The true connection between liberal anxiety and conservative fear

It’s a constant debate: Liberals versus conservatives. And it all breaks down to simple beliefs.

This is how the sayings go when it comes to discussing politics in America.

Liberals are anxious about everything. They worry about global warming. Civil rights. And offending someone. God Forbid. 

Conservatives are fearful about everything. Terrorism striking close to home. Living without guns. Being politically correct. God Forbid. 

How fascinating it truly is that liberals worry about the world while conservatives fret that it is out to get them? How can two such similar traits drive people so far apart?

Worry warts

For starters, conservatives seem to believe that most liberal worries are made up. That’s the real nature of anxiety, right? It’s defined as imagining the worst when things are really not all that bad.

Fearmongers

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

In a similar way, liberals consider conservatives obsessive about their fears or prejudices. Conservatives are always bemoaning the decay of society or predicting the end of the world as we know it.

Thus, the two parties circle each other warily and angrily. Both claim they’re right about the other and seek to demean the corresponding anxieties and fears on the Left and the Right.

The End of the World

But there are connections. For example, liberals tend to think that if the world is coming to an end, it will be through environmental means. That’s why global warming is a concern, along with species extinction.

Meanwhile, religious conservatives (and by dint of Big Tent Politics, many other brands of Republican conservatives) tend to depict the end of the world through a theological lens. The coming Apocalypse. Armageddon. The End Times. Left Behind. The Rapture.

The Second Coming

That mindset colloquially embraces the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus and the idea that the Old World in which we now live will be replaced by an entirely better New World that will come about through some sort of heavenly means. Even Muslims believe that’s the fate of the world.

Armageddon

And of course, there is considerable speculation on where all that will start, and whether we should fear the day or bid it welcome news. The general thinking on the topic is that the Middle East will be the site of a great war between the forces of good and evil. For many years it was the Jews that were the potential focus of all this heavenly rage. Lately it appears to be the Muslims, whom many conservative religious thinkers blame for the woes of the world.

Muslim surprise

How ironic it is that the Muslim faith actually looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as well. They don’t buy the idea that Christ was ever crucified, but was instead zapped up to heaven by God outside the parameters of the Christian narrative. It’s a little vague of course, as most things in the Quran seem to be in terms of interpretive or predictive value, but this is what the Quran says:  “And there is none of the people of the Book but must believe in Him before his death, and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.”[Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 159] Allah also says about Jesus in the Qur’ân: “And he shall be a sign of the Hour. Therefore have no doubt about the Hour, but follow Me. That is the straight path.” [Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 61].

Judgement Day

If you stop and think about the fact that conservative Christians and conservative Muslims all look forward to the coming of Christ on the Judgement Day, it’s a pathetic fact that what people are fighting (or quibbling) about is what path this supposed course took in the path and how it will ostensibly transpire in the future.

Owning the narrative

All sides of this argument, including Sunni and Shi’a sects on the Muslim side, as well as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and all other forms of conservative Christian faith oas well seem willing to fight to the death over which narrative is chosen to decide how the world will end, and who might survive.  Then we throw in the Jews, who get it from both sides of this great battle, and that pretty much explains fears over the Middle East “situation” in a nutshell. And it’s a fearful, angry, vicious batch of insanity.

And conservatives on every side just love it. Because it allows them to grab hold of all sorts of other controls in life. That includes social and political laws, and fiscal regulations. Everyone is afraid some other sect or religious worldview will get the upper hand.

Political zygotes

ZygoteOf course not all those who abide by conservative philosophy or identify as fiscal or political conservatives share these religious worldviews. But they can no longer escape the association because the conservative alliance initiated in the Falwell/Reagan era. That’s when the religious and economic “revolution” originally fused the language of triumph into a giant political zygote of social, political, religious and fiscal conservatives. Now the product of this marriage has emerged like a freak of nature, and his name is Donald Trump.

Liberals get their freak on

Like the tale of Benjamin Button, in which a man is born old and grows young over time, the Democratic side of freak births produced Bernie Sanders. His ardent gesticulations and socialist contentions have been discomfiting to those who just want a normal, somewhat liberal candidate to run for President. His supporters freak out at the idea of supporting Hillary Clinton if and when the Bern fizzles out. It’s a bit like a backcountry family feud, both ugly and beautiful in its unsophisticated way.

Emotional defense

it is interesting to note that both conservatives and Christians lay claim to the authority of scripture. Conservatives side with the traditions and triumphs of the church while liberals share the heart of scripture and the ministry of tolerance advocated by Jesus. These simple differences may be responsible for the entire liberal versus conservative divide. We only wish these differences could be determined through dialectic, a term described as “a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.” Instead all we seem to achieve is emotional arguments for one side or the other.

Back to the Future

Some of these debates over conservative versus liberal interpretations of scripture go back to the very formative years of what we now call Christianity. That’s when a Jew named Yeshua (better known as Jesus) debated vigorously with the Pharisees and others over their efforts to turn scripture into law. Jesus chastised the priests and tried to liberate the Jewish faith from its own strictures. But it didn’t really work. So the followers of Jesus started their own gig. And it’s been a Back to the Future movie ever since.

Some Christians never learned the lesson Jesus was trying to convey. They still behave like the priests Jesus tried to change. These are the conservatives of today. They side with political power because it feels like the best way to exact the philosophies of Christianity on the world. This is the Back to the Future plot we are now viewing.

The fortress of belief

Conservatism views the faith as a literal temple, a fortress of belief or a city to be defended or taken over by force if necessary. They Bible is one such fortress, and must be read as if it were a pile of stones placed one upon the other. Take out one stone and the entire structure may fall.

Portable faith

Liberalism takes a more modular view of what faith is about. Its interpretation of the bible is more about its transportable qualities. In that sense, liberalism is more like a nomadic tent community. It can wander the desert and be happy in the company of God. This is more like what Jesus professed. The structure of his ministry and how the disciples came to view the temple of God was centered on the idea that God is with you wherever you go.

Crusades

Now we can understand why conservatives consider the Crusades so important. Their objective to evict Muslims from Jerusalem was based on the belief that God needed (or deserved) a place to live. Tradition demanded that Jerusalem be under Christian guard. The Holy City and the Temple had been there. What more was there to understand?

In this day and age there are supporters of Israel who abide by these same standards. It’s still about the Holy City and the Holy State of Israel. This is called Zionism, “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.”

Mess of beliefs

Jerusalem_Dome_of_the_rock_BW_14.JPGIt’s a bit of an archaic notion, and a contradictory one at that, when Christians and Jews align to create and protect an Israeli homeland. The two faith traditions don’t even believe in the same thing. One accepts Jesus. The other does not. Meanwhile Muslims look forward to the return of Jesus while the Jews think the Messiah is yet to appear. It’s all a very confused mess if you really consider it. Yet the Crusades in the Middle East continue to this day and even the most informed people have lost track of what it is all about. The fighting now is about rallying the troops and never losing. Not at any cost.

Feeding worries and fears

The shared tactic of conservatism and liberalism is to consistently expound upon worries or fears about what is surely about to happen.

For conservatives, the list is long. The economy is about to collapse. Society is in moral decay. Terrorism is going to end our Way of Life. The Rapture is right around the corner. These are the go-to themes whenever conservatism fails on some, or many, fronts.

Meanwhile, liberals are busy wringing their hands in anxiety over environmental cataclysm and the collapse of civil rights due to prejudice and authoritarian rule by a select minority.

Beyond being afraid

The fact that both anxieties and fears align with the general belief that things could get far worse before they get better is telling. Isn’t there some way these two belief systems can come to a common ground?

The secret hides in how people on both sides of the philosophical debate define the idea of a “new world.”

