To Hell with Limbo / The Newest Act of an Irrelevant Christianity

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 25 January 2006 0 Comments
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Why are Americans so preoccupied with the abortion
issue when other ways of protecting human life are
ignored? For instance, the infant mortality rate is
more than twice as high in the US compared to my
country (Sweden). It's even higher than Cuba's. How
embarrassing that should be for one of the wealthiest
countries in the world! (I guess it must be related to
poverty and the social model that the U.S. has
embarked upon). Secondly, when you point this out to
Americans, they just won't believe it; they think it's
some kind of propaganda. Where does all this
misdirected patriotism come from? Is it Christian to
believe that God has a special relation to the United


America is a religiously schizophrenic nation. We
have in our history been able to combine religion with
the practices of slavery, segregation, lynching and
violent racism. We have in the name of the God we
claim to worship oppressed women, Jews and
homosexuals. The public negativity about abortion, to
which you have referred, is acted out against the
background of an unwillingness to embrace the fact
that millions of poor children in this land do not
have access to health care. That is surely one more
illustration of this schizophrenia. Religion is the
way some of our citizens seek personal security. That
kind of religion always demands conformity to stated
religious values no matter how contradictory they
might be in practice. This kind of religion always
seeks to impose narrow definitions on the whole
society. Although history reveals that this practice
never works, whenever the levels of fear become high
enough this nation seems to walk down this same old
road again and again. Once the society discovers
itself under this kind of pressure and feels close to
being overwhelmed by this kind of religious mentality,
there is always a revolution to restore balance. On
three occasions, in 1896, 1900 and 1908, America
turned back the evangelical presidential bids of
Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan. In 1988
this nation rebuked Pat Robertson's bid for the
Republican nomination. There is also still present
in the American psyche a deep reservoir of the ancient
Puritanism out of which so many found their way to
these shores. The puritan work ethic does proclaim
that if you are poor, it is because you deserve it.
This means that in this nation we are always engaged
politically in a class warfare struggle. Class warfare
is visible when conservative administrations like the
present Bush presidency, lower taxes on the wealthy
and simultaneously cut welfare and medical care for
the poor. That is nothing but class warfare and the
wealthy are winning. At the same time, when this
nation passed legislation calling for a graduated
income tax and created the Social Security Program,
that represented victories in the class warfare
struggle for the poor. While in the political
propaganda that both sides mount in this struggle
declares that everyone seeks "fairness," the fact is
that the way we tolerate unfairness in America is by
denying its existence. Then something like the
hurricane in New Orleans rips of the facade of that
untruth and makes us face anew that this is a class
oriented society. Your letter, for which I thank you,
will also raise consciousness, for most Americans do
not travel outside this country frequently enough to
have any sense of how we are viewed by the other
nations of the world, so I appreciate your letter as
one that holds up a mirror so that we can look at
ourselves through your eyes. History reveals that
these attitudes that you describe will pass away in
time. It will take an aroused electorate, however. My
sense is that there is at this moment a growing
negativity about the road this nation is presently
walking. It is being fueled by an increasingly
unpopular and perhaps an unwinnable war in Iraq, the
bulging national deficit, the issue of corruption with
lobbyists in the Republican controlled congress and
the administrative disasters in handling both the
crisis in New Orleans and the introduction of the
Medicare prescription drug plan. An aroused public is
growing. The beneficiary of this dis-ease may not be
the minority party; it might be a more moderate part
of the present majority party. We will have to wait
and see.

John Shelby Spong

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