“We have just enough religion to make us hate,” wrote Jonathan Swift, “but not enough to make us love one another.” A lifelong religious controversialist, the 18th-century Irish satirist definitely knew whereof he wrote. After all, it’s fewer than 20 years since Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland quit dynamiting each other’s gathering places.
Even here in the United States, it often seems that picking fights over religion increases during the Christmas season. If anything, claiming to be persecuted while expressing contempt for others’ belief appears on the rise.
And, no, I’m not talking only about the annual invocation of paranoid triumphalism Fox News calls the “War on Christmas.” Nor even about noted theologian Rush Limbaugh assailing Pope Francis as a “Marxist” for criticizing the tyranny of markets and the worship of money. Because Jesus was all about capital formation and tax cuts for the wealthy.
Everywhere you look, somebody’s insulting somebody else’s religion.
To me, the cultural left’s only marginally better than the right. I recently witnessed a remarkable online colloquy concerning a Catholic organization’s shipping 3,000 rosaries to the Philippines to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, “so that they can thank God” as one cynic wrote.
“Do these people ever use their minds for one second?” one person asked. “Hearing this is thoroughly depressing. It shows how ignorant and warped so many people are and how daunting is the amount of education there needs to be to cure the world.”
Cure it of what, I wondered. Of typhoons? Of charity? Or merely of belief? Almost needless to say, Roman Catholic churches worldwide were taking up special collections for storm victims in that largely Catholic nation—along with religious and humanitarian organizations worldwide.
“They are vultures sweeping down on those in need to shove more control down their throats,” wrote another. “I have nothing but contempt for the Catholic church and religion as a whole.”
News flash: The world will never be cured.
Meanwhile, how this kind of free-floating rage differs from Bible-beating preachers who blame earthquakes and tornadoes on other people’s sexual sins escapes me. The main characteristic of the fundamentalist mind is an inability to refrain from expressing contempt for beliefs different from one’s own—whether one’s spiritual leader is Pat Robertson or Christopher Hitchens.
Which brings us back to Sarah Palin’s remarkable appearance at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last week—the last stop on a tour publicizing her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.
“I say in a very jolly Christmasy way,” the Alaskan babbler claims, “that, ‘Enough is enough.’ Say enough is enough with this politically correct police out there that is acting to erode our freedom to celebrate and exercise our faith. Some Scrooge wants to force Christ out of Christmas and wants to ban Jesus out of the reason for the season?”