For liberals or humanists, that would be world in which people actually collaborate to solve problems. This philosophy was effectively captured in the song Imagine by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

There’s a lot of Jesus philosophy in that very humanist set of lyrics. But the opening lyrics to the song would be of great offense to those who view the temple of God as real place.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

But if we focus on the idea that Jesus wanted the Kingdom of God to be real here on earth, and that the Bible advocates the idea that a New World will someday be created on earth, there is a great source of convergence going on in those humanist lyrics by John Lennon and the soul of the ministry of Jesus.

That is, God wants us to create this New World for ourselves. In fact, the Second Coming of Christ may be our responsibility to initiate. Not through war and Armageddon, but through love and all the good works of respect and trust and ministry we extend to others.

That is the true convergence of conservative and liberal ideologies. It also assuages worries and removes fears. Because a world where people genuinely care about each other and dispel differences rather than turning them into definitions of “the other” truly is the Kingdom of God.

And that’s the point at which both conservatism and liberalism as social, political, fiscal and religious constructs will cease to be.

How biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment

Christopher Cudworth is author of The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. It centers on how biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment. Originally published in 2007, it is being edited for re-release on Amazon.com. 

 

The Wheaton College House of Cards

NewsThe January 11, 2016 edition of the Daily Herald covered the continuing story of a Wheaton College professor put on leave for statements of support about the Muslim faith: “Roughly 100 Wheaton College students filled the steps of Edman Memorial Chapel Monday to call on administrators to reconcile with political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who was placed on administrative leave last month and could be fired for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

Well, it rather fits with the school’s tradition to be divisive about the schism between Christian and Muslim faiths. It’s only been a few years since the college changed its own mascot name from the Crusaders. The institution clung to a medieval theology tradition for a little too long. But echoes of its ideology apparently still remain.

Knowing quite a few good people who graduated from Wheaton College, which is 10 miles from my home, it might seem wrong to pick on the place. But my personal history with intolerance from the institution goes back more than 40 years. That’s when a Wheaton College student as a Campus Life director at our high school pulled me aside after a weekly meeting to issue a harsh bit of advice about my pursuit of answers about Christianity. “You’ll never be a Christian if you keep asking questions like this,” he told me in a hissed whisper.

Ten years later, as I’ve shared in other posts about that encounter, we met by chance at a McDonald’s restaurant and made up on the spot. His tears and apparent anxiety on seeing me were motivation to initiate a discussion. We reconciled. That’s what real Christians do.

But that’s not what all so-called Christians do. In many years of church service and volunteer work, it has been common to find people at angry odds. Some of these have been pastors and youth group leaders, choir directors and board members. The list goes on and on.

Still, you don’t expect to see a public spat over theology to erupt in the form of the situation at Wheaton College. Tossing a professor out of her job for expressing the basic fact that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? That’s just being a bully.

Of course, the world’s culture has always been full of such bullies all the way back to the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was consistently forced to face down the threats of priests who aggressively asked if he worshipped the same God. And by the time Jesus claimed he was the Son of God, those priests tore their robes and screamed “Blasphemy!”

That’s because the institutional call for power and authority supersedes all other judgment. Which explains why Wheaton College has gone all authoritative on this issue of a shared history with the Muslim faith. The god they’ve worked so hard to define as their own has no room for other interpretations or even a metaphorical understanding of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.

Instead, the college is acting on its binary instincts for literal possession of the truth. These are sourced from the narrow-minded interpretations of scripture that lead to belief systems such as creationism and other fundamental attempts to reduce the Bible’s truth to theological memes and sound bites.

And now that their selfish motives are exposed, they will likely recoil behind claims of persecution as fundamentalist factions always do. Anyone that questions their underachieving yet overreaching version of religious doctrine will be accused of attacking the Christian faith itself.

Meanwhile, other more liberal (and more rational) believers in Christ with courage to challenge the Wheaton College meme and fealty to a literalist version of God will be accused of corrupting the one true faith. That’s how conservatives religious leaders worldwide are likewise responding to the liberal (and liberating) actions and words of Pope Francis. You literally can’t win with these people. Hatred for change leads the day.

Those of us that have long tracked these defensive responses to theological challenges recognize a religious House of Cards when we see one. It’s all about feelings of betrayal and revenge with these people. At Wheaton College, there will likely be demands for retraction and perhaps the appearance of an extension of forgiveness to professor Larycia Hawkins. But we all know the truth. The zealots who run the arch chapters of faith are incapable of greater understanding or change. Wheaton College may be a fine institution, but they simply urinated on their own feet when it comes to enlightened behavior. If that pisses you off to hear someone say, then you should take a close look at your own soaking wet shoes.

Perhaps Wheaton will wait for their shoes to dry before tromping on anyone else. But like the Crusaders of Olde, they are always gearing up for the next fight on another day. They’ll tell themselves they are defending God when in fact all they are defending is their own anxieties over the certainty they claim to hold, but are never quite able to defend in the public sphere.

All forms of religious fundamentalism are a House of Cards. Christian. Muslim. Jewish. The list goes on. But our interpretation and application of scripture should not be so brittle and arch, so literal and parched of meaning.

But that’s how some people seem to like it. It’s very hard to show them anything different. More typically they’re proud if a bit confused at how tall their House of Cards has actually grown. Which explains the likes of Joel Osteen or Franklin Graham.

But that confused wonderment at the seeming works of God do not make it an any stronger brand of faith in the end. Mega-churches and TV preachers may attract plenty of so-called believers, but there is often plenty more air than substance blowing through those structures. So it’s worth giving them a blow or two to see how they stand.

Why Christianity needs healing

BruisesThere is so much pain in the world. Christians seeking to heal that pain rightfully turn to their faith as a means to promote forgiveness that can relieve personal and spiritual pain. That leads to healing.

The challenge to this process is in learning how to use the Bible to communicate the forgiveness that leads to healing. The Christian church with all its variegations and interpretations of the Bible is not much help.

The prime example of how to understand scripture rests with Jesus Christ, who taught using parables anchored in organic symbolism to convey spiritual principles such as love, mercy and justice. Christ’s parables made the kingdom of God accessible to all.

Authoritarians

This example was lost on those whose zealotry for godly authority drove them to turn scripture into law. Jesus, therefore, experienced conflicts with religious authorities who refused his often symbolic warnings and prophecies. When Jesus threatened to knock down the temple and rebuild it in three days, people mocked and laughed at him because the stone temple had taken years to build.

But that’s the point of scripture: it uses hyperbole to express the spiritual wonders of God.

People who take the Bible literally often miss these crucial examples. The Book of Genesis is one such book that has been raked and damaged by those mining it for literal interpretations of the Creation story. As a result, Christianity itself has been ripped up the middle by this divisive interpretation of Genesis. Jesus himself would be aghast at what has become of the Creation story in the hands of these so-called Christian perpetrators, religious fundamentalists without imagination, hope or trust that God’s Word can do more than talk like an ignorant child.

Recovery

So Christianity needs healing. It needs to be recovered from the wounding hands of those who try to use it as a weapon against modernity and science. It needs to be rescued from the medieval notion that Christianity necessarily needs to be a Crusade for religious anachronism and the threat of sending all to hell who do not abide by zealous literalism.

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

A viper waits below the surface.

Again, Jesus called that brand of believer “hypocrites” for casting blame against all those who broke the rules they created. He further characterized them as a “brood of vipers.” Take note of Christ’s use of naturalism to explain that powerful concept familiar to all. You don’t want to enter the den of venomous snakes, do you? Well, then we’re supposed to know that it’s best to avoid those who turn literalism into legalism.

None other than Pope Francis of the Catholic Church is promoting a departure from legalism, literalism and faith build on ramparts of dogma and divisiveness. Of course he’s getting tons of resistance from religious conservatives stuck in the past and happy to use the divisiveness of legalism to win political and religious converts to their own benefit, power and authority.

It will take quite an effort to recover the faith from the hands of these murderous intents.

Modernity

So the healing of Christianity needs to come from these clear warnings from Christ. There is no need to castigate science or evolution as oppositional to God. There is no call to avoid modernity at all, for the Word of God is eternal, not intransigent.

