Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christian Culture Anxieties, Part 2

A dear friend of mine was duped by a forward about a month ago. The email she received claimed that CBS discontinued the show Touched by an Angel because it used the word "God" in every episode. Madeline Murray O'Hare, the woman who succeeded in eliminating mandatory prayer and Bible reading from public schools many years ago, was blamed for the CBS/Angel fiasco. Not only that, the email claimed O'Hare had a hearing with the FCC, where, if her petition was successful, "all Sunday worshipservices being broadcast on the radio or bytelevision will be stopped." The email urged Christians to action.

Many of you reading this will think this sounds fishy. I immediately did a search and came up with a few urban legend-type websites that debunk these rumors (http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/m/madelynmurrayohair-touched.htmhttp://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_petition_2493.htm

The question that interested me most, once the rumor was debunked, was this: How does this sort of thing start? How does it spread? And why? The only true fruit of the rumor-spreading seems to be an increased level of paranoia among Christians. Paranoia and ignorance that prevents us from seeking real public change.

This brings to mind Y2K and my mother, who joined an organization called The Prophecy Club. After many hours on the phone with a "Prophet" named Tom, my mother took a carload of her possessions to Goodwill, applied for her passport, and pleaded with my brother to give his life to the Lord. What did she learn from her conversation with Prophet Tom? That there were Russian troops hiding out in WW2 Japanese internment camps, waiting for all systems to go haywire on January 1, 2000. When chaos commenced, these Russian troops would take to the streets, imposing martial law. Christians would be persecuted, Prophet Tom said, but there was a small farming community in Belize where Christians could survive by working the land, a safe and humble lifestyle.

Mom never made it to Belize, but she was damn sure immobilized by fear, not to mention bereft of her only copy of The Late Great Planet Earth, which she donated to Goodwill in her escape-planning frenzy. I know this story is a bit exterme, and most people I know are not this gullible. Still, there are plenty of organizations like the Prophecy Club making a whole lot of money off their products. And that money is coming from somewhere, likely from very anxious Jesus-followers.


Ali BG said...

H-a wonderful tool for figuring out how these things start is www.snopes.com. They have an "urban legends" reference page that will come up with just about any email forward you get, and they track it as far back to the source as possible, outline the various permutations (sp?) it's gone through and generally offer a great tool for bs-finding....

nancy said...

Heather - yeah, I think these types of emails portray the fear-nature of a lot of American Evangelicals. I got the one stating Barack Obama is a Muslim who was sworn into the senate using a Koran and is a member of a racist anti-American radical church - among other things.

I think our focus on personal salvation (ala Billy Graham - not that I don't respect the man - but there was a significant shift around his time) rather than transforming societal evils via public discourse and compassionate service - think suffrage, civil rights, abolition...has something to do with this shift.

Evil is to be avoided. Of course, you must add in the Religious Right movement of Jerry Falwell et al in the late 70's early 80's too - partly in reaction to Roe v. Wade. Now Christians need to be against evil and protect our "Christian Nation". I ask, when were we Christian? When we were oppressing people because of skin color or gender? Or when we were enslaving people as property?

Sanctification and holiness moved from confronting large scale evil to confronting personal morality in a way. Plus I think the warped conception of the second coming of Christ has left a lot of Christians with an underlying belief that the world will get more evil since we're in the last days and we just need to stay pure cause Armageddon is just around the corner.

Therefore, gays, Muslims, abortionists are not people to love, but characters in a divine end-times drama (thank you Frank Peretti) and faithful Christians need to stay away and speak out against rather than lovingly reach out with healing, hope and toughtful discourse for systemic change.

Can I plug Barack? This is why I am so drawn to him - his worldview and public life as well as his rhetoric are hopeful (like MLK) a voice that says we can change things and make this world (staring with our own house that needs to be put in order) a better place - a place more like the kingdom of Christ.

H.W. said...

Thanks Nancy! You just touched on one of my biggest pet peeves: the idea that we were ever a "Christian Nation." You're absolutely right to ask: Was that when we were enslaving Africans, disenfranchising Native Americans, yada yada yada?

preach it, sister.