Republican toothpaste won’t go back in the tube


GOP Meme Themes.jpg

Graphic by Christopher Cudworth


So, the campaign for President is headed toward 2016, and what have we seen from the Republican side? A whole lot of foaming at the mouth about the state of the nation. Yet it’s a brand of political toothpaste that seems to be causing cavities in the GOP.

alg-donald-trump-jpgFrom the vacuous, poisonous observations of Dr. Ben Carson to the highly corrosive language of Donald Trump, Republican candidates are grinding away at their base. For the American people, it’s like brushing teeth with sulphuric acid.

Yet Republicans keep doubling down as they brush with racism and xenophobia, as if that’s the way to establish a clean and loyal base.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is rinsing himself with evangelical fervor, and Marco Rubio just hopes his hard smile wins some converts somewhere. But as always with seemingly forthright Republicans, it turns out there might be a little rotten behavior behind that smile.

marathon-man-1976-04-gWe’re faced with a party whose tactics most resemble the dentist in the movie Marathon Man. Cruelty, anger and hatred are the prescription medicines of choice. Are voters expected to lie back and take this? For how long?

America suffered through eight years of the antics of Dr. Clousseau dentistry under George Bush while the sadistic political practitioner Dick Cheney (is that him in this photo above?) called for the power of a Unitary Executive while approving torture as a means of extracting information in Black Sites around the world. All while stockpiling military-industrial money for himself in the back offices of the White House.

dick-cheneySo you see, the Republican toothpaste does not go easily back in the tube. Trump isn’t really trying anymore. He just keeps spitting out bits of his teeth and gums along with his racist, xenophobic brand of Republican “misery loves company” ideology.

“This hurts you more than it hurts me,” seems to be the Trump mantra. And people follow along, because authoritarian patients love anyone that promises their selfish misery is being acknowledged as the American Way.

It’s apparent they had their Wisdom Teeth out long ago.

When religion becomes the cause of corruption

When religion becomes the cause of corruption

genesiscover1.jpgReligion traditionally has been one of the sources of conscience for culture, a cure for the problem of sin and a guide to the soul. But when religion is complicit in its allegiance to fiscal and political factions that treasure its authority but ignore its moral obligations, religion fails in its role as a protectorate for our souls . A faith that lends itself to sins of power becomes part of the problem or even worse, a possible cause.

To avoid this corruption in faith or purpose, we turn to Galatians 6 for guidance: “And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

Galatians 6 reads like a manifesto of liberal faith, encouraging us to invest in the spirit as well as good works, and to avoid political or selfish aims. We must remember that the ultimate message of Christian faith is expressed through compassion for others, humility, charity and an abiding belief in the principle of equal souls as manifested in the grace of God.

It can be difficult to sustain these principles in the face of political competition and business where the harsh reality of bottom line ethics is known to override the best intentions of the faithful. Yet Galatians 6 maintains that human beings should do good works and that Christian principles can be applied to business. Through this example will other people be drawn to the merits of faith, one affirms and welcomes all into to the “household” of grace appreciated. 

This blog entry by Christopher Cudworth is an excerpt from the book The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age published in 2007. The book in an edited version by the title Sustainable Faith will be re-issued in 2015. 

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.


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.

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.

Who’s to blame for the neo-Confederacy of corporate politics?

A symbol for rights or privilege?

The American flag is a symbol held dear by many Americans. But does it stand for greed or rights and social justice?

In 2007 when my book The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age was first published, the divide between so-called liberals and conservatives had achieved a strident tone. But the real reach of the divide had yet to be revealed until a combination of class warfare, racial prejudice and plain old nasty partisan politics emerged with the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Obama’s election produced a political paradox for  Republicans who were forced to admit that President George W. Bush & Company had done an absolutely terrible job in leading the country the previous 8 years. The GOP wanted to distance itself from Bush as a President but certainly did not want to accept any blame for the pain of his Republican reign. So conservatives adopted a strategy of claiming that Bush was not in fact a real conservative, but something else entirely. Maybe a Republicrat?

