30 July 2012

Holy Shit

The last time the Globe and Mail called me to ask if I wanted a subscription, I told them that if that windbag asshole Margaret Wente was still writing columns for them, then no, I did not. And never ever would give them a cent, because I cannot stand that ignorant, right-wing, bag of vinegar water. After the sales person (likely some commissioned kid in university) stopped laughing, he told me that I was the second person that night to say something to that effect, albeit less colourfully.

In an attempt to live in a world that I enjoy, I regularly put my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU try to avoid Maggie and her bullshit. However, this weekend's spew has come to my attention in several of my circles, and I have to write something about it.

"Two weeks from now, the United Church of Canada will assemble in Ottawa for its 41st General Council, where it will debate church policy and elect a new moderator. The top item on its agenda is a resolution calling for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements. Fortunately, nobody cares what the United Church thinks about Israeli settlements, or anything else for that matter, because the United Church doesn’t matter any more."

And we're off to a stellar start. "The top item on its agenda" is wrong. It is a single item on the agenda, part of the proposal to Council from the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy.Yes, it calls for a boycott on products procured in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. It seems that this group has found the occupation of the area to be problematic. I'm able to see that that doesn't mean they're anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel. It just means they disagree on this and would like to exert economic pressure on them. By the way, it would be almost entirely symbolic, because as Wente is gleefully pointing out, we're not that powerful any longer.

And "nobody cares"? Well, Mags, that's funny, because Bernie Farber blew a gasket last time this shit came up. You calling him nobody? Do that in print, I dare you.

But today, the church is literally dying. The average age of its members is 65. They believe in many things, but they do not necessarily believe in God. Some congregations proudly describe themselves as “post-theistic,” which is a good thing because, as one church elder said, it shows the church is not “stuck in the past.” Besides, who needs God when you’ve got Israel to kick around?

Right. I think there is one congregation saying this, and their idea is pretty much panentheistic. They are a miniscule minority, and the subject of a lot of debate. And "who needs God when you’ve got Israel to kick around?" is a lovely little logical fallacy. Who even says that congregation is part of the group that proposed the boycott? And is she trying to say that they've replaced God with Israel hating? And has she ever heard of some of the southern American churches and their hate-on for Jews? Is she calling them liberals? What the hell is this even supposed to mean?

The United Church is not alone. All the secular liberal churches are collapsing. The Episcopalians – the American equivalent of the United Church – have lost a quarter of their membership in the past decade.

Sweet Jesus. What exactly is a "secular church"?

Episcopalians are the American equivalent of the United Church? Where is she getting this shit from? Because they had a General Council meeting last month too? Is that all it takes? Or because they affirmed equal marriage at it they're the same as the United Church? Episcopalians are more like Anglicans than United Church. The United Church is a lot more like a combination of the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarians all combined into a lovely concoction of people who follow the social gospel.

 They’re at their lowest point since the 1930s. Not coincidentally, they spent their recent general meeting affirming the right of the transgendered to become priests. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it doesn’t top most people’s lists of pressing spiritual or even social issues.

Actually, like the Israel boycott, this was one point. And clearly it was on someone's radar. Like the transgendered people who wanted to become priests. And why is it that when it's a point like transgendered priests, it's something no one cares about, but when it's an Israeli boycott, it's OMG!ANTISEMITES!? Right, because Wente is one of those assholes who thinks that if it doesn't matter to her, it doesn't matter to anyone, and if it matters to her, everyone else cares too. Wrong. At my church, I've never heard Israel mentioned in a non-historical/non-biblical context.

Back in the 1960s, the liberal churches bet their future on becoming more open, more inclusive, more egalitarian and more progressive. They figured that was the way to reach out to a new generation of worshippers. It was a colossal flop.

Was that the plan? Or was it that there was a rising human rights movement that people in the church were part of, and believed to be what good Christians do, affirm that God loves everyone? I don't think you can blame declining church numbers on progressivism. Every fuck you to the Christians I've ever heard was about how we're exactly not this. Most former Christians I've heard from (read or talked to) have said that they left the church because they couldn't reconcile the Bible to their beliefs, at least not the way that their churches were teaching it.

The United Church’s high-water mark was 1965, when membership reached nearly 1.1 million. Since then it has shrunk nearly 60 per cent. Congregations have shrunk too – but not the church’s infrastructure or the money needed to maintain it. 

It's true. We're shrinking. But Wente is begging the question by assuming the premise that it is our progressive, egalitarian values that are causing it.

Today, the church has too many buildings and too few people to pay for their upkeep. Yet its leadership seems remarkably unperturbed. “It’s considered wrong to be concerned about the numbers – too crass, materialistic and business-oriented,” says Mr. Ewart. The church’s leaders are like the last of the Marxist-Leninists: still convinced they’re right despite the fact that the rest of the world has moved on.

Oh, I laugh and laugh at this one. So the church leadership (whoever they are) are largely unperturbed, trusting God to show us the way to minister to our communities, and having a 'if you build it, they will come' kind of attitude toward it, not pushing it on people in a way we know turns people off, showing them we are Christian by our love and service. But we're "post-theistic" right? And we're just worried about hating on Israel, right? Pick an argument and stick with it. Either we're secular, having given up on God (at which point I think we'd be a lot more materialistic and business-like) or we're a bunch of hippie-dippy idiots who can't see a bottom line when its staring us in the face.

And the The church’s leaders are like the last of the Marxist-Leninists is HILARIOUS. First, which church leaders? We're a bottom-up organization. That's how proposals like the Israel boycott get made. And second, nice way of gently insinuating we're communists. That's rich.

