Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Luther, Bike Lanes, and a Non-Renegade

Happy Reformation Day, y'all!

Reforming Evangelicals' Populist View of Halloween

Yes, it's October 31 once again, the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, ushering in the great Christian Reformation.  His protest against the theological and moral corruption of the Roman Catholic Church in the year 1517 led to Protestantism, which is the term encapsulating the flavors of evangelical faith to which most believers in Christ adhere today.

Yes, there are some evangelicals who insist on celebrating the pagan observance of Halloween on October 31, but that's just silly of them.  As if commemorating the faith of Druids and Wicca is any way to honor Christ.  They think wearing costumes, sending their kids begging for candy door-to-door, and carving ghoulish faces in pumpkins is all harmless fun, and that's just what the Devil loves for them to believe.  I realize they like to brand people like me as dour fundamentalists for trying to rain on their spooky parade, but I've come to chalk it up to simply another blind spot on their part, hardly dissimilar to the blind spots I have elsewhere in my own life.

Not that I'm trying to ruin your Halloween fun.  But it's the Devil who really doesn't want me to ruin it for you.

Luther famously encouraged believers in Christ to "jeer and flout" the Devil, and evangelicals who celebrate Halloween say they're just following Luther's orders.  Nevertheless, God never tells us to jeer at our enemy, and Luther himself, hardly a perfect man, said many things that prove him to have been no more immortal than you or I.

Indeed, let's commemorate his testimony with his 95 Theses, but only because they boldly correspond with Scripture, instead of contradicting it.

The Bane of Bike Lanes

And while we're on the subject of discrepancies between what we want and the reality of the situation, consider the traffic mayhem in Manhattan today, since both the city's Subway and commuter rail systems are off-line for the foreseeable future.  Today was the first day back to work for most New Yorkers, and gridlock caused by passenger vehicles is crippling the island.

That's not really news, however.  What's news is the hip new bike lanes the city, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has painted on some of the city's main traffic arteries.  Bloomberg insists most New Yorkers have been waiting for these bike lanes so they can ditch their wasteful fossil fuel vehicles and get some exercise while commuting around town.

For several years now, our federal government has been offering municipalities incentives to encourage the proliferation of bike lanes on streets near you.  We can thank overly-ambitious environmentalists for this thievery of taxpayer-funded roadways.  Bicycle enthusiasts try to say it's a good thing to take away automobile lanes that have been paid for through gasoline taxes so bike riders - who pay no road taxes of any kind - can run red lights with their trendy wheels.

As you might be able to discern, I don't buy that argument at all.  The reason Americans gave up bikes for cars three generations ago - and why bike owners in developing nations around the world are now buying cars instead - is that automobiles provide the speed, comfort, and protection most people prefer when commuting to a variety of destinations.  Bike lanes not only are unfair to drivers of motorized vehicles, they're unsafe for bike riders and will likely prove to be just as much a fad as the current craze for high-performance bikes.  With the stunning implosion of the Lance Armstrong bicycle empire, you can almost bank on it.

The bike lane is that unused strip of pavement to the right of the photo.
Maybe the bike craze has already peaked.  Witness, for example, the many, many New Yorkers who are NOT taking advantage of these supposedly wonderful bike lanes along 8th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan this afternoon (see photo at right).  In this picture, posted on Facebook by a friend of mine who took it from her apartment, those new bike lanes (with the eco-trendy light green paint) are empty.  Empty!  While traffic chokes every other lane available for those dirty, nasty pollution-belching cars.

Granted, with this kind of congestion, it's unlikely having the bike lane restored for motorized vehicle use would prevent this extraordinary block-after-block gridlock.  Many of those people were forced to drive into the city from the suburbs because of the transit shut-down, and there are probably few contiguous bike lanes from out in New Jersey and Long Island to Midtown.  But still, where are all of New York's effusive bicyclists?  Wouldn't this be the ideal time for bike riders to prove that those bike lanes can really come in handy?

I suppose altruism only goes so far, even in such a liberal place as New York City. Go ahead and let New York's notoriously impatient drivers look longingly - and angrily - at all of that empty pavement going to waste.

Thing is, it's not just New York where bike lanes have raised the driving public's ire.  Here in Texas, Fort Worth has slapped bike lanes all over the city's streets, and in Dallas, some ardent bicyclists have taken to painting their own unofficial bike lanes on streets the city hasn't designated as bike routes. Add graffiti to the list of vices with which bicyclists - notorious for their red-light running - are gracing our cities.

Let's face it:  Bike lanes are a folly, just like Halloween.  Plenty of trick, but not much treat.  That's Reformation Day, 2012.

Actually, if you think about it, there's more that these subjects today share.  Martin Luther was a renegade who defied the Roman Church.  Bicyclists tend to embrace a type of renegade culture in lobbying for taking traffic lanes away from motorized vehicles.  I'm certainly not in the majority when I lobby for evangelicals to wisely respect Halloween's historic paganism.  But I'm not trying to say that makes me a renegade, too.

Naw, I don't want that appellation.  I just say what I think.  Sometimes people not only disagree with me; they think I'm rude.

But speaking of Halloween candy, I did buy a bar of Hershey's at my local CVS drug store while driving home in my fossil-fuel-burning Honda, before I head out to spend my Reformation Day evening at choir practice.

After all, as Luther is famous for saying, "God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."

And also, if I might add:  chocolate.
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