Viktor Orban, leader of Hungary, calls his white supremacist, soil-and-blood ultra- nationalism, “Christian democracy” as opposed to what he detests, “liberal democracy”. Some have called Orban’s approach “illiberal democracy” and Steve Bannon, the alt-right guru who has set up shop ion Brussels, calls Orban, “trump before trump”.
Building walls to keep out immigrants including refugees, asylum-seekers on Hungary’s borders, while holding his hand out for Euro’s from the EU, and trumpeting the U.S. president for “keeping his promises,” Orban is one of a growing number of right-wing political voices determined to quite literally extinguish the “elites” who have held power since 1968.
Globalism, open borders, foreign aid, international trade deals and a thawing of the arms race, all of the aspects of world “order” many have grown up with, undoubtedly have left unsolved issues, open wounds and an income gap and environmental threats. However, turtling, or more seriously, ostriching out of full collaborative and co-operative participation in seeking and finding solutions to mounting world problems, especially in the name of “Christian” values, poses a threat for the Christian church itself.
In every church (Christian by name and theology) on the planet, there has always been a divide between those who interpreted scripture and the relationship between God and humans in a literal, legal, judgemental, closed and restrictive manner from those who adopted a more “liberal” poetic, symbolic, tolerant, forgiving and “unknowing” posture. And that division has deep and lasting implications for individual families, parishes, and the wider ecclesial institution. For starters, the “gate-keeper” archetype is much more evident and active in the former than in the latter category. Money is also much more tightly managed, even squirreled into oblivion from public knowledge in the former than in the latter. Evangelism, as in “marketing” and “spreading the word” is a much higher priority in the former than in the latter group of churches. And then there is the all-important interpretation of scripture that illustrates a chasm-wide division that few if any can bridge.
Underlying these two approaches (neither is exclusive, and there are elements of each in all parishes) is the question of how each manages fear, anxiety, panic and even personal and organizational neurosis and psychosis. Also, implicit in all of these discussions (often over-heating into hot-button debates and open conflict) is the nature of God, as authority figure (read King), or healer, or teacher or mentor/friend. As you might already have inferred, what might be called the “tight-assed” church veers toward the “authority” of God, whereas the ‘liberal’ ones tend more to the companion, healer, teacher mentor God. And if and when the “faith” intersects with the “politics” of the region or the nation, one can, with some confidence, trace back to the kind of theology one espouses as, at least in part, the influence playing out in a political posture or ideology.
There is a kind of psychological comfort in knowing and following “what God wants” in terms of rules, laws, punishments and the reward of eternal life and salvation that comes more readily to those who follow the “conservative” brand of Christianity. For those who feel more comfortable in the “liberal” fold, there are more questions, more ambiguities, more uncertainties, and obviously more pursuit of discussion and debate and an openness to new insights and even transformations.
The Greek word “metanoia” (transformation) for example, is generally considered by the conservative group to be a one-time conversion to the faith, whereas for liberals, metanoia tends to be a life-long process that can and often does occur possibly daily or even hourly. Naturally, a greater immediacy and certainty attends the conservative practitioners’ practice of the faith than emerges from observing the liberals who risk ponderous debates, clouds of uncertainty, and long periods of unknowing, a state of mind familiar to many mystics and monks.
These two approaches have very diverse implications for those who are “outside” the faith, considered “unsaved” by the conservatives, or even “dangerous” to some. (Steve Bannon, himself, delivered a speech at the Vatican not that long ago, in which he argued that the world and especially the Christian segment of the world faced a global threat to its survival.) Make no mistake, the bannons, trumps, orbans and others consider their mission to save the Christian world from heathens, or from other faith insurgencies.
And when the world faces multiple threats, and a steep curve in the scale of cultural anxiety, fear, apprehension and deep and profound uncertainty, there is often a measureable spike in support for God-given answers that offer comfort and the feeling of security that one is able to hang on to something trust-worthy and stable and clear and certain. And politicians eager to ride such waves offer a panacea or placebo of simplistic answers to very complicated issues and problems.
Walls, for example, provide concrete evidence that “something is being done” to keep out people who might threaten already scarce jobs, or put pressure on already budget-strapped hospitals and schools, or “change the culture” of the country by painting it a different colour than the historic “white” it “always” has been (at least in the west). However, walls do nothing to address the deep and intransigent issues that fuel war, poverty, terrorism, and pandemics all of which are roots of the mass migration those walls were designed to impede. And underlying this conflict, is a concept important to one’s world view, and to one’s theology: the notion of whether we are living in plenty or in scarcity.