What follows is a passage of healing for all Christians to consider. It is written with all loving intent, for it is designed to heal the rent between old brands of faith and a new, truly born-again approach to faith in God and Christ.

This communicates the basics of a sustainable brand of faith that does not cower before science or force people to rent the gut of Christian faith in order to demonstrate their fealty to God. Consider it a creed of sorts, for Sustainable Faith in the modern age.

Healing Christianity

Evolution explains our material origins. The Bible explains our spiritual origins. Genesis represents humankind’s spiritual awakening to God, our birth, as it were, into that relationship. The entire Foundation of scripture depends upon deeply organic imagery to describe creation and how that is an expression of God’s love for the world. Jesus taught using parables anchored in naturalism as well. He did so to make spiritual concepts accessible to all those who would listen. When his disciples either refused these methods or did not get it, he called them “dull” for missing the vitality and purpose of these metaphorical stories. Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. Jesus would have no trouble with Darwin, evolution or science.

Jesus taught using parables anchored in naturalism as well. He did so to make spiritual concepts accessible to all those who would listen. When his disciples either refused these methods or did not get it, he called them “dull” for missing the vitality and purpose of these metaphorical stories. Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. We repeat: Jesus would have no trouble with Darwin, evolution or science.

Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. In fact, he celebrated nature as expressive of God’s fidelity, but also free will and change. Evolution and free will go together, you see. Our lives are not predestined, and God makes no guarantees of happiness, wealth or favor. But our relationship with God and Christ overcomes all such circumstances with faith and grace.

In the end, it is our spirit that defines us. The body withers and fades away. This is true for all living things from amoeba to insect to bird to ape to human beings. Dust to dust. But explaining our evolutionary and proven material relationship with nature is no crime of thought. Through genetics, we understand that human beings share 98% of our genes with apes, and more than 60% of all our genetic material with every living creature on earth. We are connected, in other words, to all of creation.  

This worldview mimics that of Jesus Christ and the Bible, and we should grasp that worldview in the same way. There is only conflict between the world and God if you make it so. Yet that explains much of the state of religion and politics today. 

Christianity needs healing. It must begin with this understanding that Jesus Christ was our leader in how to approach and understand the organic roots of scripture and our relationship with God.

The Virgin Mary needs a better publicist

virginmaryPoor National Geographic. Since being purchased by the conservative scion Rupert Murdoch, the first issue out of the gates is a massive tip of the hat to conservative religious ideology. The biblical figure of Mary is hailed as the most powerful woman in the world.

Of course the figure of Mary carries with it some heavy theological baggage. That would be the so-called Virgin Birth.

How unsettlingly ironic this new testament to the power of womanhood really is. The Virgin Mary myth begins with the idea that the Son of God could not be conceived by conventional sexual means. Instead, it requires an immaculate conception in which the Holy Spirit essentially rapes a woman for God’s supposed purposes.

So, the question has never been answered. Is she still a virgin after this conception? Or is pregnancy not somehow an establishment of womanhood? Which is it?

How the Virgin Mother myth evolved

We know by now that the concept of a virgin birth (itself a malapropism) is adopted from other cultures to serve the idea that a supernatural being has entered the human race. The idea that some people become gods through status or divination was important to ancient cultures seeking leaders for military, cultural or religious purposes.

Buddha was ostensibly born of a virgin. So were many other goddesses and mothers in religious history. All impregnated by heavenly spirits.

Christianity was late to the game but just as determined to turn their Virgin Mother myth into a powerful religious meme. So the New Testament does a bit of work to make that a seeming reality. The Book of Matthew tells the story as a sort of scandal in which Joseph considers divorcing his wife when he learns that she is pregnant without his seed.

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:20-21 NIV

Virgin Births in the Modern Age

A group of University of North Carolina scientists dug into the issue of virgin births in the modern era. Their findings were interesting, as the main pool of people claiming “virgin birth” were Christian women who took the vow of chastity or some other indication of purity (abstinence education, for example).

The articles notes:

“Except for in the Bible, virgin births or asexual reproduction occur only in the plant world and among a small group of vertebrates: pit vipers, boa constrictors, sharks and Komodo dragons.”

Of course none of these creatures considers virgin birth all that important. Asexual reproduction is a matter of practicality, not miraculous events.  But it does make one think hard about the fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus referred to religious leaders of the day as “a brood of vipers.”

Brood of Vipers indeed

That was because the original fundamentalists of the Jewish faith were caught up in the process of turning religious laws into a power structure that conferred them political advantage and wealth. If you tried to divest them of that power, they struck at you like a brood of vipers. In fact that is exactly what got Jesus killed. He was bitten by the poison power of fundamentalism.

In his absence, the ministry of Jesus Christ was hijacked by similar zealots who then interpreted the story of his existence to fit their desires in some ways. They had already aggressively borrowed traditions like the virgin birth to make predictions in what Christians call the Old Testament.  It was now up to the authors of the New Testament to make those prophecies “pay off.”  Competitive prophecies have to fit together like a puzzle or they are unconvincing. Hence the Virgin Birth was canonized and copied over and again in the Gospel narratives.

Beyond theft and deceit

If this makes you sad to think about, don’t be alarmed. We can still believe in the power and majesty of Jesus Christ without the stolen myths of pagan religions to prop up the story. The teachings of Christ are sufficient in wisdom and transformative power to work miracles in the lives of everyone they touch. Men such as Thomas Jefferson saw this and extracted the miracle stories from the Bible to put greater focus on the wisdom of the man we call the Son of God.

But thanks to the conservative, patriarchal tradition in which men competitively want to cherish the notion of owning and then taking the virginity of a woman, we’re forced into reciting this falsehood in Christian creeds and other ways.

New Conservative Zealots

It’s no coincidence that the magazine National Geographic has been forced into parroting the Virgin Mary myth by its new conservative owner Rupert Murdoch. Oppression of women is a favorite habit of male conservatives.

One wonders how that actually squares with the supposed humility of Mary’s husband Joseph, who demurely accepts the idea that his wife is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Would conservative men of this day and age accept that as truth? Or would they behave like conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, who branded Sandra Fluke a “slut” simply for advocating the idea that birth control should be covered under health care plans? We already know the answer to that one, don’t we?

Perception and truth

Again, perception is often more powerful than truth. The University of North Carolina study found a not-too-surprising commonality among women claiming to be virgins and even men claiming to be virgins even though their wives were already pregnant. “For the larger original study in 1995, which included both males and females, she said scientists were surprised by some of the findings. “There were a few virgin fathers lurking around in data field,” said Herring.

The article states: “We found [the “virgin birth” phenomenon] was more common among women who signed chastity pledges or whose parents indicated lower levels of communication with their children about sex and birth control,” said Herring.

“The immaculate conception group may have been small, but researchers did find an even larger group, whom they called “born again virgins. “They reported in an earlier study a pregnancy, then later said they were virgins,” said Herring. “Those may have been a misclassification issue.”

False Virgins

Such may be the genuine case with the so-called virgin Mary. The controversy about her “virginity” stems from interpretation of the Hebrew word almah, which can just as logically mean “young maiden” as virgin. But given this prophecy from the book of Isaiah, one can understand the longing for fulfillment of this passage: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).

Who made the original mistake? Likely a patriarchal author seeking to compete or outdo competitive religious claims to godhood. Then it got worse with the advent of Jesus.

As noted on the website Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, “The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This translation was made around 200 B.C. by 70 Hebrew scholars. In Isaiah 7:14, they translated the word, almah, into the Greek word, parthenos. According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,2 parthenos means virgin. This word is used in the New Testament of the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:23, Luke 1:27) and of the ten virgins in the parable (Matt. 25:1, 7,11).”

How the Virgin Birth hurts us all

What is the damage to all these Virgin Birth claims? For starters, it sets up an artificial standard for the divinity of Christ.

It undermines the notion that normal sexual relations can serve to fulfill holy means.

It depicts women as subservient to a male standard of desirability.

