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.

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.

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

 

 

 

Why America is still a primitive nation

America will remain a primitive nation until it moves beyond literalism in its creation myths and national identity

America will remain a primitive nation until it moves beyond literalism in its creation myths and national identity

All cultures in the world, whatever their current sophistication, developed around a creation myth of one kind or another. To put it bluntly, the United States of America has not one, but two creation myths around which the cultural debate revolves.

America’s dual(ing) creation myths
The initial creation myth upon which at least half of America depends for its cultural identity is the Christian bible with its creation myth drawn on the book of Genesis, a literal Adam and Eve and the tribal history that followed and has extended into the present.
The second creation myth is the story of the Founding Fathers, upon whose originality America was invented and prospered.
Infallibility and inerrancy
These creation myths are considered by many to contain the salt of inerrancy and infallibility. People who take the Bible literally are loathe to consider that anything in its pages has been contradicted by outside knowledge and history. Similarly, those who abide by a view of inerrancy toward the Founding Fathers also take a dim view of interpreting anything in the Constitution anew. Many would seem happy to eradicate even those Amendments; against slavery, against a woman’s right to vote, against equal rights for all races, with the intent of “restoring” the Constitution to its original and supposedly holy premise: That the Founding Fathers were wiser than us.
A constrained lens
It is no coincidence that a significant part of American culture views both the Bible and the Constitution through this lens of inerrancy. That type of personality that resists change and is more secure with what appears to be clear authority than to sail on the surface of liberality. That is, they don’t want to have to make choices. They prefer a worldview where the hard choices are already made, where God tells them what to do, and where the nation is founded upon a rock of wisdom that cannot be cracked or moved.
Some call these propensities “conservative,” with some pride perhaps, in seeking to protect the founding myths of tradition and cultural orientation. The word “conservative” is defined as follows: conservative; disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
Definitive dangers
The danger of a conservative viewpoint is revealed in its very definition, of course. For the last few words in the definition outline its true character, and that is to limit change. Many conservatives appear bound to protect that last aspect of the tradition at nearly any cost.
To be so aggressively rooted in the past produces, of course, an ultimate fear of anything changing in the present, or likely to produce change in the future. Such fearful thoughts are indicative of a truly primitive mind, one so characterized by fear in fact, that  fear sees evil even where it is not, yet likewise forms additional gods where there are none.
Conflicted at the primitive roots
So let us examine, for a moment, the nature of the primitive or conservative mind, and how it drives what America has become. We shall also learn how and why American is conflicted at the roots and unable to move forward into a future where our creation myths can be reconciled to our progressive natures.
We can begin by examining the definition of the word primitive:
Primitive:
1. being the first or earliest of the kind or in existence, especially in an early age of the world: primitive forms of life.
2. early in the history of the world or of humankind.
3. characteristic of early ages or of an early state of human development: primitive toolmaking.
4. unaffected or little affected by civilizing influences; uncivilized; savage: primitive passions.
A primitive grip
These definitions converge on one thought: that primitivism refuses to be changed from the inside or from without. Significantly, the effort to protect the primitive viewpoint of the world, in America’s case the idea that both the Bible and the Constitution are infallible and inerrant, produces a form of tribalism wound around the core myths like a yarn. Its threads are visible, and can be cut, but the whole remains tightly wound because of its collective grip on the deep inner consciousness of the rod within.
Tribalism
Primitive tribalism is always a defensive posture. The entire history of the world is written around cultures that have built up to grand scales around their creation myths only to be invaded by more powerful cultures less concerned with culture than imperial aims. The Romans wisely made a practice of allowing these creation myths to persist, to some degree, within their empire, so long as tribute was paid and the ultimate loyally was declared to the Emperor.
Yet even the Roman culture ultimately failed, driven perhaps by terror of its own power and pulled apart by external forces that did not respect the core idea that Rome was a superior power, and therefore rightful owners to permanent empire.
Some speculate America as the new Rome, but the analogies only go so far. America’s biggest problem is not its imperialism, which is expressed in another patent belief in its infallibility, American Exceptionalism, which is nothing more than a primitive attempt to justify its own existence in the face of its often egregious acts of tribalism and fear.
America needs a critical review
Yes, this is a criticism of America, and of the Bible, of the Founding Fathers. But it is especially a criticism of the primitive mindset and tribalism that has resulted from a dependence on a literal form of worldview that is holding the nation back. And that has consequences. Deadly consequences.
In the last decade America has seen an increasing number of gun massacres. People armed with powerful murder weapons capable of shooting multiple rounds of ammunition within seconds have stalked into schools and malls fired at anyone who moves. The results are dozens dead from these massacres, and 30,000 people dying each year from gunfire.
Shooting from the Constitutional hip
Yet despite these horrific figures, Constitutional literalists insist that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. It is not to be interpreted in any other fashion than to be taken literally, that is, no limits on the right to keep and bear arms. Yet there are differences of opinion within the judicial ranks as to what the Second Amendment really means. Justince Antonin Scalia interprets the term “militia” to mean “everyone.” Everyone who handles a gun becomes part of a militia by literal decree. He states
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in Heller, stated: As we will describe below, the “militia” in colonial America consisted of a subset of “the people”— those who were male, able bodied, and within a certain age range. Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia therefore fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as “the people”.[126]

Meanwhile Justice John Paul Stevens countered in his dissent by arguing that the truth is more subtle, and not literal when defining a militia as anyone who owns and handles a gun: When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated.

