The Shame of St. Peter

Growing up Lutheran, I remember account of St. Peter during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times. Peter said the equivalent of "yeah, right", and continued doing whatever it was they did at the last supper. At the crucifixion, Peter was asked if he knew Jesus. Peter, fearing that he'd be hung up on a cross as well, denied knowing Jesus. He did this three times. After the third time, a cock crowed, and Peter realized that not only was Jesus right, but that he also denied knowing Jesus because it wasn't prudent at the time to know him. Peter was ashamed of himself. As a child, I remembered thinking that I would never deny Jesus because I couldn't imagine myself being put to that test. After all, here in America, we aren't radically challenged in our religious beliefs. Nobody gets crucified for their beliefs here. Religious tolerance is baked into the fabric of our government.

Apparently my youth didn't know anything about the 21st century.

Let me first be clear; I still believe in God. I am still a Lutheran. I believe Jesus Christ was the son of God. I'm not about to take my bible and toss it out in the dumpster. I am still a Christian.

That said...

It's hard to come out and say you're a Christian when you see your God utilized as a sort of "seal of approval" for hate speech, quackery, slander, deceit, and out-and-out treason. Whenever I see intolerant assholes like Fred Phelps using my God to propagate hate-speech, I get saddened and offended by his use of God to stir up xenophobia. When I see the Creationist movement claiming that Evolution is not scientific, and that the Genesis account should be promoted as science, I get sickened thinking that these people are doing so because they feel that God is telling them to attack this belief. When I see hucksters like Sylvia Browne defrauding people of their money and using cold-reading and other trickery, while at the same time promoting herself as a messenger of God, I get offended and enraged.

But it goes even deeper than this. I feel like Christianity has become synonymous with the religion of the dull and stupid. I feel like Jesus is right next to country music, NASCAR, and Busch beer. I get this sense that Jesus is dragged in at the last moment to bless whatever it is we don't have control over, whether it's the troops fighting abroad, or our houses (God bless this mess). Frequently, religion takes to the stage in painful displays of not wanting to share public lawns with other religions at Christmas time ("hey, what the heck is that menorah doing in my nativity scene?") and whether Santa Claus has any place at Christmas (it s Jesus' birthday, after all). People like Pat Robertson, Bill O'Reilly, and many of the conservative Christian Right warm up the war drums anytime something even remotely related to religion comes up, and the socio-political debate rages onward with a fervor that ultimately shows Christianity in a poor light. Tell me you're not even slightly ashamed to call yourself a Christian whenever you see these chuckleheads in action? Do you feel proud to be a Christian whenever you see Pat Robertson and the 700 club? What about Bill O'Reilly? Jerry Fallwell? Oral Roberts? What of the Christian Music Industry in this interview with Klayton? I should not have to feel ashamed of my God.

When Galileo Galilei defended heliocentrism (the belief that the Earth moves around the sun), he ran headlong into controversy with the then leaders of the church. I often think back to this whenever I read about things like The Creation Museum, and other anti-science institutions. I find them quite wrong-headed, since the basic belief in these institutions is that science and religion cannot coexist on the same stage. The belief that science will somehow upstage religion is ludicrous, as is the fundamental fear that if children are exposed to a scientific explanation of an event (such as the creation of the universe), they won't be able to reconcile it with what the church teaches them (that the universe was created solely by God). What is fascinating is that a good number of scientists were also very devout Christians. Galileo even denounced his theories publicly because he valued his religion over holding his scientific beliefs. (Of course, he would have likely been executed as a heretic, and had his writings banned anyway had he not publicly recanted, but never let the details get in the way of a good story).

Christianity should not be the religion of dullness or stupidity. Christianity is about a loving God who sent his son in human form to sacrifice himself for your redemption. Having my religion hijacked in the name of xenophobia, stupidity, and selfishness is uncalled for. Jesus Christ set a good example for Christians, helping those whom current society had turned away. His message of "Love thy neighbor as yourself" wasn't brought down with legalese of "unless they're gay, or run an abortion clinic, or aren't Christian themselves". And science isn't out there trying to destroy Christianity, but neither is it out there to prove it. Science just describes things as they are, through careful observation and experimentation. Science is not religion, and religion is not science. Combining them in order to disprove or discredit one or the other is silly and unproductive. Bringing religion into science makes about as much sense as bringing science in to prove religion (although some have tried bringing in junk science in to prove a religious point, which can have painfully humorous results).

Peter was ultimately forgiven of his denial of Jesus, and became, well, Saint Peter. Ultimately my faith in God, though it is tested by those who claim to be from God, is still firmly entrenched. I am heartened that there is a "Christian Left" out there to counteract the Christian Right, and that reason can still coexist with Christianity. Every time the pendulum of religion swings too far to one side, it returns back to balance. Even the Catholic Church ultimately recanted the treatment Galileo received:

Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture....

Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano N. 44 (1264) - 4th November,1992

May the true message of Christianity, the love of God, and the forgiveness through his son, be what people take away from Christianity, and may those who pervert the message of Christ for their own selfish needs be reminded that their perversions of the true message of Christ won't be tolerated.