Category Archives: evangelical Christianity

“Morning Joe” Castigates Conservative Christians

Joe Scarborough, a conservative ex-Republican who used to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives expressed his frustration with conservative Christians this morning.  Scarborough, now the host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, lamented that 69 per cent of conservative Christians still support Trump even with his continued egregious anti-Christian speech, attitude, and deeds.  Joe finished his soliloquy with, “Sounds to me like an effort to gain the whole world while losing your own soul.”

I do not think Joe meant to be taken literally; his point was not to say that these people are “going to hell” but that “soul” is missing in their life, including in their spiritual life.  This “69 per center club” lacks the “discerning spirit” spoken of by the Apostle Paul and pledged their loyalty to a man who promised power at the expense of their soul; this “discernment” would not have allowed a choice like this.  And, having made this choice, they demonstrate the Trumpian quality of being unable to admit they made a mistake as doing so would be to lose face, even their “Christian” face.

But criticism to “True Believers” (see Eric Hoffer) like this are immune to criticism; they attitude is, “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”  They have a ready-made defense mechanism for anything that contradicts their view point once their mind is made up, “Fake News.”  One can see why they ally so fiercely behind Trump for he articulates the fears, anxieties, and desire for certainty of their own soul.

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Where is the Evangelical Council to the President These Days????

Where is the Evangelical Council to the President?  We used to hear from them, or about them, quite frequently.  But they have suddenly gone strangely silent.  I’ve googled for wisdom and support of Trump from luminaries like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress and cannot find even a peep from them.  What’s up?

I strongly suspect they realize they have dug themselves into a deep pit, a veritable black hole, and cannot escape without humbly admitting, “We made a mistake.”  But they have bitten of the same poison pill that Trump swallowed early in his life and cannot humbly admit, “I was wrong.”  For they have a tremendous ego investment in their persona as a “Purveyor of the Truth of Jesus,” but are not able to realize they can be that and simultaneously be egregiously full of an ego that demands aggrandizement just as much as does Trump.  AND, I speak from experience, as I started out on a path of seeking a similarly specious identity but was miraculously rescued by the Grace of God which leaves me now but a mere “small clod of cholesterol in the mainstream of life.”  And, I’m humbly “proud” of this lowly station. It takes all the pressure off.

I must emphasize that these men…and women…do as I do, echo the words of the Psalmist, “My soul followeth hard after Thee, O Lord.”  And I do not doubt their sincerity, nor do I doubt the efficacy of their faith in Jesus Christ.  But I do challenge them on something I’ve had to wrestle with, this “passion” for “Thee, O Lord” can easily be an ego endeavor as it will afford one an opportunity to ensconce himself in a position of power in Christian culture.  But this immediately flies in the face of a fundamental teaching of Jesus—that power is found in powerlessness and the appeal to the power of ego-gratification is intoxicating as, ahem, “hell.”

Simone Weil on the Christian Persona

The “false self” is what the Crucifixion is about.  It is about the persona that we acquire, even the “christian persona” which is the façade that many of us hide behind to keep us from the Jungian shadow that we all fear.  Behind the perfunctory righteousness and platitudes that we have learned, there is abysmal darkness that we refuse to acknowledge, even though simple acknowledgement would free us up to allow the energy of our life-force, i.e. the “Spirit of God,” to flow unimpeded and allow the “enfleshment” which the story of Jesus was about.  Read here how one great Christian Saint of the 20th century put it:

Simone Weil said that we have been given the very gift of our being by God, so everything that comes to us, everything is God’s gift, including our very being. So what can we give God in return, she says. She says what happens, for whatever reason, is that we construct a false self, a false I, a false ego. False because we become attached to it, we defend it, we attribute too much reality to it. We think it’s an end in itself rather than a means, a medium of communication, or a way of service. So the ego begins to predominate in our minds, our feelings, our relationships – in that whole complex business – and that takes years sometimes to unravel. She says the one thing we can give to God is the demolition of this false self, this false I. She uses the word ‘destruction’ which is rather a violent word but sometimes it does feel like destruction. At times when you struggle with your ego, it feels there is a certain interior violence going on. It isn’t really about doing harm to oneself, but there is a real, serious work to do which is at times difficult in the transcendence, or the deconstruction, or the demolition of our false self. And this is the central importance of meditation in the process of finding ourselves.

Power vs. Powerlessness in Christianity

One of my favorite hymns from my Baptist youth included the refrain about Jesus, “He could have called ten thousand angels/To destroy the world and set him free/He could have called then thousand angels/But He died alone for you and me.”