Civilized versus tribal

When it comes to choosing a nation that is able to confine and regulate its internal arsenal, in other words, a civilized nation versus a tribal and lawless nation operating under vigilante justice, Justice John Paul Stevens arrived at the conclusion that the Second Amendment was not meant to be interpreted literally to mean that everyone who wants to own a gun, and use it, is covered by the term “well-regulated militia.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, by contrast, takes the literal, more primitive and more tribal approach of creating opportunity for everyone to own a gun of any type, almost without restriction. In so doing, Scalia and his populist henchmen in organizations such as the National Rifle Association have fostered a tribal culture in which gun ownership literally is the law of the land.

Cowboy myths

This primitive interpretation of the Second Amendment of course fits with America’s treasured Cowboy myths of an unbridled freedom in the Wild West. That was supposedly an America in which everyone carried a gun and settled their differences out in the street, like honest men and women do.

Yet the facts are somewhat different, and cowboy myths are just that, conflated images of relatively rare incidents of either heroic or tragic behavior. Then cannot be taken literally. In fact, our national narrative cannot agree on even the most basic of cherished traditions, including the life and death of men life Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. The lives of these particularly great men were fairly well chronicled, and yet their deaths by gun assassinations have had little if no effect on the primitive fact that they were shot dead by guns.

A deadly and ignored narrative

Instead, America has embraced a primitive narrative that says, in effect, that the deaths of great presidents and leaders, as well as innocent, is the supposed price of freedom to own and use guns any way “the people,” as Justice Scalia so cynically defines it, shall be unabridged.

This is a fatal sort of primitivism, deadly both to the people killed by guns and to the conscience of the nation as a whole. We live in an America where people scream against the right to have an abortion yet tolerates the use of deadly weapons to take life on a daily basis. That is primitive thinking, at best. Irresponsible and irrational, at worst.

Red herrings and mental health

The current direction of the gun debate appears to be steering towards and effort to take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill whenever possible. Yet that approach plays into the hands of the primitivist gun lobby because it defers raising the question on the rights of gun ownership as a whole, and why that interpretation of the Second Amendment by men like Justice Scalia is so wrongheaded and avoids the subject.

All of America has a mental illness so long as we depend on a literal interpretation of our creation myths. The fact that 50% of America believes in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis is responsible for a deep chasm between progressive education in the sciences, medicine, geology and philosophy ranging all the way to civil rights, including equal rights for minorities, gays and all people. That is the path to civility and maturity as a nation, yet it is being blocked by a primitive religious culture that is prejudicial, aggressive and tribal.

Correcting the mistakes of the Founding Fathers

Likewise on the Constitutional front. America’s creation myth of the Founding Fathers as somehow perfect beings has been contradicted over and over again with amendments to the Constitution delivering equal rights to blacks (which took another 100 years to commence in full) women and now people of all orientations. This progressive tradition is making America a better place for all to live. Indeed, it fulfills the equality so strongly desired by the Founding Fathers in drafting a Constitution that guaranteed equal rights for all people. Yet that equality has been repeatedly and aggressively denied by constitutional primitivists who use the so-called letter of the law to interpret it to meet their tribal desires for power and control.

Free will and choosing grace

America needs to overcome this fearful tradition of literalism and primitivism at its core. Only then will the nation fulfill its true definitions of freedom, and by ironic consequence, also fulfill the meaning of true freedom espoused in the Christian Bible and nearly all faith traditions. The freedom to choose grace, rather than impose will upon others shall not be abridged.

Jesus was particularly unfond of those whose power turned upon a phrase in order to manipulate “the people.” Here in Matthew 15 we find a description of how Jesus handled such challenges.

Matthew 15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]

Think about the application of this scripture to current day issues in America, in which Second Amendment Constitutional rights are being construed and dispensed in ways  that literally lead to murder and death. We need not ask what Jesus would do in these circumstances.

Instead, we can look in a multitude of places in the Bible, and need not fall back on a literal interpretation to understand that it is our duty and our right to consider a better America, one that is not constrained by primitivism or tribalism the way it is today. We can use this bit of scripture as a starting point of inspiration, to do so:

Matthew 5:20
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Let’s move beyond the primitivism and the tribalism.

Who are my mother and brothers?

Mark 3:33 New International Version (NIV) 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

By Christopher Cudworth

It is not often preached from the pulpit that Jesus so profoundly emphasized the isolation of the human condition. In 50 years of cognizant Christian worship, I have not heard this isolation emphasized with much clarity or conviction. It is too lonely a piece of scripture upon which to focus. It can frighten believers and frighten away possible converts.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

Yet the Bible clearly shows that Jesus, and God especially, want us to know that to be human is ultimately to be alone.

Part of the plan?

Of course that is what Christian fellowship is designed to conquer. And the Kingdom of God is created here on earth to prevent this form of isolation. From others. Even from oneself.

Yet the undeniable message of Mark 3:33 is this: Even your family and friends can and will let you down. God alone is the ultimate solace.

