Bronx Cheer

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

One thing I despise; two things my soul hates—well, okay; there’s more than just two. I also hate lame coffee, distracted drivers, cell phones in church, out-of-control kids, political junkies, nuts in baked goods, grading papers, rap, gangster fashion, people who smell, waiting rooms, clutter, and unjustified arrogance, to name a few other things. But I’m not talking about these minor pains in the butt. I’m talking about that dastardly duo of indicted dysfunction, those calamitous conclusions of cultural condemnation; I’m talking the two worst possible accusations that can be made in our touchy contemporary times; I’m talking the charge of narrow-mindedness and its nitro-fueled sibling, fanaticism.

Narrow-mindedness is today’s one remaining unforgivable sin. As long as you’re open-minded, it’s okay to blaspheme the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. If you’re open-minded it’s okay to dump on Christianity, conservatism, and creationism; it’s okay to apply sarcasm’s acetylene torch to all kinds of political, social, and religious dysfunction. As long as you’re open-minded, it’s totally okay to be flamingly gay, hyper-organic, wincingly green, or just plain nuts. However, it’s absolutely not okay—in fact, it’s positively anathema to be convicted of narrow-mindedness. There is no saving grace for it. It’s a certified, one-way, non-refundable ticket to cultural hell.

Fanaticism is a close second as an unforgivable transgression. Whereas narrow-mindedness can be a quiet, private affair, fanaticism is a public, in-your-face advertisement for an unyinged yang. Fanaticism is public spectacle, a roadside billboard displaying psychosis in giant, full color glory. Narrow-mindedness may gain you a few offish glances; fanaticism, on the other hand, will win you unveiled disdain. Fanatics are the personalized plagues of the 21st century who are not only the cause of head-shaking disapproval but of collective hostility too. Fanaticism is narrow-mindedness turned inside out with a dollop of messiah complex on top.

So it’s no surprise that hardly anybody in their right minds could literally subscribe to Paul’s rather hyperbolic resolution. To know nothing but Christ crucified? Are you kidding me? That’s a recipe for sure-fire wacko-ism. The kind of Christianity we need today isn’t some zero-sum religious game that consigns everybody else to a flaming perdition. Do we need yet another myopic spiritual vision that insists on categorical conversion or certain eternal death? Must we add Jesus freaks to the list of terrorist organizations—as some already have?

No. In this new year let us shrug off the poisonous coils of religious zeal. Let us have done with the exclusionary language of a text over 2000 years old. Let us resist, with a passionate, militant open-mindedness, all self-validating creeds, all claims to a singular salvation. Let us relentlessly assail, in the name of universal hospitality, all capital “T” truths whether human or divine.

Above all, as Christians, let us rescue Christianity from archaic Pauline radicalism and from those rabid zealots who would draft Jesus in service of some embarrassingly simplistic binary Gospel. Let us disown the either/or of that Old-Time Religion and embrace with delirious freedom the icons of our age. Let us be the foremost advocates of a multi-platform heaven and of a God without bias, conditions, or binding opinions. This new year, let us abandon all pretense of allegiance to the plain-spoken Scriptures. Let us step off the one-way road system and onto the proliferating paths of pluralism where there are no dead ends, only different, equally valid landscapes. Let us shrug and relegate Christianity to merely one among many and once for all lay Jesus to his permanent rest.

If we do not, Christianity will be left to the mercy of those who take its outrageous claims seriously. And this, my carefully balanced friends, is a danger too profound to contemplate.

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