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Eric Metaxas and the Alienation of Old Friends: Advent Meditation #3

Eric Metaxas and the Alienation of Old Friends: Advent Meditation #3 December 18, 2020

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:

“President Trump’s naked attempt to overturn a fair election — with key elements of Joe Biden’s victory vouchsafed by Republican state officials, Republican-appointed judges and even the Justice Department — has driven some Trump evangelicals to the edge of blasphemous lunacy.
‘I’d be happy to die in this fight,’ radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas assured Trump during a recent interview. ‘This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.’
“Elsewhere Metaxas has predicted, ‘Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.’
“Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.
“There is something pathetic about Metaxas’s panting desire to be cruise director on Trump’s sinking ship. But I don’t think his attitude is merely the result of ambition or hero worship. Metaxas seems to be a man in the grip of a powerful delusion. And this ends up feeding doubts about religion itself.”
My point in bringing this critique to your attention, dear reader, is to suggest that what has happened to Metaxas, and how it appears to his conservative, Christian friends like Gerson, seems to be happening all over America among non-celebrities too. And it has certainly happened to me.
Here’s some of my own: one of my oldest college friends, turning against me and calling me a child of Satan, for such terrible offenses as suggesting that perhaps Christians should question their loyalties to President Trump; another old friend told me I was a shoddy and petty person, evidently for calling someone out for hateful speech about people they did not even know; and as far back as 2008 another abandoned me after I said some good things about Sen. Obama. Unfriended and 12 years of silence: despite my own reaching out to this person in reconciliation.
Maybe you know the feeling? Any of this sound familiar? If so I’d love to hear about your own experience, in the comments below.
Let us return to the ending of my quote from Gerson above: do you wonder if your friend or family member is now in “the grip of a powerful delusion”? And have you wondered if your friend or family member, ostensible a decent, God-fearing believer, is now possibly “feeding doubts about religion itself”?  I certainly wonder. And then there is the reverse shock: perhaps you, like me, have been viciously attacked by your own friends as a heretic, a devil-inspired Marxist, socialist, globalist, or some other thing?

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.”

 

Photo by Levi Midnight on Unsplash


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