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/

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An Alternative to Perfunctory Forgiveness

My foray into A Course in Miracles (Acim) the past year and a half has been very helpful in learning to view reality, including my faith, through a more critical prism.  One of the most important lessons has been about forgiveness which is more than the perfunctory “performance art” forgiveness that I have been accustomed to.  This “performance art” forgiveness is when you forgive someone who has offended you because that is the thing you are supposed to do.  You have learned that when someone has “been naughty” to you, it is your Christian duty to forgive them, especially if they ask you to.  But Acim teaches that forgiveness goes much deeper than social obligation into the depths of the heart where you recognize that in an important sense you and the offending party are one, that “there go I but by the Grace of God.”  You forgive because you realize that you are connected to that person, are “cut from the same bolt of cloth,” and are in some sense guilty of the same offense.

Performance art forgiveness is often a transaction of power.  You are the bastion of moral virtue and godliness and before you is the lowly miscreant seeking absolution.  The miscreant walks away comforted with your forgiveness and you walk away basking in the comfort of knowing that you have, once again, been noble and Christian.  Acim teachings put each party on a level playing field…and that is where the teachings of Jesus want us to be with others. His teachings were intended to be a great equalizer among humankind, not as a means to facilitate some of us being “noble” and others “not so much.”

But performance art forgiveness, and the whole of performance art faith, has its place in human affairs functioning kind of like a set of training wheels on a bicycle. And perfunctory forgiveness is better than none at all and, if given a little thought and humility, can lead to the understanding taught by the Course.

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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/

The Danger of Biblical Literalism

Bishop John Shelby Spong in “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” has argued forcefully that Biblical literalism is a fundamental threat to Christianity.  This notion is anti-thetical to everything I was taught in my youth but now as I age I find it weighing on me to join Spong…and others…in weighing in with my two cents.  Biblical literalism reflects the sin of misplaced concreteness, mistaking the symbol for the thing which it represents.  Thus the Bible, certainly Holy Writ, becomes a barrier to hearing what the various people contributing to the Bible were trying to say as well as the One we credit with writing the Bible in the first place.  The bible is used to avoid the Bible just as god is used to avoid God, and our grasp of who we are is used to avoid the inner essence, i.e. experience, of who we are.  Our culture teaches us to live on the surface, to look no deeper than the surface, and this mandate applies also to religion even though it is so convenient to think otherwise.  It is convenient, and often fashionable to subscribe to “easy believism” that doesn’t cost anything substantial yet will provide in religion a social accoutrement that many of us find necessary, much like a nice suit of clothes. It is another thing to “have religion” that penetrates into the very depths of our being, shakes us to the core, challenges our preconceptions, and brings us to the point where we can but “glory, bow, and tremble.”  Meaningful religion, in short, brings us face to face with our human-ness, including our mortality. This “easy believism” is now egregiously manifest in our culture with the throngs of conservative Christians who have pledged their troth to a political leader who is the antitheses of everything Jesus stood for.  Yes, cursed like Trump with the same inability to acknowledge fault, they “stand by their man” even as his perfidy and moral obtuseness becomes more obvious; for, to do otherwise would be to acknowledge, “Oh, well maybe God wasn’t leading me to support him.  Maybe it was just my own personal lust for power and glory.”

I want to share here the wisdom of two 20th century religious scholars who grasped this phenomenon of bibliolatry.  The first, Jacques Ellul wrote in “The Judgement of Jonah”:

…Thus obedience to the letter of scripture can be obedience to Satan if the text serves to bring about isolation and independence in relation to the one who has inspired it.  It can be a means of self-affirmation over against God in in repression of his truth and his will.  The biblical text, and obedience to it, do not guarantee anything.  They may be the best means of not hearing God speak.  (Ellul here points out that the Pharisees were) authentic believers, faithful adherents of scripture, and rich in good works and piety.  In reality everything depends on our attitude to the text of the scripture.  If I seize it, use it, and exploit it to my own ends...then I am obeying Satan under the cover of what the Bible says.

