I am not a Christian. I am well aware that I live in a Christian majority. I am not attempting to take the Christ our of Christmas or preventing Christians from celebrating their faith and holidays (or other religion’s celebrations, for that matter). I understand that the majority religion’s events and celebrations are going to dominate media and the community activities. All I ask is that it not dominate our public schools and our government.
Make no mistake, however, I believe the world would be a better place if all people followed the actual teachings of Rabbi Jesus. In fact, it is probably true of all our world’s sacred texts, updated for the modern world. Torah, Koran, New Testament, Vedas/ Bhagavad Gita, Sutras/Zend-Avesta, Agams, Kojiki, and all the others would serve us well if we followed their moral code.
On July 4th, Hobby Lobby released a newspaper advertisement consistent with their record of supporting conservative Christian causes calling for “one nation under God” and supporting the idea that the United States should be run by Christians relying on ‘Christian Values.’ From the ChristianPost.com, please see this commentary and also commentary from ChristianHeadlines.com here.
I immediately reacquainted myself with the 1st amendment of the constitution, which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now, you may think my objection to the Hobby Lobby ad to be hypocritical given my comments above about the value of sacred texts, but it is not. The first problem is that it violates the United States Constitution. The second problem is whose interpretation of “Christian values” are talking about being enforced?
Are we to follow the folks whose ‘Christian values’ allow them to pick and choose which tenets they will follow, and which values they promulgate as priorities, and then inconsistently apply the values taught therein? Are we to respect values that lead them to humiliate pro-choice women and advocate for the marginalization of the LBGTQ+ community? Or the values that enable the anti-gay protesters to intrude on military funerals? Are we going to follow those whose values allow them to forgive Republican politicians and clergy their extra-marital affairs while condemning and excoriating Bill Clinton’s actions as repugnant? Should we embrace the values of the so-called pro-life crowd who vote against Head Start and Aid to Dependent Children and school lunch programs, low-income household financial assistance, and other programs designed to help children? Do we join with the religious congregations that purposely remained whites only?
And, as my last example, do we succumb to the value that all pregnancies must come to term, or do we follow the Clergy Consultative Services of the 60s and 70s where Christian and Jewish clergy referred women to safe, but illegal, abortion providers?
And it is clearly not just Christians who practice this moral temporizing and picking and choosing. It is why Islam converted by the sword and ignored the first half of the Koran where the Jews were partners to be respected and followed the second half of the Koran in which the Jews were enemies and resistant to Islam. It is why Hindus kill Muslims and Muslims kill Hindus and why Burmese Buddhists kill Rohingya. It is why Lebanese Christians are targeted and why Catholics and Protestants slay each other. It is why there are those who would kill an abortion provider but would refuse to stone an adulterer. It is why an ultra-Orthodox Jew killed Yitzhak Rabin. It is why women cannot drive or own a business or walk on the street by themselves in Saudi Arabia. It is why, when caught cheating on a law school exam, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish student said it was OK because cheating on a law exam is not explicitly forbidden in the Torah. It is why the Turks practiced genocide on the Armenians and why the Nazis did the same to the Jews, and Roma, and Catholics of conscience.
And on and on and on. Why? Because we are all human and thus never perfectly internally consistent. Because humans always try to rationalize their behavior, particularly in the face of unpleasant outcomes or impact. We all pick and choose what tenets to follow and how we order our priorities for values. All of us do this. What is most telling is what choices you make and how you assign priorities. This is what really tells us about you and your motives and objectives for this ad.
This nation was most decidedly not founded as a Christian nation. At best, we could try to make an argument that it was founded by those who believed in a deity. Read the Federalist papers and other political materials of the time. We were founded as a nation of laws based on almost, but not quite, universal human values – no stealing, no murdering, no cheating, be a good person, help the needy. Of course, we conveniently left human enslavement to be addressed later.
But those simple values are not what Hobby Lobby, and its ilk want. What they want is for all of us to be their kind of Christian. Not Catholic, or Episcopalian, or Methodist, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or African Episcopal Methodist, or Mormon. But their kind of Christian. And do you really believe that Hobby Lobby celebrates the diversity of America with its Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Hari Krishnas, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (And what would you guess their level of love is for all the Pacific Islanders, South Asians, Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, Latinos and Hispanic and all the other groups making up our great melting pot?) There are well over 200 Christian denominations in the United States. Why should we all follow just one?
And that is the real problem. The Hobby Lobby owners’ desires are coercive, they want everyone to believe and accept what they believe. They hope and spend time and money trying to get our government to accede to those desires. They seem to ignore some of the Christian values that are worth admiring – why not run this country with the values of ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, ‘he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’ and, ‘treat others as you wish to be treated?’ These are Christian values which are, unsurprisingly, given they were expressed by a Rabbi, identical to the Jewish values expressed in the Torah, which then find their way as Christian values in the New Testament, and migrated into the Islamic values expressed in the Koran, and they are worth heeding. But these are not the ‘values’ Hobby Lobby expressed in their ad.
Hobby Lobby’s choices tell us all we need to know about them. Hobby Lobby’s family owners do not value diversity in belief systems or philosophies. They do not want to uphold American values but rather, want to substitute what they call Christian values, which are just the values they have chosen.
Let me contrast Hobby Lobby’s divisive and exclusionary values to some of the values that Rabbi Jesus learned and taught.
The Torah is explicit. Quoting Sarah Hurwitz in Here All Along, “Through the Exodus [from Egypt], we were granted our freedom; at Mount Sinai we were given laws that told us what to do with that freedom – laws that made clear that our purpose in the world is to resist ‘Egypt’ wherever we find it.”
Moreover, these laws are exacting, and I call your attention to just two of them: a) You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and b) When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.
Those values have enormous implications in their elasticity – they are inclusionary, caring, and compassionate to all peoples, and particularly to those most vulnerable. Together with loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek and the other values described above, those are the values that Rabbi Jesus would have learned and those are the values he taught.
That is why, in the final analysis, the Hobby Lobby folks and those with similar beliefs are not very ‘Christian’ and they are truly un-American; they care not for their neighbor unless that neighbor agrees with them. They should be ignored and scorned. They have declared themselves. I urge you to declare yourselves. Do not shop at Hobby Lobby.. Michael’s is just as good if not better.