Category Archives: Protestantism

Arrogance Lies at the Root of Lawlessness

The lawlessness that I wrote about yesterday boils down to arrogance.  It is arrogance that makes one think that he can live by, “the letter of the law” and it is arrogance that leads one to think he can disregard the law.  Trump is the perfect example of this arrogance, championing “the law” while simultaneously stomping on very basic civilities such as telling the truth!  And he can’t even respect simple laws of diplomacy, one of which is to not insult other dangerous psychopaths who are leading other countries.

Arrogance is one of the  root flaws of our species.  We are wired toward self-preservation and to organize into tribes with that same goal.  And “self-preservation” is a noble goal but not when it becomes paramount so that it is sought to the neglect of and even violence toward those who are different.  And this arrogance is now seen in large sections of the Christian faith who have done the bidding of Trump and now interpret their faith as a means of “hunkering down” in their own little safe enclave.  Even the teachings of Jesus can become a fortress when the “discerning spirit” is not employed, leading one to see the role of “the flesh” in his understanding of spiritual truth.

Trump is a black hole and thus a formidable spiritual presence in our world, albeit an abysmally dark “spiritual presence.”  Being the black hole, all those who so much as tippy-toe into his orbit become slaves to his seductive, unconscious enticement. The will-to-power is one of our most basic needs but can be catastrophic to self and others when not mitigated by the teachings of Christ who taught the power of powerlessness.

A Fractured Faith Needs a Fractured Ego

An Irish couple responded to this morning’s post who blog under the title, “Fractured Faith.”  I could not pass that title up, though I’m not for sure yet what they have in mind with their title.  “Fractured faith” will be a theme I will explore as this blog continues to develop as I see faith having value only when it is “fractured,” as the crystalline, letter-of-the-law edifice is shredded by God’s employment of daily experiences that teach us to look at Holy Writ and spiritual tradition differently than the way in which we were taught.  This “fracturing” of our faith will parallel a “fracturing” of our self, of our identity, as we discover just how much our persona was itself just an edifice.  That is what Jesus told the religious establishment of his day, but they did not “take kindly” to his observations…to say the least.  For Jesus, like Shakespeare noted of religious people that often, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

Our certainties must be fractured.  At some point we need to, “live in the collapse what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”  (T.S. Eliot) Translated into spiritual terms, this means that we must realize that our ego has inevitably taken our spiritual tradition and twisted it into a self-serving interpretation, not because we are, “bad” but because we are merely human.  We then realize that we, being human simply “have eyes to see, but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”  We can then begin to realize that at best we will see dimly and hear faintly and begin to lighten up on ourselves and even on others!  We can begin to accept some forgiveness for ourselves and even dare to offer it to others.  Well, maybe not “them”!  They surely deserve it!   Just kidding!!!

Franklin Graham: “We Have a Sin Problem.”

But Mr. Graham just betrayed the legacy of his more humble father, Rev. Billy Graham, by revealing how he thinks this does not apply to him.  Being interviewed this morning, re our political impasse, he intoned, “Our country has a sin problem” and then elucidated for a moment, pointing his finger at the Democrats.  But then the interviewer posed the question, “Does Donald Trump have a sin problem?”  He then stumbled, and then equivocated with the commonplace from Evangelical Christian, “Well, he is not perfect but he is….” and in so many words…i.e. my words, metaphorically speaking…”make America great again.”   He knows that words like “sinner” would offend his new spiritual leader, Trump. Furthermore, it appears obvious to me that Mr. Graham, and many evangelicals, do not feel the “sin problem” applies to them.  They piously announce, “Jesus has forgiven me of my sins and His Spirit now leads me.”   I would never quarrel with the notion that Jesus has forgiven them, not even that the Spirit of God is with them.  But what they don’t realize is that this “forgiveness” does not take away what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and this ego component of the heart is really quick to take our spiritual aspirations and twist them to fit our own unacknowledged, self-serving ends and prevent us from ever admitting this.  This phenomenon of the heart is why Trump, and hordes of the GOP…and 80% of the evangelical base that supports Trump…cannot admit any wrong.  The, “Spirit of God,” is with us all and always wants to lead us but our unwillingness to acknowledge a core fault prevents that Holy leadership from having more influence.  Speaking from experience, it is delightful and even intoxicating to, “Know that I’m right,” but now I am understanding and experiencing just how self-deluding this can be.  We are never “right” but there is a “Rightness” that graces the whole of life and seeks to find expression when we can humble accept the label, “sinner,” and realize that it means we are separated from our Source and always reduced to, “seeing through a glass darkly.”  It never, though, means we are a “worthless piece of shit,” nor are the Haitians and Africans.

