Charity, conclusions and cake

In discussing those I have been describing as members of the Cult of Offendedness and addicts of a counterfeit moral superiority, I do not want to presume that they are acting in bad faith.

They are acting in bad faith, but that's not my presumption, it's my conclusion. I am not attributing malice to them, but rather, having observed and studied their attributes, I am noting that those attributes include a vast reservoir of transparent, naked malice. Pretending not to see that wouldn't be charitable, it would merely be dishonest.

It may be helpful here to remember that the presumption of charity is analogous to the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but those who are, in fact, proven guilty are no longer shielded by that initial presumption of innocence.

So I suppose what I need to do, ladies and gentlemen of the grand jury, is to make my case — to lay out the evidence and to convince you that it merits enough consideration to warrant an indictment. After that we can take this case to court and see whether this malice and bad faith and this corrosive obsession with trying to feel morally superior can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

I will try to do that in future posts. In the meantime, whether or until I can convince others of this, I will continue to speak of what I, myself, have become convinced is true. But that is, again, my conclusion and not my presumption. In that regard, I'm not acting as a prosecutor, but as a witness for the prosecution. A witness's job is to tell what they have witnessed, whether or not what they have seen seems charitable to the accused.

I recently finished Frank Schaeffer's memoir Crazy for God which recounts, among many other things, his impression of the leaders of the religious right — people who have chosen as their profession the taking of offense and the propagation of umbrage. Schaeffer describes such people as acting in bad faith, motivated by malice and a disingenuous desire for power. Here is a taste of his description of them:

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed — sort of — but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn't figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

That's pretty brutal, but it won't do to accuse Schaeffer of being uncharitable here because that description, again, is not his presumption but his conclusion. He is telling us what he saw, what he witnessed over many years and thus what he has come to believe to be true. If he paints a nasty picture, that's because he is trying to capture the nastiness of his subject as accurately as possible.

But let's not end on such a nasty note here. The Pursuit of Offendedness is hurtful and corrosive, but it's also wasteful in that it leads us away from something better.

For a reminder of what that something better can look like, let me offer a shortened retelling of one of my favorite stories from the storyteller-evangelist Tony Campolo. This is taken from his book Let Me Tell You a Story — a sort of mixtape greatest-hits collection.

Tony was invited to preach in a church in Hawaii where he winds up sleepless from the time difference, eating breakfast in a greasy spoon in Honolulu in the middle of the night:

As I sat there munching on my doughnut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched eight or nine provocative and boisterous prostitutes.

It was a small place and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be 39."

Her friend responded in a nasty tone. "So what do you want from me? A birthday party?"

… When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why do you want to know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her — right here — tomorrow night?"

A smile slowly crossed his chubby face and he answered with measured delight. "That's great! I like it! That's a great idea!"

Harry, the guy who ran the diner, and his wife, who did the cooking, took to the idea with gusto, baking a big cake that read "Happy Birthday Agnes" and getting the word out to all their other late-night regulars. Tony came back early the next night with crepe-paper streamers and decorations and a big hand-made sign.

… by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in that place. … At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend … and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy Birthday!"

… Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to one of the stools along the counter we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. As we came to the end of our singing, "Happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes. Come on. Blow out the candles. If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna have to blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes, we all want some cake." …

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she said, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I … is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's OK. If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to."

"Can I?" she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home and show it to my mother, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool, picked up the cake and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all stood there motionless, she left.

After the party, Harry is surprised to learn that Tony is a preacher.

"What kind of church do you belong to?"

"I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

We can either take offense or we can give a party. It has to be one or the other, we can't do both.

I prefer the one with cake.

  • Lee Ratner

    Ruby, please stop comparing Pharisees to the Evangelicals. It is insulting to the Pharisees, who were actually honorable people despite the anti-Pharisee propaganda in the NT. It is also anti-Semitic.

  • Jason

    I nominate Lee for an award of an internet for that last comment.

  • Lori

    I nominate Lee for an award of an internet for that last comment.

    Assuming that the comment was meant to be serious, I’d have to disagree.
    I know from talking with Jewish friends that Jews have a different view of the Pharisees than the one presented in the NT. However, that doesn’t mean it’s correct to simply assert that view as fact with no back-up.
    That’s especially true since Ruby is an atheist. I’m guessing that she uses the Pharisees the same way she would use any other literary character—the character is chosen because it makes the point the speaker wishes to make and most of the audience is familiar enough with the story for that point clear.
    Calling Ruby’s comments anti-Semitic is even more of a problem. That’s a very serious charge and I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to simply make that assertion, offer no backing evidence and dash off. Using a specific group of Jews as a negative example is not anti-Semitic. If Lee feels that something Ruby said was more serious than that at a minimum a quote needs to be provided.

