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20.9.03

Polly want a savior

Faith Keeps Parrot Owner's Hopes Alive

A Medicine Hat man puts his faith in the Lord that he'll seeing his prized African parrot - who tells sinners to repent - one more time.

... "I taught him to tell people to 'turn off your TV and open up your Bible,' " said Doell, who says he is a born-again Christian. "He confronts people about their soul and where they're going to spend eternity. He preaches the same messages as Billy Graham. He says 'repent before it's too late because you're one heartbeat from heaven or hell.' "

-- via The Right Christians


We'll get the obvious joke out of the way first: It says something about the intellectual quality of fire-and-brimstone preaching that even a parrot can do it.

But on a deeper level, I think there is something deliberately parrot-like, and unsettling, about conservative Christianity. The parrot in this story is just a vessel for his owner's project of preaching the gospel. The parrot doesn't have to think about what the message is, because his owner puts the words in his beak. Similarly, in conservative Christianity the goal is to become simply a vessel for God. Complete surrender to God's power is the believer's final act, because it negates the believer's capacity for further action by putting God in charge.

A good illustration of this comes in the early chapters of Exodus. The thing that's always struck me about the story of the plagues of Egypt is how God takes over not just Moses and Aaron, but also the Pharaoh. Early on, the Pharaoh is ready to let the Israelites go. But God hardens his heart, deliberately making the task of winning freedom harder for the Israelites. Everyone becomes a marionette in God's puppet show.

On the other hand, neither the Pharaoh, nor the parrot (so far as I can tell, though I'm no expert in animal psychology), willfully gave up control. God forcibly took over the Pharaoh's mind. This seems to suggest that if God wanted us to be merely passive tools of his will, he wouldn't need our permission. This would cut out the long and difficult Christian struggle to set aside individual human desires to let God fill you. If you had skills God could use, he'd just come and take them. Note the contrast to what happened to Moses. God obviously thought Moses was the best man for the job. But God didn't just possess Moses. He gave in to Moses' complaints about being a poor public speaker and enlisted Aaron's help. This suggests that God wants his will done in partnership with independently thinking people. Certainly God did a lot of the work for Moses and Aaron, writing the script for them to say and preparing their miracles. But he presented it as "I'll help you out if you go do it," not "if you become my host body, I'll do it for you."

To go beyond Exodus, I think the problem with surrendering to God is that God's will underdetermines our selection of a course of action. There isn't one perfectly Godly way to act, and others that are not. God's universality only works when it's in cooperation with our particular positionality.

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