It enforces a power structure in which women are property rather than human beings.

It deceives millions of women into thinking that chastity is preferable over a healthy, normal sex life.

It egregiously twists the notion of bible prophecy to fit the aims of a perpetual “brood of vipers” seeking to control the biblical narrative for their own select purposes. Often these aims include the oppression of women. The fact that so many women buy into this narrative is a sad consequence of history.

What would Jesus say? 

None of this would have been necessary if it were up to Jesus himself to determine the notion of a Virgin Birth. He fully accepted the earthiness of life and embraced in his most intimate teachings the organic foundations of the world because these symbolized the creative powers of God. Is not conception itself a miracle? Ask anyone that has tried and not been able to conceive whether that is true or not.

Jesus would not have demanded that his mother be called a virgin in order to be blessed. It’s as simple as that. Of course the faith developed in his name will not likely abandon the falsehood of the Virgin Mary myth because it is a cult unto its own means. After all, we have politicians and religious leaders claiming to represent Christianity while simultaneously advocating greed, dunning the poor, espousing racism and discrimination and battling with other faiths over power and authority here on earth.

None of these things is Christian. They are as false as the Virgin Birth. So it should be no surprise that so many people are misled by the “brood of vipers” that continues to vex the world to this day.

But that doesn’t mean that rational believing Christians have to play along in the myth that disrespects and abuses real womanhood.

 

 

Fighting over similarities

muhammad_ali_02aPerhaps the ultimate irony of Muslim faith in the public sphere was that of Muhammad Ali. The fighter formerly known as Cassius Clay controversially converted to Islam, then protested the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector.

The complexity of that decision confounded Americans. Some blamed him for refusing to serve his country. As the website This Day In History documents, Ali was penalized in the manner of a high profile figure.

“On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.”

That’s right, his case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United states, which overturned his conviction for draft evasion. In other words, Ali was exonerated of wrongdoing in his case against the United States. His faith was also vindicated.

In context with America’s troubled relationship with the Muslim religion and its “peace or no peace” controversies, the case of Muhammad Ali bears recognition as a sign that the Muslim faith does have a tradition of peace at its core.

Conscientious Objector

Ali was justified in his argument that “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” The nation entered the war ostensibly to stop the advance of communism. Instead, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War proved far more costly in terms of lives and political capital, and communism ultimately won the battle for control of Vietnam. One could argue that it ultimately lost the war in that communism ultimately collapsed the Soviet Union.

But in the moment, the Vietnam war was unpopular at the liberal end of the political spectrum, leading to war protests and civil unrest. The nation imposed a military draft and thousands of lives were spent on the guerrilla battlefields where victory and loss often felt like the same thing. In other words, a conscientious objector could find many reasons not to want to fight in Vietnam. That’s why Ali did not go to fight in Vietnam.

The ugliness of the fight game

Yet Ali was quite ironically a fighter by trade. He was also prone to controversial methods of race profiling as a means of fight promotion, calling men such as Joe Frazier “Uncle Tom” and engaging in pre-fight dialogue that was profoundly insulting.

Ali: “Joe Frazier should give his face to the Wildlife Fund. He’s so ugly, blind men go the other way. Ugly! Ugly! Ugly! He not only looks bad, you can smell him in another country! What will the people of Manila think? That black brothers are animals. Ignorant. Stupid. Ugly and smelly.”

Ali: “He’s the other type Negro, he’s not like me,” Ali shouts to the now stunned white interviewer. “There are two types of slaves, Joe Frazier’s worse than you to me … That’s what I mean when I say Uncle Tom, I mean he’s a brother, one day he might be like me, but for now he works for the enemy”

Lennon and Ali

John-Lennon-john-lennon-34078983-1024-768In his violent reproach toward his rivals, Muhammad Ali resembled another public figure of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was John Lennon, who spoke for world peace even as he engaged in very public fights with his former Beatles partner Paul McCartney. Their friendship for a while became a bitter rivalry.

But men like Lennon and Ali ultimately did apologize to their rivals.

Ali: “Joe Frazier’s a nice fella, he’s just doing a job. The bad talk wasn’t serious, just part of the buildup to the fight. The fight was serious, though. Joe spoke to me once or twice in the middle, told me I was burned out, that I’d have to quit dancing now. I told him I was gonna dance all night.”

Lessons learned

The point here is that personal rivalry drives public interest, and there are commercial and professional reasons why this is beneficial to the advancement of individual causes. Both Ali and Lennon are considered great artists in their trade. Each knew the value of slogans and sound bites. Ali engaged in a form of street poetry and Lennon lyrically crafted songs that appealed to both the common man and universal themes.

These similarities and differences are interesting to note. Ali advocated a religion while Lennon was equivocal about such matters, arguing through his song Imagine that perhaps even religion had its limitations in terms of seeking better understanding. Yet both seemed to arrive in the same place.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

It is worth nothing that that the statement by Ali that “I ain’t got no quarrel with no VietCong” could serve as a quick summary of the reasons why Lennon also protested the quasi-religious motives of the Vietnam War.

And indeed, communism was not resisted by conservative Americans only as a social and economic system, but because its “godlessness” was judged to be in direct opposition to the supposedly religious foundations of American history.

But it holds true as well that the most vicious of all wars are not fought over lack of a god, but as rivalries between two competing notions of God.

That is the precise reason why one sect of Muslims is killing another, and why ISIL is so committed to creating a caliphate or national state in Iraq. They are attempting to impose their version of Sharia law by conquering territory and forcing people to either convert of die. The entire enterprise is a rivalry over interpretations of God. As a result, ISIL wants to confront Christianity on its “home soil.”

Ali-Frazier redux

That rivalry over who represents the “real deal” is the the same sort of argument Ali foisted on Joe Frazier, who he openly accused of being the “wrong kind of black.” Their mutual anger over issues like these fueled three killer fights between the two men.

The same brand of story unfolded between McCartney and Lennon, who exchanged critical songs as a means to express frustration with the artistic differences that once made them the most dynamic writing team in popular music.

Religious rivalries

It is the same thing with the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths in this world. All share the same root histories, yet the advancing interpretations and judgment on what constitutes a prophet or a Messiah are to this day cause a triangulation of horror, murder and prejudice.

It remains to be seen whether these religious differences can be reconciled or forgiven. Some claim the differences are too fundamental or profound. Others point fingers at the murderous ways of the opponent while ignoring their own egregious modes of death and destruction. This is true of the collective efforts by Christian, Jewish and Musliim states.

Great rivals can become great allies, or at least show respect. Ali sooner or later did that with Frazier, as did McCartney and Lennon.

The rule we need to consider is that the more we share in history and the more we are alike, the more bitter the feud can be.

 

Who is really keeping us safe?

“If you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative by the time you are forty, you have no brain.” –Winston Churchill

Winston ChurchillYears ago I read a massive two-volume biography of Winston Churchill. It was with great disappointment that I learned that the author of those first two books had died. The third would have covered the period including World War II, and that would have been fascinating to study the actions and philosophies of the man that ushered Great Britain through the war.

Yet even with Churchill, his strong points as a war leader turned out to be challenges of a sort in the political realm. He was initially defeated for the role of Prime Minister after the war, yet returned to that role again before suffering physical and mental decline that may have resulted from strokes and heart issues.

A wealth of protectors

While obviously a man to admire, Winston Churchill’s determination that conservatism was the ultimate form of philosophical sophistication may have been formed more from his upbringing in a wealthy English family than his own evolution as a military man and spokesman. He was great at both those things, but there is an abiding factor to how these were developed and sustained that made it possible for Churchill to think like a conservative at all.

That factor was the presence and alliance of both the United States and the Soviet Union in World War II. Without that partnership, Great Britain would have been sunk under the pressures of Germany to take over much of Europe.

It was the liberal support of America’s Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and the hard right determination of Joseph Stalin that fought back Germany’s considerable will to conquer and subjugate. That enabled Churchill to essentially occupy an important middle ground from which he could flexibly consider and pursue his necessary options. That is conservative in the good sense of the word, in being considerate.