This moving hymn still has value for me today, conveying the essential message of Jesus as lying in his demonstration of the power in powerlessness.   In modern day terms, given his dilemma as his crucifixion approached and given the abysmal circumstance he saw in the world, he could have decided to just “kick ass” and call down a horde of angels…so to speak…and righted the wrongs that he so astutely observed.  But he offered us the poignant and vivid lesson that the only meaningful way to address the wrongs in the world is not to wield power in response to power but to find that our power lies in powerlessness.  This has been demonstrated so graphically in our lifetime with the passive resistance of Martin Luther King in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The powerless I am speaking of here does not mean wimpishness.  The powerless refers to a hidden power that lies in attitude more than military and/or political might, seeing the wisdom of “beating our swords into ploughshares” and attacking the subtle systemic power grid that has created and maintains the oppression in the status quo. One easily overlooked expression at these two approaches toward power was seen in the recent confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court nomination.  Christine Blasey-Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse when they were teenagers, offered in her testimony a carefully worded and measured response to the questions she faced, demonstrating an effort at being as careful and honest as she could be.  Following her, after a “half-time” in which certainly the “head coach” had intervened, Kavanaugh responded with fire and fury which included many instances of out right refusal to answer questions or deflecting from answering them.

Many Christians have adopted the Kavanaugh and Trumpian style of power, feeling that “might makes right” and demonstrating their feeling that their “spirituality” is weak and ineffective, requiring the reinforcement of political and legislative power. They fail to recognize the wisdom in the bromide, “You can legislate morality.”  Ancient Chinese wisdom told us that legislation becomes necessary when the internal moral code has broken down.  The more this internal code has been broken down, the greater the need for legislation and the greater will be the ferocity with which it is sought.  This is beautifully illustrated in the 38th chapter of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation:

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

 

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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/

Jeff Sessions and His “Religious Liberty Task Force.”

Attorney Jeff Sessions has proposed a, “religious liberty task force.” This makes me think of the war on Christmas, the annual non-sense that some Christians trot out to enhance their sense of piety and alienation. Many evangelical Christians fail to have the self-reflection necessary to realize that they are the source of the, “war on Christmas,” that they are the ones who need to be the focus of any, “religious liberty task force.”  But they are so obsessed with their piety that self-reflectiveness would be a catastrophe, as it would create a, “splinter in the brain” that Emily Dickinson referred to.

I write here in a confessional mode, from personal experience.  I was mired in this “mindless” piety and not willing to initiate the process of, “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling” that the Apostle Paul recommended.  This “fear and trembling” is very much akin to the aforementioned, “splinter in the brain” which is necessary for life to break through the encrusted hypocrisy of an unexamined life.  Fortunately, the good Lord was merciful to me and has meted out this “splintering” over the course of four decades as He knew I could not handle it otherwise.  He knew, graciously, that my hypocrisy was a necessary evil with which I could cover my fragile ego (i.e. “ass”) long enough to muster up enough ego integrity to handle the sting of all those splinters.,

It is painful to wallow in disillusionment.  Someone said that, “Reality is a veil that we spin to hide the void,” and when that veil begins to be pierced by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too,” disillusionment is inevitable.  Then we lament with T.S. Eliot, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm which once we took for exercise of virtue.”  This always brings to my mind King Lear on the heath of his former kingdom, “pelted by this pitiless storm,” bereft of his family and political power, finding himself naked, noting re roving animals nearby:

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Lear was naked, buck naked, stripped of the superficies of his existence and understanding that in essence he had never been anything more than these, “poor, bare forked creatures.”  Religion is a fine cover-up for this nakedness but according to spiritual teachers, such as Jesus, it is only in this nakedness that we can find redemption.

The “Lawlessness” in “The Letter of the Law” Mindset

Lawlessness was a common pulpit battle-cry in my conservative youth.  The word was often spit out, with great emphasis and passion, conveying just how contemptuous lawlessness was and that it was an indicator of how God-forsaken our country was becoming.  The New Testament word for lawlessness was, “anomia” with the root word “nomos” meaning a standard and the alpha privative (“a) conveying the absence of that quality.  And “lawlessness” is a problem in any culture as it reflects a break down of basic structures in the social body, leaving such qualities as decorum, civility, propriety, and the legal code being unattended.  But “lawlessness,” when focused merely on outward compliance with social and moral norms misses the point, as it is possible to adhere closely to a social and spiritual code even though deep in the heart there are unacknowledged character flaws which produced the people in the time of Jesus that he called, “hypocrites” or simply “actors.”

French sociologist Emile Durkheim (late 19th century) was one of the first to address the subject of “anomia” and he offered socio-cultural suggestions about the break down of “law-and-order” that often afflicts a culture.  But he noted two different, apparently antithetical dimensions to anomia, one being the overt disregard for social norms and the other being an obsessive focus on the social norms, the latter being a legalistic, “letter-of-the-law” approach to commonplace rules of social decorum and civility.  In other words, too little “law” could produce social unrest but also heavy-handed emphasis of social, civil, and moral codes could lead to the same.  To summarize Durkheim’s observation, social chaos could be brought about by laxity or disregard for the law but likewise hyper-emphasis on “the law” could lead to similar problems.

