Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eclipse Pulls the Veil from Some of the Darkest, Looniest (Yes, an Eclipse Joke) Corners of American Christianity

Monday's eclipse pulled the veil away from some of the darkest, looniest (yes, an eclipse joke) corners of American Christianity — which we're discovering in the Trump era are really mainstream U.S. white Christianity, after all. An astonishing number of our fellow citizens buy into this toxic nonsense.

There's first of all the signs-and-wonders confabulation of Billy Graham's daughter Anne Lotz and many like her, the bizarre suggestion that God was "sending" a natural event which science (remember that quaint school of alchemical prediction that once caused foolish people to "measure" things and use "logic" and rely on "facts" and "evidence"?) has known for a very long time would happen at this precise time. Because that's what science does.

Some sign. Some wonder.

There's a deeply bullying, deeply necrophiliac strain in right-wing white Christianity, which wants to imagine a Big Bully in the sky eternally itching to rain down fire and devastation on the world He loves so well. Because that's what love does. That's what a mean-spirited, authoritarian Father does: He punishes. He beats into submission. Because he loves so much. And so any natural event out of the ordinary must be turned into a sign and wonder to try to bully everyone else in the world into submission to our punitive Father God.

What intrigued me the most about the loony reaction of right-wing Christians to the eclipse was the madhouse of pseudo-biblical interpretations of the event that I saw showcased on several videos friends sent me as the eclipse neared. All these videos purported to tell you what "the bible" had predicted about this very eclipse, and why "the bible" had predicted it.

But watch the videos, and they pay only the scantest lip service to a carefully selected biblical text here and there, ripped out of its context. For the most part, they're a strange mix of extrabiblical astrological mumbo-jumbo and bowdlerized ancient history: when the ram and the lion meet in the sphere of Tutankhamun and the moon crosses the sun and darkness falls on the land, he will send his blond-haired Savior (whose face glows like the finest orange gold) to scourge the world and prepare it for the second coming of Christ.

At which point you and others like you will be snatched to glory while everyone you hate and disdain will be left behind to suffer the unimaginable torments you have always wanted them to suffer. Because, like Father God, you love them so much and you love the world so much . . . .

None of this mumbo-jumbo, all of it as crazy as my Aunt Katoodie's underwear drawer, reflects even the most passing acquaintance with the bible. It's a melange of half-digested extrabiblical myth and distorted history. For a group of people who claim to be biblical literalists, American Christianity has surely spawned some of the most biblically illiterate folks on the planet, hasn't it?

I saw somber article after somber article at the time of the eclipse asking what kind of eclipse occurred as Jesus was crucified — as if the gospel accounts of his crucifixion are not theological meditations on his death written a full generation after he died (and that's precisely what they are), but eyewitness accounts jotted down by someone observing and recording what was taking place with the dispassion of a newspaper reporter.

Not a scintilla of awareness that, in referring to darkness covering the land as Jesus died on the cross, the gospel writers — writing as theologians a generation after his death, which they did not themselves witness — were linking his death to key passages in the Jewish scripture that speak of the sky darkening at moments of divine epiphany or apocalypse. They were showing that the death of Jesus had significance against the backdrop of the only scriptures they knew, the ones Christians now call the Jewish scriptures or Old Testament, and that his life and death fulfilled the prophecies of the scriptures.

All of this toxic nonsense has now yielded us Donald Trump, who is backed with slavish adulation by these same "bible-believing" white Christians, so it's definitely worth thinking about and challenging, I would maintain.

(I apologize for having been silent a few days. I was called last week to testify this week in a trial in Daytona Beach, Florida, and have been there since Sunday — without much time or energy to blog.)

The photo is by Andrew Harnik of AP by way of TPM.

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