Clearly, changes in society have had an enormous impact on church attendance. Volunteerism and other civic institutions are also in decline. Busy two-career families have less discretionary time for everything, including church. Sundays are for chores and shopping now. As for Sunday school, parents would rather take the kids to sports.

Ding ding ding! Finally, she gets one right. It had to happen. I mean, it's statistically impossible for someone who is making shit up to be wrong 100% of the time. And this is why I keep saying the church needs to change far far far more wildly to adapt to this changing reality. Let's face it, churches are conservative in many ways, even my beloved UCC. We take years to do simple shit that should take weeks. And when it's something that requires major change? Well, that's almost impossible.

As the United Church found common cause with auto workers, it became widely known as the NDP at prayer. Social justice was its gospel. Spiritual fulfilment would be achieved through boycotts and recycling. Instead of Youth for Christ, it has a group called Youth for Eco-Justice. Mardi Tindal, the current moderator, recently undertook a spiritual outreach tour across Canada to urge “the healing of soul, community and creation” by reducing our carbon footprint. Which raises the obvious question: If you really, really care about the environment, why not just join Greenpeace?

Yeah, guilty as charged. We just can't help but love the earth that God gave us. I don't know what is wrong with us that we are driven by our love for God to protect God's creation instead of going around proselytising about Jesus to people who clearly don't care. What could we be thinking?

According to opinion polls, people’s overall belief in God hasn’t declined. What’s declined is people’s participation in religion. With so little spiritual nourishment to offer, it’s no wonder the liberal churches have collapsed.

So little spiritual nourishment? Wait, she's equating trying to force others to believe the way we do by running around cramming it down their throats to spiritual nourishment? THAT explains a lot about poor old Wente. Dear Maggie. I get a lot of spiritual fulfillment in a lot of different ways. Some of them Church-based, some not. But not a single one of them involves trying to convert people to my faith. Yes, I'd like to see more people in the pews (sorta - I'd like to see the pews gone entirely, but that's another post), but I want them there because we offer them something, not because we've battered them, scared them shitless of the afterlife, or made it socially unacceptable not to join. And if that means our numbers go down, that's what it means. God will show us the way.

It’s possible that organized religion in the developed world has had its day. After all, even conservative evangelicals like the Southern Baptists are in decline. Yet not all faiths have succumbed to Mammon. Mosques are popping up all over, and in Canada there are probably more kids in Islamic class than Sunday school. In the United States, Mormonism – which requires obligatory missionary service and a hefty tithe – is going strong, despite widespread ridicule from the mainstream press. Thanks to immigrants, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church also remains vibrant. Most Jews I know still belong to synagogues, send their kids to Hebrew school and have them bar mitzvahed.

Mammon? You invoke Mammon? The person who was mocking our distaste for materialism? Oh honey. Not cool. Do you even know who Mammon is?

And interesting how you note that even conservative evangelical churches are on the decline, way near the end of the article, long after most people with any intelligence have given up on your crap. So those churches are declining too, so doesn't that exactly contradict your premise that it's progressive, egalitarian ideals that are destroying it?

Mormonism... Oh yes, they're doing fine. And why? Because if you quit, you're shunned (though not as much as the JWs). And most people aren't willing to give up their families to leave. So they go. But you can't tell me all of 'em are believers.

And yes, thanks to immigrants the RC isn't declining. But without immigrants? It's collapsing too. And you can't call the Roman Catholic church a bastion of liberal ideals. Well, Wente could. She's not bound by anything resembling fact, apparently.

And really, most Jews she knows "still belong to synagogues and send their kids to Hebrew school and have them bar mitzvahed"? Really? Most Jews I know eat cheeseburgers, watch TV on Saturday, and know a smattering of Hebrew. And is "bar mitzvah" really a verb? I don't think so. And so what? Most people I know who grew up in a Christian church still get their kids baptized and then never go back into a church until that kid's wedding. What exactly is she trying to say?

Should anybody miss the church? Yes, says Mr. Ewart. The church gave families a way to participate together in a community larger than themselves, for a purpose greater than themselves. Most of us don’t have a way to do that any more. Our kids won’t even have it in their memory bank.

What the hell? First she goes mocking the United Church's commitment to working to protect the earth, and then says there's no way to participate? Please. And let me tell you how it was when I was a kid. We went to church Saturday night or Sunday morning. We sat their quietly for the hour and then left. There was no community. There was no involvement. My Mom tried to join the CWL and said she sat there through 3 meetings where no one so much as talked to her, so she quit. When my Dad died, and we went to her church for the funeral, the priest didn't know her name. No one from her church visited her except the appointed volunteer counsellor who was terrible. Wente and Ewart both are guilty of romanticizing the past.

In the past few years, Mr. Ewart has spent time hanging out with evangelicals – people who actually talk about loving Jesus. He admires their personal, emotional connection to God. Lately, he has even started praying. Perhaps he could pray for the church in which he spent his life to stop its self-immolation. But it’s probably too late.

Eesh. Loving Jesus is great. But it's the starting point, not the ending point, and that's what evangelicals often miss. If the point of their evangelism is to make others love Jesus too, they're doing it wrong. The point of evangelism should be to show other people how WE love Jesus, by doing what he asked of us: loving God, and loving each other.

Do I love Margaret Wente? Yup. I'd feed her if she were hungry. I'd give her my clothes if she had none. I'd buy her medicine if she were sick. And I think she's full of shit.