"Christianity isn't moving people's lives today. What's moving people's lives is the stock market and the baseball scores. What are people excited about? It's a totally materialistic level that has taken over the world. There isn't even an ideal that anybody's fighting for." --the late Joseph Campbell
It's a strange time to call oneself a Christian. What does it mean? Who establishes the definition? And upon what -- or whose -- divine authority do the arbiters judge the veracity of believers?
I've not yet seen Jesus formally bestow an endorsement upon any living person who purports to be Christ's spokesperson or agent.
I'll make an admission: During Christmas seasons of late, part of me falls into a funk. It's not that I don't look forward to festively stringing the lights on the house in Montana, or the build-up to Christmas morning with the kids, or gathering with family and friends, or the candlelight church service on Christmas eve.
I love all of that.
And it's not even that I find society's material emphasis of Christmas--as being all about reviving the economy--to be hypocritically devoid of spiritual meaning.
It's rather the feeling of being adrift from the ideal of Christ himself I was raised to believe in.
I grew up Lutheran, which, I readily acknowledge, holds no strategic advantage over other denominations. There was never any assumption-- presented in Sunday school, during the process of confirmation, while serving as an acolyte or listening to pastoral sermons from the pews--that Jesus was partisan.
My identity as a Christian, and the validity of personal beliefs were not contingent upon having an affiliation with the Republican Party. I'm not suggesting that I think Jesus would be a Democrat; it's that, in the way the Bible was read and interpreted by our pastor, he was neither; having faith in the transformative power of Christ was apolitical.
Dropping Jesus' name wasn't considered a license to condemn others or label them--falsely--socialists, communists or traitors.
I am offended at how zealots more clustered on the extreme right have attempted to hijack my Christianity, imposing subjective litmus tests on other believers, and casting aspersions on anyone who does not share the same political agenda they do.
Particularly repulsive are people like James Dobson who would have us think that if Christ walked the Earth today he would be identified as Jesus, R-Bethlehem. More than that, Dobson's ilk has reconfigured Christ into a gun-toting, free-market, Ayn Rand Libertarian, conspicuous consumer of material goods and rationalizer of greed.
Would Jesus be impressed by the Halloween costume they've garlanded him up in? It's not the compassionate Jesus I immediately recognize.
Some of the partisans argue that Jesus would side with the insurance industry, big pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists to water down health insurance reform.
They claim Jesus would not see health care as a basic human right and that if individuals and families go bankrupt seeking the treatments they need, then tough beans.
They assert that Jesus would condone the outright lies and distortions advanced by opponents of health care reform including Sarah Palin, who claim, absurdly, there's a conspiracy to create government death panels aimed at killing the elderly and forcing abortions on women pregnant with Down Syndrome babies.
They imply Jesus would part company with the pope and a growing number of clergy from every faith convinced by the science that implicates humans as a cause of climate change, and who see it as a looming social justice issue.
They suggest environmentalists plying the principles of St. Francis of Assisi would, in Jesus' eyes, be extremists for seeking to protect nature against rapacious activities that destroy wildlife, habitat and beauty.
And they use Christ as a foil for being bellicose, mean-spirited, self-centered, and divisive, to the point of being willing, it seems, to tear this country apart not because they want to make America better but they simply want a rival political party to fail, regardless of its intentions.
They are the first to say America was founded as a Christian nation, in part to serve as refuge from religious persecution, yet they are quick to persecute those who disagree with their politically-informed interpretations of scripture.
As a deeply flawed Christian who subscribes to the old-fashioned and perhaps delusional notion that Christmas is about espousing the virtues of Christ, I simply want to be left alone to have my own relationship with a higher power, keeping politics out of the sanctuary, religion out of the ballot box and letting God--and God alone-- judge whether I've emulated Jesus' intent.
This column appeared originally in The Jackson Hole News & Guide.