Modern times

Fast forward to the current world perspective in which we live. America’s President Barack Obama has behaved as a noted centrist on the world stage. And like Churchill, there have been wins and losses, risks and seeming triumphs associated with that centrist position. Obama has been the considerate if quietly brusque leader, not prone to launch off new wars, yet capable of effecting deadly drone strikes that many people protest as cruel and miscalculated.

Such are the risks of all world leaders. The apparently noble fight of America, Britain and the Soviets against the Germans, Italians and Japanese Axis was full of death and destruction. And while Germany clearly committed war crimes, the rest of the fighters were not a group of innocents. America ultimately dropped a massive nuclear weapon on Japan’s big cities, killing thousands of civilians in the process.

During the leadup to that event, America engaged in some rather heinous efforts to protect itself, ushering many of its own citizens of Japanese descent into camps. The object at the time was to “keep us safe” from perceived threats because Japan itself was such a threat.

Fear and strange decisions

Fear drives all kind of strange decisions in this world. And while some of our fears are very real, the collective anxiety of a culture can often be extremely misguided.

Such is the case wth current concerns over America’s possible acceptance of Syrian refugees. While France opens its borders willingly to Syrian refugees even on the heels of the terrorist attacks on its own soil, America’s arch-conservative population wants to ban them from entry into the country. All of this is based on the idea that terrorists will somehow disguise themselves as refugees and come to this country to kill Americans.

Raging debates

Having engaged in considerable political debate with a number of anxious conservatives on social media, a few simple things have emerged in the argument. 1) They don’t trust Obama or the government 2) They don’t trust the government or Obama 3) They really don’t trust either Obama or the government. That’s the substance of their arguments.

In the process of defending those arguments they also engage in considerable name-calling while simultaneously denying that the Bush administration or any conservative before him had anything to do with creating the terrorist problem in the Middle East. We all know that started with the Reagan administration, was fostered by the Bush relationships with the Saudis, and carried on with the patsy treatment of the bin Laden family right through the 9/11 terrorist attacks when our first priority was flying remnants of that family out of the United States when all other flights were suddenly banned. Conservatives also created the Saddam Hussein we overthrew, and set up the Shah of Iran that led to that country being so pissed off at the Western World.

Yet somehow it’s all Obama’s fault that we have problems in the Middle East.

Brotherly love 

Of course, Jeb Bush, the equally inept brother of George W. Bush, is now running for President of the United States. And like any conservative worth his radical salt he has publicly claimed that his brother “kept us safe.”

So for the sake of analysis, we should examine what he might mean by that statement. The expectations of conservatives about what “keeps us safe” clearly breaks down into categories that were demonstrated by the Bush administration’s actions in the Middle East. And we’ll get to those in a minute.

But first we must admit there was little resistance by the Democratic Left to any of Bush’s policies overseas. That was a sick and sad chapter in our political history as well. Either by choice or by fear, the Left stood down under considerable pressure from conservative dominance of all three branches of government. That included the power of the Presidency, a willing Congress and Senate and even the Supreme Court that handed Bush surveillance powers that broke every rule in the Constitution about personal privacy.

So Bush and Cheney were given free license to engage in a series of cynical acts of aggression designed, in their minds, to “keep us safe” from terrorism. These included:

  1. Bomb first, ask no questions later. When faced with threats, conservatives love to bomb things because it makes them feel as if they are taking action against that threat. Of course, civilian casualties resulting from those bombings inflamed hatred for the United States as innocents perished. But that’s the apparent price of thoughtless war. “Collateral damage” they call it. The ultimate euphemism of course. Conservatives bomb, and then move on without a second thought about what the real effects of such bombings could be in terms of perception among enemies or friends.
  2. Torture is acceptable. Arguments in favor of torturing Iraqis and potential terrorist focused on the fact that such tactics were necessary to extract information that could “keep America safe.” That connection between information and actionable intelligence really never happened in any substantial way. And yet the apparent thought that our supposed enemies were being tortured made a certain segment of our society feel happy because we were “doing something” about terrorism. Never mind that many of the people we tortured and even killed through torture and mistreatment were in fact completely innocent.
  3. Spying on your own people is desirable. How ironic it is that the political force in America that claims to hate government most and wants to reduce its influence in our lives should choose to open a surveillance program that brought government into the very conversations we all hold over our telephones and cell phones. It seems a common phenomenon that the things conservatives most hate in others they ultimately become themselves. It happens on the social front when people who claim to stand for family values turn out to be serial wife cheaters or sexual predators. This repression haunts the conservative party like a ghost of unvirtuous fact.
  4. Always blame the other side. For all these insane actions and remorseless activities, conservatives have developed denial of responsibility for the evil outcomes into a very fine art. The virtual memo that says “never admit you were wrong” has been hard-wired into the consciousness of political, military and civilian conservatives. In fact, it is perhaps the greatest social conspiracy ever contrived as a political strategy. Its level of secrecy is protected by a devotion to denial and an entire lack of accountability. It is thus quite  breathtaking in its scope and effect on civil discourse. Its main mouthpiece, of course, is Fox News, whose claims of being “fair and balanced” as a “news organization” are the absolute expression of the virtue of lying with a smile on your face and putting tits above the fold as a distraction of the very audience you intend to recruit.

There’s a reason for all this aggression, repression and secession going on within the conservative cult in America. Only when a conservative breaks completely free of the party entirely, which means they can never go back, do we hear an ounce of truth and admission about what really goes on behind the scenes. The recent inadvertent confession of a certain Congressman on the real reasons for the Benghazi investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are just one such example of politically motivated use of government to harangue and discredit anyone that dares resist the conservative cartel in America.

It goes back a ways

John_F_KennedyResistance to this secret society of Conservatism with a Capital A (and its apparent arm, the CIA) is what got President Kennedy killed back in the 1960s. So the phenomena of killing threats to the cabal is not new.Kennedy was no saint, that’s for sure. But what he also represented as a political liberalism that some perceived as a threat to the security of America. But again, the considerations shown by John F. Kennedy in negotiations with the Soviets in the Cuba Missile Crisis are likely what prevented nuclear war. In other words, his small “c” conservatism kept us safe, just like Winston Churchill’s small “c” conservatism helped guide the Allies through World War II. It is this conservatism to which I believe Winston Churchill is referring in the quote above this column.

But it keeps happening that large “C” Conservatism is trying to kill its perceived enemies. And true to form, the conservative cabal went after Bill Clinton over engagement in a harmless blow job. The ensuing scandal turned into a political spectacle that distracted from Clinton’s ability to do his job, and keep us safe.

At that time, Clinton wanted to take action against bin Laden and potential terrorists in the Middle East, but was discouraged from doing so because it would appear he was attempting to “wag the dog” and escape accusations and impeachment over his extramarital affair. We seriously need to ask what would have kept us more safe in that scenario, the Starr Report or actually paying attention to real threats to our security. Capital A Conservatives clearly chose the former over the latter. America has paid the price ever since for this selfish, politically motivated debacle.

Fear, loathing and power

Paul Ryan

New House Speaker Paul Ryan

So you see, the goal of conservatism is never really to keep us safe. It is to gain and keep power, and that is all. Conservatives use fear to accomplish that mission all the time. That is why the call to war is so strong among them. War creates a deep tide fear in the populace, accentuated by methods such as “terror alerts” that the Bush administration turned on and off as needed to sway political will and push the perception of power in their direction. These are all tricks to get people to fall in line. Authoritarian thinkers on both the proactive and responsive side love these methods because it gives them a sense of control in otherwise chaotic circumstances. Of course it is all a ruse, but that does not matter.

FlagWaiverIndeed, Conservatives with a capital “C” want Americans to behave like Pavlov’s dogs in response to the call for war and acceptance of violence as status quo. They wave flags as patriots in fear until the very meaning of the flag is all worn out. Our flag has come to represent a national attitude of fear and a worn out ideology as a result.