But the disavowal of Bush amounted to an essential denial of responsibility for any of the nation’s problems. Despite their potentially genuine dislike of the Bush Doctrine (Whatever it really was…) conservatives still basically rubber-stamped everything their once-favored son did while in office––right down to torture, illegal detention of prisoners, trumpeting illegal wars and gutting the nation’s middle class while giving away costly corporate welfare subsidies for industry, agriculture and the financial sectors.

All those giveaways, financial failures and protracted wars meant that President Barack Obama had inherited a nation in economic crisis, teetering toward a possible Depression.

But as far as Republicans were concerned, those were now Obama’s problems. “Hell, he even created half the mess,” they claimed. So true to form, Republicans stuck together despite the very evident rot in their patented ideology. Instead a new strategy emerged with ramped up attacks on the new Democrat in office, led by the promise of Republican Mitch McConnell who vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Despite this resistance Obama did manage successful policy implementation including passage of a health care reform bill that now covers millions of young Americans under their parent’s policies, and will someday protect patients from exclusion based on pre-existing conditions.* Obama also closed down military intervention in Iraq (but left the mercenaries behind?) and presided over the killing of Osama bin Laden. Conservatives should have been joyous over such news, but some even attempted to give credit to George W. Bush. Somehow.

Over issues such as these, America has become a giant battlefield for hardball politics. The far right wing of the Republican Party as represented by Tea Party candidates even caused a downgrade in America’s debt rating by threatening to default on the nation’s debts. Still, that constituted a form of heroism in the minds of some Americans. The nation was clearly in the throes of a brand new form of Civil War in which some would rather kill the country than have it run by anyone they choose to hate, and for any reason. Race. Religion. Sexual orientation. Gender. Political persuasion. These became the pillars of partisanship. But to what end?

Here is what I wrote in 2007: “The current-day battle between liberals and conservatives carries the same stridency and stubbornness that marked the first American Civil War. The difficult question we must face is whether we can anticipate the rise of a new form of “confederacy” in the modern age.”

To illuminate the subject, I provided some historical context on the American Civil War and how it came about:

“The original, Southern Confederacy stemmed from dissatisfaction with the state of the Union and the future of government.  It might seem easy to assume that the Union was 100% on the right side of political issues in the Civil War. But no matter how correct the Union cause might appear in retrospect, the Confederacy was not by definition without virtue. As a political entity it may well have been justified in defending itself against economic and military aggression by the Union. And in spite of the notion that the ideology of the Confederacy was purged through the Civil War, the personal and political freedoms advocated by the South are alive and well today in modern society, woven into the politics of libertarians and other conservatives who contend that the best government is that which governs least. These principles the Confederacy sought to defend, and the sense of pride in defending moral principles has never been lost on the South. However unfortunate it may have been for the Confederate South to secede, one can admire the determination of the movement as symbolic of the American revolutionary spirit.”

The Tea Party attempted in some ways to reclaim these ideals as it emerged with its call for limited government, less taxation and claims that America was being taken over by political interests that were too intrusive in the lives of everyday Americans. The Tea Party was suspicious even of Republican leadership, making noise of secession from that party to lay claim to the core of American values, especially the Constitution. But still the movement was joined at the hip because it needed to share the mantle of power owned and dispensed by Republicans.

All that amounted to was an even bigger ball of trouble in which the politics of corporate largesse take over the entire process, as predicted in The Genesis Fix:

“It may still be possible that partisan politics will produce an America divided over ideology, geography, oligarchy, or all of the above.”
And here were the finer points of that prediction:

“Perhaps the most likely scenario is the formation of a “neo-Confederacy” around “doctrinal states” or politics focused on “Red” and “Blue” states. Proponents on either side of the political fence have begun to see the value of the “winner-take-all” approach. We are not far from a moment in history when battles over doctrinal authority could lead to a new secession in the hands of the “neo-Confederates” and the states they represent. 

But there are other issues afoot as well. The next Civil War may be fought not in the fields and forests of America, but in courtrooms where armies of lawyers battle over the rights of corporations to control America’s life and politics. Corporate lobbies and revenue now influence every facet of American life.  The largest corporations and the individuals who run them have more money and power than many countries in the world. It is not a stretch to say that one cannot become a governor, senator or representative without the backing of corporations. A neo-Confederacy of corporate largess already exists in America, and it is not limited to the Republican side of the political fence.  It may not be long before the power vested in corporations becomes a self-fulfilling mandate and America will be forced to choose between its original model of a democratic republic recorded in the Constitution and a new, corporate society that is ruled by companies who run the business of America. Whether we have the courage to resist this takeover of American life is a question for our age.”

