Mollie's writing a book

I had an interesting talk after church today with Mollie Ziegler, the journalist who has done such good stuff on the participation of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Atlantic District President David Benke in the syncretistic worship service organized by Mayor Giuliani and Oprah Winfrey and held in Yankee Stadium in the aftermath of 9/11.

Dr. Benke had once previously violated his church body's prohibition on participation in joint worship services with those whose basic beliefs contradict its own, and had promised never to do it again. But he nevertheless did precisely that at Yankee Stadium- with the permission of revisionist LCMS president Gerald Kieschnick, who gave that permission in spite of the fact that some participants in the service worshipped entirely different deities! President Kieschnick re-interpreted the Synod's rules to permit participation in multi-god worship services on exceptional occasions, even denying that an event advertised as a prayer service and consisting entirely of prayers, hymns, and homilies was a worship service at all- on the ground that hot dogs were sold in the stands! And so it was that a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor- and a District President at that- invited Moslems, Buddhists, and others who deny the cardinal Lutheran affirmation that only through Christ do our prayers find acceptance to join him in prayer- and then was supported not only by the president of the Synod, but by the Synod itself, in the intellectually dishonest claim that he had not prayed "with" these people, but only "in their midst!"

Since then, Benke and Kieschnick have been vindicated by the Synod in convention assembled, while faithful leaders who objected have been dismissed from their jobs, defeated for re-election to synodical office, and generally rewarded for their faithfulness with distain and disgrace.

The Missouri Synod seems headed for schism; to borrow a phrase from Howard Dean, the "Missouri Synod wing of the Missouri Synod" may well break off and form a new body loyal to the traditional teachings of the Synod, abandoned and sneered at by the Kieschnick folks, after the next convention, if (as I expect) the revisionist party retains power.

But back to Mollie. She is presently writing a book, tentatively titled Interfaith is No Faith: How Religious Relativism is Destroying the Church, that asks a simple but profound question: why is it that Americans are afraid to believe their own religions? Why is it that we are so intolerant of any belief system that doesn't agree with the culturally orthodox notion that it really doesn't matter what you believe?

True diversity is impossible in such a situation. So is true tolerance. One has to disagree with somebody in order to be tolerant of their beliefs, and disagreeing about anything that matters (or at least admitting that anything we disagree about possibly could matter) seems anathema to the spirit of the times, if not the American ethos itself.

Why should such a patently absurd attitude be so precious to us?

How did we come to be so rigid in only permitting one set of convictions regarding ultimate questions in our culture- the one that says that it doesn't matter what answer you give? Why is it so difficult for Americans to grasp the simple proposition that to the extent that if all religions are correct, none of them are? Why are we afraid to grasp the challenge of seeking to be a truly diverse society, which acknowledges the legitimacy of actually disagreeing with one another on ultimate questions which everyone acknowledges ultimately matter?

Why do we, as a nation, fear to approach the radically exclusive religious beliefs to which we give lip service with a modicum of honesty and intellectual integrity, recognizing that in a truly tolerant society its members must hold mutually exclusive beliefs, if tolerance is even to be possible?

I can't wait to read it Mollie's book. Our national horror of religious integrity is something striking enough, obvious enough in its dishonesty, and rips the substance from the convictions of each and every one of the religions Americans hold with such obvious and shameless violence that the inability of most Americans to see the problem seems incomprehensible. Maybe she can help the more thoughtful among us understand this cultural absurdity a little better.