The Parable of Pastor TedYou might suspect that as an atheist and battler of all that is oppressive about far right religion, I'd be laughing about the meth-fueled cock-up (pun intended) that Pastor Ted Haggard finds himself in. It would be easy to giggle in glee over the tissue-paper thin excuses he tosses about - I bought the meth, but threw it away; I got a massage, but I didn't have sex - but that would be ignoble of me.
I don't hate the man. In fact, far from it. We have more than enough people hiding secrets they really don't need to hide in order to protect themselves from the very things they hypocritically condemn in others. I also don't hate his family who were probably unaware of his extracurriculars. Nor, do I hate his flock, who are obviously traumatized by the whole sorted affair. It's never fun to see a man - even a hypocrite like Pastor T - have his life ruined and this time is no exception.
I fully expect things will play out as they usually do when the high and mighty fall from their pulpits. Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart offer ample proof that, in time, Pastor Ted will be back, a cleansed sinner who'll continue preaching the hatred he preached before he fell prey to it. His flock will listen and say Halleluiah! They will continue to have their righteousness and say they hate the sins of gays, but not the sinners.
But Haggard's fall from grace offers an important lesson about the power of God and the clay feet of men.
Most religions teach that God looks frowningly on mere mortals who rise above their lowly stations in an attempt to wipe some of the sweet smell of holiness onto their own fevered, human brows. This teaching is one that many religious leaders conveniently forget. The self-anointed - from Popes to religious bunko artists to Islamic mullahs - have done this for centuries. They claim they're direct vessels of God's word. They spout the bunkum that their prayers are somehow holier or more effective or better informed than the other riff-raff's.
The religious learn early to hand themselves over to God. They are taught that faith will make them free. They are taught that if they pray to their God, He will answer and help make those prayers come true.
But nowhere in that holy chain of command do religious works say much about the middle man. A priest, pastor, or mullah who claims a DSL line straight to the Big Guy, someone who can expedite your prayers for a small donation. They also don't say anything about the middle man diverting a little of that prayer power to more secular ideas they happen to hold. For example, the secular ideas that true-believers must hate gays, other religions, or democrats.
Congregants are much like children that way. They must be taught to hate or discriminate. They aren't born that way, the middle men like Pastor Ted teach them to be that way and hate isn't something God looks kindly upon either.
Before his confession, many of Haggard's congregants professed disbelief that their chosen middle man could do those awful things he'd been accused of. Even when the story became tattered, some expressed complete confidence in the man, despite the facts starting to emerge. That fervent belief - almost equal to their belief in God - made them completely bereft of any thought that a man like theirs could succumb to mankind's normal deficiencies.
And there's the problem with blind faith.
In the process of giving themselves over to God, they gave themselves over to a hypocrite who hornswaggled them into believing in his great power. They began not to think for themselves - as God intends - but to believe in this mere middle man with a penchant for stirring fears and rushing forward with the tonic to heal them.
I believe true believers in God simply believe in God...period. They don't allow others to think for them. They aren't called to action because another mortal lectures them from the pulpit. They don't feel better about themselves because a closeted gay preacher tells them to feel good about themselves. They don't hate themselves in the mistaken belief that God tells them to. They do those things because they believe in God...period.
So in the spirit of honorable atheism, I'd like to give my God-fearing brethren a piece of ecclesiastical advice. Once Ted has been "healed", and is back on the path of righteousness, he will return to you. When he does, accept him back into the fold. Your Lord knows he could use some help weathering the pitiful life he's created for himself. Forgive his sins, just like the Good Book says. But when you do, always remember that he's a mortal and flawed - just like you and the person singing hymns next to you and that nice man next door who always dresses so fabulously. We're all in this together. We all need each other.
So here's the advice:
Be careful when interacting with other humans, they just might not turn out to be who you thought they were. They might be a two-bit sermonator or they might be a gay man with a problem.
In Ted's case, let's call it both.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, November 06, 2006