“Counter culture”

“Counter culture” August 31, 2005

Via Atrios, we read this post from Big Brass Blog, who finds a freeper frothing about Sunday's homily. The priest apparently had some kind words for the parents of gay and lesbian children, which doesn't sit well with the freepi.

What caught my eye was the freeper's parenthetical complaint about the theme of the sermon:

During the homily at Mass today, our new priest was preaching about being "counter-culture" (what that had to do with the readings is beyond me), and said that he admires parents of gays and lesbians.

Our neighbor at the freerepublic seems to think that no American Christian ought to be "counter-cultural." He believes, in other words, that American culture is wholly in tune with the Christian Gospel. America is the New Jerusalem, the Millennial kingdom of God in which Jesus sits at the right hand of the president. Rather than being "counter-culture," he believes, Christians ought to conform themselves to this age.

That's precisely the opposite of what Sunday's readings teach:

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

My favorite translation of that passage comes from J.B. Phillips, who renders it: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould." How one could preach a sermon on this text without urging parishioners to be counter-cultural is beyond me.

Right-wing American Christians seem ambivalent about the Gospel's counter-cultural imperative. On the one hand, they seem to regard America as God's chosen nation, a city on a hill. They tend to speak of an undifferentiated "we" that refers to both church and state, and proudly speak of their nation in terms that their scriptures use exclusively for the fellowship of believers. On the other hand, they love to rail against the supposed decline of American morality and embrace jeremiads with titles like "Slouching Toward Gomorrah."

Whether they describe America as Babylon or as the New Jerusalem seems to depend on how you phrase the question. Ask them if America is "good" and you'll get an uncritically patriotic affirmative. Ask them if America is "moral" and you'll get a fire and brimstone warning of the wrath to come.

Anyway, if a single priest's simple expression of admiration for the parents of gays and lesbians causes freepers to flee the pews, just imagine how they'll react to this story: "Maryland religious leaders back gay unions."

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  • grenadine

    I’m pretty sure I’ve got it from context, but… freeper?

  • Aaron

    Read this book – you are bang on your analysis.
    Keep up the great work

  • HP

    Obligatory Simpsons reference:
    Marge: I have a responsibility to raise these children right and, unless you change, I’ll have to tell them their father is… well, wicked.
    Homer: [to Lisa and Bart] Kids, let me tell you about another so-called wicked guy. He had long hair, and some wild ideas, and he didn’t always do what other people thought was right. And that man’s name was…
    Homer: I forget. But the point is…
    Homer: I forget that, too.
    [to Marge]
    Homer: Marge, you know who I’m talking about! He used to drive that blue car.

  • Shadow Wolf

    grenadine: A “freeper” is someone who posts at “freerepublic.com”, a site well-known for the right-wing extremism of its regulars.

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    I have a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance, of the Calvinist persuasion who, due to a fondness in overindulging in right wing talking points, was very big on the whole ‘USA, this Great Christian Nation’ shtick. He was already well read up on the conditions under which the tenets of the Bible justify a violent popular revolt against authority, so I encouraged him to do a little detailed reading regarding the motivations for the American Revolution, perhaps some of the thoughts of those who revolted as put down on paper for posterity (which included him.)
    One of my proudest moments was, a few weeks after undertaking this task, he returned with the absolute declaration that, indeed, this was not a Christian nation, at least as regards the manner in which it was founded or designed. He also began to seriously question whether he would have supported the revolution, but at least now his faith, facts and politics all jive on some level.

  • B-W

    I assume your friend did better research in his “motivations for the Revolution” project than Tim LaHaye did in his book “Faith of our Founding Fathers.”

  • Keith

    I’m always fascinated by the degree to which many Right Noble Christians disdain counter culture lifestyles, as their religion was inspired by a man who was antiestablishment to the extreme, and not only hung out with prostitutes, tax coelctors and the scum of society, but counted these very same scum as the blessed. Which tells me that God kinda likes the Goth kids, the fags, and everyone else they regularly attack out of hand as evil.
    Ever since Christians became the majority, way back int he fifth century, they’ve warped the spirit of the beatitudes until it means th eopposite of what it says: blessed are the warmongers, the rich and powerful, blessed are the corporate stooges, who steal the food form the mouth of the hungry. truly, they are the blessed ones.

