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Catholic Culture Overview

so divinely diverser than thou

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 12, 2006

Check out this website to watch a promotional ad produced by the United Church of Christ and black-flagged (so we're given to understand) by the networks.

In the video we see the perfect caricature of a squeaky-clean, prosperous Anglo family -- right out of the 1950s Dick-&-Jane books -- taking its place in the pews of a faux-gothic church (hint, hint) and glancing with distaste at the other worshipers. Then we watch as its ill-disguised wish to exclude is realized by the serial ejection of the single mother, the person-of-color, the handicapped, the Jesuit liturgists, the elderly, etc. The screen text says, "God doesn't reject people. Neither do we."

Isn't that lovely.

The UCC wants the viewer to understand that other churches cast out worshipers because of the accidents of race, income, age, and so forth. In fact no Christian denomination has such a policy, but the falsehood seems not to trouble the UCC. Within the terms of mass-marketing gamesmanship, it's not cricket to name names, but it's OK, e.g., to show a dismayed housewife pulling a yellowed shirt out of her washer, provided she was using "Brand X." Maneuvering those anonymous congregations into position as it competitors, the UCC has made the Oxydol Ethic its own.

Just as vexing as the tactical smear of the competition is the implicit claim to moral superiority. On the First Things blog some time ago, Wilfred McClay spoke of "how the righteous hatred of hatred can degenerate into an even more poisonous and manipulable form of hate, precisely because it is insulated from self-examination by its own sense of righteousness." Can anyone pretend that the church portrayed in the UCC's ad wasn't intended to be detestable? Sanctimoniousness anesthetizes irony, and the smugness of our fictive Anglo family is itself viewed with a smugness that liberal habits of self-congratulation have rendered invisible to the Elect.

As has been noticed before, there's not a lot of difference between the Pharisee who prays, "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men, even as yon publican," and the preacher who chews over the passage and prays, "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men, even as that Pharisee in thy parable." If you toss this particular bouquet too hard, it turns out you've thrown a boomerang.

Take the ad's punch line: "God doesn't reject people. Neither do we." Not much doubt about who's to be congratulated, is there? With some minor tinkering the motto can be restored to its 17th century original: "God detests the ungodly. So do we." That version is less genial, true, but they cash out to the same value (God detests rejection. Those who reject are ungodly. WE detest rejection, ergo ...). You have to wonder, in fact, whether the UCC is really upset that its ad didn't make it onto prime-time after all. What's likely to give its sponsors greater satisfaction: a real-world boost in attendance, or the knowledge that only we few, we happy few, have our doors open to all?

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