Monday, August 27, 2012

"Lord: Save Us from your Followers": A discourse about Christianity settles into practical social capital

Dan Merchant’s loose documentary “Lord: Save Us from your Followers”  (2008, Lightning Strikes and Big Fish Media)   carries the subtitle-tagline, “Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?

The 100-minute film (full screen on the DVD) gives us a meandering answer with all its micro-interviews and snippets. 

But it’s good to look at this through the back door.  The heart of real Christianity is the practice of “radical compassion”, and “giving of yourself to others”.   It’s about being your brother’s keeper, and taking care of “the least among us”.  It’s about social capital.  (That’s what the last half-hour presents.) So why the moralizing, and the putting down of people who “sin” (women who don’t carry their babies, and then, in the opposite sense but most of all, many gays and lesbians)? 

It’s hard to really “give of yourself”  (that means your own core being, not your creative or expressive works) unless you know or believe that others must do the same.   That’s the first hour.
So, along the way, “being right” is important, to give life (and its sacrifices) enough meaning.  But eventually self-righteousness defeats itself.  Socilaization and sharing or burdens (and forgiveness) is important because no one can achieve everything on his own without the hidden sacrifices of others. 

But since moral correctness can never be proven intellectually on purely secular terms without some conundrums and seeming contradictions, people turn to religious teachings, as laws given by God.  They get lost in the procedures of the church – even the “body of Christ” (“Corpus Christi”) – which is the church itself, or the mass of people who carry on its work.

Merchant presents repeated clips with figures like a younger Rick Santorum, about the time he wrote “It Takes a Family” and took up the idea of The Common Good.  He also spends some time with pastor Rick Warren (“The Purpose-Driven Life”), who the film says has given away most of his wealth.

The biggest sin of Evangelical Christianity is its commercialism, someone says, and then its self-righteousness.  And more than one preacher apologizes for the behavior of “churchianity” towards gay men during the AIDS crisis.

The spend some of its second half in Portland, Oregon, said to be the least religious major city in the U.S.
There is some attention to bullying, especially anti-gay bullying (and this film was shot before the topic really became a public issue) and it gives one harrowing example, by narration, of a suicide after taunts in locker rooms for physical education.  (The film was also shot well before the Sandusky scandal.)

The film presents a “culture wars game show”.   The basic question is “Who belongs to the community for whom we accept some common responsibility”? I think that the range of the “common good” (as Santorum would see it) is something that can change across generations.  Today, because people can live longer, sharing responsibility for caring for the elderly and disabled (which is not chosen in the sense that having babies is) is part of the “common good” in a way not really foreseen when I was growing up, but many of the ideas of “family values” – the notion that people should take care of one another rather than leaving it to governments – which had come out of the trials of earlier generations (wars, depressions, no safety net) fit right in to today’s notions of extended family responsibility.

The official site is here

The DVD has a couple of featurettes  (“bumper stickers” called “Man goes to church” and “Man goes to college” -- at Lewis and Clark College) and five “conversation starters” (about abortion, consumerism, mission starters [a year of service, Mormon—style, without proselytizing], evolution v. intelligent design, and confessions).  These extras on the DVD provide some pointed focus not available just from the theatrical film release. 

The consumerism starter (with Tony Compolo) asks, “if you’re rich, is it because you worked and deserve it.  Is it all abot fending for yourself?”  Our houses are big not because we have a lot of children (we don’t) but we need room for all our stuff!

The Mission clip says “It’s not about what I know, it’s about who I am”.

The clip on "evolution v. intelligent design" makes a particularly striking argument.  That is, if you take God out of science and reduce everything to a "natural process", then why not eliminate the disabled, who would tax the "evolutionary" survival ability of others?  That was, in a sense, Hitler's argument (whether it really comes from Nietzsche ("The Gay Science") is somewhat dubious).  On the other hand, if you accept God's design and the idea that every person has inherent dignity, then everyone has an inherent obligation (not chosen) to advance the dignity of others personally. Otherwise, a slide into Darwinism (really, more the ideas of Herbert Spencer) is likely and hard to stop. It isn't about "being right."  Yet, as the speaker points out, this possibility gives evangelical Christianity a compelling reason to strengthen its purely intellectual case for intelligent design. 

The "confession" section starts as a mockery of glbt confessions.  

There is a stirring video “We are all the same”. 

Here's a great quote: "George W Bush changed our hearts, and Dick Cheney turned it back".

Wikipedia attribution link for Portland, OR picture (last visit, 1996). 

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