  • Jason

    I was taking it as joke, btw. It made me laugh. I compare the Fundamentalists to Pharisees regularly myself and don’t intend to stop. I was taking it as particularly funny joke. I never considered that it might be anything but that. If this isn’t the case, I’d have to agree with you Lori.

  • lonespark

    What MadGastronomer said about mystery.
    Lovely poem, Amaryllis.
    I don’t think the Pharisee analogy is useful and I wish people would stop. I’m sure there are contexts where it’s fine, like in a Bible study, but in those contexts something else might work just as well, too. When you’re not just talking to Christians going about the NT text, I think it’s uncool.

  • Jessica

    Hawker Hurricane, in San Diego:
    No, because the port of entry is pretty far from the border. By the time they ask you if you have any fruit in your car you could have unloaded half of Mexico in San Diego county.
    So true. I’ll let you know the next time in SD. I do make it down to the Bali Hai on Shelter Island for drinks once in a blue moon, if that’s not too far from you (San Diego is a pretty big place after all). I expect I’ll be down that way ’round November for my birthday. I’ll keep you posted. =)
    Karen wrote
    Jessica, I love the Christmas message. I collect warning labels, like the one on the propane bottles for gas grills that says “contents are flammable and will burn you.” My current favorite is on the foil sleeves of Preparation H suppositories, which states, “Please remove before applying.” What scares me the most is that the company probably received more than one complaint from someone who didn’t do that.
    LOL That’s awesome. I can’t remember the last really good warning label I saw.

  • David

    Calling Ruby’s comments anti-Semitic is even more of a problem. That’s a very serious charge
    Not necessarily. Saying “Even if you didn’t mean it that way, you should know that using that analogy carries some insulting connotations about the Jewish faith” isn’t the same as saying “That comment proves you hate the Jews.” It’s actually a very minor charge, unless the insult was deliberate.
    Using a specific group of Jews as a negative example is not anti-Semitic
    It depends on the specific group. If that group is the founders of their religious tradition, it can be, especially when they are being used as an example of “people who have a terrible understanding of their own religious tradition.” If “apostle” carried the connotation “A covenant-breaker who willfully rejects God’s revealed truth” there are some Christians that might be offended by unnecessary use of that metaphor…
    Of course, the word has assimilated into casual speech, and is often used without any actual negative intent. Like you say, they’re well-known literary characters, and are often used on roughly the same level as one might use the term “Scrooge” — there may be some anti-semitic content in the origin of the term, but none is generally intended today. But since these literary characters are based on real people with religious significance, it can be insulting to the real people who are part of that tradition…

  • Lori

    Saying “Even if you didn’t mean it that way, you should know that using that analogy carries some insulting connotations about the Jewish faith” isn’t the same as saying “That comment proves you hate the Jews.” It’s actually a very minor charge, unless the insult was deliberate.

    Obviously understandings vary, but “anti-Semitic” is a pretty loaded term and I think if you mean that something might be considered insulting then the person should say, “Hey, you may not realize this but that could be considered insulting to Judaism. Here’s why.”

    If that group is the founders of their religious tradition, it can be, especially when they are being used as an example of “people who have a terrible understanding of their own religious tradition.” If “apostle” carried the connotation “A covenant-breaker who willfully rejects God’s revealed truth” there are some Christians that might be offended by unnecessary use of that metaphor…

    If someone was using the term “apostle” in that way because a well-know text used it that way then I think the appropriate response would be to say, “Here’s way I think that’s wrong” not “You’re being anti-Christian”. Especially if anti-Christian carried that same sort of weight that anti-Semitic does.

  • Ruby

    Lee: Ruby, please stop comparing Pharisees to the Evangelicals. It is insulting to the Pharisees, who were actually honorable people despite the anti-Pharisee propaganda in the NT. It is also anti-Semitic.
    Lee, please provide the quote in which I mentioned Pharisees.
    I expect an apology.

  • David

    “anti-Semitic” is a pretty loaded term
    Well, perhaps. But “racist” is a pretty loaded term, and if someone used the word “gyp” I still think it would be fair to say that’s a racist word. But at the same time, a lot of people don’t know what the word actually means, so that’s very different from saying that the person who said it must be a racist. A similar principle applies here. Lee didn’t say that Ruby was anti-Semitic, just that specific term.
    If someone was using the term “apostle” in that way because a well-know text used it that way then I think the appropriate response would be to say, “Here’s way I think that’s wrong” not “You’re being anti-Christian”.
    If Christians had suffered marginalization, persecution and genocide for thousands of years justified in large part by the depiction of apostles in that well-known text, you might feel differently.
    I think a case can be made that that application of the term “pharisee” in some contexts is fine, especially when discussing specific texts or stories, but I don’t think Lee’s comment (assuming it was sincere) was at all out of line…

  • Ruby

    David: I think a case can be made that that application of the term “pharisee” in some contexts is fine, especially when discussing specific texts or stories, but I don’t think Lee’s comment (assuming it was sincere) was at all out of line…
    I await with baited breath the quote Lee was referring to.

