Category Archives: Religion and politics

Does Sin Have Meaning Any Longer in our Culture?

I have some taint of the Trumpian arrogance in me so that it is hard to say, “I made a mistake.”  Yes, my “memory bank” failed me in yesterday’s post and the “relevant” poetry blurb at the very end was not the one I had in mind, a problem which I have now corrected.  I’m making this “confession” though facetiously just so any of you who are interested can return to yesterday’s post and sample a bit of the wisdom of Stanley Kunitz. However, admitting being mistaken is a very human flaw and I’m in recovery now from having been mired in that morass of self-loathing and infantile arrogance most of my life.  Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1973 did not really admit doing any wrong, declaring famously at one point in the debacle, “I’m not a crook.”  But when the impeachment proceeding reached a certain point of intensity, he did resign and with great humiliation walked to that waiting helicopter with his wife and continued his flight into political ignominy.  He was in great pain, greatly shamed and humiliated by what his words and behavior had led to, but under the pressure of the political structure that he was part of and respected to some degree, he accepted disgrace and meekly resigned, a tacit admission of wrong-doing.  Nixon had some inner sense of self-control that allowed him to not resort to the violent impulse that would explode in many people when they are shamed like he was.

There is something to say for a religious culture in which “confessing sins” is part of life.  Even though this “sin” matter goes deeply beneath the surface…and from time to time circumstances lead us to exploring the matter more intently, discovering that the real sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart—it is helpful to have the surface level of the issue commonplace enough that we can readily admit shortcomings.  But occasionally people appear in our culture who have steeled their heart about even a cursory acknowledgement of sin or fault and they will brazenly refuse to admit wrong on even the most trivial matter.  And if one of these people happen to stumble into a position of power, they can wreak havoc on all who are within their sphere of influence.

 

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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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.

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.”

The Trumpian Black Hole Claims Another Soul!

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary for the White House, is not a bad person.  Raised in the household of an Arkansas Baptist preacher, her faith remains very central to her life and unfortunately she is subjected to daily internal torture as she has signed onto the job of daily spinning the President in a favorable light, of “turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”  However, good…and especially innocent people…can allow themselves to be sucked into the orbit of very bad people and then find themselves increasingly in the spot of defending a man who is the antithesis of Christian values.  But, she continues to stay in the position and, I’m sure, daily reassures herself with some Christian bromide such as God having put her in a difficult spot to help this God-ordained President to “make America Again.”  But the problem is the premise—that God has chosen Trump, not realizing that just because one thinks something does not make it so, regardless of how he/she wants it to be.  She has hitched her wagon to a train-wreck and can only attempt to spin the ongoing tragedy in a favorable light rather than humbly acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake.”  She, like many of the Trump supporters are demonstrating the same character flaw of Trump—an inability to admit having made a mistake.  And this weakness of character cannot be covered up with the lame and self-serving excuse, “God is leading.”

The most egregious example of her blatant disregard for basic human and Christian value is her stance toward a staff person who made light of Senator McCain who appears to be on his death bed.    But, instead of firing the individual or offering an apology herself, Sanders’ response was to be furious merely over the fact that this horrible “verbal tic” of the GOP mind-set was leaked to the public.  Anyone who has flirted with the Trumpian black hole…or jumped head first into it…cannot escape demonstrating gross errors of judgement like this as warped judgement is a key element of their job description.  Trump demands total loyalty, almost like a dark god of some sorts, and one must always spin everything he does and says in a way to not offend him.  He is a “vengeful” god and will “destroy” anyone who does not go along with his game plan.

My concern here is the common Christian deceit that just because one is serious with his/her faith, he/she can make a horrible mistake and lamely cover up it up with faith in God.  This does not diminish the validity of their faith, only demonstrating what the Apostle Paul admitted, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me.”  This deep-seated character flaw is related to a tradition in some Christian circles to focus on “the evil that is out there” and not recognize that the real evil that needs attention is always in one’s own heart.  From experience I can attest it is much easier to see the evil “out there” than to own it in the depths of one’s own heart, a realization which does not end the conflict but opens one to an internal struggle that has always been there and always will.  Failure to understand this spiritual malady lies at the root of evangelical Christianity’s current steadfast commitment to Trump.