This isolating message is likely ignored in the Christian church because it flies too near the methods used by cults to trap people into wicked devotion. The famously devious method of some network marketing organizations is to have you try to sell and recruit your friends into the organization. But people are repelled by such efforts. Those who see the folly and the scam are legitimately repulsed. Yet a desperate soul often tarries on, convinced perhaps of possible wealth if only friends and family really understood the potential in the scheme.

The ultimate effect of network marketing schemes is that they can divest people of their human network. Then the “organization” or whatever you want to call it (some call it “my business”) has you dead to rights. Because once you have scared off your friends and family, the network marketing organization (or a cult) sets out to replace that network with whatever they tell you is vital and true.

Who are my mother and my brothers? 

How does that compare to Christianity? To the example set by Jesus in saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

We can take another example from the Bible to examine the issue of isolation. Just before he was taken into captivity by a calculating band of priests from the very faith he had come to fulfill, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

Mark 14:32
Gethsemane ] They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Of course we know how that segment of the story comes out. His disciples, who are depicted in the Bible as often failing in tasks of devotion and understanding, cannot stay awake while Jesus goes to pray. They fall asleep and when Jesus returns, having prayed to understand the very life he would soon give away as redemption for all, finds his devoted friends asleep on the job.

The deeper meaning of disappointment

It happens often to all of us. People disappoint us. We disappoint other people. And look at the word structure of that word, “disappoint.” To dis-appoint is to disassociate, or to send away either by intent or by mistake.

Jesus tries to warn us that disappointment is a big part of the human condition. Our failures are characterized by many as our sins, or our almost predestined capacity to sin.

Sin is the ultimate isolation from God. It is what separated the proverbial Adam and Eve from God in the Garden of Eden. Another garden. Another time. The garden is supposed to be a place of consideration and worship, our connection to stewardship and creation. And yet here we have two biting examples in the Bible where a garden is a rife example of disappointment. God disappointed in Adam and Eve. Jesus disappointed in his disciples.

And what are we to make of the idea that the world can be such a disappointing place?

Friendship and fellowship

This message seems to run counter from the idea that our fellowship here on earth can be a salve for the soul. Well, it is not wise to give up on friendship and love so easily, now is it? Our relationships are clearly of great value in this world. Love is built around and in them. Our families are designed, both in faith and through nature, to be a sustaining force in this world. The friends we gather around us and trust are people in whom we find joy and support.

None of those truths is undermined by the example Jesus makes in both his statement about his mother and brothers or his disappointment in his disciples. Jesus is master not only of this world in the spiritual sense, but also of necessary hyperbole. His teachings are full of striking examples that cut through our perceptions of what human relationships really are, and what they offer.

Salvation

Our disappointment is our salvation, you see. Friends and family can and do disappoint us, just as we sometimes disappoint them. It is the isolating nature of the human condition to disappoint those we need and love the most.

But the real message of disappointment and resultant isolation is that God provides a model of unifying faith. Because to love is to forgive, even when our friends and family doubt in us, and disappoint. We trust in God because God trusts in us to make choices that reach across that disappointment to heal and forgive. God even asks us to love our enemies. That is a potent message if you want to understand the true “way of the world” through the eyes of God. You cannot ultimately conquer disappointment and isolation if you do not choose to love. You will be alone if you choose not to forgive, or fail in your devotion to a friend.

Yet when hurt comes calling, our natural tendency is to withdraw, pull back, and feel disappointment. We feel it so keenly we can begin to hate. Then we begin to seek targets for our hate because it becomes part of our nature. We look for the disadvantaged and the weak because in our own weakness and fear we want only to feel superior to others, somehow, so that we do not feel put down or pushed away from life itself.

The dangers of prejudice

Those are the foundations of prejudice of course. And of economic inequality, and caring not for the poor. We find the wealthiest among us susceptible to this isolating force of the “other.” Often that sense of disgust toward those we consider inferior becomes magnifying the more life seems to dispense fortune upon us.

Jesus recognized all this potential for prejudice, power and loss of imagination. Because imagining ourselves to be superior to others in any way is the ultimate sin, at least in the eyes of God. That is why Jesus told the wealthy to give away their riches and follow him. That is why it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to gain entrance to heaven. Wealth can be an isolating force.

It can, of course, also be an instrument for good. We see many examples of people who use their wealth for good. Even the robber barons of the early 20th century, who built monopolies and wealth beyond imagination through industry did turn around and do great things with their money. Carnegie. Rockefeller. The list goes on, and continues to this day.

So it is not wealth alone that is a sin, but wealth in some way that combines with isolation that God does not appreciate. Jesus broke through social strata and perceptions that people who were disadvantaged or different were somehow victims of their own sin. He also forcefully resisted the practice by priests of his day (and ever after, it seems) to turn scripture into laws that trap and hurt others. Jesus did not tolerate using God’s word for punishment and isolation. He would definitely not approve of the manner in which so many supposed Christians  use scripture to create false social and economic strata today. The practice of using literalism to ostracize gays and women, for example, is abhorrent by nature to Jesus. The idea that the Bible is somehow a scientific text would also be absurd to Jesus, who taught in organic parables using examples from nature to teach spiritual concepts. Jesus was no literalist. He was no fool, in other words. Jesus disliked the actions of fools like that.

And what do we find as a result of such actions today? An increasingly divided faith, in Christianity. It has been that way since the start, it seems, where zealots who wanted a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Jesus were “disappointed” to find that his kingdom was one of spirit, not earthly wealth and power.

