2015-06-20

Mike Huckabee, Meet Some Real Christians

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by Tim Widowfield

As a Vridar reader, you know that I’m an atheist, having happily lost my faith some 40 years ago. You probably know that I’ve often referred to religion, any religion, as a “mind virus.” I’ve had some unkind things to say about Christianity and professed Christians, but I’ve tried to make it clear that I don’t wish to covert anyone.

"The Golden Rule" mosaic

“The Golden Rule” mosaic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do what you want; believe what you want. But please do it with your eyes wide open. Read everything. Consider all the facts, and make a rational decision.

Having said all that, I’d like to say something nice today about Christianity. I’ll confess my admiration for the victims of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Finally, I’ll have some scathing comments about presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

As a boy, I grew up believing in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I was pretty sure that this maxim was unique to Christianity, but of course that’s because my fundamentalist upbringing shielded me from real human history. It turns out that this rule of behavior is practically universal. It has the obvious ring of truth about it. Would I want somebody else to do it to me? If not, then I shouldn’t do it.

But Christianity takes it a step further. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells of the last judgment, in which the Son of Man will separate the just from the damned the way a shepherd would separate the sheep from the goats. He concludes with:

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (ESV)

Critics of the Golden Rule have rightly pointed out that a core weakness is that it is self-centered. It asks us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but it does not necessarily encourage us to think and feel as he or she does. How do we know how others wish to be treated unless we understand them first?

But in Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment, he’s telling us that if we want to be just and righteous, we need to treat everyone — every friend, enemy, or stranger — as we would Christ himself. We need to see the spark of the divine in every human. When a beggar comes forward and asks for a few coins, do we think, “That leech will just go and buy more liquor” or “If this man were Jesus, what would I do?” When someone hurts us do we think “I will have my revenge someday” or “I don’t know why he did that, but I forgive him and hope that he will change his ways“?

The victims of the racist-motivated mass killing in Charleston this week, despite their devastating pain and suffering, somehow remembered the teachings of the New Testament. They stayed true to their beliefs in love over hate, peace over violence, reconciliation over retribution. According to the New York Times, Nadine Collier, daughter of one of the victims said:

You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.

ABC News reported that one by one the victims spoke to the killer, offering words of forgiveness. They refused to let hate win. They banished the darkness with the light of hope and love. Alana Simmons said:

Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate . . . everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live and love. I want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.

Not one of them wished that “a good guy with a gun” had shot the murderer before, during, or after his killing spree. None of them asked for swift revenge. They all spoke words of forgiveness — because even though the killer is a wretched racist who snuffed out the lives of their loved ones, they still can see the spark of the divine within him. They recognize a soul, and to them, every soul is worth saving. Everyone is a child of God. Everyone can be forgiven.

If that isn’t true Christianity, then I don’t know what the hell is.

On the other side of the spectrum of humanity and Christianity, we have Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and ordained Baptist minister. Here’s what the Huckster had to say about the shootings in South Carolina:

The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal carry or there had been either an off-duty policeman or an on-duty policeman, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter. Maybe not everyone would have been saved, but they probably would have gotten to the shooter before the shooter killed nine people and wounded several others . . . 

It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using.

Sure it sounds crass, but it suits you, Governor Huckabee. The Christians who were in that prayer meeting do not fantasize about gunning down the shooter, but you do. Before the bodies of his murdered fellow Christians could be laid to rest, this man of the cloth had to tell the national news media that the solution to our gun violence problem is, of course, more guns.

I’m glad that Neil and I have a general rule against cursing here on Vridar, because right about now this post could easily degenerate into a mass of four-letter words in which, for example, I would compare Huckabee to a sack of wet excrement. But I won’t go there.

Instead, I wish to remind everyone — Christian or non-Christian – who might think that Mike Huckabee is worthy of your vote to think about his behavior this week. This tragedy invites all Americans to do some real soul-searching, to ask ourselves what it is about our culture that allows these events to occur over and over. Will we ever get over our racist past? Will we ever confront our gun problem — not just guns as weapons, but guns as a symbol of our love affair with violence and retribution?

Lest we forget, Huckabee stumbled mightily over the racist Confederate flag during his first run in 2008. He defended that symbol of hatred, as if it were the legitimate state flag of South Carolina. As Christopher Hitchens reminded our compliant and negligent media:

1) The South Carolina flag is a perfectly nice flag, featuring the palmetto plant, about which no “outsider” has ever offered any free advice.