All it took for that prediction to come true was the ruling of a court case known colloquially as Citizens United, which essentially granted corporations the same rights as people, and privacy to boot, in making unlimited political contributions and buying advertising to support partisan interests.

The impact of the case has already essentially determined the outcome of an election in Wisconsin where the recall of Governor Scott Walker was initiated through citizen protests over destruction of collective bargaining rights for public workers, among other issues. Outside money resulted in a 7-to-1 spending imbalance between Walker and his opponent. That same month the Republican candidate Mitt Romney coincidentally (or not so much) raised more funds than incumbent President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile the battle over social issues raged across America with conservative religious factions damning gay rights as President Obama stood up for equality for people of all gender and sexual orientation. The modern day form of slavery or at least discrimination continues for many citizens denied full rights of citizenship in America. Their rights are consistently denied by conservative, legalistic and literally interpreted religious interests standing on the wrong side of history, again.

It will no doubt be a long and ugly fight just as the first Civil War divided the country, and the fight has really just begun. It remains to be seen whether the battle will spill blood on the streets and hills of America. That depends, we must assume, on whether half of America can come to its senses and stop believing in the God of money and power over the God of mercy and tolerance. It appears some political interests believe strongly in the former and not at all in the latter, much less as a political strategy and brand of social justice.

Here is how The Genesis Fix outlined these issues:

“Corporate largesse has a close relationship with the power of doctrinal politics. Any government owned and run by business will obviously favor the interests of business over that of individuals. When religion adds to the clout of corporate government by giving its stamp of approval to something so profound, powerful and self-fulfilling as the military-industrial society, then a nation has lost its grip on democracy and turned itself over to commerce as rule of law.

Part of the reason doctrinal politics, economic aggression and triumphal religious language make such a potent combination is that all three appeal strongly to a sense of personal pride. Some people refuse to distinguish between the three.”

And that is where we stand. Americans have not changed much in the 100+ years since our nation immersed itself in Civil War. It is our inability to collectively define and rationally justify our various convictions that gets us into trouble. But it gets much, much worse when commerce and greed get to decide our fate and start our wars. Just as a reminder: the bible tells us that God does not like that one bit.

*Republicans claim to hate the health care reform bill on grounds that it is a form of medical socialism and would result in “death panels” where the government gets to decide who lives and dies. Yet the bill actually shows much more respect for life than the current corporately controlled, profit-oriented (and therefore often Darwinian) health care system that notably excludes millions of Americans from even basic coverage.

From a religious perspective: God tells us life itself is a pre-existing condition. No one gets out alive. Health care is designed to protect quality of life while we are here. That basic fact seems lost on the ideological opponents of health care reform, who turned on Obama with vicious fervor even though their candidate of choice in 2012, one Mitt Romney, essentially built the same system when he was governor of Massachusetts.


Do clowns creep you out? Political clowns might be the most dangerous of all

“Clowns freak me out,” a co-worker said as we wandered the floor of a sports carnival at a major exposition center. “I mean, really freak me out. Like, it’s a phobia of mine,” she said, pondering several clowns entertaining small crowds around the hall.

The woman is not alone in her fears, and the segment of society that is afraid of clowns seems to have grown considerably the last 40 years or so, sparked by real life psychopaths including John Wayne Gacy, who dressed in clown suits. His perverse legacy has been carried forward by shock performers such as Insane Clown Posse that have built their careers around killer clown psychology.

No more clowning around

For better or worse, the formerly innocent, charming, child-friendly image of clowns has been forever changed. Now the collective public impulse seems to be that of suspicion and fear toward the whole clown tradition. Perhaps the world finally woke up to what it really might mean to hide behind the visage of a clown, as one too many crazy characters emerged (example: Heath Ledger in the Batman movie The Dark Knight) to safely give clowns a free pass to our post-modern psyches.