The many kinds of wealth, and corruption

Wealth is relative, of course. One of the catchiest devices of certain political parties is to figure out how to make people feel like they have ownership or a stake in the result of an election simply by making people feel like they will “win” somehow if they cast their vote in favor of the party making the promises. Of course, people can often be found voting against their best interests, be they economic or even spiritual, and voting on a one-issue platform that hands over power to people who pretend to care but really do not.

So we see that it is at times the power of isolating people from their best interests that is the most powerful political tool of all. Politics is the ultimate form of network marketing. It is the cult of all human cults.

Cutting through the lies

Jesus cut through the lies to make us understand that disappointment and fear of isolation is our worst enemy. Yet he calls us to stand alone first, to accept and understand that with the love of God, the grace of acceptance, we are never alone.

So have the courage to stand alone, and not be disappointed to the point of isolation when your friends or family fail you, or your work environment seems poison, or the very church that you attend turns out to be a flawed human enterprise. All these things are to be expected. Jesus and God want us not to be surprised by events like these.

Yes, we can still love the world, our friends and ourselves if we understand that the kingdom of God is made from the commitment to love and forgive. Then we will find and know our mother and our brothers, our sisters and our friends. They will be drawn to us by our humility and our example of faith. That is how it is all supposed to work.

Bird migration from the perspective of creationism and intelligent design

 

Did birds walk or fly to Noah’s Ark. Or run?

Birds are clearly sinners. Of the worst kind.

Otherwise, why would birds be forced every fall to fly thousands of miles south to warmer climes, only to fly back again in the spring?

According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, God has always punished animals for their sinful nature. For example, Genesis 3:14: “So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Well, it seems that serpents or snakes have gotten off easy, doesn’t it? And given that the serpent represents Satan himself in this passage, how much worse must birds be compared to the plight of serpents?

If we take the Bible literally, God does seem to have a rather low opinion of birds in general. Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? …

God also reportedly wiped out all the species of animals in the world, with exception of specimens that supposedly snuck onto the ark.

Genesis 7:23 “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.”

That would be some 10,000 or so species of birds, including penguins, who must have walked or swam one helluva a long way to make it from the Antarctic to the deserts of the Middle East. That’s where the ark supposedly gathered all the species of animals and insects of the world. Granted, birds are known for the miraculous migratory abilities, but it seems truly unlikely that the flightless Kiwi or the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos archipelago were able to cross oceans and land to walk up onto an ark.

But perhaps creationism is right about these things, and birds really did use their migratory capabilities to travel from all points around the world and end up in a cramped ark with enough insects to eat, nectar to ingest, seeds to consume and gravel to put in their crops so they could digest their food. There must have been mounds of bird poop and guano so deep from 20,000 birds, and yet 7 people on the ark somehow managed to tend to all these species for 40 days and 40 nights and not lose a single bird.

Then when the worldwide flood supposedly subsided, Noah kicked all the birds out of the ark and forced them to walk and fly all the way back to the islands of Madagascar, the ice floes of the arctic, the deep forests of Brazil and Ecuador, the deep jungles of central Africa and the fearsome plains of southern Africa. That was the first bird migration, you see.

According to the Bible and creationism, birds perform one important function in relation to human beings. They eat them when they’ve died. Isaiah 18:6: “They (human enemies) will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter.”

The Bible also blames birds for all sorts of trouble. Luke 8:5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.”

In the end, birds seem to be little more than a measure of what a man is worth. Matthew 10:31: So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

So, it is no wonder that those who believe in the creationist version of bible interpretation hold bird migration in little apparent respect. The Bible hardly mentions migration, and only in reference to flocks of birds, but not their great travels. How disappointing for an arctic term to make such a long annual journey from Arctic to Antarctic and back with not a mention in the Bible?

It is sad the Bible disrespects bird migration so badly. But the creationist worldview insists instead the God throws birds around like seed in a field. They sprout up from nothing, and are not apparently affected in their life cycles or development from one species into another despite mounds of evidence that birds have ancestors in feathered dinosaurs, and that bird migration is a natural and evolutionary response to climactic changes brought on by the seasons.

No, creationism doesn’t need all that supposedly scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain bird migration. See, it all started when all those birds had to crawl, walk, fly, hop, swim and otherwise hump along to the ark. Then they had to do it all over again to get back to their native habitats, finding plenty of food along the way despite the horrid devastation of a worldwide flood. Apparently fully developed species of jungle flowers cropped up along the path of tropical hummingbirds and fruit eaters.

Giant Skuas must have fed on carrion, and the vultures might have had a field day in the days following the great flood. But then the other birds had to breed like crazy to provide enough food for their ravenous cousins. Relax, it’s all part of God’s plan.

And if you want to brand God’s plan by calling it “intelligent design,” we can suppose that will work just as well to explain the intricacies of bird migration. Intelligent design says that nothing in nature happens without God’s hand getting involved. But God would have to be a major control freak and just a bit callous to send a band of hummingbirds across the Gulf of Mexico into a tropical storm that blasts them all down into a salty brine where they become food for oceangoers. That’s not intelligent design. That’s stupid design. But perhaps we need a new brand of science called Stupid Design Theory to explain all the waste and death God seems to foist on birds each year during migration. Add in bird strikes on windows, millions of birds killed on urban structures like skyscrapers, birds killed by cats and dogs and birds simply falling out of the air dead from exhaustion. All quite intelligent, wouldn’t you say?

