Category Archives: Religion and politics

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/

A Prophetic Word from A Literary Critic

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions. Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture. As they say, “Read it and weep.” And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment. My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins. Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  A poet friend of mine in Arkansas once described a culture-bound clergy in these terms, “Ye heroes of spiritual contraception who have long-since despaired of rebirth.”

I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.” That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

Here is the link to Solnit’s Essay — http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Bad Faith: A Smug Zone of Certainty

Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday described Christians as being “most persecuted.”  Well, persecution of those who live out of an authentic inner core, such as Jesus Christ illustrated, are apt to be persecuted.  Yes.  But then in the Christian culture there is a tradition of taking delight in the feeling of persecution when these feelings stem primarily if not only from unacknowledged, unconscious issues that meaningful faith in Jesus Christ would allow one to explore.  This hypocritical stance of being “persecuted for His sake” fulfills the ego’s need for pseudo humility, permitting one to bask in a smug self-loathing that is taken for some perverted sense of righteousness.

I certainly can see why Pence feels his version the Christian faith is today being persecuted.  This is because “reality” is exposing their duplicity as daily their political “champion”, a man they declare the Lord has “raised up” to lead this nation, is demonstrating the antithesis of everything Jesus Christ stood for.  But Pence and other Christian luminaries stand behind Trump, will not challenge his egregious dishonesty, and continue to drag the name of Jesus in the mud of their shallow, ego-enslaved faith.  By use of the term “reality” I mean that the Christian faith of Pence and his ilk is an insular world which has the primary purpose of providing a “wall” between themselves and the rest of the world, i.e. “reality.”  No wonder they find the notion of “build that wall” so appealing and are supporting Trump’s insistence on building walls literally, and metaphorically.  This “insularity” is being threatened and they are frightened by “reality.”

But let me introduce another term for this “reality.”  I like to think of it as the Spirit of God that is speaking to them, trying to show them how their faith has been immature and having the primary function of maintaining their disconnection from the world.  Yes, in a sense, God has “raised Trump up” but not for the purpose they have in mind but to let them stare at what lurks in their collective heart, which now they can’t deny…but do!  Christian faith, or faith in any spiritual tradition, is designed to facilitate participation in this world, meaningful participation, and this is not possible when one’s identity is a smug certainty of separateness from this world.  And the Christian faith, and any faith, is easily co-opted into a smug zone of certainty from which great harm will be done, regardless of how noble their announced intention or how noble the spiritual teacher they purport to worship might be.

This intervention of “reality,” i.e. “The Spirit of God,” extends to the whole of our culture.  Trump, and Trumpism, gives us an opportunity to recognize the avarice and smugness that capitalism has gifted us with.  And, staring our ugliness in the face is good for the soul, though not pleasant.  I think the Universe, i.e. “God,” is just telling us, “Welcome to the world.”  And if we can embrace the ugliness of our heart that is now being presented to us, the profound Beauty that is with us and in us can shine forth more radiantly.  As Rilke noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Unadulterated Axe Grinding!!!

I grind an axe too much in this venue and in my other blogs.  I have attempted to moderate that ego impulse and feel that often I make improvement.  But, this time, I will offer unadulterated axe-grinding.

I am infuriated with the Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump which has led to this House of Representatives vote to repeal Obamacare.  Oh, I knew it was likely to happen and on some level I kind of hoped they’d just go ahead and get it done so their path to self-destruction could take the next step.  But I’m still enraged.  But, being cursed with the self-reflection that is missing in most of evangelical Christianity, and in most religions, I can’t help but ask the question, “Now what is this angry response about?”

And I know.  I am so infuriated that I’ve spent most of my 65 years…and I’m only allotted “three score and ten”…ensconced in the bullshit that is now being demonstrated by these adherents to the “letter of the law.”  And, guess who I have to blame?  Oh, I could blame “them” but I’m honest enough to own the blame and recognize and own my own lack of courage which meant that I sheepishly followed the dictates of the “letter of the law” that I was given in my youth.  I didn’t have to.  The Spirit of God was always there, offering the opportunity to escape into the Spirit of the law, but I found it too frightening as such a venture would have challenged the very fabric of my being.  And, having done so, I daily live in this “challenge” and in a weak moment I pine for those days when the demon of “certainty” was mine.  It is gut-wrenchingly painful to let one’s persona, especially the Christian dimension thereof, be challenged but it is only when we accept this intrusion of the Spirit of God that we recognize what Jesus had in mind when he told us that unless a grain of corn fall into the ground, and disintegrate into rotten-ness, the inner essence of the grain could not be resurrected into life.  To make it even worse, this “resurrected life” is not one of spiritual greatness and valor….that an ego quest of mine in past years…but an acknowledgement and experience of my human-ness, my “being.”  And, as Otto Brown told us decades ago, “To be, is to be vulnerable.”

So, what’s the point?  Hmm.  Not for sure.  But here I affirm again what Shakespeare realized, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  We are living through madness, but then that is the story of human civilization.  And the Christian tradition is wallowing in madness…because we are mere humans after all…and there are persons in this tradition who recognize this and are acting as “the voice crying in the wilderness.”  Truth will “out” in the end but “Truth” is so painful to false truth that each of us is born into, including…maybe especially so…those of us that are born into a spiritual tradition that takes itself too seriously.

