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Paul Raushenbush

Paul Raushenbush

Posted: March 15, 2010 11:06 AM

When we launched the Religion section of the Huffington Post one month ago, I wrote a letter addressed to "Religious (and Sane) America." Since that time, we have had extraordinary contributions from across the religious landscape including Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Main Line Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist, and Atheists as well as those who defy easy definition. The conversation has been enlightening, honest and, of course, impassioned. But perhaps most promising - it has been sane. Our discourse has been has healthy and productive and the language has been intelligible across religious divisions and beyond simple the categories of religious vs. non-religious.

HuffPost Religion's beginning has been bookended by what I would call: insane religion. Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck provided us with a disturbing reminder of what is unhealthy religious rhetoric and it has reminded us of the desperate need for a sane Christian witness in the world. I don't mean to say that Robertson and Beck are mentally unbalanced - I don't think they are. And I don't think that they mean to do American and Christianity harm, I think they are making these pronouncements out of their own worldview, which they have every right to do. However, I do not think that the way they spoke about the Christian faith was 'sane' in its original meaning of health. Their pronouncements were unhealthy and not within the range of what I would like to promote as a productive, intelligible and redemptive Christian discourse for the 21st century.

It started at the Haiti earthquake. Robertson's explanation was that God sent this earthquake because of a "pact with the devil" the Haitians had made to throw off the oppression of the French. Robertson reminded us that our patience with religious leaders who talk such nonsense has run out. Hopefully the outcry his comments evoked will act as a caution to those with a compulsion to offer such ludicrous explanations. In addition to the tone deaf cruelty, religious insensitivity and obvious racism - sane Christianity rejects the futile and self-serving delusion of offering a pat answer on behalf of God as to why any natural disasters occurs, or why bad things happen to any individual or group.

Sane Christianity doesn't see God's hand in hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes; or in cancer, AIDS, and Tuberculosis - except in a way that is so far beyond our comprehension as to forbid speculation (My ways are not your ways says the Lord). The response of the Christian is to mourn the dead and honor their memory, and commit their spirits into God's keeping. Sane Christianity also rejects the fantasy that these catastrophes are signs of end times or rapture or any other pre-millennial inventions from the 19th Century - they are simply the reality of our world which includes natural tumult as well as sickness and death.

For explanation of the natural world, sane Christians turn to those who are studying it in detail and who are often those who most perceive the true wonder of life - the scientific community. We share in the awe scientists hold for what they are encountering. In seeking to uncover the mysteries we embrace the language of science which is meant to explain without interpreting, and we give thanks for the Enlightenment and the continued growth of scientific inquiry into the origins of the universe and of humanity. Sane Christianity sees a vibrant conversation rather than conflict with science.

However, it is religion we turn to for guidance on how to respond and act in the world. In the case of an earthquake such as in Haiti or in Chili, the sane Christian recognizes that life has been harmed and responds with compassion and love as we have been taught by our Christian tradition. Inspirited by our faith we insist on standards for protecting life such as buildings that won't collapse so easily, using warning signals against tsunamis, and levies that do not break so that we might protect as many as possible the next time a disaster occurs. While science can tell us much about the world it does not give us the moral imperative of our faith. For that we turn to Jesus who gives us an ethical framework for how to act in the world and a vision for what a just society looks like and for which we should strive.

That is why Glenn Beck's comments that social justice in a church can be equated with Nazism or Communism is also repugnant to the sane Christian. The responses to Beck were swift and wide, from Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainline all of whom rejected Beck's unhealthy vision for Christianity. Were the Christian church to forsake its mission to create a world that reflects Jesus' teachings in Matthew 25 and Luke 4, it would lose much of its reason for being -the church would become a sick and useless institution indeed. As the 20th century pastor William Sloane Coffin said to me once: "Ethics do not exhaust the Gospel but they are not ancillary either. " Beck's unhealthy statement reminded us that sane Christianity cares for the individual soul as well as for the common good of the entire society, and we will never forsake either one. What Beck decries as the Church's "social justice" and "progressivism" has been responsible for such consequential commitments as the abolitionist and civil rights movements. Unless Beck is suggesting that these efforts, largely fueled by the church, were a waste of time then he should reassess his thoughts about social justice and the church.

But we should thank Robertson and Beck. They have reminded us that we crave - no, DEMAND sane Christianity, and that actually there are many millions of us who profess it. If Sane Christians, Sane Jews, Sane Hindus, Sane Muslims, Sane Buddhists, Sane Atheists etc, would join together, I think we would have a healthier religious discourse, and a healthier and more compassionate world.

Huffpost Religion is one place where it has started - let's keep it going.