Category Archives: Jesus Christ

Christianity as its Own Worst Enemy

Evangelical Christianity is its own worst enemy.  Feeling their faith is being threatened, they have hitched their wagon to a man who can even be thought of as an “anti-christ” of sorts as he is the opposite of anything that Jesus taught.  These Christians feeling of socio-economic powerlessness has pushed them into seeking political power and they found a spokesman in Donald J. Trump.  But faith, certainly including the Christian faith, is not something that can be threatened if its focal point is the personal dimension of spirituality, not the ideological.  This phenomenon of the Christian teachings is termed the “Personhood” of Christ which, if kept from being itself merely another cold, sterile idea, can lead to an internal, “personal” experience not dependent upon ideology and dogma.  Obsession with ideology and dogma keeps any experience of anything from taking place.

But the ego, termed “the flesh” by the Apostle Paul, is always ready to co-opt our spiritual impulses and accomplishes this purpose by turning the teachings of any spiritual teacher into dogma. The ego’s inroad into many people’s spirituality is through the intellect, particularly in the West where the rational is overly emphasized to the neglect of the affective domain.  The ego is delighted with a cognitive-based faith system as it finds the human mind easy prey upon which to work its dark, self-serving magic. When the dogmatic emphasis predominates, everything about the spirituality is kept in the mind and “worship” consists of some version of a repetition compulsion with words and ritual, usually including guilt-ridden do-goodism.  When this spiritual edifice is threatened the ego instructs the individual, and the group, to merely rely more feverishly on this repetition compulsion.  This addictive behavior is desperate as with all addictions the point is to keep one away from recognizing one’s inner emptiness which, according to the teachings of Jesus, is where “fullness” is found.

God does not reside in ideas or “Christian” behavior though both are necessary components of spirituality if they are seen merely as a means to an end and not an end in themselves.  The ego’s domain of ritual and ideas is the Pauline “letter of the law” and the Apostle emphatically declared that the “letter of the law killeth.”  And when this situation predominates in a culture, it is the seed-bed of atheism as many times, quite ironically, it is only the atheists that see through the Christian charade.

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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The Republican Soul is in Jeopardy and the Whole Country is Imperiled

Trump has taken his war on words…and reality…to another level now that he is feeling the pressure from the investigation of Robert Mueller.  When his denials of Russian “collusion” and “obstruction of justice” were beginning to appear beyond the pale of foolishness, just yesterday they took a new approach explaining that the office of the Presidency meant that Trump was beyond any guilt of “collusion” or “obstruction of justice.”  If the criticism of being ugly is beginning to sink through one’s thick skull, it is convenient to merely convince oneself…and close friends…”Oh, no!  This is beautiful!”

And here Trump has introduced a new feature into the frenzy of the Republican soul—if something happens that does not fit your desires, just deny it or redefine the terms!  And he has demonstrated that hordes of the party base will go along with him and the rest of the party will tag along because without that base…and increasingly without Trump…they have no identity at all.  Trump has single-handedly captured the Republican soul as his own abysmal spiritual emptiness offered them a validation.  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” said Jesus, and Republicans have now found their mouth piece and are getting accustomed to it.

In the Trumpian world there is no Real, only the “real” that many of us see as beautiful and extremely important but having value only as an expression of “the Real.”  A shift of perspective introducing one to the illimitable mystery of life, wherein lies life’s essential beauty, threatens the commonplace real that rules their world where it could give it enhanced meaning. Driven by his profound existential insecurity, fear, and loneliness, Trump is driven to find validation only in the “real” world of the ephemeral and totally neglect the interior world, his “heart”, which, unattended, will always atrophy even to the point of spiritual death.  When that inner emptiness, present with us all, is neglected, it becomes a veritable black hole which will suck into its hungry maw anything that tarries on its periphery for even a moment. Witness Reince Priebus, Kelly Anne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, naming but a few.  And now our entire country is in the orbit this vortex…hopefully only on its outskirts, but even that is a dangerous position to be in.

This is a spiritual crisis; and by “spiritual” I’m not talking about “spirituality” of popular vernacular but of an experience that is always underway beneath the surface, hidden beneath the rational veneer made manifest with our words and deeds.  How ironic that evangelical Christian support of this darkness is unfazed with the steady disclosure of the Trumpian “Heart of Darkness,” refusing the efficacy of the Jesus that they believe in which could empower them to suffer through the necessary disillusionment.

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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/

 

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.