The following is an excerpt from a book about Paul Tillich, one of the most prominent American theologians of the 20th century who clearly understood bibliolatry, presenting it as taking what is merely a symbol for the “thing-in-itself.”  Here a Tillich scholar explains bibliolatry in terms of taking a “religious symbol” literally and thereby disallowing it to reveal its inner value:

The problem for all symbols, but especially for religious symbols, is that they often tend to become identified completely with that which they symbolize. In so doing they have a tendency to supplant their referents. The problem is heightened by the nature of the dual task of religious symbols, which must express not only ultimate reality but also the character of the material that serves as the symbol. The symbol must not be transparent, losing all its self-identity; instead, it must be translucent, maintaining its own character but revealing light from another source. When religious symbols become confused with the reality they represent, they become idolatrous and demonic, for idolatry is nothing other than making symbols of the holy absolute and identical with the absolute itself.” {Donald W. Musser, Joseph L. Price, *Tillich* (Abingdon Pillars of Theology)}

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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/

God Punishes Texas With Hurricane Harvey!!!

This is a facetious head line, and I have a tinge of guilt as human misery is nothing to be facetious about.  I use this to illustrate an interpretive framework that still echoes in the depths of my heart somewhere even though here I use it to illustrate how silly and how dark these words sound.  Yes, Texas is the heart of a lot of “stuff” that I see as very dark, and yes this same interpretive framework is used by its political and religious leaders too often when groups they dislike are facing misfortune, but I “sure as hell” don’t think God is punishing them with this awful tragedy.  Anyone who sees it that way belies a very small mind and a very dark heart of their own.  And to credit God with such a petty, vengeful spirit is insulting to say the least and reflects a belief in a God that I don’t believe in.  Furthermore, it is more revealing about the heart from which it flows than about God.

With this vein of thought that I am critiquing here I see so clearly why there are atheists and why conservative Christians are often so reviled.  This hateful and punitive view of God reflects abysmal ugliness which often finds expression in all religious groups despite how pious and righteous they might purport to be.  The impulse toward the Holy, i.e. “God” in this instance is a very noble impulse but the impulse is an infantile, crude groping of the heart that needs to be refined with the Grace that maturity can bring.  Often we never get beyond the infantile, egoic dimension of human experience in any of our life and when that happens the “beastly” part of “the heart has its beastly little treasures” will predominate.

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

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https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Jerry Falwell Jr. Embarrassed by Trump

Jerry Falwell Jr. and his fellow evangelical luminaries are feeling the hurt for their hypocritical support of Trump.  With other “advisory board” types fleeing the sinking Trumpian ship, only one has resigned from the Evangelical Advisory Board and Falwell, Jr. in the interview below is challenged to justify his continued support.  Falwell Jr.’s support of Trump is completely untenable and in the interview the shallowness of his views are embarrassingly apparent.  To make matters worse for him, students at the University bearing the Falwell name and some of its alumni are finding the courage to confront him, to expose his hypocrisy, and ask that he resigns. (See WaPo story– https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/08/21/jerry-falwell-jr-and-other-religious-backers-of-trump-embarrass-themselves/)

I can’t help but feel some sympathy for Falwell Jr. as my youth and early adulthood was spent with rudimentary efforts to ensconce myself in evangelical culture like he has, though I would admittedly have splashed about in a smaller pond than he.  Looking back I can remember so clearly how that identity issues were paramount as at that age I was looking about to see where I could establish myself and take my place in the local version of a dog-and-pony show version of evangelical Christianity.  I failed miserably in that phase of my identity quest…for which I am so grateful…but Falwell Jr. was very successful.  He merely read his script better than I did and that alone did not and does not make him a bad person or un-Christian.

There is the “Christian identity movement” in our culture which Falwell Jr. is part of though he is not cursed with the rabid, unrefined version of that madness.  But his “identity” is wholly Christian which is not easy to be critical of as it sounds very noble.  But the problem I’m addressing here is in the hollowness of an identity which is based on ideology rather than personal experience.  Christian ideologues of the sort I am critiquing see God and even Jesus only as ideas, noble ideas which rattle around in their skull, but which have not been integrated into the core of their being so that a meaningful impact can be had on their thought, speech, and behavior.  They are products of our ideologically oriented culture which does not want authentic human beings but simple ideologues, automatons, who will march in lock step with the prevailing cultural milieu.  To put in simple terms, Falwell Jr. is like Trump in that he is driven by unquestioned assumptions one of which is, for Falwell his Christian faith.  The questioning spirit which could deepen his faith and expose to himself what the Apostle Paul called “the flesh,” even in his noble intentions, will not be permitted.  This is because it would be too painful to have his Christian persona exposed for what it is, not realizing that as the persona is penetrated by the light of day…what Christians call “The Holy Spirit”…his faith could deepen as the unacknowledged dimensions of his soul were brought to the surface.