2) The Confederate battle flag, to which Gov. Huckabee was alluding, was first flown over the South Carolina state Capitol in 1962, as a deliberately belligerent riposte to the civil rights movement, and is not now, and never has been, the flag of that great state.

3) By a vote of both South Carolina houses in the year 2000, the Confederate battle flag ceased to be flown over the state capitol and now only waves (as quite possibly it should) over the memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers.

Alas, we no longer have Hitchens, so we have lost a powerful critic against the crass and vile Huckabee. And amid all the cries on both sides either to take down and burn or to praise and commend the Confederate battle flag, few are likely to remember Hitch’s apt and concise evaluation of said flag and of said Huckabee:

The battle flag of the Confederate army, the most militant symbolic form that secession and slavery ever took, is quite another. Under this fiery cross of St. Andrew, the state of Pennsylvania was invaded and free Americans were rounded up and re-enslaved. Under this same cross, it was announced that any Union officer commanding freed-slave soldiers, or any of his men, would be executed if captured. (In other words, war crimes were boasted of in advance.) The 13 stars of the same flag include stars for two states—Kentucky and Missouri—that never did secede, and they thus express a clear ambition to conquer free and independent states. And this is the symbol that Huckabee, seeking to ingratiate himself with the lowest element and lowest common denominator, calls “your flag.” You might as well do a cross-burning and have done with it, and we all know how the networks would react if some ignorant kids did that. (emphasis mine)

Huckabee, an oily blend of Richard Nixon and Gomer Pyle has no chance at winning the nomination, despite his appeal to racists, crypto-racists, Islamophobes, dominionists, climate-change-deniers, and self-loathing atheists. He does, however, represent a popular sort of un-Christian follower of Jesus — that strange breed of Christian who uses the Bible to deny marriage equality to gays and lesbians, but can’t find one goddamned verse about turning the other cheek, loving your neighbors, or forgiving your enemies.

Despite the terrible news of last week, including the distortions and hysteria in right-wing media, we saw a glimmer of hope. We cried when we heard the news of the shooting. We cried again when we watched the victims confront the shooter, but for different reasons.

Above all the noise, all the shouting, all the claims that it wasn’t about race, all the demands for more guns to make us safer, we heard the quiet but resolute Christian voice — a voice that said, “I forgive you.”

12 Comments

  • Lowen Gartner
    2015-06-20 21:31:15 UTC - 21:31 | Permalink

    thanks

  • 2015-06-20 22:35:12 UTC - 22:35 | Permalink

    Largely spot-on. One of the best features I’ve found in Christianity is its niceness, dedication, and condemnations of hypocrisy (which are rarely followed, based on the doctrine that it’s all right to sin if you’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior). However, as an atheist and skeptic, I can’t help but think the public nature of the woman’s forgiveness was a ruse to make the killer feel worse. It’s difficult to conceive anyone being able to genuinely forgive someone that fast for such ruthlessness.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2015-06-20 22:52:46 UTC - 22:52 | Permalink

      It didn’t strike me as anything but genuine. Carrying hate is a burden. He took away their loved ones, but they refused to let his act fill their lives with hatred and the desire for vengeance.

      I don’t think I’d ever have that kind of strength. I salute their courage.

      BTW, we’ve seen that kind of forgiveness from Buddhists, too, as when Tibetan monks forgive their captors and torturers.

      • john dauria
        2015-06-21 09:06:37 UTC - 09:06 | Permalink

        As so often, I [for that it is worth and to point to a specific example , your concerns over E Harding’s at times somewhat strange remarks , for instance , his views on IQ] agree with your points in this post, especially the forgiveness of the victims [ yes the survivors are victims] and the genuineness of it. “Ruse” indeed

  • Janet
    2015-06-21 00:39:58 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

    I am not American so I don’t have much understanding of your country, but surely flying the Confederate flag must be a treasonous action? How could it not be? I am astonished that it is allowed anywhere, but that it should fly from government buildings is extraordinary.

    As to Christian forgiveness; forgiveness must be asked for, and can only come with repentance which I doubt this man has shown. It sounds all well and good, and is certainly better than calls for revenge, but I think it’s a bit too soon to talk of forgiveness.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-06-21 01:07:07 UTC - 01:07 | Permalink

      I’m reminded of anthropologist Scott Atran’s commentary on Muslim parents early statements on learning of the criminal/suicidal deaths of their children (I quoted his words here). The statements of forgiveness make most sense to me as the “innate inclinations to give a sense to … heart-wrenching loss”. The statements of forgiveness are statements imbuing a noble genuinely Christian meaning to the deaths of their loved ones.

