My father, an avowed atheist, has said more than once to me that he envies my ability to accept the easy answers religion offers and curses the dastardly realism with which he is cursed. Now I love my Pappa, flaws and all, but to him and others that think the same as he does, I have one thing to say: Easy? Heh. I wish.
Being Christian is a big pain in the ass, especially when you are trying to be good at it. There are hardly "easy" answers. Everywhere you look in that rather large book called The Bible are more questions than answers. And even when there are occasional "easy" answers, there're really, really, really hard to live by. I mean, come on—no "coveting"? Yud. Kinda hard.
But figuring out what exactly God wants from us is sometimes maddening. Case in point: Howard Dean. Now Howard seems, on the one hand, to have take the injunction "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" to heart, as evidenced from his appearance Sunday on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. Witness this exchange:
MR. RUSSERT: But is it appropriate for a physician to mock somebody who has gone into therapy and the abuse for drug addiction?
DR. DEAN: Here's the point I was trying . . The problem is it is galling to Democrats, 48 percent of us who did not support the president, it is galling to be lectured to about moral values by folks who have their own problems. Hypocrisy is a value that I think has been embraced by the Republican Party. We get lectured by people all day long about moral values by people who have their own moral shortcomings. I don't think we ought to give a whole lot of lectures to people--I think the Bible says something to the effect that be careful when you talk about the shortcomings of somebody else when you haven't removed the moat from your own eye. And I don't think we ought to be lectured to by Republicans who have got all these problems themselves.
Rush Limbaugh has made a career of belittling other people and making jokes about President Clinton, about Mrs. Clinton and others. I don't think he's in any position to do that, nor do I think Bill O'Reilly is in a position to abuse families of survivors of 9/11, given his own ethical shortcomings. Everybody has ethical shortcomings. We ought not to lecture each other about our ethical shortcomings.
MR. RUSSERT: But should you jump in the fray and be mocking those kind of people?
DR. DEAN: I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy.
I am the only one that see the farce going on here. Howie hates to be lectured to or ridiculed by people that have their own shortcomings—so what does it do? Lectures to and ridicules people. Is Howard suggesting that he doesn't have his own shortcomings? That he himself is infallible while all conservatives are pigs rolling in their own moral shit while saying they don't stink?
There are so many fallacies to Dean's statements—it's all rather dizzying.
(1) Technically, everyone is a hypocrite, except Christ, since everyone has sinned and yet holds others responsible for their sins and crimes. Actually, there is one other kind of non-hypocrite: the person that makes no judgments whatsoever about anyone else's misdeeds at all. But, find me that person. Sure, there are egregious hypocrites and everyday hypocrites and which kind Rush is must be determined on an individual basis.
But, let's be clear about what happened here. Rush didn't decide on his own to experiment with drugs because he wanted to be high. He had major back surgery, was prescribed legal pain killers, and then became addicted to them. Isn't there some moral distinction between seeking addiction and addiction seeking you? I think there is. That's not to say that Rush didn't do something wrong, but that the initial addiction was not of his choosing.
(2) Even so, how does the fact that Rush is addicted to pain killers make him ineligible to ever make fun of peoples' foibles that have NOTHING to do with drug use (legal or otherwise)? So, if you have any sins whatsoever—however unrelated to what you're critiquing—you lose the right to make that critique at all. Again, wouldn't that turn around on Howard Dean and make what he's doing wrong under that standard. Or, again, is Howard without sin?
(3) Is that really what's meant by "not casting the first stone"—or as Dean rephrases it—"Everybody has ethical shortcomings. We ought not to lecture each other about our ethical shortcomings." That makes the kind of sense that doesn't. If everybody has shortcomings then we shouldn't lecture each other about our shortcomings? Is that what Jesus meant?
Again, trying to understand how far to take injunctions like "thou shalt not kill," "turn the other cheek," and "don't cast the first stone," is the stuff that tries a Christian's soul. Certainly Jesus didn't want us to let our husband beat us up, right? So, there's certainly a lot of difficult interpretations to make there. But, did Jesus really want a judgment-free world? Is that even possible or desirable in any way?
The very testamony of Howard Dean on Meet the Press proves that that isn't possible. We are born with the faculty of judgment, discernment. Just as Dean couldn't resist bringing on the nasty against the people whose values he hates—so too is it impossible for even the best practicing Christian not to call out behavior he/she thinks wrong.
So what does it mean not to throw stones when one is beset by one's own sins? My belief is that it means: behave humanely, not like an animal or a barbarian. Remember that the sinner deserves to treated humanely, as you would want to be treated if your sins were known to the world. It is also a reminder to keep sins in perspective—that the sins we all commit shouldn't be punished as harshly as the sins committed by the more deeply depraved.
Easy answers? No. But Howard Dean makes his own rules up entirely.
PS. I see nothing in the scriptures telling people to leave their church if there's a dispute over a bike path.