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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/

Paul Tillich’s “Mutilated Religion” Will be Addressed Here

A couple of responses from my last few posts have really impressed me, including one that was actually very critical.  The critical gentleman took me to task for being “non-sensical” and immature to which I had to agree.  I have always taken a bold tack in this blog but I am now coming out more boldly and taking spirituality, as I now understand it, into a new dimension which is very non-linear and therefore in a sense very “non-sensical.”  Paul Tillich declared that a religion within the bounds of reason is a mutilated religion and I now choose to address this “mutilation” far more openly and will do it with reason itself.  You might say I will turn reason upon itself.

I don’t know the gentleman that was critical of my observations but he did demonstrate a graciousness and intelligence even as he made his concerns known in a very pointed manner.  And, I think I know where he was coming from as I grew up in a very linear culture and still have the capacity to understand and respect that way of viewing the world.  And, I’m glad that I do as otherwise I would be taking “non-sensical” to another dimension in which I would be, shall we say, “functionally impaired.”  Our world functions on the basis of linear thought and those who subscribe to that way of viewing the world are usually quite intelligent and noble people.  Unfortunately….or fortunately”…I am not blessed with the comfort of that world view and see life, including religion, from broader perspective and do so without any illusion that it is the only way.

Again, I must employ the bumper stick that I overwork—DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK! Thinking is not autonomous, its roots lie in the depths of our being, often thought of as the unconscious.  We think in accordance with premises and biases which are not easily acknowledged and sometimes impossible.  Religion is particularly susceptible to this dimension of our heart as it reflects our innermost being, including our deepest fears, insecurities, and hopes.  Though religion offers “re-ligio” (tieing together of that which has been disconnected, as with a “ligament”) it often proffers ignoble impulses to accomplish this purpose.  For example, one of the things which can most unify a group of people is hatred aimed against another group or even a particular person.

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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/

Approaching the Bible as Literature

The Bible is Holy Writ.  Dismiss it, curse it, scoff at it, take it literally, take it metaphorically, don’t take it at all but it still falls culturally and historically into the category “Holy Writ.”  Therefore, it has value regardless whether or not you think so, though that “value” for you personally is for you to determine.  It might be that you “value” it not at all and if that should be the case you will never find me arguing with you.  I would have at one time but somewhere along the line I managed to “get a life.” In this blog, an evolving enterprise of mine which is gradually taking a different shape, I am exploring what the Bible and the Christian tradition is to me.  This is now a very personal endeavor as I am much less controlled by the “party line” that I was given as a child, this “party line” usually having an important role in the early stages of one’s faith.  But as the Apostle Paul put it, “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

“Holy Writ” falls into the general category of literature.  In my youth to consider the Bible as literature would have been tantamount to heresy as it would have appeared to be presenting it as “mere” human endeavor.  But approaching it as literature reflects the evolution of my alter-ego, Literarylew, which materialized when I came to understand and experience life in fluid, metaphorical terms. This means that I now have the liberty, and the courage, to see Holy Writ…and certainly the Bible…as having layers of meaning none of which necessarily have to be excluded.   Some see the Bible, for example, as a literal historical document in which a literal, concretely existing deity dictated it word for word.  I have better things to do than to quarrel with anyone who approaches it that way but I would encourage them to toy with others.

A literary approach to the Bible facilitates a personal interpretation and application of the truths being presented.  If one approaches what he reads literally, he sees it only as an “owner’s” manual and the God that I see in the Bible is not an “owner” but one who offers a relationship with Him, a relationship which facilitates more open, honest, intimate relationships with our fellowman.  If God is our “owner” then we are a mere object and we will then be inclined to see and feel ourselves only as an object and to subsequently view our world and our fellowman as an object.

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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/