 

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 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/

Paul Tillich’s View of God as “The Ground of Being”

Paul Tillich has been one of the pivotal figures in my spiritual and intellectual life.  He introduced me to meaningful concepts like God as “the Ground of Being,” and “The Wholly Other,” and the notion I’d like to kick arounds today, “God as the unifying Ground”.  In the lengthy quotation provided below, gleaned from a Paul Tillich Facebook page, Tillich’s teachings present sin as estrangement from God, as a separation from God as “the Unifying Ground of Being.”  The unified state that he describes is what I often describe as “the unity of all things” before “the fall” occurred in the Garden of Eden when Adam ate of “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.”  When Adam took that bite of the apple from that famous seductress Eve (wink, wink) mankind fell from this unified state into the bifurcated world of object separateness where good and evil, male and female, us and them, subject and object, et al were separate.  It is the hunger to return to this state of Grace that has driven mankind since, producing religion, art, and the whole of culture, including…alas and alack…consumerism, addiction, and the arms race!  This hunger, until it is satisfied by the “Unconditional Positive Regard” (see psychologist Carl Rogers) that Christians know as the Grace of God, humankind is fated to fill it up with “stuff” which will only fade away.  The Christian tradition teaches that Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, can fill that emptiness and alleviate that hunger though I aver not in the way that historic Christianity of the past few centuries has taught us.  For the past few centuries has witnessed the objectification of mankind via the philosophy of Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”) and the poison of capitalism which turned us into “things” and crusted over our hearts with that cursed tendency to “thingify” everything we touch, including God.

The story of mankind is the narrative of our quest to know God and find again that unifying ground.  And, with that point, I’m going to bid adieu with the warning, “Ponder seriously over that word “God” I just used for “the word is not the ‘thing.’” And though organized religion has much to offer on this search, what it offers is usually so institutionalized that it is so completely devoid of spirituality value in addressing the existential plight that threatens civilization.

For Augustine as for Tillich, the loss of the unifying ground of life results in a disunity, a separation from one another of the interrelated facets and aspects of life. Thus (to use slightly different language) God is the principle of unity and harmony, and separation from God is the cause of disunity, disharmony, and a final consequent loss of being (reality) and meaning (value). As did Augustine, Tillich applies this fundamental principle of interpretation both to individual and to social or historical existence. He sees Enlightenment culture as beginning with a powerful assertion of the *autonomy* of reason against *heteronomy*, the absolute and yet uncreative authority of the now alien and external religious powers of the receding medieval world. This was, however, an autonomy with *theonomous* elements: it assumed the ultimate identity of reason and nature, of the rational, the good, and the beautiful, and so of objective and subjective, of reality and value, of cognition, morals, and art. As a consequence, in the Enlightenment the ‘rational’ stood not only for that which is true (the result of the rational cognitive processes of science) but also for that which is just (the result of rational and radical politics) and that which is beautiful (the harmonious and the orderly). In that theonomous unity (that is, through the exercise of ontological reason) the power and meaning of modern culture were nurtured.”

Langdon Gilkey, *Gilkey on Tillich*, 1990, p. 63

A Personal Note To Readers

I often receive “hits” and subscriptions from readers who are much more conservative than I appear to be and, yes, even more than I am.  I hope that it is recognized that my faith is no longer “ex” clusive and that it includes those of a conservative stripe, a culture that provided me my spiritual, intellectual, and emotional roots.  I am very proud of this background. I sometimes think that some of the people who drop by here do not know what they have gotten into.  But, I’m glad that each of you are here even if you have just dropped by for a “cup of coffee” and I will not see you again.

Faith is the bedrock of my life and I’m only now tippy-toeing into its riches and find it a mysterious and elusive, though ever-present domain.  I’ve spent my life trying desperately to “wrap my head around ‘it’” and realize that this ego pursuit has been a “work of the flesh” and clearly a demonstration of “riding an oxen, trying to find an oxen.”  I even had a dream months ago which suggested I was no longer riding the oxen but was on the ground, plodding along behind him arm-in-arm with a brother.  W. H. Auden offered relevant wisdom, “The Center that I cannot find is known to the unconscious mind.  There is no need to despair.  I am already there.”

The mistake I have made spiritually and emotionally is that fulfillment is “out there.”  I gathered that validation is to be found externally but the teachings of Jesus, contrasting with much of the Christian tradition, is that “the kingdom is within” and failure to orient oneself in that direction is to submit to “the letter of the law” which, according to the Apostle Paul, “kills.”  And as one of my many literary kindred spirits, Shakespeare, put it, “Within be rich, without be fed no more.”