      Other brands of Christians prefer to exploit the massacre to ingest meaning into other “this worldly” agendas.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2015-06-21 05:50:33 UTC - 05:50 | Permalink

        Meanwhile, other Christians who, like small children, think the world revolves around them, need to believe that everything about them.

        https://www.vox.com/2015/6/19/8812663/charleston-shooting-republicans

        Nobody is ever as persecuted as they are. Nobody. Why, pretty soon, Christianity will be outlawed!

        An attack on Christians is a much easier issue for Republicans to discuss. For years now, conservatives have been arguing that Christians are a persecuted minority in the United States. Talking about an attack on a black church as an attack on a church fits that preexisting framework nicely, and allows politicians to talk about the news issue of the day without stepping into a political minefield.

        See? Christians are the real victims, not the black people who were murdered by a white guy who told everyone he wanted a race war.

        • David Ashton
          2015-06-21 10:17:26 UTC - 10:17 | Permalink

          There are many victims of murder, persecution and hatred the world over, some “ethnic” and others “religious” (often a mixture of both). My own “altruism” does not discriminate, racially or otherwise, although some horrors serve some US-dominated media narratives better than others, and there are many cruelties that “we” can unfortunately do little about. I would not feel like forgiving someone who murdered my relatives and friends in cold blood, whatever his/her “motives” or “mental state”.

          Christians have been massacred recently in several places, as have others, and these innocent victims are no less a matter of concern as those harmless and pleasant people slaughtered in a Charleston church in a cowardly manner by a pill-popping narcissist. So far as “white nationalism” is concerned, this latest horror has been a setback not a trigger.

          However, issues of “racism” – and “religionism” – need not only an immediate reaction, local focus and ephemeral news-interest, but are very much larger, factually and ethically, and require careful political analysis and response.

    • 2015-06-21 20:26:18 UTC - 20:26 | Permalink

      You have a sensible point, Janet. Reconstruction in the U.S. was nowhere near as thorough as de-Nazification in Europe. All Lincoln (and most of the Congress in the states that did not secede) wanted was for slavery to be banned in U.S. territories and for the South to pay taxes. When the war was won, while slavery was abolished, after strong attempts were made to integrate Blacks into full participation in American life, the North eventually got tired of restraining men who desired Reconstruction undone. Much of the South, while accepting defeat militarily, never accepted the justice of the conquest of the Confederacy by the Union remnants. When they got the chance, former slaveholders did take back power.

      Japan has similar examples of honoring WW II war criminals. This was because the Emperor was never overthrown, so there remained a substantial amount of regime continuity.

    • dn
      2015-06-22 03:02:47 UTC - 03:02 | Permalink

      Janet – as a matter of fact, treason is the only crime whose legal definition here in the US is explicitly limited by the Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Basically, anything short of materially aiding the enemy in an active war cannot be prosecuted as treason. The US has a long tradition of free-speech absolutism that goes beyond most other first-world countries; there is nothing here comparable to European anti-Nazi laws, for example.

      But even besides that, anyone familiar with the relevant history should not be surprised. As revolutionary as the Civil War was, it was nowhere near revolutionary enough. Radical Reconstruction after the war was a very short phase that lasted scarcely a decade before the old white elites were pretty much back in power, leaving the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments a dead letter for a century thereafter. During that century the mainstream historiography of Reconstruction, even in the North, was explicitly white supremacist and sympathetic to the Redeemers. This only began to change with the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, and tendentious interpretations of the period can still be found in some school textbooks (along with a lot of other unconscionable crap).

      Nor is South Carolina the only state to continue to pay official homage to the Confederacy. The official flag of Mississippi still contains the battle flag as part of its design, while Georgia’s is based on the the less well-known “Stars and Bars” flag that was the original flag of the Confederate government.

      As a famous Southerner once wrote, the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.

      • David Ashton
        2015-06-22 10:38:29 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

        You need not go back centuries to find “history” written or re-written by “winners”. Worth noting that Lincoln was a reluctant abolitionist, skeptical about racial integration and supportive of black emigration – not all he has been “crackered” up to be. But then there has been “crap” from anti-“racist” writers too. It helps when genuine, thorough scholarship unearths facts from, or contrary to, ideology-driven propaganda whatever it is.

  • David
    2015-06-21 14:04:10 UTC - 14:04 | Permalink

    Amen and well said!

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