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/

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/

 

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/

A “God-complex” is Avoidance of God

Trump must be one hell of a Christian!  Yes, anyone that free of guilt must be even more than the “baby Christian” that evangelicals say that he is!  In fact, since Trump has never even needed to ask God for forgiveness is the first place, maybe he has always been a Christian…even before he was born perhaps!  In some uncanny way, since the Christian “work of salvation” done in Christ was completed “even before the foundation of the world,” maybe Trump’s roots go back that far and he is god himself!  He certainly acts like it.

And I’ve thought for a long time that Trump does have some “god like” power over people though he would be according to the teachings of Carl Jung, a “dark” god.  For example, many of Trump’s followers have complete faith in him even to the point they support him regardless of what he does or says.  “God” can make no mistake so whatever comes from his mouth, though blatantly false to “non-believers,” is “true” to his followers/believers.  God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  And scriptural literalists interpret this to mean that regardless of what happens, God has dictated it.  This appeared in today’s news when an Oklahoma Republican legislator has declared that abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape or incest.  “God knows what he is doing, even if we can’t understand it” is the rationale for those believers.

Facetiousness and irony are certainly part of my intent here.  But I have recognized in my clinical work, and in my personal experience, a phenomenon I called “the god complex.”  And persons with this affliction certainly to appear to feel and think they are inviolate like god is, but closer scrutiny reveals that their posture reveals profound insecurity and fear and the certainty they cling to comes only from desperation.  These people have no “faith” in God but only a compulsive, desperate clinging to their thoughts about the Bible and God.  I have found that if they could only “get over themselves” they would find that their faith in the Bible and God could take on a new dimension.  But the price tag is humility and as T.S. Eliot noted, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is humility.  And humility is endless.”

 

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew

Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and GOP Arrogance

The April issue of “The New Republic” features an article by Sarah Posner entitled, “Amazing Disgrace–How did Donald Trump—a thrice-married, biblically illiterate sexual predator—hijack the religious right?”

Posner offers further analysis of the Southern Baptists and their current effort to “purge” themselves of one miscreant, Russell Moore, who dared to bring a dissenting voice to their group think on Donald Trump.  Posner quotes Richard Spencer, himself an alt-right leader, declaring how that the evangelicals as a group have been totally duped by Trump, declaring, “Trump has shown the hand of the GOP…(that it)…is a white person’s populist party.”  Posner declared that the “white evangelicals” were the key to Trump’s victory and argued that Steve Bannon carefully courted them during the campaign, knowing that without them his cause could not compete against the progressive left.  Bannon told Posner last July that “If conservative Catholics and evangelicals ‘just want to focus on reading the Bible and being good Christians there is no chance we could ever get this country back on track again.’”

Even Richard Schenk, a leader of conservative evangelical Christians recognized how that his group had sold their soul to the devil in supporting Trump, exposing an evangelical culture “that doesn’t know itself.”  This lack of “self” awareness, or meta-cognition, has kept them from recognizing just how foolish their support of Trump appears giving his egregious affront to everything that the teachings of Jesus represents.  This lack of awareness reflects a very human tendency to opt for an opportunity for power even in the arena of spirituality, even if that “opportunity for power” is an in opposition to all they purport to hold dear.

A core dimension of the evangelical Christian tradition is the “us” vs “them” paradigm best illustrated with the attitude of, “I’ve got it” and “most of you don’t”.  This exaggerated emphasis on drawing distinctions between “me” and “thee” overlooks the teachings of Jesus which sought to put Grace on the table in an historical moment when the “letter of the law” of the Old Testament was being overly emphasized in his culture.  Jesus recognized that the religious establishment of his day was paying too much attention to that “us” vs “them” or “right” vs “wrong” paradigm. It is no coincidence that the Trump administration’s first significant action was to start getting rid of people “who don’t belong” by moving fast on the immigration issue.  The Southern Baptist Convention is mirroring that impulse to “clean house” of all dissent or difference.  “If people aren’t like us, let’s send ‘em packing!  We don’t want difference of opinion.  We don’t want diversity, we want unity!” And if you are so arrogant as to assume that you have an objective grasp of what “truth” is, then you can feel empowered to take this position, and even take comfort in the illusion that, “God is leading us.”

Southern Baptists Devoured by the Trumpian Black Hole

As Trump was gathering steam last summer, I found it interesting see how Russell Moore, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, was openly critical of the morally and ethically challenged candidate.  Moore immediately ran into a buzz-saw of criticism and I knew then he was in trouble and might not survive in his position.  According to a Washington Post story today, it sounds like he probably will not last through the week.

