Love, Hypocrisy, Jesus, and Marilyn

It’s St. Valentine’s Month again. In the deluge of romance across social media, you’ve no doubt seen someone re-posting a certain quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe.

Better writers than I have dissected this little Oscar Wilde-esque quip in terms of interpersonal relationships, but I lately found myself rewriting this little gem in the midst of a recent brouhaha over the terrible things people are willing to do for the love of God.

The President of the United States recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast recently, and brought up the fact that violence in the name of God or faith is not exclusive to one religion, backing this up with the specific historical examples of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials, all of which were conducted by people of faith against supposed enemies of God.

How did the culture at large react to this innocuous reminder of the dark past of the majority faith in the US? Of course, Fox News jumped straight down POTUS’ throat, but they were promptly followed by many other voices in the corporate media, all clamoring for the President to apologize, or to single out “Islamic terrorism” and proclaim it “evil,” or to deny the violent history of Christianity.

Pundits have been lining up of late to put their feet in their million-dollar mouths regarding the role that Christianity played in terms of American slavery and civil rights, and conveniently forgetting that their favorite religion was and is on all sides of  these issues.

How weak does your faith have to be that you can’t even listen to facts about the dark side of its history without screeching shrill protests and trying to drown out the facts with irrelevant points from brighter parts of its timeline?

No faith is a monolith, and Christianity straddles ALL of the major cultural battles of our time. There are Christians on both sides of picket lines in front of companies that abuse their workers, police offices, abortion clinics, pop concerts, military funerals, mosques under construction, and the sites of proposed pipelines and logging ventures. What would it cost those Christians hurt by the President’s words to make room in their heads for the whole history of their faith and not to see reminders of that history as ‘attacks’?

The thing about Christianity — and Islam, for that matter — is that they evolved out of tribal religions to become world religions. Both Jesus’ and Mohammed’s message was that the body of believers, whether the Christian Church or the Islamic Ummah, would contain people from all different tribes, building bridges with which to understand and sit in fellowship with people from all over the world. At their best, that is what world religions do. But in practice, that came with a lot of unpleasant baggage. Both Christianity and Islam were partially spread by force, the former swallowing up the aging Roman Empire, and the latter creating an empire more or less from scratch, and both used the imperial might gained to turf out or stamp out indigenous, tribal religions across the Middle East, North Africa, Mali, the Swahili trading ports in the east of Africa, Central Asia, and Europe, and later the Americas and the South Pacific. There is barbarity enough to spare in this process for both religions, but there is also the legacy of the peaceful spread of ideas through trade and diplomacy. Forgetting either the bloodshed or the brotherhood does these religions and their adherents a disservice. We need to remember both, not out of some quest for ‘fairness’ or ‘balance,’ but out of respect for the facts, and a need to understand other people and things as complexly as we wish to be understood ourselves.

In all of this recent cacophony, with politicos popping off on all sides, I found myself thinking about Marilyn’s quote.

Christians, if you can’t handle a reminder of the worst parts of your history, don’t expect my applause when you remind me of the best parts.

And finally, here’s some advice for what to do when somebody insults your religion from the late lamented Bill Hicks:

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