Category Archives: Fundamentalist Christianity

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/

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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/

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/

 

 

Romney Puts Falwell Jr./Jeffress to Shame!

Mitt Romney this morning spoke out firmly about the moral bankruptcy of Trump, declaring that he is a threat to the “fabric of our country.”  In my conservative background, Romney being a Mormon would fall into the category “them” and would have no more standing to hold forth on moral integrity than Trump.  But in my estimation today he does have standing and is here again taking a bold stance against this morally profligate man who occupies the White House while evangelical/fundamentalist Christians like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress continue to support him, even arguing still that the Lord is leading him.

Earlier in this debacle, when Trump’s perfidy was becoming so apparent, Jeffress and Falwell Jr. and their ilk had the lame response, “Well, who am I to judge?” and sometimes the note, “Well, he is only a baby Christian.”  Well, alas and alack, I am going to judge and let me declare here my credential—I HAVE ONE EYE AND HALF-SENSE…well, actually I have two eyes and I admit the amount of “sense” might be subjected to question.  But no longer subscribing to the guilt-ridden version of Christian faith I have the courage to declare…here in this cyber back-water…that Trump is not only mentally ill but he is morally and spiritually depraved.  And those of any spiritual persuasion, Christian or otherwise, who dare to defend this man need to look a bit deeper into their heart for there I think they will discover a hefty dollop of self-serving ego at work, sometimes hiding behind the name of Jesus Christ.  I speak with some authority for I’ve spent at least half of my sixty-five years doing the same thing.

Let me focus on Mr. Jeffress.  I don’t know the man but having known many of his ilk, and once setting out on the course of becoming a Baptist pastor myself, let me insist that he probably is one good human being and is sincere about his faith.  And, if I might briefly speak from the faith-expression he lives in, his faith covers his sins, he is forgiven of them, and is in no danger of any eternal punishment.  For, the work of Christ is complete, the “Lamb which is slain before the foundation of this world” has been offered to Mr. Jeffress and Jesus does say to him, “I got you covered, Bobby” just as he says to all of us.  But this does not obliterate “the flesh” and leaves us with the lamentation of the Apostle Paul who declared, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me.”

Mr. Jeffress, Mr. Falwell Jr, and many others of their faith persuasion are now facing the spiritual dilemma that Trump cowers before—“can I admit making a mistake?  Can I admit, as did Rick Perry once on a relevant occasion, ‘Oops!’”  We all need to do that on occasion and certainly those of us who purport to be “spiritual beings” under any label we might subscribe to.  Spirituality is such a ripe arena for “the flesh” to establish itself and the most effective way to do this is under the guise of our faith.  For our faith is never a finished product, it is always a work in progress, and periodically we need to utter the Rick Perry cry-for-mercy and hope for forgiveness, not only from God (who always grants our wish) but from ourselves and from others.  It is so much easier just to follow the dictates of the ego and dig our heels in and cling more tenaciously to our self-serving mindset.  As W. H. Auden put it, “And Truth me him, and held out her hand.  And he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

A Crisis of Meaning in Our Culture

Several nights ago I watched Stephen Colbert again shred the daily edition of Trumpian and Conservative lunacy and I noted that our culture…and even our world…is in a crisis of meaning.  Colbert and other comedians find Trump and his ilk easy fodder for their comic genius and provide immense pleasure for we progressives who also see the lunacy of what is going on in our country.  But watching last night’s edition of Colbert’s show and delighting in an ironic look at biblical literalism I suddenly had a flash of insight of how this would appear to conservatives.  They would be deeply offended and angry as they would take it personal, feeling that their way of looking at the world was being attacked.  I would tell them, however, that Colbert is merely showing them that their way of viewing…and experiencing…the world is only one way of many.  But that is precisely the problem; for, in their view, there is only one way of viewing the world and they just happen to be privy to that way and often God has revealed it to them!  When worldviews are challenged the threat of meaningless always presents a challenge, usually kept on an unconscious level with conscious focus maintained on some superficial concern like “building a wall” or “Making America Great Again.”

I don’t have the answer for this.  But, as an old saying from my youth has it, “It will all come out in the wash.”  In terms of history, this is but another in an endless array of “tempests in a teapot” though to us in the throes of the tempest it does look frightening.  And I do mean frightening.  I am troubled.  I think humility is in order and that requires that all of us realize that our viewpoint is only finite, regardless of how noble, enlightened, and “correct” it appears to be.  There is a certain foolishness to even our certainties, inspiring Saint William to tell us, “Life is a tale told by an idiot…”  I do not think the Bard was a nihilist but he grasped that the things we are most certain of are often proven self-serving in the long run.

Colbert used a parody of Jesus in the aforementioned episode to poke fun at conservatives and it even stirred a dissonant chord in my own heart given my hyper-conservative past in which a sense of humor was not readily welcome in faith.  But I now think that Jesus could watch Colbert’s parody of Him last night and laugh uproariously, not taking himself as seriously as Christians are wont to take him.  Many conservative Christians cannot do this, and are offended at this vein of humor, because they take themselves too seriously and are not able to acknowledge the foolish dimension of the whole of their life, including their faith and politics.  Foolishness is an intrinsically human quality though it does not lessen the ultimate nobility of the human endeavor.  But failure to acknowledge our foolishness, and laugh at ourselves, will leave us with a false sense of self-importance.  I think religion is so easily lampooned as life is intrinsically a spiritual enterprise so the Darkness that besets us knows that the best way to weaken faith is to infect the most ardent of the faithful with a false sense of self-importance and piety so that to on-lookers they look ridiculous and are easily ridiculed.  Thus, “with devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself” and this is apparent to all except those who are dispensing the sugar on a whole-sale basis.

