That quote struck me deeply when I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance thirty years ago and I have been pondering it again recently. The McCain campaign is stirring up its base by identifying them as “real Americans” from “the real America” or “the real Virginia.” Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachman wants a new McCarthy style witch hunt to smoke out members of Congress who might harbor “anti-American” sentiments. While part of the GOP playbook since 1968, the “us-vs-them” strategy seems to be the entire GOP game plan this time around.
In a parallel vein, I had an amusing experience with some deleted comments on the blog of evangelical Christian Roger Bearse. Roger had written a post arguing that it was reasonable for conservative Christians to view liberal scholars like Bart Ehrman and members of the Jesus Seminar as “attacking Christianity.” What particularly struck me was the following question: “Can anyone really believe that Christians are not entitled to self-definition, of who is or is not a believer, which beliefs do and do not form part of the apostolic teaching?” I could not help but think that he was might be less concerned about defining himself than he was about defining others.
So last night I posed what seemed to me to be an obvious and civil question:
How do you sufficiently define “Christian” in order to decide who gets to
participate in the self-definition?
This morning I found an e-mail notice of the following response from Roger:
I don't think that there is any genuine doubt as to who the Christians are!
When I went to Roger’s blog to post a comment, however, I found that Roger had deleted both my comment and his own. I was a little surprised because, but I still left a response:
If there were no “genuine doubt as to who the Christians are,” there would
be no need for self-definition.
My response was deleted within an hour.
I am usually not surprised when my comments are deleted because I know when I have intentionally been a smart ass or when I have raised issues that the blogger does not want to deal with. However, this time I was a little taken aback. If you are going to assert the necessity of separating the wheat from the chaff, I don’t think you should be surprised if someone asks you about your criteria.