Christian hypocrisy, atheist insanity

Posted: Dec 31, 2004 12:00 AM

Since both my wife and I formally became Christians (through baptism) in the same year we were married, 1976, our love for each other in some loopy way is tied up with our love for Christianity. Wonderfully, we've never had any significant frustrations in our marriage, but we've seen things go wrong in some churches.

 My favorite 20th century writer of fiction, Walker Percy, poured on the criticism in his next-to-last novel, "The Second Coming" (1980). He complained that the contemporary Christian is "nominal, lukewarm, hypocritical, sinful or, if fervent, generally offensive and fanatical. But he is not crazy." The unbeliever is, because of the "fatuity, blandness, incoherence, fakery and fatheadedness of his unbelief. He is in fact an insane person."

 Percy continued, "The present-day unbeliever is crazy because he finds himself born into a world of endless wonders, having no notion how he got here, a world in which he eats, sleeps ... works, grows old, gets sick, and dies ... takes his comfort and ease, plays along with the game, watches TV, drinks his drink, laughs ... for all the world as if his prostate were not growing cancerous, his arteries turning to chalk, his brain cells dying off by the millions, as if the worms were not going to have him in no time at all."

 Percy's describes the typical academic: "The more intelligent he is, the crazier he is. ... He reads Dante for its mythic structure. He joins the ACLU and concerns himself with the freedom of the individual and does not once exercise his own freedom to inquire into how in God's name he should find himself in such a ludicrous situation."

 The international news of 2004 once again showed how far from sanity this world resides. Iraq. Sudan. Israel. Afghanistan. Holland. China. Chechnya. Cuba. Nagorno Karabakh. On the surface, our domestic news is better. No terrorist attacks. No mass murders in schools or churches. But Percy's quiet terror continues: arteries to chalk, brain cells to mush, dust to dust.

 This was a year in which many people sought the love of another. I feel extraordinarily blessed in my marriage, but hit television shows like "Sex and the City" and "Desperate Housewives," as well as Tom Wolfe's fine novel "I Am Charlotte Simmons," display the desperate desire for love that some sadly reduce to a desperate search for sex -- as if momentary excitement can substitute for years of contentment.

 Some of the gays and lesbians who lined up for "marriage licenses" in San Francisco early this year merely wanted to poke their fingers in the eyes of straights, but others were there because they thought they suddenly had an antidote to loneliness. They deserve not hatred, but pity.

 What's more striking is how the desperate search for horizontal love, person-to-person, is not matched by what should be an even more desperate search for vertical love, person-and-God. Here's Walker Percy again: "I am surrounded by two classes of maniacs. The first are the believers, who think they know the reason why we find ourselves in this ludicrous predicament yet act for all the world as if they don't. The second are the unbelievers, who don't know the reason and don't care if they don't."

 Confession: I often act for all the world as if I'm clueless. So do most Christians I know -- and those who don't act clueless often act as if they know everything, which is even more obnoxious. But here's my continuing New Year's resolution, now 24 years old, taken from the end of the "The Second Coming," after protagonist Will Barrett has fallen in love and also come to understand a little about God: "Am I crazy to want both, her and Him? No, not want, must have. And will have."