  • Rasselas

    Another Simpsons reference seems applicable:
    Homer: “$14.95 for the Bible? What a preachy book! EVERYBODY’s a sinner! Except this guy…”

  • pharoute

    Everyone likes to think that if they were alive when Jesus was (or during the American Revolution) they would be on the right side…I’m convinced that it would not be so.

  • Lila

    Pharoute, not only am I with you on that one, I also expect to have to shake hands with someone like Fred Phelps in order to enter the pearly gates. I hope I’m up to the task when the time comes.

  • Andy

    So if it turned out his kid was gay, he’d expect his minister not to respect him?

  • Jack Grey

    “So if it turned out his kid was gay, he’d expect his minister not to respect him?”
    Baturally not, since it the kid *did* catch ‘teh Gay’ then it’s clearly because the parents failed to instill a proper Christian upbringing. Who could respect parents like that?
    …Spoken with tongue firmly in cheek, of course.

  • lightning

    That’s precisely the opposite of what Sunday’s readings teach:
    Hmm. Taking the Bible and inverting the plain meaning. There’s a name for that ….

  • Harv

    Amazing how hyperlinking works – by following the Satanism link provided by lightning, I found this one: http://concatenation.blogspot.com/
    Kit’s blog entry for August 26 is just so disturbing. It is about the Fundie corruption of the democratic process by infiltrating Congress with politicians who are “hidden” fundamentalists. I put “hidden” in quotes since outwardly they promote themselves as mainstream Christians who want to be public servants – inwardly they are in fact extremists who will not vote in the best interest of the nation, but of their warped view of God’s will. Very dangerous since voters don’t recognize them for the snakes they are until it is too late.
    I had heard of these men and women before – it was in a Focus on the Family mailing I used to get mistakenly deliverd to my department when I worked at a small Christian college. It called on local Christians to get involved in government by getting elected. However it specifically mentioned to NOT speak to voters of the more fundamentalist idealogy that Focus on the Family types follow. No – get elected first THEN start using that idealogy to reform America back into what the Founding Fathers envisioned as a Christian nation. I can’t help but picture a young Rick Santorum reading the same mailing and getting a sick gleam in his eye…..
    Coming back to Fred’s points – this us vs. the world mentality of Freepers and the like works for them because they firmly believe they ARE counter-cultural! They think we are a Christian based nation that went astray – and that the establishment must be infiltrated and turned if we are to have any hope of returning to our former glory. Don’t bore them with the historical facts – they KNOW they are right about this.
    Maybe it’s time the Left wing-Christians tried to expose these prideful arrogant imposters before we really are in a theocracy….

  • mel-anon

    “On the one hand, they seem to regard America as God’s chosen nation, a city on a hill. They tend to speak of an undifferentiated “we” that refers to both church and state, and proudly speak of their nation in terms that their scriptures use exclusively for the fellowship of believers. On the other hand, they love to rail against the supposed decline of American morality and embrace jeremiads with titles like “Slouching Toward Gomorrah.”
    I’ve been puzzled by this myself, and I think it’s the same solution as the paradox between righty evangelicals having their Justice Sunday rallies and claiming to be the Voice of the People one minute while they turn around and claim to be a persecuted minority the next. It’s the Liberal Elite (a common theme in Tom Frank’s last book)
    You see, conservatives (and I was one not long ago so I still remember the playbook fairly well) don’t really believe that many innocent Common People can be liberals. The Common People are just misled because a handful of Liberal Elite control the media, the education system and all other secular position of influence. Conservatives love to talk about the unpopularity of Air America and other failed liberal attempts at talk radio and talk TV as proof that liberals can’t appeal to the Common People on their turf. It isn’t the Common People’s fault that the liberals make them watch pornography and say that abortion and homosexuality are a-ok; they don’t really believe it, and they just need to be “evangelized” by a good conservative. Hence, once the people are freed from their sinister oppressors, things will go back to the way God and the founders intended.

