Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Man Was Nice Before He Was Religious

Did you know that Jerry Falwell once said Billy Graham was Satan’s servant on earth?

I don’t know what Graham’s reaction was (I hope he turned the other cheek, cause Falwell would have hated that), nor have I done enough Googling to find out the reason for the insult. Maybe they were fighting over a parking spot or something.

In any event, though he hasn’t been relevant in my life for several years, I’ve always thought Billy Graham was one of the more sincere and least offensive evangelical types. I respect the fact that he isn’t always getting his mug on TV to demonize the gays and the liberals, which is probably exactly why a Pharisee like Falwell didn’t care for him.

Anyway. Billy Graham has a syndicated column in which he dispenses advice to the sort of people who see some value in asking Billy Graham for advice, and in today’s column (discovered through a link at someone else’s blog), he answers a thought-provoking but profoundly sad question from a Mrs S.G.

The headline:

The letter:
DEAR DR. GRAHAM: My neighbor is the nicest person I know, and she’ll do anything for anyone who needs help. And yet she isn’t at all religious, and says she’s never found any need for God. How do you explain this? I thought only religious people were supposed to know what it means to love others. -- Mrs. S.G.

I don’t know how old this Mrs S.G. is, but it sounds to me like she’s been around a while—which makes her last line one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. How sad to be so sheltered, so insulated from the real world that you think only religious people are capable of love.

Doubly sad if that’s what she’s been indoctrinated to believe her whole life.

If Mrs S.G. had written to me, I’d have been surprised because I don’t have a syndicated advice column. But hypothetically speaking, my answer would have been something simple, something like “Mankind knew how to love long before religion was invented.”

A similar answer from Billy Graham, of course, would have been career suicide. So he went with the safe reply:

DEAR MRS. S.G.: Your neighbor's concern for others is commendable—but if she had Christ in her heart, I believe she'd be an even more loving and compassionate person.

No, Billy, you’re either loving and compassionate or you’re not, and as Mrs S.G. said, her neighbor is the nicest person she knows, one who will “do anything for anyone who needs help.” The neighbor has attained a state of loving compassion. She’s a 10 on the loving compassion scale, which doesn’t go to 11.

I think Billy Graham knows this. I think he knows that a world of loving compassionate people would be utopia, whether they were believers or not. He also knows which side his bread is buttered on, so he goes on to cast aspersions on the neighbor woman’s heart:

But something has happened to us—and that “something” is sin. Yes, we can love—but all too often our love becomes twisted and selfish. It may even become so dim that evil overtakes us. Like a deadly cancer, sin has dulled our ability to love the way we should.

Is he suggesting Christians have a monopoly on selfless love? Is he suggesting the neighbor’s behavior masks something twisted, selfish, and sinful?

Or is he just changing the subject?

His final advice to Mrs S.G. is to pray for her neighbor so that she’ll come to understand God’s love, etc etc. But whether Mrs S.G. takes that advice or not, I hope she’ll open her eyes and see for herself that people are good, and that it isn’t religion that makes them that way.

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