  • David

    Oh dear… it looks like the quote Lee was talking about was probably actually from Jason, quoted by Ruby. Well…

  • Ruby

    David: Oh dear… it looks like the quote Lee was talking about was probably actually from Jason, quoted by Ruby. Well…
    Yeah, having scrolled back through pages of comments, I found that, as well.
    How ’bout that?
    For the record, Jason said, on August 7 at 11:31 am (page 2 of comments):
    In the Gospels, Jesus has a lot of run-ins with the Pharisees because he is not following Judaic Law to the letter. He’s healing on the Sabbath etc. I see a lot of modern fundamentalist Christianity as modern day Pharisees. They are so caught up in rules and minutiae and condemning those who are not caught up in such, that they are missing the point of their own faith. This is what scares people away.
    So, Jason, still want to award Lee that shiny new internet?
    I await the apology.

  • Lori

    If Christians had suffered marginalization, persecution and genocide for thousands of years justified in large part by the depiction of apostles in that well-known text, you might feel differently.

    I think it’s an exaggeration to say that Jews have been marginalized, persecuted and subjected to genocide because of the way the Pharisees are depicted in the New Testament.

    I think a case can be made that that application of the term “pharisee” in some contexts is fine, especially when discussing specific texts or stories, but I don’t think Lee’s comment (assuming it was sincere) was at all out of line…

    I do think making unsupported assertions and blanket statements using loaded words is out of line.
    For example, recently we had a conversation here about racism in the GOP. I consider it obvious that race-baiting has been a core strategy of the GOP since the 60s. When Jason said he didn’t see it that way I didn’t just say, “Well, you’re wrong. The GOP is racist.” and walk away. Neither did any of the other people who responded. Instead we presented evidence for our perspective and offered to talk more about it if Jason wanted to.

  • David

    I think it’s an exaggeration to say that Jews have been marginalized, persecuted and subjected to genocide because of the way the Pharisees are depicted in the New Testament.
    Well, I didn’t say “because of”, I said “justified by” (maybe that seems like a semantic distinction, but I think it matters)… and since that depiction includes plotting to kill Jesus, I don’t think it’s exaggerating at all to say that that depiction has been invoked prominently to justify poor treatment of Jewish people…
    I do think making unsupported assertions and blanket statements using loaded words is out of line.
    That seems asymmetric to me… to my eyes, two contrary assertions were made (one against the pharisees, one in favor of), and neither of the original comments cited anything beyond the implied evidence of the respective historical traditions. That being the case, it’s fair to ask for more information, but I don’t see why additional support has to be provided before it’s even legitimate to bring up the issue…
    It also doesn’t seem like Lee just “made a blanket statement and walked away”… it hasn’t been that much time since the original post, and it’s not like the discussion has been deliberately cut short or ignored…

  • Ruby

    David: That seems asymmetric to me… to my eyes, two contrary assertions were made (one against the pharisees, one in favor of), and neither of the original comments cited anything beyond the implied evidence of the respective historical traditions. That being the case, it’s fair to ask for more information, but I don’t see why additional support has to be provided before it’s even legitimate to bring up the issue…
    It also doesn’t seem like Lee just “made a blanket statement and walked away”… it hasn’t been that much time since the original post, and it’s not like the discussion has been deliberately cut short or ignored…

    You speak of “additional support,” yet no support was provided for the charge of anti-Semitism. Neither you nor I should have had to do Lee’s research for him. As Lori pointed out, if a person wants to throw out an insult like “anti-Semitic,” it is not asking too much that a quote be provided.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    If it weren’t for the “DO NOT EAT” warnings on silica gel packs, it would never have occurred to me that there might be something attractive about eating them. And now that I know, I keep thinking “Gee, I wonder if they’re tasty? I mean, there must be some reason that they have to warn us off of them. Who are these silica-gel-killjoys and why do they want to deny me the pleasure that is delicious silica?”

  • Lori

    Well, I didn’t say “because of”, I said “justified by” (maybe that seems like a semantic distinction, but I think it matters)… and since that depiction includes plotting to kill Jesus, I don’t think it’s exaggerating at all to say that that depiction has been invoked prominently to justify poor treatment of Jewish people…

    I’ve had the misfortune to know people of the “Jews are bad because they killed Jesus” school of bigotry. None of them ever placed any focus on the Pharisees. I suppose there may be people who do, but I don’t think the Pharisees play any necessary, or even any particularly important, role in that type of antisemitism.