Witness the marketing methods of the NRA, which flouts fear about race and crime as reasons to arm American on claims that more guns will “keep us safe.” Again, these are lies of massive proportions. More Americans have died from gun violence on American soil that all the soldiers ever killed in foreign wars. This is not “keeping us safe.”

Money kills

 

In the end, the sad thing about all this fear and terror and power is that it is all about money. Conservatives simply love money and all that it gives them. That’s why so many conservative whine about high tax rates and complain about giving their dollars through any social programs that might help the poor or elderly. This is the brand of conservatism that has evolved in America; selfishness as a life philosophy. It stands in direct opposition to the Christian call for charity and even giving away all you have to serve God and Christ. But modern conservatives (oxymoron intended) ignore all that real Christian stuff. That part is old-fashioned to them.

And we must return to the fact that top level Conservatives have always liked war because it enriches them. Former Vice President Dick Cheney used the Iraq War to increase the value of companies like Halliburton in which he has long held financial interests. The snarling visage of the man who almost singlehandedly leveraged America’s fortunes into his own while ruining our reputation overseas is like the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge, who without ever having gone through the happy change that made him into an advocate for the Christmas Spirit acts instead like the Grinch Who Stole America.

No Churchill

dick-cheneyCheney was no Churchill, let’s all agree on that. He seems to have envisioned himself that way, but where he falls short is in the ability to recognize the advantage of being a smart conservative with a small “c.” That is one who knows that conservatism actually involves consideration. Cheney appears to have none of that capacity, and as a result his version of “keeping us safe” turned the Middle East into a morass of angry terrorist hornets hoping to break free and sting the invader of their nest.

So let’s stop pretending that stirring up the hornet’s nest in the Middle East with bombings, torture and boots on the ground is a conservative strategy at all. It is not a conservative strategy, and it does not keep us safe.

And as for hornet’s back home, we’ve already got a system in place to detect their angry buzz. Typically they can’t keep quiet. Not if we open our eyes and ears and pay attention. And let’s not ignore those clear warnings this time, as Bush did back when he and Cheney were plotting to take over the entire Middle East to steal the oil and get some archly conservative kicks. That was stupid. And we’re getting stung as a result.

Ken Ham the Creationist versus Bill Nye the Science Guy proved a lot about how wrong Ken Ham has the Bible

By Christopher Cudworth

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

It appeared from watching the “debate” between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye that Ham wanted desperately to prove science wrong about everything.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion of the so-called debate. Ham never mustered the ability to answer simple questions that would have proved creationism has any sort of relationship with science. His entire contention rested on the contention that the Bible must be understood “naturally” in order to understand the world. That is, the parts in the Bible Ken Ham judges to be crucial to a literal interpretation of scripture must be abided to the letter. The other parts, such as the “poetry” of Psalms, according to Ham, actually have no real bearing on the role of the Bible as science. Wow. That’s a whopper.

Yet that is the biblical foundation of Ken Ham’s creationist worldview. It begins with a denial of a significant portion of the Bible’s verity. Creationism literally starts with the assertion that not all the Bible can be trusted as fact.

And that’s just the starting point of a confused, frustrating and inaccurate worldview. Ken Ham seems to misunderstand and completely disregard the nature of what Christians call the New Testament. In fact he makes very few references to Jesus in any of his assertions about creation.

He certainly never mentions the methods by which Jesus himself taught by using organic metaphors. In simpler terms, Jesus used symbols from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. That way everyday people could comprehend what he was trying to teach about the nature of God.

But Ken Ham can’t seem to grasp or embrace that style of teaching, about nature, or about science. He prefers instead the literal view of scripture. His motive appears to be focused on leaving no room for interpretation. He is a zealot about that.

Of course that is the very same legalistic approach used by the Pharisees, leaders of the faith in Jesus’ day. He branded them a “brood of vipers” in clear reference to the Genesis depiction of Satan as a serpent.

You don’t have to take that reference literally to get the message. Jesus would not have liked Ken Ham. Jesus would have knocked the Creation Museum to the ground because it is a crass attempt to control the faith and belief of people through legalistic force and deception.

So the truth speaks for itself. Ken Ham is at odds with Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Ken Ham considers Jesus’ method of teaching with metaphors inferior to his own brand of truth based on narrow interpretations of a book written 2000 years ago, conveyed originally as oral tradition and translated multiple times.

The simpler, more clear understanding that Jesus gave to all those who would listen is not good enough for Ken Ham. Jesus would gladly have accepted the findings of science.

Jesus said God is nature, and nature is God. All things worthy of consideration can be discerned through that simple statement. Anything else is fiction, or worse, a lie about the Word of God. And God is never happy about that.

On why we should all read about faith and what it means to the world

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

By Christopher Cudworth

Sitting in the admissions office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt right.

A little more than two years ago a young man that had served as our church Youth Pastor had invited me to visit the school. “I think you’d like it,” he told me.

Our conversations as he prepared to leave his position at the church and begin studies to become a Lutheran pastor had centered on ministry to high school students, yet over coffee one morning the topics widened. I explained the process of writing my book, “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age,” and how it changed the way I viewed writing about, and reading about, faith in the world.

The experience of trying to get an agent for the book had taught me a few things. The theme was the same with every contact. “You’re not a minister. You’re not a college professor. What credibility do you have to write such a book?”

Credibility is important. It gives people a foundation upon which to trust what you write. The process of earning credibility can also challenge the manner in which you arrive at your conclusions.

Regarding Masters

The message stuck with me. Despite the fact that I had spent 7 years researching and refining the book, it was true. I was not technically qualified to write it. Not in the eyes of those who make such decisions anyway.

It’s not enough that your friends call you “courageous” for taking on biblical literalism as a worldview. You must vet your viewpoints in the theological world before tearing away the dogmatic garments of the modern day Pharisees who stand in opposition to so much practical truth.

Simple truths and basic contradictions

Yet it’s a simple fact really. Biblical literalists stand in opposition to the teaching methods of Jesus Christ, who consistently used organic metaphors to convey spiritual truths through parables designed to bring the common mind to faith in God. Ignoring that principle is basically a slap in the face to Jesus. It’s like telling him, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t you know that God’s Word must be taking literally or it has no meaning at all?”

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

Actually the community of believers who take the Bible literally never actually get close to discussing the teaching methods of Jesus. They’re stuck way back in Genesis and a literal 7 days, an Adam and Eve that were transmogrified from the dust of the Earth and a Serpent or Snake who tricks Eve and then Adam into disobeying God’s warning not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course we all know the story. Adam and Eve fall for the Serpent’s logic, thereby causing the Fall of Man.

Bad Beginnings? 

Original Sin is the pet concept that emerges from that creation story. But that quick-take worldview ignores a key aspect of the tale. What we miss by taking the story literally is the Serpent’s methodology in tricking Adam and Eve. In a crafty use of the first brand of scripture known to Man, the Serpent engages Eve in legalistic use of God’s own words to undermine her trust in God. Here is how the ploy works:

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the "serpent" really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the “serpent” really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

The Serpent’s Deception
3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”…

How very similar is this exchange to the passage in Matthew 15 in which Jesus engages the Pharisees over the issue of turning the Word of God into a legalistic trap:

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

The comparison between literalism and legalism is given a direct connection to the Serpent in the Book of Genesis in Matthew 23:33, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

It is a sad fact that today’s adherents to biblical literalism are playing the same game that Pharisees played with Jesus so long ago. Yet the pain and misdirection caused by today’s brand of scriptural literalism is just as potent as that depicted in Genesis with deception by the serpent, and just as power-mongering as the Pharisees of the New Testament.

And that is the point from my motivation to attend a school of theology emanates. I believe the most important thing in the world right now is to counter biblical literalism and all its awful consequences. Literal interpretation of the Bible is being used to persecute gays, to resist legitimate science, to argue against the theory of evolution and to undermine political and ethical justice on a broad spectrum of issues.