So when you walk out in the height of autumn bird migration, do not think that you are witnessing one of the miracles of evolutionary adaptation. Those birds are all practicing their journeys in case God gets pissed off all over again and decides to break His promise as stated in Genesis 9:13: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Then the rest of us will get no warning…but two of every type of 10,000 species of birds on earth will begin a long journey back to the New Ark, wherever that may wind up (perhaps in South Florida where there are plenty of cruise ships, although their safety records of late are not so good) to climb on board for another re-creation of creation. God might love a little deja vu. The Left Behind people seem to think so. Is the Rapture nothing more than a spiritual migration for human beings? Starts to make you think, now doesn’t it?

Yes, creationism is a wonderful worldview because it explains bird migration so easily. Forget about birds navigating by the stars or landmarks. Forget about the heroic efforts of modern day scientists to teach populations of cranes to learn new migration routes. And especially, forget about all those fall warblers timing their passage cleanly with their insect food sources in the advent of fall, or all those ducks winging their way south on November breezes. Don’t worry your little heads about bird migration at all. God has it all figured out. Birds are just pawns in the paw of the universe.

Now go out and elect a God-fearing politician. They really do know what’s best for you, and science to boot.

Have we had enough of Superhero Comicbook Jesus?

Personally, I’m sick of Superhero Comic Jesus.

Perhaps you’re sick of him too. The Jesus who is depicted as a comic superhero destined to come rolling back to earth when heaven supposedly sucks up the good people and leaves the bad people behind. Because it seems that same sort of Jesus also serves as shepard for the bigoted, moneygrubbing, biblical literalists who think their brand of faith is question-proof. It’s a very vengeful cycle, you see; setting up victims and knocking them down. Arguing theology with that crowd is like arguing who is the stronger superhero, Spiderman or Superman, Batman or the Avengers? It isn’t really theology we’re talking about, you see, but a new sort of myth-making that tries to put Jesus on par with our post-Modern theories of what the human race needs to survive.

Here are the plain facts––minus the comic book dress-up clothes.

When you read the Bible with any sort of rational consideration, the Superhero Comicbook Jesus does not appear to exist. Yet that Jesus appears to reign over so much of America. He is the type of superhero that ardent Comicbook believers want taught in our public schools. The Superhero Comicbook Jesus can’t be defeated by evolution or even global warming, because those things are temporal and earthly, and everyone with any sense knows that even we human beings are more superhero than that! We’re Specially Created, the Favorites of God! We have no earthly connection to apes or insects or genetic histories, and don’t try to tell us that we do! Noah is our only real ancestor, if you take the Bible at its word. Well, we can add in Adam too, but only if you want to align yourself with a superhero prone to the fatal flaw of eating Forbidden Fruit. That was Kryptonite for Adam and Eve, you know.

Then along comes Superhero Comicbook Jesus. To rescue us average human superheroes from all our fatal flaws! Hooray! He’s the Jesus we all know and trust!

Boy, I’m sick and tired of that Jesus. And perhaps you getting a little of sick of Superhero Comicbook Jesus too.

Jesus the Comicbook Superhero just seems so, unrelatable. It’s a little hard to imagine ourselves performing miracles anything like the Superhero Comicbook Jesus, feeding the 5000 and all. So many of us don’t really try to be miraculous in any way. We leave the miracles to others, even though God himself asks us to give of ourselves in ways that really are miraculous. That is, giving ourselves away that we might be a blessing to others. Forgiving our enemies. Sacrificing wealth for spiritual virtue. And yes, even supporting social policy that might help others, controversial though it might be. Birth control. Social welfare. Racial and social tolerance. All these things are supported when you read the Bible in its fullness through tangible interpretation in which parables and metaphors are understood to help us understand the whole truth of scripture, not just its Sunday School basics. That is how Jesus taught, and that is how he admonished his own disciples to understand his teachings. Otherwise he called them stupid and without understanding. Nothing superhero about that. Just the basic facts.

Instead many people gravitate to a faith tradition that relies on a Superhero version of Jesus to convince people that the Bible is infallible, inerrant and literal in every sense. That is an armor of perception for fans of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. The triune claims of infallibility, inerrancy and literalistic interpretation stand against any question of truth or authority. But they are a brittle armor.

The real Jesus was the first to question authority and point out the fallibility of radically conservative interpretation of scripture, especially the dangers and misappropriations of literalist and legalistic application of scripture truth to daily life. He called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for hiding behind the rock of radically conservative views.

But to the point: the Bible clearly predicts the rise of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. It even tells why.

In the following bible text ascribed to St. Paul in 2 Timothy: 4 we find the master letter-writer doing a marvelous job of summing up the dangers of turning Jesus into a Comicbook Superhero around which great urban myths can be built. Paul warns that faith can easily be waylaid to doctrine. These would include pursuit of personal wealth in the name of Christ, speculation about the End Times and leveraging of faith for political power.