A relevant word here is “judgement” in the since of interpreting and enforcing the laws, a key feature of “judgement” being discretion.  For example, I often think of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well who was accused of adultery.  The “letter-of-the-law” required that Jesus should lead the charge in stoning the woman to death which would have had the added benefit of improving his standing with the religious establishment of the day (i.e., the Pharisees) who so famously emphasized the importance of literal compliance with the rules, especially regarding morality.  But Jesus defied the “law” and forgave the woman and told her to, “go and sin no more.”  Jesus recognized that the law always demands “interpretation,” that is discretion, and that strict and obsessive compliance with the law would eventually lead to the complication that Durkheim would note.

It is interesting…and very revealing…that in contemporary times the fiercest defenders of “law-and-order” and   of “human decency, decorum, and social civility” have found as their spokesman Trump who is the embodiment of indecency, social impropriety, and egregious dishonesty.  They have found the perfect embodiment of the hidden dimensions of their heart, a man who is the very antithesis of everything that Jesus stood for.  They proclaim that they are champions of moral, ethical, and legal propriety, yet they have empowered a man who demonstrates in his daily life the lack of all human decency and basic kindness.  They have given power and continued support to a man who demonstrates that he feels he is above the law.  Two relevant anecdotes from his past are his repeated public statements revealing his sexual interest in his own daughter and his brazen decision to walk in to the dressing room of a teen-age beauty contest and “size up” young girls in various stages of undress.  And more recently he has exceeded the power of his office and is blatantly attempting to influence other branches of the government because of his attitude, “Who is gonna stop me?”  He is fulfilling his dark prophecy that he could stand in the streets of Manhattan and shoot someonethe and he would not lose support.

Recently the Trump administration deported a man who had lived her for 32 years, was a respected and productive citizen, and the father of several young children.  Yes, he had “broken” the law in that he had not legally immigrated.  And, therefore in the mindset of Trump and his minions, “the law is the law” and must be obeyed.  “Ship him back to Mexico!”  Case closed, and those involved in the decision can sleep easily that night knowing that they, “obeyed the law.”  But the teachings of Jesus suggest there is a higher law in which one can, relying on the depths of his heart and its judgement, “forgive” this person and, metaphorically at least tell him, “Go and sin no more.”  But the moral and ethical ambiguity of life is not permitted by these spiritually immature people who assiduously rely on, “the letter-of-law” and are spared any anguish in their heart about what was the “right” thing to do.  It is much easier if you can determine what is “right” and “wrong” by relying on a rule book.  Just ask the rank-and-file Isis warrior who is never troubled by any lame-ass, wimpy thingy like, “moral ambiguity.”  Spiritual discernment, i.e. “discretion,” involves soul-searching and this existential process is related to what the Apostle Paul described as the Holy Spirit searching, “the thots and intents of the heart”

Christianity is being, “weighed in the balances and found wanting,” which is a necessary development in mature religions that see the value of self-criticism.  But like Trump, some Christians cannot handle any feedback which does not fit their carefully crafted, self-serving image and cling even more desperately to their dogma. The criticism actually encourages them as it strikes a naïve belief in their heart that they are being, “persecuted for His sake.”

Ego’s Pernicious Role in Spirituality

Trump has put one of his disciples in the limelight again, asking Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas to speak at the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem.  But Jeffress is catching some flack for having assured everyone that Muslims and Jews are definitely going to hell.  I certainly believe all religious traditions are flawed, especially those who feel they aren’t and assume they can make pronouncements from on high about other religious traditions.  But I think it would behoove Mr. Jeffress and his ilk…and this “ilk” is present in all religious traditions…to pay an equal amount of attention to the “beam” that is in their own eye as opposed to the “mote” in the other person’s.

But this is a gut-level issue with spirituality.  Those of us with that neurological “god-spot” in a constant state of, “over-heated” tend to take ourselves too seriously and become intoxicated with the sweet nectar of certainty.  And, speaking from experience, it is so utterly delightful to be able to stand in the pulpit and make pronouncements from “on high” knowing that God is speaking through you.  How do you know that?  Well.  Well…well, you just know!  But what you do not know is that this certainty that empowers you at that moment is merely a false bravado based on profound insecurity, reflecting a kind of “whistling in the dark,” ersatz spirituality that will have to be addressed by decades of ministration by, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Ego is an inherent dimension of all human enterprises, including that deemed so noble as to merit the label, “Divine.”  But when ego has succeeded in accomplishing its goal in the spiritual realm, it will produce someone like Mr. Jeffress who will be brazenly arrogant and obtuse without even the slightest awareness of it.  No wonder he is a disciple of Trump with the role in the administration of helping to “christianize” the president, making him more viable with the base of the Republican Party.