Reason and Reasons
It’s not about a mid-career change for me, or anything prosaic as that. It’s about finding ways to make the world a better place. Martin Luther changed the world by pointing out the very simple fact that we are saved first and foremost by grace. The new reformation should finish the job of removing all barriers from our acceptance of grace.

Yet we also need to define what it means to exist within and attend to the Kingdom of God. How we understand the nature of that “kingdom” is crucial to our stewardship of creation. The dangerously ironic consequence of a worldview founded on biblical literalism is the attitude that nature and all of creation is essentially a disposable tool of God, one that has no purpose other than our own somewhat greedy sustenance and no other significance than as a temporal stage between Creation and Armageddon.

Challenges

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We need to challenge this fatalistic worldview at its very roots. That begins with the misinterpretation of Genesis as a literal document. Yet it also extends to our regard of scripture as a wholly inerrant document. It simply isn’t, that way. Any faith dependent on that premise is brittle, frail and sad, thus requiring a defensive posture to sustain.

The book of Romans 1:20 contains a telling point of scripture, one that reveals the idea of organic fundamentalism, the key understanding that nature itself, and our metaphorical understanding of it, holds keys to our comprehension of God and all that we read in scripture:

Romans20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,  so that people are without excuse.

Nowhere in this passage, or any other in the Bible for that matter, does it say that we must take a literal approach to conceptions of God. In fact as demonstrated by Jesus himself, we are to do the opposite.

Recall that literalism and legalism produced the approach that one could earn the way into heaven through God works doled out by the church and vetted by leaders who earned earthly power through the system set up by the brand of Pharisees leading the Catholic church at the time.

Then along came Martin Luther, who saw through the giant ruse of literalism and legalism, and who launched a Reformation that transformed the faith, made it new again. We can view this passage in a fresh light in contradiction to the brand of literalism now vexing the world.

Nature and eternity are foundations of the Bible

There is more to the theological landscape than meets the eye. Creativity, not just creation, is part of scripture. Click for larger view.

Ephesians 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works,  so that no one can boast.

For there are many who “boast” that their literalistic view of the bible constitutes the “works” of real Christianity. Yet we also know that God’s invisible qualities are visible in Nature, and through the Word, and that there is no excuse for ignoring these greater, most important facets of faith realized.

And that is why the pursuit of truth is so important to me, and why sitting in the office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt so very good, and so very real. Because each Reformation has to start somewhere. We all play a part in the heart of faith.

How preteens evolve into thinking human beings

photoAt some early age it entered my head that perhaps everyone around me was in on a secret. That I was the only one that thought as I do, and that even my parents were putting me on, big time.

I worried that I was not a “normal” person.

It happened again to some extent when I was 13 years old. That’s the age when your interests begin to collide with the world, and that’s a dual problem because your interests when you are in middle school tend to be really intense, sometimes nerdy and ridiculously easy to ridicule.

My interests happened to be all over the board, from art to nature, but one avocation got me in trouble with my friends who all seemed to think birdwatching was stupid, silly and less than manly. They made up bird names with obscene roots and laughed when I told them I’d identified a certain species of importance to me.

Resilience

To my everlasting credit, I never let the teasing stop me from pursuing any of my interests, even at the vulnerable age of 13. Now the same people who used to ridicule will call with a “bird question” when something unexpected shows up at their feeder, or they see a bald eagle along the river. The enthusiasm they now show for such things is a much-delayed apology for the abuse long ago.

As an adult I was asked to teach Sunday School for the middle schoolers because no one else wanted to take on the task. I liked it. Working with a series of teacher-partners over a 12-year period, it was fascinating to see the variability in maturity and self-awareness among preteens.

Sleepy minds

Many Sunday mornings they’d arrive sullen and bored, aching to get back to their sleepy beds where the rest of the world could not reach them. But reach them I did.

The church absentmindedly neglected to shove some curriculum my way for years and years. The parents did not complain about my teaching so everyone must have thought it was working out okay.

Little did they know that Sunday School was a perfect place to get those preteens thinking about what matters in life beyond the Bible. Sure, we always talked about scripture in a roundabout way. I’d always have an idea to discuss and would bring them around to the topic by asking what they’d done during the week and even how they felt about it. They deserved that attention. The minds of preteens seem to be largely ignored by this world, as if they have nothing of value to say about it. But the world would be wrong about that. It always has.

The example of Jesus

You may recall that it was a preteen Jesus (about age 12) who stayed behind at a temple when he was supposed to be following his parents back home after a visit to the city. This is what transpired:

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Echoes of Christ

In many ways that scene was replayed among the preteens who entered the middle school Sunday School class. They had ideas. They wanted answers. They asked questions and to the best of my ability I answered their questions or encouraged them to find answers, and at all costs.

That church did not preach tolerance for science, yet several of my former students went on to become chemical engineers and biologists and other occupations whose educational processes effectively denied what that simpleton religious worldview maintained.

Rational faith

You may ask why I remained a member so long (25 years) and I can answer that my rational faith survived outside of that venue, but was sustained by the fellowship that came through membership. I am now a member of a church that respects rational thought and yet embraces full discipleship as a matter of practice. In other words, a church that actually teaches what the Bible says to do. Instead of denial like the Pharisees and legalistic practices, my current church loves this world with all its heart, as an expression of creation, but not as an exclusive Creation that cannot be understood or appreciated by the human mind.

That’s what I taught all those years, and what it taught me in return was that the middle school, preteen mind appreciates honesty and respect. If you don’t give pat answers, it doesn’t feel like you’re patting them on the head, telling them to go away and quit thinking. For themselves.

Leadership 

One year I had as students three young women that each vied for the title of Valedictorian at their respective high schools. Keeping them engaged was not that difficult, but keeping the rest of the class in pace with their challenging minds was interesting at times.

Yet it happened. The other kids knew and appreciated true leadership and intellect when they saw it. The girls in return were not disrespectful of their peers. Even those who were brought to the church by bus from underprivileged families participated in the discussions. I often thought about how much those women brought to the table, and the fact that women were not allowed to assume positions of full leadership at that church. It bothered me. So I ignored that example and let them be leaders.

It was proof to me that the Kingdom of God, if that’s what you call it, can embrace the rich in mind and the poor in spirit alike. The principle benefit was, in the end, an open regard for the preteen mind that perhaps they would never have experienced if shielded from the concepts we discussed in biblical context. Those were evolution as well as salvation. I told them there was no reason why the Bible and science could not be reconciled. I told them Jesus was the original naturalist. He used organic symbols in his parables to convey spiritual principles. Later I wrote a book and continue a blog about that subject and more.

Other subjects

We talked about fame and deception, hope and depression. We talked about their lives and encouraged them to keep the confidence of others. Basic human respect was at play at all times.

And we talked about Jesus. Not the Jesus of the Sunday School curriculum that sails around the landscape working miracles. We talked about the Jesus who cried and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, abandoned by his friends. We considered what that meant to be alone, to feel alone.

Then we talked about what it meant to be normal in this world. To have fears and feelings that you poorly understood. To be worried about what others thought about you and about how adults don’t have all the answers. Those were just some of the things discussed with those preteens. They just wanted to know what it meant to be normal, and what it meant if you chose to depart from those norms on your own.

Jesus was a helluva an example on what it meant to go your own way. It has costs, but sometimes its worth it. Not being normal, that is.

America’s concussion problem just won’t go away

by Christopher Cudworth

America is seeing stars, and stripes, but not the way we're accustomed to seeing them.  Painting by Christopher Cudworth

America is seeing stars, and stripes, but not the way we’re accustomed to seeing them. Painting by Christopher Cudworth

The news about concussions is everywhere in pro sports. Retired football players are suing the NFL for failing to protect their noggins, while active players are taking concussions far more seriously. America’s favored game of football may be at risk all the way from youth leagues up to the NFL. And no one seems to know just what to do about it yet.