That is exactly what’s happening in leading evangelical communities today. But Paul warned us:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Here we find Paul challenging believers to rebuke those who turn faith into law, and thus a brutal, literalistic caricature of itself. Paul encourages people of true Christian faith to patiently and persistently fight back against this brand of legalism that dominated even early believers.

Paul, while no perfect human being, suffered at the hands of those within the very own faith tradition he helped to start, and also suffered the pain of the secular world around him that distrusted his ministry because it stood against the politics of the day.

Paul was of course a contradictory character, and this inner conflict sometimes resulted in philosophical rifts in the service of God. In Titus 2:9-10 we find Paul advising slaves to “be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

Then in Titus 2: 11, Paul states: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

Is the future promise of salvation enough to justify human slavery here on earth? Paul seems in error on this one, but his judgment was produced in context of societal norms of his day. We might expect better from the Word of God, but of course some might rationalize these conflicts by insisting that slavery is an apt symbol for holy servitude. But tell that to people in bondage or slavery today. Are we to ignore their plight? Not in the name of God, we’re not. There are other examples in the bible where human understanding of social equality (women’s rights) or biology (sexual diversity and orientation) fall short in standards of behavior and scientific knowledge that evolved in 2000 years. We also know that the earth is neither flat or the center of the universe, yet somehow the human race has managed to overcome these viewpoints that were once promoted through anachronistic interpretations of scripture. But we do not depend on them today, and we are the better for it.

Paul’s abiding tolerance toward slavery is unfortunately a brand of Superhero theology, in which the misfortunes of others are somehow judged to be the product of inferior makeup, intellect or approval by God. But that attitude essentially imbues the more fortunate with a brand of “superpowers.” Hence our societal worshipping of the very rich. They can seem like Superheroes to those who aren’t rolling the dough.

Superhero mythology also disconnects faith from the temporal reality that people of every race, gender and sexual orientation are to be seen as equal in the eyes of God. Just as no one deserves to be a slave, no one deserves to feel scorn or discrimination for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or the fact that they were born transgender. Despite what some people insist, the Bible does not support this type of discrimination. Otherwise we are playing the role of gods ourselves, using the Bible as justification for our singular or collective prejudices. This Superhero Comicbook version of faith is both discriminatory and insidious, for it ascribes at some point a hierarchy to those who claim to be destined to own and run the very faith to which all people are called.

Timothy 4 warns us that prejudice and runaway desires for power and authority are bound to come along. It is thus our duty as Christians to challenge and rebuke the Superhero psychology of literalistic faith, through which evangelists claim the very authority of God, to dispense or withhold at will, inject in politics or education, and to judge those it deems worthy of discrimination, without question or trial, nor rational appeal to human virtue.

The more humble, earthly relevant Jesus is not so much Superhero Comicbook character as genuine friend in time of need. He seeks the humble and protects the needy and powerless through the moral character and actions of those who abide by his Word. Our Friend in God Jesus cherishes the earth itself, for he taught through parables based on its rhythms and profundity, and is therefore never in contradiction with natural law or even the science upon which human beings build a celebrated and sustainable world. We also find the miraculous through science, inspiring us to both respect and explore the world in which we live, without fear or trepidation of discovering anything that God cannot explain, if we but allow scripture room for its metaphorical grace.

We don’t need a Jesus who flies around the sky shooting lightning bolts and threatening the damned. We need a Jesus who is by our side advising us on how to do good to others, who recognizes that we are intimately connected to the kingdoms of plants and animals, and who urges us to respect them as genuine products of an eternally evolving creation. We need a Jesus who urges us to restore and renew our world even as we extract and expand its resources for our use. Most of all we need a Jesus who is not vengeful or conflicted––as so many Superheroes seem to be––but who guides us to attitudes of humility, forgiveness and encouragement of these same qualities in others so that we can build a more civil society. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all people.

That is a Jesus who has escaped the comic book fantasies of those who propagate their own literalistic myths to satisfy millions of ears itching for news of power and authority, who would also gladly vote or give money to those who promise shares of that same power and authority if elected as earthly Superheroes with all the rewards and attention it accords.

But that’s not how God calls us to love and reflection of His image.

In the end, even Paul seems to have redeemed himself on the issue of slavery. In the tiny book (letter) of Philemon he pleas to a slave owner on behalf of Onesimus, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good––no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”

Those are the words not of a Superhero Comicbook character, but of one loving human being to another. We could use a lot more of the latter than the former to make the world a better place.

On Praying for Colorado

I am a religious person who prays every day. I believe those prayers have been answered in ways that exceed the ability to comprehend or imagine how it happened.

Having been the beneficiary of answers to my prayers, and to those of others praying for me and us (wife and family) it makes spiritual sense to return the cosmic favor and pray for others as well. Now people are asking for prayers for Colorado.

And I will pray for the people whose lives are being turned upside down and burned to rubble as wildfires consume acres and acres of Colorado forest. As recently as November 2011 I walked in those hills near Colorado Springs. Hiked up in the cool morning air for a look around, and saw rings of snow lacing the mountaintops, much higher than where I stood.

The red rocks of Colorado crunched underfoot. Tiny stubborn oak trees with miniature leaves clung to the crumbling ground. Colorado seems to be eroding by the inch in fact. The hot sun beats down all summer, tanning the rocks themselves perhaps, and giving the skin of Colorado visitors and residents that ruddy feel of mountain peoples. It is a unique place.