 

 

School Shootings and Spiritual Bromides

Another high school shooting, another response with the perfunctory, “You are in our thoughts and prayers.”  This bromide is now catching a lot of flak, especially when coming from politicians who obviously prefer a glib, meaningless bromide rather than any commitment to addressing a politically-divisive issue.  With still another round of, “thoughts and prayers,” we have the commitment of these politicians to renew their commitment to further displays of, “not gonna do a damn thing.”  And many spiritual persons, steeped in “performance art” religion, will also offer this platitude and not dare to question their legislators and local authorities.

Spiritual bromides are common…and even have value.  Offering our “thoughts and prayers” to those who have experienced misfortune or tragedy.  And these words can convey the heart’s deepest sentiment and any such expression carries value.  But spiritual bromides can become so common place that they are merely the aforementioned, “performance art” designed to convey to others the appearance that, “we feel your pain.”  Since politicians, and spiritual leaders who have long-since lost their soul, will have to face this situation again, I suggest they have a new button on their computer, “TAP,” which they can automatically press in a moment like this and send out the automated message in which “thoughts and prayers” are wished.  Even better, they can call one of their staff persons and get them to push the button, allowing them to continue with interruption their daily routine of “spiritual activity” designed only to make them feel better about themselves.

Religion is so susceptible to being reduced to bromides like this, described by poet Conrad Aiken as, “well-worn words and ready phrases which build comfortable walls against the wilderness.”  Words are easy, and regardless of how noble they might be, they can be simply the noise of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals,” if they have no gut-level meaning in the person using them.  This style of meaningless language is captured by an Irish poet, W. R. Rodgers, in this excerpt from his poem, “Word.”

Once words were unthinking things, signaling

Artlessly the heart’s secret screech or roar,

And once they were the gangways for anger,

Overriding the minds qualms and quagmires.

Wires that through weary miles of slow surmise

Carried the feverish message of fact

In their effortless core.  Once they were these,

But now they are the life-like skins and screens

Stretched skillfully on frames and formulae,

To terrify or tame, cynical shows

Meant only to deter or draw men on,

The tricks and tags of every demagogue,

Mere scarecrow proverbs, rhetorical decoys,

Face-savers, salves, facades, the shields and shells

Of shored decay behind which cave minds sleep

And sprawl like gangsters behind bodyguards.

Its foremost ardour or its farthest wish,

Its actual ache or naked rancour.

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.

Why is Stormy Daniels Not More of a Big Story????

The answer is that Trump has introduced a pivotal change in our definition of reality.  He demonstrated even before announcing his campaign last year, that he was the antithesis of our core values, i.e. “Christian values,”…and yet a significant portion of the Christian population lined up behind him and are even now “dug in at the heels” in support of him.  He has made the unacceptable totally acceptable, i.e. use of words like, “cunt,” “pussy,” and now “shit-hole,” and yet those which are the most die-hard “Christians,” (extremist fundamentalists) still fiercely pledge their loyalty to him. Stormy Daniels is much less a breach of Christian virtue than was revealed in Trump’s numerous video recordings of amorous intentions toward his daughter; yet, fundamentalist Christians hardly batted an eye at the allegation, declaring that, “the Lord has raised him up,” and proffered lame excuse like, “Well, the Lord often uses broken vessels,” or, “Who am I to judge?”

It is apparent to most of us that the moral fabric of our country is in jeopardy but many of those of the “spiritual cut” are so ensconced in their self-serving ideology…though it may be “christian,”…that they cannot acknowledge what is going on.  That is because their faith is so specious, a point I make with the recognition that their “salvation” is not dependent on their faith but the object of their faith.  Their only “sin” is failing to recognize that their very grasp of the world is “specious,”…as is mine and yours…and that in the person of Jesus Christ they have been forgiven of that and all of their sins.  But, the hardest part of the deal is that of the Pharisees, recognizing that, “Uh oh.  I got it wrong.”  According to how I read the New Testament, we are not “saved” by virtue of “having it right,” but having acknowledged that we intrinsically, “have it wrong.”  This is merely the result of, “seeing through a glass darkly.”

(See story re Stormy Daniels—http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/politics/stormy-daniels-analysis/index.html)