Group Thinking Leads to Imprisonment

The following is a copy of another one of my blogs.  I’m sharing it here as it is very relevant to religion as religious beliefs and spiritual teachings can become so ego-rewarding that we employ them to isolate ourselves from the world.  Let me illustrate with the simple bromide from the Christian tradition, “Jesus Saves.”  Though this bromide does not have the same meaning to me as it did in my youth, nevertheless I find it still of great value.  But these two words can easily be used to distort the teachings of Jesus into a belief-system which is nothing but a self-imposed prison.  Value is found in this, and all bromides only when we explore them and make them personally relevant, an exploration which must include also a courage to “explore” our very identity.  If we do not put our “self” at risk by questioning the unquestioned assumptions that are present in our heart, we will address spiritual truth on a superficial level and use this “truth” as a shield against “the Truth.”  We will be guilty of merely believing what we want to believe.

Colorado has a group of people who are apparently serious about the notion of a flat earth.  When I started reading this I suspected it was a spoof but the more I read I realize that these people are serious.  They really do believe the earth is flat and they have “proof” that this notion is valid!  )  I have often in my “career” as a blogger used the flat earth notion to illustrate complete lunacy, a private world view for people who have lost contact with reality and created their own little imaginary world which, at the extreme, is collective psychosis.  Ideas can carry us away and because of their intoxicating effect on our mind-set we can lose all critical capacity, believing our pet “idea” even when all evidence suggests it is self-delusion. (See Denver Post story at following link:  (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/07/colorado-earth-flat-gravity-hoax/)

I have my own personal spoof of this lunacy in which I facetiously and sarcastically postulate a world in which “the moon is made out of cheese.” Yes, suppose during the night I am the victim of a neurological convulsion in my brain and awakened the next morning to know, with great passion, that “the moon is made out of cheese.”  If this should happen, I might take this very seriously and suddenly realize that it is the truth, that the darkness I’ve lived in has finally lifted, and I see clearly that, yes, “the moon is made out of cheese.”  Furthermore, some friends might try to intervene and set me straight but they would make no progress because, “when you know the truth, you just kinda know the truth” and no one is going to dissuade you.  Of course, finding truth always requires that others be convinced so I would start evangelizing and before long I would have a congregation of like-minded souls and we would then have the solace of validation, a solace which would be enhanced by the realization that only we saw the truth and that any “truth” is always rejected by those who are enlightened.  This insight would give us the comfort of borrowing a theme from fundamentalists of every stripe and sadly and piously understand that “we are being persecuted for His sake.”

I am here addressing one of my pet themes, best described as a toxic version of group-think, a private referential system in which validation is found only in those who have found our view of the world amenable to theirs.  When this toxicity infects any idea, ideas which might otherwise have value to others is immediately rejected by these “others” as they have no meaning to them whatsoever.  The resulting ideology, a passionate belief system that has become delusional becomes a private prison guaranteed to repel anyone who looks on from the outside.  But the rejection itself is perversely rewarding as it leaves the “true believers” with the smug satisfaction of owning “truth” which only they have apprehended.  What has happened is that very unhappy people have crafted a belief system which isolates them even further than they were to begin with and they slowly die from the suffocation that always comes from what Paul Tillich called “an empty world of self-relatedness.”  Emily Dickinson described it as “a mind too near itself to see distinctly.”

In my clinical career this phenomena was known as “insanity,” succinctly capsulized in a clinical bromide, “Mental illness is a reference problem.”  The individual who is completely mad…and we are all mad to some degree…has cut himself off from all external reference and finds great comfort in his delusional system.  For the intoxication of self-delusion resists any sobering-up that critical thinking would afford. It is easy for an out-sider, i.e. a non-believer, to quickly isolate the premise of a delusional system but just dare try to challenge that premises and you will meet great resistance.  For this “premise” represents an emotional investment the person/persons have made which cannot be relinquished without great pain.  Hypothetically, if one could reach into the heart of these people and surgically extirpate the premise, one would witness a complete melt-down.  For this premise is an existential anchor which holds its victims prisoners in a fortress from which they dare not escape.

I conclude with, still again, my favorite bumper-sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

 

 

Jacques Ellul and the Sin of Bibliolatry

Jacques Ellul is one of the most important figures in my Christian life.  A friend of mine gave me a copy of his book, “The Judgment of Jonah” in 1983 and I was immediately gripped by his passionate faith, filtered through a keenly analytical mind and heart.  He introduced me to the subject of bibliolatry, which is taking the bible as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, worshipping the Bible in some sense rather than the One about whom the Bible is speaking.

Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, and lay theologian who was described as a Christian “anarchist.”  This was because he was very much the iconoclast, approaching his faith with an intense analytical mind.  He looked beneath the surface and then put things on the table which were very challenging.  A primary focus of his was the “technological tyranny over humanity” that he witnessed during his life time in the mid to late 20th century.  This “technological tyranny” contributed to what I have described as the “thingification” of mankind in which even God has become a “thing among other things.”I have here a quote from Ellul from The Ethics of Freedom on the subject of bibliolatry which reflects the impact of this thingification of the heart in which even Holy Writ is interpreted in a self-serving fashion, it being only a “thing” which one can employ to suit my purposes:

…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.

Ellul had profound understanding of how culture influences our faith and how that it presents the temptation of letting our faith become merely a product of our culture, regardless of intense passions that we might have about it.  The Christian faith, and faith of any spiritual tradition always face the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and then missing the point of their spiritual teachers.  Faith then becomes a mere bauble in our life, a note on our “resume,” and not a grounding in the Wholly Other which is the only place that offers firm footing in this mystery we call life.

If this seems impossible, it is!  But, there is hope and I will explain next time.

The following are three blogs that I offer.  Please check the other two out sometime!

 

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/