Sharing our bounty, is a very different attitude from “preserving what little we have”! And here is the point where the “rubber” of faith meets the road of individual human choice. If one’s faith does not enhance one’s world view, and one’s universe, one’s sense of gratitude, one’s joy in altruism, and one’s hope for the future, then what kind of faith is it? This is a very finite planet, and we all share its land, water air and promise. And, the moment when (not if) each of us comes to the point where we celebrate our blessings, our plenty, and our good fortune, then we will be ready to share all of it with those in need. And this “sharing” need not be in a patronizing manner, by which we take pity of those less fortunate.
One of the most difficult perspectives to integrate into a theology is the perspective that “my” relationship with God is not something “You” need. There is an implicit and explicit superiority in telling another, “You need this?” especially when one’s theology is concerned. Patronizing, dominating and belittling prospetyzing has, is and will continue to plague the world. And here is another of those “rubber/road” moments.
Faith, unlike a new pair do shoes, or a new graduate degree, or a new baby, or a new spouse, is a far more intrinsic and private and personal dimension to one’s life. (Words always seem inadequate when attempting to provide even a mediocre explication of this “faith” experience, thought, belief, and attitude. Regardless of the specific faith, or even the more specific denomination of sect of any faith, a belief in an ultimate “force” (God) in the universe that is a source of light (in all of the plethora of meanings of that concept) and that even a tiny “ray” of that divine light is within each human being as a notion that begins to open the “door” to the invitation to explore what that might mean for each person.
Never to be reduced to a mere “talent” or “skill” or a “gift” even one of prophecy, intuition, creative imagination, the light might be shared through any of a number of paths of shared experience. And surely, empathy, compassion, hope and courage beyond what our natural limits would energize accompany this faith dimension. With faith I am a different person that I am without faith. And if I lose “sight” of that, I can slide easily and quickly into a darkness of my own making.
Now, let’s get back to how one’s purported faith can and does restrict one’s limits on what is feasible, ethical, affordable, and justified. If one has the perception that one’s town is being ‘taken over’ by a large number of people of a different colour, religion, language and ethnicity. If one can see how a future in which massive numbers of people will be displaced, become refugees, immigrants and asylum-seekers, (given the current science around climate change and global warming), one could easily be tempted to want to ward off such an influx, for the simple reason that one’s livelihood could be threatened, food could become scarce and public services would be extended beyond the breaking point. Who is going to “pay” for that debacle?
On a faith journey, there is no map to answer the never-ending series of unanswered questions prior to the events one encounters along the way. And yet, that concept, holding one’s apprehension and anxiety and fear at bay, in order to approach tomorrow with an attitude of promise, hope and gentle grace for one’s self and others, seems to be more “likely” inside a faith perspective that from the world’s perspective. And it really need not matter whether one’s faith is rooted in any specific faith; each of the world’s faiths has some version of what I am trying to articulate, however inadequate my attempt.
So, it seems that a white supremacy, nationalistic, enclosed, and intellectually and emotionally “armed camp” is incompatible with a faith that holds there is a divine light in every person. And for that reason, among many others, it is incongruent, and unacceptable to attach the word “Christian” to the political ambitions of Viktor Orban or any of the other voices rising in crescendo as the new choir of the alt-right.
To think that the world is so sleepy, or so enmeshed in our private micro-lives, or so forgetful of how this perversion of Christian theology has so besmirched our history books, our trenches, our cities and our cemeteries is to risk the kind of thoughtful faith-based push-back that denies it is a child of the elite, or the Harvard clique, or even of Wall Street.
We each have a significant opportunity to adopt a faith stance that is tolerant of diversity, receptive to dialogue with others who have suffered and have not had our good fortune to be recipients of a graduate education, open to the challenges to our “way of life” if we are to move into the world that can and will sustain the lives of those currently alive and the offspring of each of us.
And we must not fall into the ‘trap’ of sectarianism, that people like Orban are setting for us, pitting Protestant versus Catholic, or Jew against Muslim, or atheist very evangelical Christian, or rich versus poor, or north versus south, or east versus west, or American versus European, African versus Asian. Our humanity, including our respective faith choices, can be a shared lens through which to vision and pursue a shared future, rather than repeating the multiple crusades, wars, be-headings, excommunications and prison sentences that have been so deeply entrenched in the history of man’s search for God.
Call this “pollyana” thinking if you must. Yet, my response is to ask at this point in our civilization, “Do we have a viable and sustainable option if we are going to continue to share this planet and this universe?”
orban, trump, bannon and their ilk do not offer any assurance that their preferred option is viable.