I have many conservative friends, and, prudently, when in their presence I avoid the usual dangerous topics when I can: religion, politics, history, taxes, etc. But every now and then a polemic discussion rears its inevitable head, and I can't fight back the urge to inject my subversive, sarcastic, and eristic words. Such an occasion happened recently. I have here reconstructed an old conversation and combined it with new material derived from a chance meeting with the conservative just last week:
CONSERVATIVE: I know you don't believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and personal savior.
ME: Well...now that you mention it. The rationalist in me wants to parse that sentence. The phrase "My Lord and personal savior" sounds threatening. Like I'd better believe or else. As if someone is trying to control my thoughts and actions...and if I do not conform (meaning blindly believe that there is an all-powerful white man in the sky waiting to condemn me or save me based on someone's interpretation of a centuries-old book), there will be literally hell to pay.
CONSERVATIVE: Since when is faith a bad thing?
ME: When blind faith shuts down reason, overrides temperance, denies the power of the intellect, and incites intolerance and violence, then it is a bad thing.
CONSERVATIVE: My Christian beliefs forbid me from practicing hate.
ME: Yet you listen to Rush Limbaugh every day--the right wing's high minister of hate.
CONSERVATIVE: That's politics, not religion. Rush is merely pointing out how your side is harming democracy by enforcing a socialist agenda on unwilling citizens.
ME: From my reading of the Bible, Jesus was the most prominent socialist in history. Didn't he say that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us? Didn't he drive the moneychangers from the temple? Didn't he say that it will be harder for a rich man to enter His Kingdom than...
CONSERVATIVE: (Clearly flustered) Jesus wants us to be free. He loves America, and he blesses every day with His riches.
ME: But America is quickly becoming a third-world Republic in the sense that the wealth inequity gap is widening dramatically. The poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.
CONSERVATIVE: Every man--regardless of race, status or creed--has the opportunity to succeed and become rich in America.
ME: Not true. If that were so, capitalism would cease to exist, because the capitalist system requires that there be a few at the top and many at the bottom. The factory owner must have hundreds, maybe thousands, of factory laborers to make his enterprise profitable. And when it does become profitable, he keeps the lion's share of profit for himself. If we had all kings and no peons, capitalism would cease to exist.
CONSERVATIVE: You're perverting the intent of democracy and capitalism.
ME: They are not the same thing. You know what Louis Brandeis said? "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have all wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can't have both."
CONSERVATIVE: Who's Louis Brandeis? One of your atheist, pinko icons?
ME: Supreme Court Justice in the 1920s.
CONSERVATIVE: Well, he's full of crap.
ME: How about James Madison, then? You right-wingers are fond of him, right? He said, "History records that moneychangers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments." That makes America a government of the rich, by the wealthy, and for the few.
CONSERVATIVE: Only Jesus can save heathens like you; I am going to pray for your salvation.
ME: Don't bother. If Heaven is anything like America, I'll pass. I want to go to Paradise. A place where everyone has his own room in the mansion. A place where the First shall be Last and the Last shall be first. A place where there is no suffering. A place where love and peace reign. A place where no man can oppress another. A place where material wealth and power do not matter. Hey wait...that is the Heaven promised us in the Bible. On second thought, go ahead and pray for my soul.
CONSERVATIVE: Now you're being sarcastic.
ME: I'm not. And while you're at it, pray for President Obama also. I know you hate him, but aren't you bound by your faith to love your enemies.
CONSERVATIVE: He's a socialist. I can't save socialists.
ME: But so was Jesus.
CONSERVATIVE: You no doubt have Scripture which proves that?
I pulled out my handy-dandy list of Bible passages which contain The Lord's love of socialism.
ME: Here's one of my favorites. Jesus said, "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
CONSERVATIVE: You cherry-picked one passage to suit your politics.
ME: Oh, but there's much more. Jesus says to the blessed, "...take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in (today, right-wing Christians would shoot Jesus as a home invader), I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The Lord will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.'"
The conservative nervously looked at his watch.
CONSERVATIVE: Hey, look at that. I'm late for Bible study. Today we're discussing Huckabee's new book, "Guns, Grits, and God." I gotta go.
ME: Wait. I have more. From the book of Matthew, "You cannot serve both God and money." And here's one from Luke, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."
The conservative put his earmuffs on so he couldn't hear me any more. He roared off in his pick-up with the gun rack in the back window. I giggled at his bumper sticker which read, "Jesus hates Obama and Socialists."
[This post is submitted in loving memory of my brother John Fitzgerald Fleming. Named for JFK, John was an author, scholar, linguist, and dog lover. He adored his nieces and nephews. I speak for all those who loved him and never got the chance to say good-bye. We will see you again; may you rest in peace.]