Joel Osteen and his prosperity gospel, is also my most-read writing ever. Tens of thousands read it on my old Christian Century blog The Other Jesus, shared it virally on Facebook, or read it in two runs on Patheos, and a big part of that popularity, I fear, is that the column was one of the least-loving and most-assured attack pieces I've ever written.
People read it, most of them having already agreed to agree that we don't like Joel Osteen, and they praised it to the heavens. I got calls from the media, looking for a face-off, a slap-down, wondering if I'd heard back from Mr. Osteen. If I'd written a book on Mr. Osteen adopting this same aggressive strategy, I don't think I would be checking my bank balance with such timidity today.
But on reflection, I don't feel good about even this gently dismissive if theologically-based put-down of another human being and his preaching and teaching.
Although I was an outstanding high school debater and have often appeared on TV and radio as an author and public intellectual, I am not comfortable with our out-shout each other model of public discourse.
I guess it comes down to this: Even when I think they are wrong, I think it is wrong to be anything but loving toward other Children of God.
So what do we do? How do we express ourselves, our theologically-considered beliefs?
And how, simultaneously, can we offer a lifeline across the chasm between left and right, religious and secular?
To start with, let's acknowledge the truth, and our own complicity in it.
Everyone knows our political process is broken. But one of the main reasons our political process is broken is that people like us are unwilling to have conversation, to do the hard work of listening, and to seek compromise that would benefit everyone.
Americans used to be good at that. They did not need to, in today's most important example, threaten to indiscriminately cut our federal budget to get both sides to the table to talk.
They seemed to care more about accomplishing something than about winning partisan battles.
But not any more. January's upcoming "fiscal cliff" requiring across-the-board federal budget cuts will affect us all. So the poor, the elderly, those who are out of work, those driving to work on obsolete bridges, those flying in planes controlled by a deficient FAA, those who pray that they won't get sick, those who wonder how they'll afford college, those who have served our country and deserve top-flight care, those who are now serving our country and deserve state-of-the-art gear—all of us will pay a price if Republicans and Democrats can't reach an agreement.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke last week joined experts who suggest that if we don't reach an agreement, we'll tumble over the fiscal cliff, actually slip out of this weak economic recovery, and into a disastrous recession.
And yet our elected officials continue to shout and throw chairs instead of trying to talk to each other.
And that, actually, makes me angry. Maybe it makes you angry too.
What can we do?
Instead of demanding that our elected officials be ideologically pure on the issues, why don't we demand that they talk to each other, that they do the hard work of governing, that they solve problems instead of making new ones?
Jesus suggested in Matthew 18 that the hard and necessary work of living together in community should take precedence over the issues, over our perceptions of truth, even over our anger or feelings of victimization. He called us to be the bigger people, to reach out, to forgive, not once, but over and over again.
I don't want to do any of that. It's not human nature.
But look where human nature has gotten us.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.