  • drieux just drieux

    Harv, et al –
    It is not just a ‘left wing’ issue – a part of the problem is that the ‘neo cons’ have been selling the psuedo chrisitian rhetoric for strictly political reasons for a long time – without any regards for what damage it does to the religion, or the state.
    The current fiasco with FEMA and the recent hurricaine should be a wake up call to all americans about what has gone wrong. As a nation we need to balance the public and private debate – and it should be more obvious to americans that the ‘privatize it all and let the market decide’ just does not work any better in the 21st century than it did in the 20th century.
    So the real challenge remains, how to be in the world, but not of the world.
    It’s not just a ‘gay homosexual zombie marriage’ issue – it also includes whether one should be chasing after the stock market bubble, then the housing bubble, then the… when perchance it would be simpler to simply list Greed as a Sin and focus on other things that really need to be done.
    But that way of course moves from simply worrying about the mote in other’s eyes, and raising the problem of how to sort out one’s own house.
    And one last point. The FreeeperVille Follies were so pleased to hear that terrorists had attacked SF back when there was that explosion in a PG&E underground vault. So it’s not like they actually care about americans, merely about their own ‘true believers’.

  • Mabus

    What you guys are missing with the “counter-culture” business is simply this: you’re denying that Christians can win. If you win, you’re no longer counter-cultural, but being counter-cultural is an incidental, not a necessity. I would not say, of course, that Christianity has yet won in America, but by implicitly denying that it can ever win, you produce rolled eyes and smirks–or exhausted resignation.
    As for the supposed paradox with conservatives, you’re basically failing to realize that we really are capable of nuance, however limited. To the conservative Christian, America is a good place to the extent that it’s a free (but religious) place. The system is good. It’s a bad place to the extent that individuals misuse their freedoms and that the well-intentioned government fails to stop them.

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    I’m sorry, Mabus, but how did you arrive at the conclusion that people are suggesting Christians can’t ‘win’?
    Firstly, a good number of the people here (most notably Fred) are, themselves, Christians. The topic at hand isn’t about ‘Christians’, in general, but rather a particular group of people calling themselves Christians.
    Why, Harv writes just a few posts before yours, “Maybe it’s time the Left wing-Christians tried to expose these prideful arrogant imposters before we really are in a theocracy….”
    Obviously, then Harv feels that there are two ‘sides’ to Christianity here and that either one could ‘win’.
    As for the mixed signals we get from the ‘Christian’ right, you make a good point, except that it’s already understood. What’s being exposed here is that there is no rhyme or reason to what right wing Christians like about the ‘system’, since their interpretation of it does not relate in any way to the reality.
    That is the paradox. The facts are that a: any honest interpretation of law, esp. Constitutional, will show that freedom in the U.S. means the right to ignore religious morality and b: religious morality continues to loose footing as it comes up against the law. This being the case, it seems paradoxical to many that the Christian right will alternately laud and condemn the system, as if it’s two different things (which you suggest.) But it isn’t two different things, it’s a single system operating as it was meant to, and it seems implausible that so many literate humans could fail to grasp this.

  • Mabus

    Michael, Fred begins with this:
    Our neighbor at the freerepublic seems to think that no American Christian ought to be “counter-cultural.” …Rather than being “counter-culture,” he believes, Christians ought to conform themselves to this age.
    That’s precisely the opposite of what Sunday’s readings teach
    The assumption seems to be that Christians must always be counter-culture, regardless of what the culture is. Conservative Christians tend to believe that they have gotten the culture to conform to them–therefore there is no real need to rebel against it.
    What I’m suggesting with the second point is that the system rests on underlying assumptions of civil and moral behavior. Conservatives believe–rightly or wrongly–that the liberal expansion of rights is undermining those assumptions and risks collapsing the whole system. For instance, that lax enforcement of criminal law will produce a flood of violent criminals. They are responding by attempting to write these assumptions–as they understand them–into law. To us, it is implausible that so many literate humans are willing to commit societal suicide.

