by: Johnny Gall
Being a progressive queer Christian in the current landscape is not without its fair share of frustrations. Daily I get to watch folks who profess the same faith as mine observe their faith by celebrating my inequality; I watch them go on long tirades about making the nation live up to Christian ideals, while ignoring those hundreds of verses about giving away their riches and railing against socialism. Perhaps most irritating, though, is listening to every joke with a tie and a cable access show go on about how every shooting, hurricane, tornado and terrorist attack is the result of our “Godless nation.”
Listen, I think there are a lot of things wrong with our nation. So many that I won’t even bother to name all of them. Ask me sometime if you’d like to know; however, I don’t think any of these arise from the fact that fewer people believe in God. On the contrary, I would say that in some cases atheists make the best Christians.
You see, in a great deal of modern churches every part of life is expected to be performed with one eye on the afterlife. The question is not whether or not how happy and connected with the spiritual one is at the moment, but whether or not their current actions will send them to Heaven or Hell. Bumper stickers ask readers if they know where they’d go if they died tomorrow; they say nothing about where someone is today. And, if you grew up in the South like I did, you probably know a score of people—myself included—who were drawn into the aisles of a Baptist revival, not by the beauty of God or the strength of his presence, but by the fact that a preacher spent thirty minutes droning on about the horrors of Hell.
By this technique, churches draw in parishioners and go on to scare them into a faith that is typically committed to controlling their behavior. Men make it their life’s work to stop looking at porn, women become driven by their desire to find a Godly husband, and everyone learns who God wants them to vote for in the next election. Or else they’ll go to Hell. And every couple months, most people decide they’ve been slipping and go running up the aisles hoping they’re finding real salvation this time.
I won’t get into every depiction of the afterlife in the Bible, but one, I think, is important to remember. In Matthew, Jesus talks about dividing everyone in the world into “the sheep” and “the goats”—which was later immortalized in a decent song by Cake—and the criteria for being a sheep, surprisingly has nothing to do with porn viewership, the state of one’s marriage, voting records, opinions on abortion, or, surprisingly, being queer. Rather, they are judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, tended to the sick or visited those in prison.
In other words, salvation is more often than not based on how one interacted with the present world, not how much they monitored their own behavior. Those who are really following Christ are the people who are taking care of others.
I can hear the grumbling now, and I’m sure some evangelists are just dying to say that their real responsibility is to convert others to save them from the fires of Hell, and that it’s better to be concerned with the eternal punishment than the troubles of this world and blah blah blah. The best response to this, in my opinion, comes from the epistle to James, which says that telling hungry people about Jesus does them absolutely no good if you don’t feed them.
In this way, people who go to Church are often handicapped from really committing to loving or serving because they’re too wrapped up in their own salvation and they pay too much attention to their eternal fate and not nearly enough to what’s happening around them. Atheists, for obvious reasons, don’t have this problem. They can concern themselves with improving the world around them and fighting for the disadvantaged in this world because there’s no promise that eventually someone’s going to come along and fix everything for us.
I’ll be honest: I have known some really awful people who were atheists. This is inevitable; there are awful people in any group. When I think about it, though, I know many more awful people who claim to be religious than those who are not religious, and if I had to bet on whether the country were being ruined by people who don’t believe in God or by people who do, I wouldn’t exactly need to sleep on it.
Despite the cries of Bryan Fischer, Pat Robertson or whatever clown can’t stop talking these days, from where I’m standing, atheists are not only not damaging the country; they’re living up to our faith better than we are a lot of the time. They’re the ones feeding the hungry and fighting poverty at its roots; they’re the ones taking care of the sick and working to ensure they receive the proper medical care without bankrupting themselves; and they’re the ones asking why we have such a ridiculous rate of incarceration. Perhaps not the only ones, but they have become far better at serving these people because they preoccupy themselves with making this world a better place to live, rather than worrying about finding another one.
So, to my family without Christ, I salute you, I respect you, I will forever argue with the jackass who blames you for tornados, and I apologize for dropping so many bible verses in a discussion of how much I admire you.
Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.