Christmas after leaving the church
By Randy Roberts Potts
When I was a kid in the 1980s, I attended a small Evangelical Christian school for several years, and there were always rumors of something in popular culture that was cursed. For awhile, it was the E.T. doll, an ugly, faux-leather stuffed doll designed to look like the extra-terrestrial in the film - apparently, if you threw an E. T. doll into the fireplace it would scream because there was a demon inside. The Smurfs, didn't you know, were actually voiced over by warlocks in California, and Gargamel, the Smurfs' nemesis, was actually the name of the leader of their coven. Procter and Gamble, a brand that sold everything from toothpaste to dish soap, was forced to change their logo because the face of the old lady, surrounded by stars, was said by Evangelicals to resemble a witch. The Devil was lurking around every corner. You had to watch out.
These are some of the many joys of being raised Evangelical. "Fear of the Lord" often translates into a very real fear of "the world" and your fellow man. Anything "of the world," if you look into it long enough, can be portrayed as of the Devil, and a young Evangelical has to always be on the lookout for the seductive tricks of Satan. When you are raised to fear your fellow man, no conspiracy theory sounds truly suspect.
These things sound like playground rumors, and they were, but they were started in the pulpit and often repeated over the dinner table by the adults in my life. It was the 1980s, and playground rumors, most at home in the mouths of children, were being used by men like Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, to transform religious sentiment into a passionate, reliable voting base for the Republican Party. Playground rumors were reshaping American politics, becoming the wind behind Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and, today, Sarah Palin.
"Suffer the little children to come unto me," Jesus said, "and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Jesus, apparently, had been preaching all day, and it was hot, and his disciples were tired, and the throngs continued to press, pushing their children toward the body of the Messiah in the hope of a closer connection with God. The disciples started pushing back, and Jesus reprimanded them, using the scene as a teachable moment. It is these very children, he told them, who are our best example. It is by approaching the world through their eyes that we can truly enter the kingdom of God.
And therein lies the crux of Evangelical thinking. Therein lies the core of the belief system of every fundamentalist on Earth, be they Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist: be as a child in your beliefs about God. Suspend your disbelief. Accept the metaphors of your faith as fact. Close your eyes, and walk in faith, toward the promised land. Factual analysis proves Obama was born in America, and disproves the existence of "death panels" in healthcare reform, but factual analysis does not interest Sarah Palin or her fellow Evangelicals. "Suffer the little children," indeed.
There is something great about approaching the world through the eyes of a child. There is something great about maintaining your sense of wonder, and teaching your children to do the same. At this time of year, the stories we tell about Jesus and Santa Claus encourage children to look around them in wonder and awe, to close their eyes and hear voices promising joy to the world. But the fundamentalists have it wrong -- you don't have to believe literally in these metaphors to enjoy what is truly wonderful about Christmas. Whether or not all the details of Jesus' birth or Santa Claus' ride through the night are historically accurate is beside the point. You don't have to believe blindly in playground rumors to create the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
And yet, the Kingdom of Heaven is all around us this time of year.
In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11, he says: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." This time of year, the world, even to adults, seems filled with magic. There are lights on trees, there are people giving gifts, and there are strangers wishing you a "Merry Christmas." There is a sense of childlike wonder, an agreement that, for a brief spell, we will all believe the world can be a better place. We can all agree to accept these metaphors for what they are -- we tell our children about Santa Claus, but on Christmas Eve, while they are sleeping soundly, we take the gifts down from the closet, bought with our hard-earned money, and put them under the tree. We roll up our sleeves and, laying playground rumors to rest, do the hard work of looking reality in the eye and accepting it for what it is -- Christmas is magical because we make it so, in our earnest, grownup way.
Randy Roberts Potts is the grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts. He has worked with juvenile delinquents on the East Coast, was a social worker in Oklahoma City, and spent five years as a middle school English teacher before deciding to pursue a writing career. Follow him on Twitter @randyrpotts.
By Randy Roberts Potts |
December 20, 2010; 11:03 AM ET
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