  • Harv

    Vendor X,
    I don’t think I implied that one or the other sides of Christians “win”, but clearly some people read it that way. Let me clarify – I am not trying to enter the political fray, as I don’t believe religion has a place in how the government runs the country. Laws should be created solely for the public good – not because of any religous imperative.
    What I do believe in is balance – and that is why I think that the polar extremes within Christianity need to be reigned in. Right now it is clear that the Christian Right holds far too great of a sway in the public perception of Christianity, and that the other voices, at least within America, are going unheard.
    Frankly, I don’t like any elected official deliberately relying on their religous views as the sole meter for measuring their votes and choices as they relate to the public good. I think that in order to truly represent a diverse constituency, a public servant must not be ruled by personal views. In fact they have an obligation to not only represent the majority view (that get them elected) but also the minority view – they represent *all* those in their district/state, not just those that voted for them.
    This is where the Right-wing Christians truly scare me – and why I hope and pray that they don’t obtain their goals.

  • pharoute

    Mabus, 2 things: 1) “assumptions of civil and moral behavior” strictly speaking in the US there is only civil behavior. While civil behavior is often moral the gov’t is not designed nor mandated to enforce moral behavior. Drinking maybe a sin to some denominations but the attempt to enforce that moral code lead to one of the worse periods of immoral behavior in US history.
    2) “lax enforcement of criminal law” I admit that Kerry’s pledge to make a national “get out jail free” day was ill-advised ;-) The problem is that to conservatives and especially neo-con’s pretty much anything that leads to fun is considered immoral and hence illegal.
    ps after 5 years of neo-con rule it’s funny that American society hasn’t improved any in conservatives view… hmmm.

  • Avedon

    Maybe it’s that they think “America” is good but Americans are debased, immoral, etc. Thought they may think Americans are debased by something handed down from those evil Liberal Elites.
    I think America is a Christian nation, in the sense that most Americans, regardless of their nominal religious upbringing or lack thereof, tend to have the basic moral values that are found in the teachings of Christ. It’s just that some of them don’t happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah (many Jews, for example, are happy with the teachings of Jesus except for that one thing), but they may have thought he was a pretty good prophet (which is a Muslim teaching), or maybe just a useful philosopher with that one crackpot idea. Even most of the atheists I know are generally pretty happy with the moral values of Jesus and will openly express respect for them. (So Christianity has already won.)
    But the so-called “fundamentalists” seem to be something else. As near as I can tell, they spend more time evangelizing than Evangelizing, and most of what they evangelize is hatred, division, and judgmentalism rather than God’s Good News. And it’s not my experience that most Americans really support that sort of thing. They tend to regard the people who promote these things as the hateful creeps and deranged crackpots that they really are. The “America” of the fundies is not the America of most Americans.
    But I find it strange that the wingers would react so negatively to the suggestion that they are counter-cultural in view of the fact that they quite specifically talk about the evils of American culture and even refer to their mission as a “culture war”. It surely shouldn’t matter whether they regard the enemy culture as something handed down from above or something that, deep down, the populace would really prefer. The fact of the matter is that they see that culture and they hate it and they regard it as something that pervades because the “liberal elite” has made it reality. So, it stands to reason, someone who is acting to oppose and destroy that culture is counter-culturalist in the most extreme sense of the word.
    In other words, they like their idea of America, but they actually hate America.

  • B-W

    Harv said: “Laws should be created solely for the public good – not because of any religous imperative.”
    The problem, of course, is that right-wing Christians actually do believe that their “religious imperatives” really are for the “public good.” To ask them to remove their religious thoughts from the equation would seem, to them, to be to ask them to not seek the public’s best interests.

  • cjmr’s husband

    The solution to that little dilemma is to change the statement to:
    “Laws should be created solely for the temporal public good.”
    Too bad so few people know what “temporal” means.

  • Lila

    The image I can’t get out of my head is the photo I saw with rows and rows of school buses in a parking lot surrounded by deep floodwaters.
    Wikipedia says that according to the 2000 census, 27 percent of households in New Orleans did not own cars.
    Why the hell weren’t those buses filled with people and sent out of the city as soon as the evacuation order was issued? Didn’t anybody in charge have the guts of this kid?

  • Lila

    Sorry, meant to post previous under the Katrina thread. Mea culpa–not at my best today.

  • Lila

    Sorry, meant to post previous under the Katrina thread. Mea culpa–not at my best today.