Tuesday, October 4, 2011

a failure of latitude

I guess everyone is afraid of something -- snakes, spiders, being buried alive, being abandoned, guns, zombies, true understanding ... pick your poison. Whatever it is, the fear is compelling and brings with it a sense of helplessness and a willingness to do damn near anything to escape the lash of this fear. Generally the fear or fears are kept under wraps or at a distance or hidden by a sense of leading an otherwise competent and in-control life, but every now and then, the fear pops up and says "boo!"

C. Peter Wagner and his wife Doris
Yesterday, riding in the car, I was listening to an interview with a man named C. Peter Wagner, a member of an organization called The New Apostolic Reformation, "a new charismatic Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and Jesus' return."

And it scared the shit out of me.

The tone of the interview on National Public Radio was utterly civil and serene. Not a cross word was spoken. And yet the substance was purely fanatical in my ear -- more terrifying than a WWII rally in Nuremberg. It was made the more frightening by the sense that such a movement (especially in hard economic times) would gain a political and religious following and run roughshod over one and all without a backward glance. It would husband the ignorance and gullibility of the well-meaning and ... well, witch hunts might be necessary. It reminded me of the arrogance of some Christian missionaries sent to China and India at the turn of the 20th century to convert the heathen: Christianity was true; all else was false; and let the non-believer tremble!

And the interview left me trembling. This was a truly terrifying outlook. I felt I was in the presence of someone who would light the pyre under some Salem witch and be convinced, in later conversations with fellow believers, that what he had done was the right and compassionate thing. His narrow and compelling and cozy view was shared by many and ... everybody else better mind their p's and q's.

After I had turned the radio off and calmed down a little, I realized that a part of what I feared about such a man and such an outlook was his and its failure of latitude. A wide mind does not nest and rest and yet nesting and resting is so delicious. To find The Answer is better than chocolate and, well, if a few witches had to be killed and if listening to the screams rise up with the smoke were the price, well, belief and its warming embers were worth the price of admission.

I'd rather hang out with the Boston Strangler. At least his viciousness was straightforward and unadorned by saccharine and twisted 'religion.'

But as the steam abated further, I realized that I had my own failures of latitude -- ways in which I too could espouse without a backward glance views that might ignite the pyre under some unwitting soul who hadn't got things 'right.' Yes, I was every bit as capable as C. Peter Wagner.

If there was much difference between us, perhaps it lay in the fact that I was, in the end, deeply ashamed.

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