Nick Kristof has a piece in today’s New York Times regarding Evangelical Christians and doing good works. While he has the best of intentions, wanting everyone to get along, he gives Evangelical Christians far more credit than they deserve.
Normally when we think of Christians, it’s the jerks, the bigots, the “blowhards” (as Kristof says) who come to mind: Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Mark Driscoll, etc.
Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.
Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.
… But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
I’m curious whether the vocal anti-gay rights Christians are the same ones concerned with obstetric fistula and malaria. My initial reaction is they are two separate, barely-overlapping groups under the gigantic Christian umbrella.
There are a lot of important issues that progressive Christians address — I’m not dismissing that — but we’re not picking on the extremists when we use Falwell and Robertson as Christian spokespeople. Most evangelicals are against equal rights for gay people. Most evangelicals are against a woman’s right to choose. Most evangelicals don’t accept evolution. Most evangelicals would love to see at least a blending of church and state (if not a complete intertwining).
Most Christians care about those issues far more than they do about genocide. (***Edit***: An interesting rebuttal to what I’m saying is here.)
Yes, there are Christians who happen to do incredible things around the world (with and without proselytizing). But you can’t focus on the positive things they do without mentioning how much harm they cause. Kristof hardly mentions how many people are mentally, emotionally, and even physically abused because of their rigid beliefs.
He goes on:
I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
Full disclosure: I don’t go to many New York cocktail parties. Only, like, 2-3 a week.
That said, I doubt anyone is mocking the Christians who try to make the world a better place for everyone. We mock the ones who claim to speak for them. And we mock them as a whole because they believe a god answers their prayers, god’s son died but magically came back to life, and that their holy book is full of wisdom when it’s riddled with monstrosities.
They’ve all done plenty to earn the mockery.
Kristof does make one fantastic point at the end and deserves some credit for it:
Why does all this matter?
Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.
This is the whole crux of the interfaith movement (with input from the non-religious community). There are people who need our help and we shouldn’t let personal biases or religious superstitions stand in the way of that.
It’s nice to see some acknowledgement that non-theistic people are just as likely as religious people to work on humanitarian issues.
But without religion standing in the way, far more people would get the help and support they need.