It is no coincidence that America’s favorite game involves bashing heads to the point where players suffer brain trauma. That’s how Americans live. We smash and bash and crash our way through history without apology. We even have a fancy name for our concussive obsession with being #1. It’s called American Exceptionalism.

Violence has a cost

But the habit of a nation so absorbed with its own violence comes with a cost. America as a nation has a concussion. We can’t seem to stop thrashing about even as our minds grow fuzzy from the slam-bang practice of imperialism.

To put a metaphorical point on the idea that America is concussed, consider this description of the effects of concussion from the Mayo Clinic:

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer.

The most common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury are headache, amnesia and confusion. The amnesia, which may or may not be preceded by a loss of consciousness, almost always involves the loss of memory of the impact that caused the concussion.

The definition goes on to describe concussion as a ‘temporary loss of consciousness, followed by confusion or feeling as if in a fog.”

Welcome to a concussed America.

9/11 a big blow to the head

One could argue that the most recent big blow to our national consciousness was the terrorist strike on 9/11. America didn’t know what to do at first. We wandered our quiet streets trying to figure out exactly what hit us. By the time we figured out it really was just a lucky band of religiopolitical extremists, our President had dragged us into a war in Iraq. That’s where the blows to the head of our American self-image started with a display of Shock and Awe that, unbeknownst to most US citizens, would lead to a percussive series of events that would further destroy our credibility worldwide. It started with stark images of unmanaged chaos in the streets of Baghdad, wrought by the lack of an American plan once we knocked Saddam Hussein off his pedestal. That debacle was followed by images of tortured Iraqi civilians that struck us in the head like a force from a blunt instrument. And it was just that. The strike-first ideology of a leadership bent on world domination bounced right back and hit us in the cranium.

There were plenty of people who recognized what was going on, who had the guts to stand out of range of the war-mongering and media blitz that promoted war while giving Bush & Co. a collective pass in questioning the motives of an illegal and unnecessary war. Recall that America was still reeling from 9/11, but some of us cleared our brains quicker than others.

In an editorial written by Walt Williams 2004, the early warnings of political concussion were already being documented, “Sound presidential decision-making structures do not guarantee a successful policy. But the worse the decision process, the greater the danger that the policy devised will fail and wreak havoc on the nation when it is a major initiative.”

“President Bush’s decision to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is as good an example as I’ve seen of a severely flawed decision-making process producing an ill-thought-through decision that quickly became a nightmare as that misbegotten policy was put in place.”

Concussion. That’s what it was. And it kept on going for 8 more years.

Pulling back

Barack Obama has since pulled the majority of troops out of Iraq. Yet the damage wrought be mercenaries hired to run the operations in Iraq all those years is not easily repaired. Mercenaries are like the brain aneurisms brought on by concussion. They bleed us out from within. Just look at the billions spent and lost somewhere in the fog that was Iraq. We don’t even know where all the money went. We never will. Some of it apparently fell into the hands of our enemies. Nice work, fellas. But it was just a precursor of the loose-ended fiscal policy of an era with no accountability. We were punch drunk and stupid. Banks were running America into the ground and the mortgage industry was behaving like a manic-depressive on speed. It all had to hit us somehow. Then came 2008. The economy crashed. Was it really a surprise. Not to those of us who have doubted the apparently mad doctrine of close-fisted politicians from the start.

Concussion of debt

That whole doctrine put America is in fiscal and philosophical debt. Now it keeps pounding on us like a mean-ass middle linebacker with a grudge to keep. We’ve already wandered around for 10 years or so in a concussive state thanks to the original thumping dealt by Bush and Cheney who kept on hitting America with warnings of fear and terrorism while telling people to “go out and spend money” that no one really had. If Bush and Cheney had been football coaches instead of President and Vice President, they’d have been fired and kicked out of the American stadium for life for abusing the players. Instead we still have listen to Cheney being trotted out to criticize the American team strategy. That’s like the last place coach in the NFL pointing at the winning coach of the Super Bowl and saying, “He’s not doing it right!”

But it’s America. Even the losers get to speak out. The right to free speech is in our Constitution. That doesn’t mean we need to listen to our key abusers.

Through all that abuse of the Cheney years we simply couldn’t arouse ourselves from the national nightmare and brain-dead policies of neo-conservatives concocting their world domination schemes under shrouds of darkness. They even depended upon “black sites” to extract information from those they most feared. When darkness and confusion are allowed to rule, only darkness and confusion make sense to those who rule. That is the concussive mentality. We’ve seen it for years in the practice of sending football players with brain trauma back into the game. But American needs to be smarter.

National brain trauma

It is darkly comic that President Obama is supposed to fix all this national brain trauma with a wave of his hand. The Republicans who so vehemently oppose him started out by saying their only goal was to knock him out of office. More concussive talk. So ugly and stupid.

It’s no wonder their nominee in the last election amounted to the last man standing. They beat the hell out of each other for so long, no one on their side could believe what really happened. They still can’t. Romney stalked around believing he couldn’t lose, blathering on in debates, never worried whether what he or his running mate Paul Ryan said was the truth or not. “Fact checkers come to this (campaign) with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” said Ashley Connor, one of Romney’s aides.

It’s because the Republicans don’t know how to play nice. They’d rather die than tell the truth if it contradicts their aims. Democrats often fall for the same self-sustaining ruse. Americans can hardly recognize the truth anymore. That’s the result of our concussive state of existence.

That brand of hit first politics is beating the hell out of America’s confidence in its government. Of course that’s the way conservatives like it. They hate government because it actually requires the ability to slow down, consider the options and stop running back into the free market game without wearing a helmet.

Neo-conservatives want to privatize everything because they know that a smashmouth culture delivers great advantage to those with the biggest clubs, and we’re speaking both literally and rhetorically here. The clubbishness of America’s oligarchy is like one big fraternity set on hazing the plebes into submission, even if it takes a few strong blows to the head. If a few people die along the way or the economy teeters and falls over in a concussive stupor, so be it.

Leading with the other cheek

Perhaps it really is time to hit back rather than absorb the blows. Despite the admonitions of Jesus Christ to turn the other cheek, it is the current brand of killer Christians we need to fear most in some cases. The recent convergence of concussive smashmouth conservative politicians with an American Taliban determined to stone all those who disagree with their brand faux-Christian crusades… against science and civil rights, to name a few of their targets, is the worst concussive force of all in the American landscape.

The butt of a pistol

The other force of concussive politics is the gun lobby. Despite the recent and revealing documentation that more Americans have been killed within our borders by guns in civilian violence than have been killed in all our wars should serve as a patent illustration that we’ve lost our minds over the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms is a political brickbat in America. The concussions of repeated gun violence in Connecticut, Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Colorado, what do they all mean? Here’s what they mean: Each slaughter of innocents throws us farther into the fog of violence. We are concussed beyond recovery perhaps. America may soon turn and shoot itself in the chest, to put ourselves out of concussive misery.

Sequestering our minds

Perhaps it is about to happen. The Sequester threatens to gut the economy, sending the nation reeling as if we’ve run into a glass wall of our own making. We’ll be bleeding out the ears and nose, puking our own economic theories of trickle-down economics and unrestricted spending (don’t forget corporate welfare and the military industrial complex, Eisenhower warned us) and the world will have little to say as we drag the rest of them down with our neo-nothing self-absorption.

We need help, people. We need to stand up and say, “Who caused this national concussion in the first place, and why do they keep doing the same things to us over and over again.”

Here’s a hint. It’s not Obama. Although his fondness for drone strikes might speak otherwise, they really reflect the need for America to pull backs its forces and gather our wits rather than throwing soldiers and fortune at the double-vision we’d have in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s time for America to get its wits back together again. America’s game of football is teaching us a lesson or two about what it means to recover from concussion. We can either listen or win up on the sidelines for good.

 

Note: This material is also published by Christopher Cudworth on Redroom.com