    That seems asymmetric to me… to my eyes, two contrary assertions were made (one against the pharisees, one in favor of), and neither of the original comments cited anything beyond the implied evidence of the respective historical traditions.

    One of the traditions is quite a bit better known here. I think that makes a difference.

    It also doesn’t seem like Lee just “made a blanket statement and walked away”…

    In the example I gave I included the supporting info in my first post and so did others who were responding. I think that’s what’s appropriate. And with that, I’m done.
    I thought Lee’s comment was out of line and I said so. You didn’t, and you said so. I don’t see any reason to keep hitting the ex-horse.

  • Jason

    @Ruby-
    The internet is a place that is devoid of vocal intonations and body language. I did not take Lee’s comment at all seriously. I thought it was nothing more than snark and sarcasm…and very funny snark and sarcasm.
    I took as a sarcastic way of saying “Oh come on, you’re comparing them to the Pharisees. That’s an insult to the Pharisees. Even they weren’t THAT bad.” It made me laugh, because I thought it was funny.
    If he was indeed accusing you of being anti-Semitic, that is pretty over the top and hyperbolic. As I said earlier, I too compare the fundamentalists to the Pharisees *as they were presented in the NT*…. and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
    …so I don’t see you are anyone else here on this blog as Anti-Semitic. I just made the mistake of taking non-snark for snark. I apologize for that.
    If the comment was snark, then I personally found it funny. If it was serious then Lee, seriously? What the hell? Anti-Semitic? Really?

  • Ruby

    Jason: The internet is a place that is devoid of vocal intonations and body language. I did not take Lee’s comment at all seriously. I thought it was nothing more than snark and sarcasm…and very funny snark and sarcasm.
    I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of humor. That said, I generally do not find amusement in charges of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and the like. Especially, as you point out, when we are talking about an environment in which we often cannot be sure if someone is serious or not.
    I took as a sarcastic way of saying “Oh come on, you’re comparing them to the Pharisees. That’s an insult to the Pharisees. Even they weren’t THAT bad.” It made me laugh, because I thought it was funny.
    If he was indeed accusing you of being anti-Semitic, that is pretty over the top and hyperbolic. As I said earlier, I too compare the fundamentalists to the Pharisees *as they were presented in the NT*…. and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    Jason, I’m glad you don’t, since the charge was leveled against a quote of yours, incorrectly attributed to me (though David and I both had to scroll back and do Lee’s research for him to discern this).
    …so I don’t see you are anyone else here on this blog as Anti-Semitic. I just made the mistake of taking non-snark for snark. I apologize for that.
    Thank you. I appreciate it. Like I said, I tend to take such accusations pretty seriously.
    If the comment was snark, then I personally found it funny. If it was serious then Lee, seriously? What the hell? Anti-Semitic? Really?
    Personally, Jason, I don’t find your comment to be anti-Semitic either.

  • David

    Hmm. Well, perhaps Lori is right that it’s best to let this drop for now, so okay. The only thing I’ll say in the direction of moderation is that I really don’t think Lee’s wording attributed anti-Semitism to any person. Like with my “gyp” example, there’s a big difference between saying something that inadvertently insults someone, and actually personally hating them, and I read Lee as talking specifically about the former.
    As for the rest, well, okay, dead horse, and Thursday is still a few days off…

  • Jason

    @Ruby-
    I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of humor. That said, I generally do not find amusement in charges of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and the like. Especially, as you point out, when we are talking about an environment in which we often cannot be sure if someone is serious or not.
    It depends on the spirit in which it is used. I sing and play with the praise band at my church. I am one of the main vocalists. One of the guys in the group wanted me to sing a song in Spanish, being incredibly southern and incredibly unilingual, I knew that it was probably not a good idea for me to horribly mangle the Spanish language, so I told him that I don’t think I should try. His response with a grin on his face was “you racist!” I thought that was funny because I knew that he did not actually think I was a racist and that it was meant in jest.
    I thought the Anti-Semitic comment was in similiar spirit. I guess I was wrong.
    Jason, I’m glad you don’t, since the charge was leveled against a quote of yours, incorrectly attributed to me (though David and I both had to scroll back and do Lee’s research for him to discern this).
    Yeah, and it was something that I posted like on Saturday morning while I was trying to wake up and actually motivate myself to clean my house, so I didn’t actually think he would be commenting on something that old.
    ….so yeah, I don’t really recognize uncited responses to comments made by me over 48 hours ago that are incorrectly attributed to the wrong person.


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