Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Christian", "Religious" and "Humanist": Schultz a Puzzle or a Puzzle of Terms?

The Young Fogey, links to an article over at Get Religion, about Charles Schulz and his religiosity and its relation to his comic strips. I suppose it is a sort of review of the reception of the recent book on Schulz. I grew up with the Peanuts cartoon, I watched the Halloween and Christmas specials, most years growing up, and my parents would often remark that Schulz was a believer, or a Christian. I don't think they ever knew his affiliation, Church of God (Anderson Indiana), since my parents were and are orthodox enough to be wary of those Protestants who tended towards the exclusive and a-historical end of the spectrum. Luther I was told frequently growing up did not intend to break from Rome (though not in those exact words).

This obsession with an artist's (and/or celebrity's) religion or spirituality or lack there of, that this article kind of demonstrates and which my parents had, puzzled me as a child, and still does. I have always wondered what this trumpeting of a famous author, artist, musician, etc. was intended to accomplish. I was uncomfortable with the "he's one of us so it's okay to enjoy his work" that such trumpeting seemed to imply. The ambiguity even the contradictions that are being revealed about Schultz's belief's and even affiliation or lack there of, seems to confirm my childhood discomfort with this obsession. While even when young I picked up Schulz's engagement with Christianity and even the Scriptures, I alway sensed other things going on, perhaps even a discomfort with Christian orthodoxy. It seems I might have been on to something, if the article and book are accurate at all.
But then does it really matter? I think it does matter to my parents and people who think like them (though it may matter less to them now than it did when they were younger.) It matters in part because "Christian", "Religious", "Humanist" , or even "Liberal" and "Conservative" are not simply descriptors they are terms of belonging. If Schulz was a Christian and widely recognized by our culture and society then perhaps America still belonged to them, perhaps America was still in some sense Christian. The ambiguity of Schulz that seems to be the case both unsettles the terms we use and the connection those terms have to America. It unsettles assumed means of belonging in and to America.

My parents like many Protestant Christians of certain type and age found themselves in a crisis of belonging in the United States, The story of America I was taught in California schools was not the story they had been taught, when my mother was a child and what my father was taught when he came here as an adolescent after WWII. The attempt to construct and deconstruct and reconstruct our cultural icons as a particular manifestation of a particular orientation perhaps shows that belonging in our social and cultural context is a particular puzzle for us all.

Some of us, like myself, simply accept the ambiguity and the dislocation that brings. I am not always satisfied with it as my recent posts probably show, but I am no longer terribly interested, perhaps militantly uninterested, in some unifying grand narrative of the United States, as particularly religious or Christian, or as particularly secularist and humanist. (this may explain my current distaste for the politics of both sides of the aisle). Any of these narratives seem to me to compete for the far more important narratives we should tell our selves, and I find my belonging in smaller and more particular arenas than that of citizenship in the United States.

For me Schulz's beliefs and affiliations are interesting and the ambiguity of those things as they may appear to us now seems to simply be the ambiguity we all have. I have to admit that if a journalist or biographer attempted to sum my beliefs and practices in a neat package they'd be similarly challenged. Though being a pastor might keep at least some of my commitments clear. This ambiguity is unsettling, I have to admit even to myself at times.

So we puzzle through these terms of belonging and try to figure out where others belong. Having grown up after the deconstruction of America's great meta-narrative and raised on the mata-narratives (yes I meant to use the plural here) of Scripture and Church, I find myself at home amongst "sub-cultures" and an understanding of Scripture and Church as sources of an-other belonging. So whether America and its culture are Christian or not matters little to me, and it matters little that the artists and fellow Goths I know and am friends with are Christian or not. In fact as often as not in both circles my Christian faith makes me the oddity. So, while my parents were (to some degree , but a lesser degree, still are) concerned with their belonging as Christians in America. I happen to reside in the United States and happen to be a citizen here (had my family remained in France, which we almost did, I could perhaps be as easily a citizen of France) the stakes are different for me, and Schulz's Christianity or lack there of or what have you, means little to me, my appreciation of him does not change. I think it does for my parents. What concerns me is that those of us who claim to be "Christian" are so in the ways my recent posts have explored. So, I am no less concerned with belonging and with these terms of belonging I just don't need them to have any deep roots in American soil. And so the degree to which we may now accurately label Charles Schulz "Christian" or even "Religious" is an interesting intellectual puzzle but not something I care much about, except that I know so many prized being able to claim Schulz as one of their own, a "Christian".

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