There is an ugliness that is besetting the whole world.  Just look at France, Turkey, and India.  The same dark spirit is overwhelming this “Christian” nation and doing so with the help of Christians who are the unwitting agents of the attack.  I take comfort in the realization that my role, so meager in the estimation of the ego demands of my childhood, is to remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and focus on working “out my own salvation, with fear and trembling.”

We Are Stubbornly “Beasts at Heart”

A contributor to the Washington Post, Kara Swisher, who writes from the perspective of the business world noted the “unconscious bias” that is often made in such things as hiring practices.  She described it as “a bias that kicks in automatically, with our supposedly unthinking brains making often-inaccurate snap judgments…While I am fully aware of the science behind the concept — which basically boils down to the fact that we are all beasts at heart — it’s pure laziness by some of the world’s smartest and most innovative people to pretend they are unconscious of something so glaringly clear. It both abrogates the responsibility of leaders and fobs it off on training and classes that never seem to solve the problem, no matter how much money is spent.”

The ”unconscious bias” is much related to the epistemic closure or confirmation bias that is often a focus in my blogging.  There are premises that are involved which influence our decision making and these “premises” are difficult to pay attention to, primarily because we don’t want to pay attention to them. These premises are a template through which we filter our rational thinking and they are heavily laden with emotion to the point that “rationality” often eludes them. This is a human dilemma and most of us have wrestled with the issue from time to time, squirming under the painful realization that our stance on various issues in life were totally irrational and merely reflecting of what had been an “unconscious bias.”  The pain of this self-awareness is often so intense that our conscious mind just will not permit the insight, opting to affirm even more passionately our biased view of the world. Furthermore, we can always find like-minded persons who will “confirm” our bias.

Our political system in the United States currently illustrates what happens when two different world views are “dug in at the heels” and refuse to budge, not realizing that the obstinacy is bad for all in the long run. The core issue is identity itself.  If we take our identity to be only what and who we “think” we are, then we will not be able to back-off of our viewpoint and realize that often the other view point has more validity than we first thought.  This notion takes my mind always to the domain of existence I like to describe as the spiritual, that region in the depths of our heart where we encounter and learn to live with the vulnerability that comes in realizing understanding that the essence of our being lies beneath the surface realm of rationality.  Then, at times we have to agree with Swanson, “We are beasts at heart.”

The irony is that this stubborn “beastliness” is usually most conspicuous with religious beliefs.  No one deliberately opts for “ignoble” beliefs in their religion.  The problem comes when they subscribe to “noble” beliefs but then interpret them in such a way that the result is that other people are marginalized socially at least and sometimes politically.  At times the “marginalization” has even led to violence as religious fervor has become so intense that a believer feels that his belief system must be forced on others even at the “point of sword.”

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My other blogs listed here:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Donald Trump and God’s Love

Donald Trump almost daily displays to the world a deep-seated need to be loved.  The media brings this to our attention often, and late-night comedians often make light of his childish efforts to win this love.  If he was merely a child on the actual playground, or some bloke in the neighborhood, most of us would recognize this neediness and try to offer validation when we could.  Teachers, monitoring the playground would soon refer him to counseling knowing that this deep-seated need for love needed attention “now” rather than in adulthood. But, of course Trump is cavorting about on the adult playground that we all cavort about on and his childish need for love cannot get the respect that it would deserve if we were still on a literal playground.  Mature “limits” need to be set by his “family” (the Republican Party) but they appear to have the same deep-seated existential insecurity and cannot say “no” to their errant child.

Love is a subtle thing.  In my clinical work, it was often a core issue though always presented as some behavioral problem the unconscious intent of which was to get the validation (i.e. “love”) that was missing in early childhood.  In my 20 years of practice, it became apparent that the more a child had to demand love from others, the more it belied the lack of it in the depths of his/her heart.  I learned to note to myself, “This student did not learn to perceive himself/herself as lovable in early childhood, learning that performance of some sort was needed instead.”  And, the more we have to “perform” for love the more we convey to the world our intrinsic self-perception of being unlovable.  For some, this “performance” will mean seeking attention or power often in the form of bullying others.  Others will seek it in compliance with the expectations of others.  But with either approach, or any approach between those two extremes, the individual will be announcing to the world, “I am not loved.  I am unlovable.”

The Christian tradition often poses a problem relevant to this issue.  In its over emphasis of the transcendence of God and the attending need to “submit” to this all-powerful external source of approbation, the immanent dimension of God is dismissed completely.  The task for this and all spiritual traditions is to address this contradiction and at some point hopefully arrive at the conclusion, “Oh, I’m okay as is!   Oh, that what is meant by God’s forgiveness!  That is what Grace means!”  But this requires interior work and cannot be found in a passive stance toward the spiritual endeavor.  The significance of “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” is usually overlooked and we cognitively assent to a distant, disembodied God forgiving us which means that the interior guilt and shame remains and keeps us enslaved to this alienated deity and our alienated self.

Poet William Wordsworth understood this and summarized it so beautifully in this section his “Preludes”:

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!

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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/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

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

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew