On occasion people ask me what, exactly, it is I have against Christianity, inasmuch as I seem to rail against it quite a bit. My general response is: I have nothing against Christianity. I wish more Christians practiced it. The famous bumper sticker says “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but I often wonder just how often they check in with Christ about that last one. I look at the picture I included with the last entry, the one with the kid protesting the gay marriages in San Francisco, wearing the shirt that has “homo” written on it with a circle and slash through the word, and I try to find some of Christ’s teachings in that. As you might imagine, I’m finding very little.
If that kid were hit by a bus and got to meet Christ shortly thereafter, I do imagine the conversation would be a sorrowful one, as the homo-negating young man would have to try to reconcile his shirt with the admonition to love others as one loves one’s self. I would imagine at the end of that conversation, the young man would be looking to see if Christ were holding a lever, and if there were a trap door under the young man’s feet.
In the comment thread of the last entry, one of the posters wondered why many fundamentalists spend so much time in Leviticus and so little time in the New Testament, and I think that’s a remarkably cogent question. Indeed, it is so cogent that I would like to make the suggestion that there is an entire class of self-identified “Christians” who are not Christian at all, in the sense that they don’t follow the actual teachings of Christ in any meaningful way. Rather these people nod toward Christ in a cursory fashion on their way to spend time in the bloodier books of the Bible (which tend to be found in the Old Testament), using the text selectively as a support for their own hates and prejudices, using the Bible as a cudgel rather than a door. That being the case, I suggest we stop calling these people Christians and start calling them something that befits their faith, inclinations and enthusiasms.
I say we call them Leviticans, after Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, famous for its rules, and also the home of the passages most likely to be thrown out by Leviticans to justify their intolerance (including, in recent days, against gays and lesbians — Leviticus Chapter 18, Verse 22: “Thou shalt not not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination”).
To suggest that a Christian is actually a Levitican is not to say he or she is false in faith — rather, it is to suggest that their faith is elsewhere in the Bible, in the parts that are easy to understand: The rules, the regulations, all the things that are clear cut about what you can do and what you can’t do to be right with God. Rules are far easier to follow than Christ’s actual path, which needs humility and sacrifice and the ability to forgive, love and cherish even those who you oppose and who oppose and hate you. Any idiot can follow rules; indeed, there’s a good argument to made that idiots can only follow rules. This is why Leviticans love Leviticus (and other pentateuchal and Old Testament books): Chock full of rules. And you can believe in rules. That’s why they’re rules.
So, back to the guy with the “homo” shirt. Is he a Christian? Well, on the basis of his actions, it would appear not. But he’s undoubtedly a Levitican — a Levitican is just the sort of person who would go to the San Francisco City Hall and yell atgays and lesbians for having the temerity to want the same rights as the rest of us. Fred Phelps and his merry band followers who picket funerals of gay men with “God Hates Fags” signs are Leviticans through and through — not a drop of Christ in them, but they sure are full of their Bible books. John Ashcroft: Filled with the Levitican spirit and not terribly shy about it. Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell showed their Levitican membership cards right after 9/11 when they suggested that America invited the terrorist attacks by being tolerant of “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.” The guys who shoot abortion doctors: Leviticans to the core. Judge Roy “Put those ten commandments in the rotunda” Moore: Levitican. Hardcore.
Let’s be clear: Not every Christian is a Levitican, not by a long shot. Not every fundamentalist Christian is a Levitican. And not every person who believes that allowing gays and lesbians to marry is morally wrong is Levitican, either. (Also to be clear: Although Leviticus is part of the Torah, I don’t see too many Leviticans among the Jews, who in my experience see the Torah as a jumping off point to engage the world rather than a defense against it.) People of good will can disagree, vehemently, about what it right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, and what should be done about it. What makes a Levitican, in my book at least, is the willingness to transmute one’s beliefs into hate and intolerance, to deprive others of rights they ought to enjoy. Leviticans have ever been with us. They quoted the Bible to justify slavery. They quoted the Bible to try to keep women in the home. They quoted the Bible to keep the races pure. They quote the Bible to try to keep gays and lesbians from the benefits of marriage. And each time, after they’ve quoted the Bible to their satisfaction, they go out and use that justification for their hate to do terrible things.
In my opinion, the best thing Christians can do is recognize this group within their host — one that reads the same book, purports to follow the same teachings and alleges to worship the same Christ, but through its actions proves itself time and again to be something other than Christian. And I think Christians should ask these people: Who are you? Do you follow the loving example of Christ or do you follow the rules of Leviticus? Do you use the Bible to illuminate your love or justify your hate? When Christ comes back, how will you show that you’ve followed his path? By the number of people that you’ve loved, or the number of the people whom you have “righteously” opposed? Do you love Christ or do you love rules? Are you a Christian, or are you a Levitican?
As for the rest of us, I propose we do our best to separate the Christians from the Leviticans in our minds. I see no reason to blame those who genuinely follow Christ for the actions of those who merely use Christ as a shield for their own hates and fears. And when a Levitican comes across your path, politely point out to him or her what he or she really is: Not a Christian, merely a Levitican.
Most likely, the Levitican will hate you for it. But that just goes to prove the point.