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An Ecumenism of Hate

April 15, 2015



I’m naive.  Or I was naive.  Or I was so naive as a teenager that I’m probably still naive only I’m not sure because I’m probably too naive to know which stuff I’m still being naive about.  I used to believe that if religious people focused on what they have in common rather than what divides them, then the world would be a better place.

In some ways and in some places religious people are more ecumenical than ever, but this has turned out all wrong.

A few decades ago, evangelical protestants in the USA would not have dreamed of voting for a “papist” like Rick Santorum. Or Paul Ryan.  Now they vote for them in droves.  They’ll vote for Jeb Bush, another Catholic,  if necessary, rather than a protestant democrat.  When it came to deciding between Obama and Romney, dogmatic evangelical protestant voted for Romney, despite the fact that the doctrinal heterodoxies of Mormonism place it far outside any consensual definition of Christianity.

This new “ecumenism” is based, you see, not on what you believe or what (or whom) you love, but on what you hate.  What you’re “agin”.

Back in the 1950s, a youngish Ian Paisley made his name defending Protestant Ulster (or six counties thereof) from “Romish” domination within a United Ireland.  His greatest ally in this sectarian quest was the Archbishop of Dublin, John McQuaid, the most influential Irish cleric of his age.  The extent to which McQuaid actually influenced Ireland’s 1937 constitution is now very much disputed by historians, but more important than his actual involvement was his reputation for having done so. McQuaid became a symbol for the most conservative and culturally repressive aspects of mid twentieth-century Catholic Ireland.

For many critical and horrible years, Paisley and McQuaid enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.  Even after McQuaid’s death, his spectre did Paisley considerable service.  Paisley and McQuaid together helped stand in the way of a secular inclusive republicanism that is the best chance of a lasting and just constitutional settlement for the peoples of north west Europe.

If Paisley and and McQuaid were still alive today (but death comes to us all, praise be), and were living in the United States, then their symbiotic relationship would be open and proclaimed.  They’d be playing racket-ball together.

Of course, it is axiomatic and obvious that intransigent sectarians of warring demoninations have more in common with one another than they have with saner people who are nominally within their own ranks.  But the twenty-first century has rendered this communality more overt and explicit.  Nowadays, within the modern ecumenism of hate (which will surely one day embrace the Taliban), it matters not WHAT you believe but rather how much you hate.  Because God (apparently) loves horrible people of every creed and is embracing them all to His intolerant bosom.

Gay people, feminists, immigrants, the less fortunate, Charles Darwin… the list goes on.  A shopping hate list is more unifying than any first principles of faith.

The following Bible verse…

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

is now habitually glossed as

Inasmuch as ye have stuck it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have inflated your sense of me.

So long as you’re “agin” the right things, you are right with God, it seems.  (Try, incidentally, to find any condemnation of abortion in the Bible, incidentally – you won’t – though you’ll wade through any number of verses condemning exploitative lending practices).  Once upon a time, when I was a culpably stupid teenager, I imagined a world in which ecumenism might mean the privileging of ideas like an infinitely compassionate and forgiving Deity, or the idea that all of creation is a fundamentally “Good” thing.  Instead, twenty-first century political ecumenism has focused on seeking out and cherishing personality types that are cognate in their habitual viciousness.

God is not Love after all.  God is a filigree of interlocking hatreds.

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One Comment
  1. I’ve never looked at it this way before, and doing so is depressing 😦 . But, I think you can be right. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is alive in the church. Christians who, in the past, wouldn’t even acknowledge each other as Christians, are now united against the “other”, who they despise. That’s not the mission of ecumenism, and it’s sad to see it lived out in this way.

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