I greatly admired Moore for brazenly taking a moral stance against a popular, but brazenly immoral man who represented the antithesis of everything Jesus taught.  But having been raised a Baptist, I knew “group think” and tribal loyalty and realized that Moore was coming to blows with ideologues and ideologues, as much as they want to “praise Jesus” and such, have only one thing in mind and that is loyalty to their ideas.  And remember it was ideologues that nailed Jesus to Cross, men whose allegiance was to the “letter of the law” and not to one who embodied the Spirit of the law.  Relevant to this point, the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, has criticized Moore, arguing, “Why should we be paying someone who is insulting us?”  Well, any prophetic voice will first sound insulting and certainly the religious establishment of Jesus’ day found his accusations insulting.

Decades ago I worked on a Master’s thesis in religious history at the University of Arkansas.  One of the books I discovered in my research was titled, “Churches in Cultural Captivity: A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists” by John Lee Eighmy which focused on how the Southern Baptist Convention even in the late 19th century was becoming co-opted into the culture of the day.  This Russell Moore incident shows how that nothing has changed which is how it usually is with any group, including religious groups.  Before the election I posed the old bumper sticker question of the 1980’s that the SBC had promoted, “WWJD—What Would Jesus Do.”  I asked, “Would Jesus be supporting a man who repeatedly had expressed sexual focus on his beautiful daughter, who had even said to Howard Stern at one point, “Yes, you can refer to her as a nice piece of ass.”  Would Jesus support a man who is a known sexual predator and misogynist?  Would Jesus support a man who, being the owner of a teen beauty contest, took advantage of his position to walk in on the dressing room of the semi-clad or nude girls, obviously “checking out the merchandise.”  Would Jesus support a man who was a compulsive liar and who could not even humble himself to say he had ever had any need to ask God for forgiveness?

S

The Fallacy of Believing in my Belief

When evangelical Christians first trotted out the notion that the Lord had “raised up” Donald Trump to lead our nation I was really upset.  And for good reason.  Their lame justification was that God sometime chooses flawed persons to accomplish His will and that we needed to remember to “judge not that ye be not judged” or that we should, “Be patient, he is only a baby Christian.”  I still think that was merely self-serving palaver but I do increasingly think that he brings to the table such profound spiritual darkness that God is giving all of us a chance to do some soul-searching and posit the question, “Now how did this ever happen?”

What these evangelical Christians did not realize was that they were facilitating a crisis for their faith, a crisis from which they will not emerge unscathed.  None of us ever emerge from any crisis “unscathed” and that is why crises are often times of redemption.  Now, brace yourself evangelicals, I think that “redemption” periodically is in the cards for you just as it is for all of us, regardless of our religious orientation or complete lack thereof.  But for many Christians, especially evangelicals, the need of anything like “redemption” is preposterous as, according to their addictive reliance on dogma, they have been redeemed already by Jesus and His Spirit now leads them into “all truth.”  Well, Jesus will do that.  But I’m reminded of a bromide from my last fundamentalist pastor, in a mega-church in Springdale, Arkansas, “The Truth will set you free.  But it will first make your miserable.”  I don’t think that dear soul knew just how correct he was.

Well, I humbly invite them to, “guess again” the ability of their faith in Christ to keep them from all errors “of the flesh”, i.e. ego. Their whole-hearted, slavish devotion to Trump who is the antithesis to the teachings of Jesus belies the self-serving dimension of their faith, the role of “the flesh” in their approach to religion.  And, I say to them, “Welcome to the world” as I have certainly had to embrace similar disillusionment and now see faith as a path of occasional disillusionment as we discover just how much we have been “seeing through a glass darkly.”

The core issue on the table here is reason.  The Protestant Reformation gave rise to an inordinate, unseemly faith in rationality to the point that we came to believe that with reason alone we can rule this world, our own life, and even reduce the Ineffable to a series of rational constructs.  But Paul Tillich warned us last century, “A religion confined to reason is a mutilated religion” for he saw that reason is always subservient to hidden dimensions of the heart.   God has sent Trump to evangelical Christians to give them a glimpse into the baser dimensions of their spiritual impulse…and we all have those impulses!  The most sinister of all these impulses is that we are immune from them.

I now realize that I grew up trying desperately to “believe in my belief” and never being able to pull it off, leaving me in great anguish about my spiritual welfare.  I often took comfort in rational gymnastics only to eventually realize that the very effort of reasoning oneself to God was futile.  No less of an evangelical luminary as Oswald Chambers himself in the early 20th century warned about the lunacy of “believing in our belief.”

So, what can you believe in?  What, if anything, is real?  “I think, therefore I am” is the way it is, isn’t it?  Descartes surely said so.  I no longer think so.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com