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.
Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated the mind set of many conservative Republicans in announcing her support of controversial Senate candidate Roy Moore. Though she “has no reason to doubt” the numerous women who report his inappropriate sexual advances on them, some in their youth, she declares that she will put her Republican Party loyalty first.
I do not think she lacks in intelligence nor moral rectitude. She is like most of us she is a rational human being and she puts her faith in her rational ability more than any other dimension of her experience. One could even say that she has no experience that is not over-ridden by rationality and therein lies the problem…in my estimation! For, we are not rational beings in the depths of our heart, which is to say, in our unconscious depths, which is why we are so susceptible to the prevailing winds in our culture and ripe for manipulation by political and religious leaders. This is because most political and religious leaders have their positions because of their ability to be in tune with the “prevailing winds” of their milieu and to have climbed to a position of influence.
This Alabama morass illustrates the profound political and socio-cultural impasse in my country and each side tends to demonize the other. Speaking as a Progressive, yes, I think there are “deplorables” amongst the Conservatives as Hillary Clinton alleged last year but they are a real minority and I happen to know there are extremist “nut-jobs” among my ranks. But there are many Conservatives whose rational thinking is of the Kay Ivey variety and though I passionately disagree, and feel there are moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed, that does not mean she is stupid or is a bad human being. And there are “moral and spiritual issues that need to be addressed” by the whole of this country, starting with yours truly!
Trumpism has found another avatar, this one in Alabama, a mini-avatar in the person of Judge Roy Moore. And Moore, fulfilling his job-description, inspires his devotees to merely double-down in their support of him as his moral, ethical, and legal character become more exposed as fraudulent. Just as with Trump, Moore has evangelical Christians as an important element of his support base and they are demonstrating their historic skill at “doubling down” in the face of his non-sense.
But my favorite “doubling-downer” currently is Jerry Falwell, Jr. the increasingly infamous president of Liberty Baptist University. After consistently voicing support for Trump, even in the face of opposition from students, faculty, and alumni, he has boldly stated that the believes Moore over the women who are accusing him of sexual improprieties in their youth. But Falwell has no choice. He has put himself out on a limb and cannot back down; for backing down, admitting that his judgment about Trump was in error, would be to admit making a mistake which is the characterological flaw that he shares with Trump. Falwell is here demonstrating one subtle but fatal flaw of any faith tradition, the temptation to take one’s “belief” too seriously, not realizing that there should be a distinction between one’s belief and the “object” of one’s belief. But believers of the Falwell variety actually have only belief in their belief for they have been indoctrinated into a version of their faith which emphasizes cognition over experience. In this mode of spiritual experience, faith consists merely of a creed, a medley of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” (Conrad Aiken) of a messy reality that they wish to escape from. These are the “letter-of-the-law” believers that the Apostle Paul warned us against.
I must issue a caveat here. I don’t think Falwell is a bad man nor is in insincere. And the Jesus that he voices belief in was, and is, a cosmic demonstration… i.e. “Word”… of forgiveness to any and all of us regardless of what we think, say, or do. But this Divine Grace does not leave us without the consequences of our behavior–consequences to ourselves, to those around us, and even to the whole world.
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.
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.
For meaning to be present, there must be lack of meaning. To illustrate, if blue was the only color in the world we would never see blue for it would not exist without non-blue. This is relevant to my early belief about the Christian faith when I felt it was the ultimate truth for everyone and that the mission of the church should be converting the entire world to Jesus. But if this should occur, the phenomenon of “Christian” would cease to have any meaning whatsoever. This thought reminds me of a time in graduate school when I posed the question to a counseling professor during a relevant discussion, “What would counselors do if suddenly the world was free of all mental illness?” I’m proud to say, I rattled his cage!
Here is another example that Trumpism has put on our table with his slogan, “Make America Great Again.” What if America was Great, even the Greatest, even “bigly” greatest so that the issue was not even on the table but was a given throughout the planet. What would the innocents who have imbibed of the “Make America Great Again” nectar do for meaning in their life?