Evangelical Christians Under Attack…by Themselves!!!

Evangelical Christians are under attack.  The “War on Christmas” is underway already.  But the irony is that the attack is from within, demonstrating the wisdom of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  Many of their ranks, and I think it actually is most of them, have pledged their troth to Trumpism, the figure head of which is Trump, and the rank-and-file are dug in so deep that they cannot escape…especially the illustrious “Evangelical Advisory Council” of sycophants that Trump has wrapped around himself.  They suspect, in the depths of their heart, that they have really screwed up in pledging their troth to a man who is the antitheses of Jesus but, being full of “christian” ego, they cannot admit that.  They, like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.

Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  Consciously.  Being an evangelical in recovery, I’m certainly grinding an ax to some degree.  But, I firmly believe in the value of religion…the word comes from “re” and “ligio” which combined mean to “tie together” what had become disjointed, which is present in the etymology of the word “ligament.” And there is value in the evangelical faith as it suffices for many, and even most people in this world.  We pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals can dismiss them but we do so only out of an insidious arrogance.  Truth has many levels and some approach truth on a level that can easily appear “superficial” to we “pseudo-intellectuals.” But I think God’s wisdom was presented in the wisdom of a fundamentalist radio preacher of decades ago, J. Vernon McGee who said he wanted to “put the cookies on the lower shelf so even the kiddies could reach them.”  And I, being one of those “higher shelf” denizens, a “pseudo-intellectual” at best, can readily affirm the value of “the cookies” on any of the shelves.  For the value lies in the cookies!

But what has happened in evangelical circles is that the “luminaries” have become intoxicated with their prominence and are more interested in maintaining their position than exploring the value, the richness, of the “cookies” that Jesus…among others…presented to us.  They are those that a friend of mine, Charles Dewitt, had in mind in a poem decades ago when he described the clergy as, “You heroes of spiritual contraception who have long since despaired of rebirth.”  The clergy, when they become “professional” are always tempted to relish their position and seek to increase their prominence and maintain it at all costs.  This is not because they are bad people, but merely because they are people…or human, and the human ego has a deep-seated tendency to know nothing other than itself.

 

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Alabama: Politics and Moral Rectitude

Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated the mind set of many conservative Republicans in announcing her support of controversial Senate candidate Roy Moore.  Though she “has no reason to doubt” the numerous women who report his inappropriate sexual advances on them, some in their youth, she declares that she will put her Republican Party loyalty first.

I do not think she lacks in intelligence nor moral rectitude.  She is like most of us she is a rational human being and she puts her faith in her rational ability more than any other dimension of her experience.  One could even say that she has no experience that is not over-ridden by rationality and therein lies the problem…in my estimation!  For, we are not rational beings in the depths of our heart, which is to say, in our unconscious depths, which is why we are so susceptible to the prevailing winds in our culture and ripe for manipulation by political and religious leaders. This is because most political and religious leaders have their positions because of their ability to be in tune with the “prevailing winds” of their milieu and to have climbed to a position of influence.

This Alabama morass illustrates the profound political and socio-cultural impasse in my country and each side tends to demonize the other.  Speaking as a Progressive, yes, I think there are “deplorables” amongst the Conservatives as Hillary Clinton alleged last year but they are a real minority and I happen to know there are extremist “nut-jobs” among my ranks.  But there are many Conservatives whose rational thinking is of the Kay Ivey variety and though I passionately disagree, and feel there are moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed, that does not mean she is stupid or is a bad human being.  And there are “moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed” by the whole of this country, starting with yours truly!

Biblical Literalism and Human Culture

Biblical literalism is very much related to what I see as a cultural literalism in my country.  Many conservative people, especially in Alabama at present moment, are seeing their world in such literal terms that they are oblivious to the long-term consequences of what they are doing.  Just as they approach Holy Writ only on the surface level, so they approach their daily life and the life of their community and nation only on a surface level.  They do not grasp the nuances of life and therefore the nuanced dimensions of life, unbeknownst to them, are grasping them firmly.  One might say their individual, as well as the collective unconscious exerts inordinate influence on them.

Our need to conceptualize our experience with God parallels are experience of having been conceptualized ourselves.  We first lived as an awareness, an amorphous Presence ready to soak up this substantial world and thus form an ego identity.  This state of “awareness” was what the Buddhists call the “world of 10,000 things” which is a metaphor for “a world of everything,” of undifferentiated wholeness.  The Biblical fall is the experience of being reduced to the conceptual…a thing among other things…which then reduced our Creator Him/Herself to a concept, a thing.

Spiritual teachings of all stripe are intended to facilitate an escape from bondage to this “letter of the law.”  But gaining this freedom…or even tippy-toeing near its periphery…requires an awareness of the predicament which is a profoundly existential phenomenon.  This awareness is not cognitive, though cognition is involved…somewhat…and is greatly influenced by the experience.  This experience takes place deep in the heart, in the unconscious, that, “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.”

Understanding this phenomenon can be transformative.  One could even say it can be, “being born again.”  Grasping this dimension of life changes our relationship with our self, with others, and with our world.  We begin to see and understand ourselves as related to all “things”, to be part and parcel of this cosmos, even part of what some describe as, “the Cosmic Christ.”  But this experience is inherently threatening to the rugged individualism of our culture which instills within us the notion, “I am the captain of my ship, the master of my soul

Yes, we are individuals but our individuality has value only in the context of our unity with all things.  This experience of the Great Round often comes to us first as the feeling of an impending threat to our sense of being a separate and distinct individual.  This threat is that of impending doom, of fragmentation or dissolution of the ego, which is actually merely the ego having its tyranny loosened and learning to live in harmony with the body and the rest of the world.

“They’re All a Bunch of Damn Hypocrites”!!!

Well, actually I exaggerate…kinda.  Technically I think that describes all of us as we are intrinsically complicated critters and beneath the surface of our lives can be found a myriad of unsavoury thoughts and impulses. But at times one of them bubbles to the surface and wreaks havoc on our lives and even those around us.

Just yesterday a young, vocally anti-gay legislator in Ohio, resigned after having an homo-sexual encounter in his office weeks earlier.  Yes, hypocrisy is on the table but that is not my concern as hypocrisy is common with most of us, especially in the sexual arena.  But in conservative Christian circles it is even more egregiously problematic and subject to severe disapproval.  Four years ago the pastor of a Florida mega-church, whose father was a spiritual mentor of Obama, committed suicide when it came out that he had been abusive of his wife and had been sexually involved with a woman on the staff of his church.  There is not a lot of forgiveness a mega-church context.  Oh, God offers it but he followers have a higher standard of moral excellence than He does.

I actually feel sorry for this young legislator who is now brought face-to-face with an inner haunt of his.  He might not even be gay…though apparently whispers of this issue go back years… but his hetero-sexuality is not as pure has he once thought.  And related to that and the whole gamut of human experience, nothing is as pure as we were taught and maturity requires learning to live with ambivalence and contradiction.  But conservative religion, being intrinsically linear, leaves no room for such vagaries.  And neither does conservative politics.

This issue reflects a threat to conservative expressions of the Christian faith more serious than the bogus annual “war on Christmas.”  This threat is internal, stemming from their historical focus on the surface of life and neglecting the depths of the heart where lies myriad, “beastly little treasures.”  But the treasures will always lay hidden, often beneath the surface of perfunctory Christian charitable behavior, until the beast is acknowledged as Carl Jung encouraged with his emphasis of the shadow in the human soul

Well, actually I exaggerate…kinda.  Technically I think that describes all of us as we are intrinsically complicated critters and beneath the surface of our lives can be found a myriad of unsavoury thoughts and impulses. But at times one of them bubbles to the surface and wreaks havoc on our lives and even those around us.

Just yesterday a young, vocally anti-gay legislator in Ohio, resigned after having an homo-sexual encounter in his office weeks earlier.  Yes, hypocrisy is on the table but that is not my concern as hypocrisy is common with most of us, especially in the sexual arena.  But in conservative Christian circles it is even more egregiously problematic and subject to severe disapproval.  Four years ago the pastor of a Florida mega-church, whose father was a spiritual mentor of Obama, committed suicide when it came out that he had been abusive of his wife and had been sexually involved with a woman on the staff of his church.  There is not a lot of forgiveness a mega-church context.  Oh, God offers it but he followers have a higher standard of moral excellence than He does.

I actually feel sorry for this young legislator who is now brought face-to-face with an inner haunt of his.  He might not even be gay…though apparently whispers of this issue go back years… but his hetero-sexuality is not as pure has he once thought.  And related to that and the whole gamut of human experience, nothing is as pure as we were taught and maturity requires learning to live with ambivalence and contradiction.  But conservative religion, being intrinsically linear, leaves no room for such vagaries.  And neither does conservative politics.

This issue reflects a threat to conservative expressions of the Christian faith more serious than the bogus annual “war on Christmas.”  This threat is internal, stemming from their historical focus on the surface of life and neglecting the depths of the heart where lies myriad, “beastly little treasures.”  But the treasures will always lay hidden, often beneath the surface of perfunctory Christian charitable behavior, until the beast is acknowledged as Carl Jung encouraged with his emphasis of the shadow in the human soul

Trumpism is Devouring Alabama

Trumpism has found another avatar, this one in Alabama, a mini-avatar in the person of Judge Roy Moore.  And Moore, fulfilling his job-description, inspires his devotees to merely double-down in their support of him as his moral, ethical, and legal character become more exposed as fraudulent.  Just as with Trump, Moore has evangelical Christians as an important element of his support base and they are demonstrating their historic skill at “doubling down” in the face of his non-sense.

But my favorite “doubling-downer” currently is Jerry Falwell, Jr. the increasingly infamous president of Liberty Baptist University.  After consistently voicing support for Trump, even in the face of opposition from students, faculty, and alumni, he has boldly stated that the believes Moore over the women who are accusing him of sexual improprieties in their youth.  But Falwell has no choice.  He has put himself out on a limb and cannot back down; for backing down, admitting that his judgment about Trump was in error, would be to admit making a mistake which is the characterological flaw that he shares with Trump.  Falwell is here demonstrating one subtle but fatal flaw of any faith tradition, the temptation to take one’s “belief” too seriously, not realizing that there should be a distinction between one’s belief and the “object” of one’s belief.  But believers of the Falwell variety actually have only belief in their belief for they have been indoctrinated into a version of their faith which emphasizes cognition over experience.  In this mode of spiritual experience, faith consists merely of a creed, a medley of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” (Conrad Aiken) of a messy reality that they wish to escape from.  These are the “letter-of-the-law” believers that the Apostle Paul warned us against.

I must issue a caveat here.  I don’t think Falwell is a bad man nor is in insincere.  And the Jesus that he voices belief in was, and is, a cosmic demonstration… i.e. “Word”… of forgiveness to any and all of us regardless of what we think, say, or do.  But this Divine Grace does not leave us without the consequences of our behavior–consequences to ourselves, to those around us, and even to the whole world.

 

 

 

A Doff of My Hat to Karl Marx!

I’m back, after a long hiatus.  The “Get a Life Gods” intervened and made me deal with reality for a bit but I’ve done penance and now am free to frivolously self-indulge with blogging again!  And what could be more frivolous than to “hold forth” about religion!

The escapism of religion becomes more apparent to me almost daily even as my faith deepens; and the “deepening” is taking place sincerely and with some semblance of intellectual and emotional integrity.  I hope!!!  It helps me to understand that Karl Marx was right, religion is the opiate of the masses and being part of the mass…as is the case with us all…I must take my daily hit, no?  I’m not being completely facetious here as I do believe there is an opiate dimension to faith and acknowledgement of this actually gives me comfort.  Failing to appreciate the “opiate dimension” of faith leaves one with the ego-pursuit of blind escapism in some neurotic or even psychotic desire to escape reality which I don’t think spiritual teachers like Jesus had in mind.  I think Jesus knew that, “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” and that we need moments when we indulge with the comfort of a platitude or banality.  If we have any humility remaining in our spirituality we can accept this.  But most of my experience with my Christian faith has not allowed any such humility and I don’t think it was only myself who has been, and is, plagued with this spiritual arrogance.

In spiritual culture…and spirituality is a culture in some sense…there is an emphasis on “getting it right” and “breaking on through to the other side” or even having “the real McCoy” compared with those spiritual plebeians who are wasting their time in the “shallow waters.”  But this attitude is the essence of the Pharisaism that Jesus took umbrage against.  If God blesses us with an occasional dollop of humility…or if our arrogance can abate a moment to receive it…we can meekly accept the grace of a simple platitude or banality and perhaps be less condemning of those who live there

The “Judgment of God” is More Personal Than Some Would Like to Believe.

An absent God, still very much disembodied in spite of what many Christians say, sits up in heaven wielding judgment on hapless mankind.  This is the attitude of former tele-evangelist Jim Bakker and the same mind-set of Rush Limbaugh with the present hurricane season.  Bakker, the former PTL host, long-since disgraced by financial improprieties, is now hawking the gospel and end-of-the-world survival food, noting again that God is judging we miscreants with these hurricanes.  Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh is blathering on his latest conspiracy theory, that Hurricane Harvey is implicated in a plot to increase sales of bottled water and batteries.  (For Jim Bakker story, see:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jim-bakker-hurricane-doomsday-food_us_59af847be4b0354e440d93dd)

Cause-effect is important as otherwise the world as we know it would not exist.  There would be no possibility of a structured whole that facilitates human culture.  But when the spiritual dimension of life is missing, or at least ossified in meaninglessness, the cause-effect view of the world is devoid of perspective. This is very much related to the time-space continuum about which I pontificate often. The time-space continuum, and its off-spring, cause-and-effect, is basically the nuts and bolts of “reality.”  And I am certainly not against reality but I’m very much a proponent of another dimension of reality, which I will call Reality, without which life will become meaningless.  This “Reality” is the domain of what some of us like to call “God” but unfortunately when the notion of God gets consumed by culture it too loses its value.  And I deliberately used the pronoun “it” for a deity that is confined to cultural conveniences, including language, is an “it.”

Let me put this phenomenon on personal terms.  It is easy for we Progressives to blame Trump and Trumpism for the ugliness that is abounding in my culture currently.  And, he certainly is a contributor to it.  But as Salman Rushie recently pointed out, Trump is only the symptom of the problem and when he takes his place in the dust bin of history the problem will still be with us.  For the problem is very much related to this notion of “Reality” that I proposed and the “god” intertwined in that dimension of human experience is not an absent, disembodied deity but one who lives in the very core of our being and, according to none other than Jesus, “is us” in a very critical fashion.  The problem is our intrinsic disavowal of that intrinsic dimension of our being, opting to focus on the external, one example being our hedonist consumerism. But as long as we continue to be externally oriented, given to blaming others…including God…we will not come to recognize and experience our own God-given human agency which would allow us to be better care-takers of this beautiful world we live in.  As Jesus told us, “The Kingdom is within.”  (Re Salman Rushie and Trump, see the following:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/02/salman-rushdie-interview)

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/