Saturday, January 07, 2012

Martyrs & mirrors

Just for the heck of it this morning I hauled my copy of Martyrs Mirror downstairs --- all 1,158 pages of it. The original full title of this mighty volume is “The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to A.D. 1660.” You can see why a shorter title was in order.

“Defenseless” here translates as non-resistance (or pacifism, if you like) and, traditionally, Martyrs Mirror has been second only to the Bible in importance to Anabaptists --- Mennonites, Amish and the like.

Although the tales of martyrdom begin on the edge of Christianity, a majority of the horror stories involve persecution by the established Christian church during its first 1,600 years of some who begged to differ --- notably the Anabaptists who practiced both what now is sometimes called believer’s baptism as well as strict non-resistance. Both practices were considered by the Christian majorities of their day, once Christianity got rolling, to be heresy, which translates as a threat to the temporal power of the established church.

I keep this door-stop-sized volume around to read, now and then, but also because it serves as a fairly good reminder of the Christian proclivity to become obsessed first with acquiring power, then maintaining it, often with weapons ranging from sharp tongues to swords and fire. Anabaptists, by the way, rarely have fallen into this trap.

Christianity is not alone in this --- many religions share it. It’s what happens when God is perceived first as being on one side or another and then as endorsing whatever tactics are required to gain and keep the upper hand.

There’s been a good deal of this going around during the current election cycle, led mostly I think by Christians who sense their control eroding --- from the all-male Roman Catholic hierarchy at one extreme to Southern Baptists and their kind, ranging to the lunatic fringe, on the other.

I’m fascinated by the fact the Mormons, represented by the inevitable Mitt Romney, have the opportunity as part of this political campaign to become the focus of frightened Christians of a new era, mocked and demonized anew for the admittedly absurd ruffles and flourishes of their distinctly American faith.

And by the importance of the issue of same-sex marriage and the rights of gay people in general to Republican campaigners.

A fairly recent Web site launched by Fred Karger, gay gadfly and perhaps the most marginal GOP presidential contender, entitled “The Top 10 Craziest Mormon Beliefs,” is a good example of mockery.

Curiously, the site comes from someone who should know better, being a member of a somewhat marginalized community himself. You can read more about the site, from a gay LDS perspective, and find a link to it here.

And yes I know the Mormon hierarchy worked actively for California’s Proposition 8. That support, presumably, is what motivated Barger’s modest venture into demonization. So the game can be played in more than one camp.

There’s actually nothing new here. Christians of non-Mormon varieties have been saying (and writing) similar things since, oh let’s see, the 1830s.

The wonderful thing is, there’s nothing more whacky in Mormon theology than can be found in Christianity theology in general. Born of a virgin impregnated without penetration by God? Oh come now. God’s will written down in that cobbled-together, contradictory and scientifically and historically misguided old book the Bible? Bread and wine become flesh and blood, you say? That guy Jesus rose physically from the dead and we’re going to, too? Ridiculous. It’s somehow up to us to decide who is and who isn’t “saved”? Just plain crazy.

But it’s the variety of crazy we’ve gotten used to.

The old presumption was that what we’ve come to affirm about eternal matters can be proved and that the answers to all temporal questions flow logically from those beliefs. Most sensible believers know now that proof is lacking. It’s all about faith --- antidote to fear and unfulfilled life based on yearning and, most importantly for the believer, on leading. Nothing more --- or less.

That guy whose resurrection we affirm as God’s fools if nothing else, distilled the Way into two commandments: love God, love your neighbor. And by implication, demonstrate both.

Part of the demonstration process, applicable to all camps, involves passing when the opportunity arises to demonize (damn, it’s hard to resist temptation) and being careful to mock only when mockery is due and even then, gently.

God knows, none of this should be seen as an endorsement of Mitt Romney. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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