People have turned Colorado into an environmental plaything. Miles of hiking trails run up into the hillsides above Colorado Springs, home to an Olympic training center and epicenter for the Colorado good life. To the immediate west the Rockies jut higher and higher into the sky, to 14,000 feet in places. Trees cease being able to exist above certain elevations. The gray and red rocks of real mountains stand stubborn against the sky, thrown up by tectonic forces deep within the earth. The entire ridge of the Rockies runs from the southern United States far into the Canadian wilderness. People settle in towns all along the Continental Divide. Other vacation there, drafting on the mountain air and dipping toes into cool lakes or raging meltwater rivers.

The mountains are so profound it is almost hard to recall the profusion of forests in the Rockies when you go back home. That is, unless your home itself is nestled in the Colorado forests, built on a mountainside or snuggled in a canyon among the red rocks.

It is easy to forget that Colorado forests like forests all around the world actually depend on occasional fires to clear the way for new growth. It has been that way for millions of years. At least, that’s what scientists tell us.

With Colorado’s well-known conservative political and religious bent there are probably plenty of people living there who don’t believe that Colorado and its ecosystem are millions of years old. They probably don’t accept that the mountains were pushed up by movement of whole continents across the face of the earth.

The conservative worldview based on a literal interpretation of the Bible demands that people deny these facts. And that is truth for approximately 50% of the population in America, who deny basic geological facts and contend that the accompanying theory of evolution that converge with earth’s geophysical history are just fairy tales. People who deny evolution in favor of the creationist worldview believe that nature is the direct work of God’s hand, and God’s hand only. Those mountains? Created by God in an instant 10,000 years ago. Those forests…while changing and dying and growing anew over the last 10 millennia are still no sign that forests in general are part of a greater cycle of evolutionary development. Forests are forests. The words are clear, just as human beings were thrown together from dust at the dawn of time.

So the prayers being thrown to Colorado do meet the conservative worldview of creationism, where praying to God might somehow earn the mercy and favor of the Almighty and stop the fires. But tell that to the people whose homes have already been consumed. And tell that to those whose homes and all their belongings might still be burnt to a crisp. Is this punishment for some sort of spiritual crime on the part of Coloradans?

Some earthcentric “pagans” might leap to that argument on grounds that human abuses to the land have brought down the wrath of Mother Earth. That’s the other extreme of the deist-driven universe. But be cautious; begging mercy and exacting vengeance for one cause or another are not so very far apart.

That leads us to the natural explanation for the Colorado wildfires, for fires will always burn away forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California and yes, even New York state and southern Florida. On a vacation trip to Glacier National Park I witnessed hundreds of acres of forests burning away along a ridge east of the park. Firefighters dumped water and flame retardants on the runaway fire every day. But it burned out when it was damned good and ready, not when humans put it out. On the other side of the park and entire mountainside bore stubble across its face from a grand fire 30 years before. These things happen. Smokey the Bear once tried to prevent people from starting forest fires, but he doesn’t control the lightning that starts the bulk of natural conflagrations.

Fire has been part of the earth since its inception. Hot lava forms the very guts of our planet, erupting at times in fury that once was credited to the power of the Gods. When are we going to get that through our heads, that both the heaven of creation and its accompanying hell are right here on earth? The symbol of yin and yang seems to get that idea more clearly than the Christian notion of good and evil. Some forces don’t like the names we give them. But they still exist.

And until we grasp that our prayers for or against the fires that form our planet are likely fruitless, we are not likely to grasp the real meaning of prayer, or its consequences and potential benefits. These are the real miracles. For the Bible itself tells us that the kingdom of God is alive in the things that we do. That when natural disasters strike it is the welcome hand of those who care that brings the favor of God alive in our world. So it is fine to pray for Colorado, but it is also important to pray that we can find ways to help those affected by the natural disaster, that our government officials will not turn a hardened heart toward those in need simply because they are tight with a dime, or stingy, or worse; possessed of a political worldview that somehow disparages those less fortunate, holds prejudice against the misfortunate, need or poor.

We’ve seen the consequences of forced negligence in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, where delayed response and disorganized and (even) dismissive attitudes toward those affected can result in human and natural tragedy. We also know that it has been human activity that put cities like New Orleans at risk, where human activity has reduced coastline wetlands and put that city at even greater peril when hurricanes hit. Perhaps we even need to stop being stupid in certain circumstances, like building major structures on barrier islands, or on the face of flood plains, or throwing up junk houses in earthquake zones. Or, we simply accept that that’s just people being people.

Because it is often our selfish or sentimental interests that override the facts and blind us to the reality that it is human greed and stubborn belief that makes us think nature is supposed to be benign to our consumptive habits and acquisitive natures.

But let us be clear: These are the end games of the creationist worldview, which insists that human beings literally have dominion over the earth. If we buy that approach, then it makes no sense to engage in prayer during natural disasters. We’ve clearly either brought them upon ourselves or else God is a vengeful being who does not care about us. Better to take the liberal example of Jesus Christ, whose natural parables explain that we are engaged with creation as a living thing, that we owe it respect and appreciate its force as an expression of God’s almighty power. That just might include the ability to set things in motion through the results of geology and evolution that express the random nature of the universe, which also parallels free will. See, the natural world and our spiritual choices align much more closely than you might think. It really is a yin and yang thing.

