The holidays are here! Even in the midst of Covid-time, I’m thinking of old friends, planning Zoom sessions to chat or play trivia, and just reconnecting. Christmas and advent, a time of hope, is also a time to reconnect, catch up, and look forward.
I miss a lot of my old friends, and I want them back. Some of them have become rather unrecognizable, however. I am blaming our overheated and rancorous public political sphere for most of that. Sadly, the churches have been colonized pretty effectively by our depraved political culture, so being religious may not help us much here. In fact, it may be a part of the problem.
Another problem is, of course, they very likely are having similar feelings about me, too! And they would even agree it’s all about politics, I guess. We thought things were tribal and even hateful in the past–as recently as in 2000 and Bush v. Gore; or in 2008 and the election of Barack Obama. My how naive we were back then. By way of contrast, today it’s common to hear calls for secession. What the heck happened to the good old USA?
Allow me to explain more, by describing what has happened recently to a formerly beloved public figure: Eric Metaxas, writer of the Veggie Tales, curator and founder of the Socrates in the City series in Manhattan, and assistant to Chuck Colson, among other estimable achievements, all of which I have admired. But these days, especially after the catastrophic event last week called the Jericho March on the Mall in DC, people are scratching their heads and wondering: What the heck happened to our old buddy Eric?
Here’s how Michael Gerson described Metaxas and his political crusade in the Washington Post on Dec. 7th:
In another frightening article with the distinctive title “The sad irony of celebrity pastors,” one critic notes many of the problems for “Christian voices” with such temptations as fame, branding, and wealth accumulation. The article is about Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz (perhaps most famous for his befriending Justin Bieber), and mentions other megachurch leaders. But the lessons sound eerily similar to what former friends have reported about Eric Metaxas. The author concludes:
“I am not religious, so it is not my place to dictate to Christians what they should and should not believe. Still, if someone has a faith worth following, I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so. If they share 90 percent of my lifestyle and values, then there is nothing especially inspiring about them. Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me. That, sadly, appears to have been true of Lentz and his celebrity acquaintances.”
When I hear that Metaxas, someone I once thought very highly of, aspires to further fame and glory as a Fox News talk show host, I cringe. As the author puts it above: “I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so.” Instead, I’m feeling uncomfortable doing as they do. My sense is that I’ more comfortable moving away from the violent screeds and delusional propagandizing coming from both Metaxas and many of my old friends — and perhaps you share my sadness at having to say that.
As Marilynne Robinson once put it: “I miss civilization, and I want it back.” In addition (and just being honest here): I miss a lot of my old friends, and I want them back. Problem is, they very likely are having similar feelings about me, too! If so, I am genuinely hoping in this Advent season that my own life is not “feeding doubts about religion itself.”