So it is ours to make sense of the world, not for the world to make sense of us. The idea that prayer can somehow stave off the fires, blot out a hurricane, seal up the earth to prevent a quake, or prevent flooding, hail, drought, tornados, erosion and powerful storms at sea is overreaching.

Indeed the Bible speaks of Christ committing miracles that silenced the wind and settled the sea, but we must understand that those metaphysical parables are designed to help us comprehend that the peace that passes all understanding is ours to engage before the tragedy happens, not during or after. That’s real faith, for it calls us to accept that tragedies will strike, and that we must be prepared to extend love or even beg help from our fellow human beings in a world that is imperfect, random and sometimes cruel. God wants us to help each other.

For we are bound to a cycle of life and death that unfortunately does not guarantee that any one of us gets out alive, or spares our houses, keeps green our grass or even saves the family dog from a passing car. Life is painful, real and fiery at times. Our prayers need to be focused on how we can help each other get through, because God did not design the world to operate in a way that bends to our prayers. We must bend and aim our prayers to the eternal conscience of human need and conscious grace. We must ourselves be the grace appreciated that God extends to us in giving us life. This is the favor we must return to God, through prayer and other means, if we hope at all to be a reflection of God’s image. It is a wonderful, perilous creation we live in whether you believe the earth is a mere 10,000 years old, or 10,000 x 10,000 years old. None of us is old enough to know, nor will we ever be. So let’s pray for each other, that somehow we really can make our world a better place.

Like a snake underwater: How the conservative alliance has led to flawed public policy

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

Snake Under Water

The goals of political conservatism are all noble ideals; keeping the powers of government in check, protecting citizens from excessive taxation, maintaining moral certitude as a principle of government, and encouraging free trade and commerce.  And at a values level, conservatism prides itself on support of tradition, liberty and love of God and country.

Despite its reputation as a staid element of society, conservatism has at times been quite progressive in pursuing its goals, especially as it set about using media outlets to communicate what it brands conservative ideals from the 1980s to the present. Conservatism’s doctrinal approach to seeking power, influencing culture and leading government has attracted many followers thanks to the aggressively proactive approach.

If you are looking for a single factor in the success of conservatism with the American public, convictions are the political capital of conservatism. Any discussion of politics, social policy or human welfare must contain a healthy dose of “convictions” to be taken seriously by the alliance of political, fiscal, social and religious conservatives.

People with strong convictions tend to love clarity. But the desire for absolute moral clarity among conservatives can lead to intolerance for other viewpoints and even cultural prejudice. Ironically, this may be one of the principle points on which conservatism runs afoul of the true message of the Bible. It is difficult for people to have compassion and tolerance for others if they are blinded by a discriminatory fixation on the competing interests of material, political and personal priorities. The apparently missing component of doctrinal conservatism as it relates to Christian beliefs is compassion.

There have been attempts by the conservative alliance to manufacture empathy for its political cause through invention of terms such as “compassionate conservatism.” But there is little room for compassion in a political movement bent on doctrinal dominance. The fact that the term “compassionate conservatism” even needed to be invented is evidence of the moral contradiction—one might even call it hypocrisy—at the heart of the conservative alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives.

By definition, hypocrisy means, “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” and, more specifically; “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” Hypocrisy is a strong accusation to make toward any belief system, but the alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives fits the description in at least one critical sense. Conservatism as a social movement still struggles in its ability to reconcile the market-driven demands of its fiscally conservative constituents with the call to charity and compassion inherent to religious faith and the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. Specious terms such as “trickle-down economics” celebrate the supposed beneficence of the free market. But truly they only show how cynical some elements of the conservative alliance can be toward those in need. If the most that conservatives can manage to share is the grudging spoils of the rich, then greed remains in control and the collective ideology of conservatism stands in opposition to the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.

Real contradictions enter the picture when conservatism seeks to justify the doctrine of free market conservatism with the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:12, we find the story of a rich young man who wants to know what he can do to reach the kingdom of heaven:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.  “No one is good––except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Granted, this passage may be steeped in hyperbole. But this and a good number of other passages (John 2:12-17, Luke 12:22-34, Luke 12:16-23, Matthew 27:3) leave little doubt that pursuit of personal wealth and social advantage are not the top priorities of Jesus Christ.  As Mark 10 suggests, a ministry in the name of Jesus calls for a selfless disregard for wealth as opposed to the “winner-take-all” focus of unbridled capitalism.

If the Bible is to be trusted as a tool for social justice and democracy, then those who borrow its authority must keep in mind the liberal standard at its core. That predicates treating people as equal souls, avoiding discrimination and exploitation and promoting the virtue of charity through actions as well as words. Jesus emphatically calls us to reach out to others with resources that we might normally keep for ourselves. The liberal agenda of Jesus Christ always puts the needs of others first. Otherwise its message is captive to motives that have little to do with the ways of God.

Some Christians, frustrated by their inability to promulgate their version of faith in the free market of ideas have decided that politics may be the means to force society to accept their doctrine. The problem with this approach is that a contradictory theology never leads to good public policy,and that is at least one of the reasons by the United States Constitution guarantees freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

The conservative alliance has led to flawed public policy because of the contradictions and hypocrisies at the heart of its own doctrine.