Which helps explain why my co-worker was totally freaked when a very large clown––weighing 400 lbs. if he weighed an ounce, wandered up behind us as we stood watching a Jesse White Tumblers performance at the sports carnival. The giant clown was breathing so heavily he made a sound like an industrial bellows, and his makeup was badly smeared by the sweat streaming down his face. I glanced at my co-worker to see if she had already noticed this horrific clown standing behind us, but she seemed blissfully unaware. For the moment.

Not wanting my co-worker to suffer emotional trauma, I turned to her and whispered, “Don’t turn around, but there’s a really giant clown behind us. Let’s walk away.” Of course the first thing she did was turn around, and the look of horror on her face could neither be faked or disguised.It all seemed like business as usual to the giant, heavy-breathing clown, staring straight at us with greasy eyes until he finally gave my co-worker a weird smile. That’s when she bolted.

It took more than half an hour of walking around outside the exposition center to calm her down. Even then I could not offer a satisfactory explanation of how or why the heavy-breathing clown showed up behind us. “These things just happen,” I told her. But I knew it wasn’t true. There are forces in the universe that are inevitable and unswerving, like the cat that climbs into the lap of the one person in the room who truly hates cats. The forces of chance––or calculated––evil seem drawn to fear like an open door. Then fear overwhelms the senses like a giant, heavy-breathing clown who is all appetite and no joke.

Clowns and the human condition

Yes, clowning was once considered an art form. Good clowns and perhaps a few mimes have always transcended the human condition to bring us laughs. But bad clowns play on this presumed innocence and leverage the goodwill of well-intentioned clowns, methodically twisting it to their own vicious aims and needs of sociopaths eager to exploit our trusting natures.

That brings us to our current political climate, where certain bands of politicians and their cronies have been going about behaving like happy clowns in hopes we’ll all laugh along as they rape the nation of its wealth. These clowns excel at mouthing timeworn party lines and cracking wise about abortion and family values and banning gay rights as they tear away the progressive virtues of a free and liberal society, or what it should be. That’s what evil clowns do. They take advantage of others while laughingly creating one sick little sideshow after another to distract us from the real evil of their motives.

This giant creepy clown (both a misanthrope and a misogynist) stands innocently behind the lies of politicians pretending to speak for all Americans. In reality he favors only the interests of a few greedy ringmasters and for-hire carnival barkers like Donald Trump. If we let them have their way, the America that was once a land of opportunity will be laid waste beneath the falling tent of middle class hopes and dreams.

The giant, heavy-breathing clown wants what he wants, and that is everything. Yet a big chunk of America sits dumbstruck inside the cable-driven media tent that is the Fox News Circus, laughing at the Rush Limbaugh Show (Dittos! What a clown!) and wandering naively around the Mitt Romney Hall of Mirrors. Why can’t half of America see that these clowns has been leading the nation to a place that is neither good or wholesome, to a place where real freedom is murdered and consumed, not won and shared? The answer is plain and simple: political narcissists love to see their own shallow ideology reflected back at them by the seemingly happy faces of political clowns predicting happy times.

PAC of elephants

Meanwhile, across America, the PAC elephants have secretly been loosed from their cages to wreak havoc in the countryside, razing little towns by tearing down households and pulling up the trees for a bonfire of political vanities the likes of which we have never seen. And still the rapt audience will laugh and cheer. Look at the pretty flames! The light of liberty!

Backstage, the giant, heavy-breathing clown of neo-conservatism is having a perverse little Tea Party with the ringmasters who conceived it all. These are the same ringmasters who stole the presidential election in the year 2000 (Y2K indeed) through use of a conservative Supreme Court whose partisan clowns later ruled that corporations were the same as people. What a funny joke! Let’s all laugh along!

Once in office, the Bush clown posse and its snarling, fetishistic leader Dick Cheney (Power is All) ignored clear warnings of terrorism, thus allowing America to be attacked. Then they used a cloak of resultant fear (like magicians!) to steal off to Iraq and kill a dictator who had nothing to do with the reasons behind the 9/11 tragedy. We now know the Bush clown posse had literally no plan for the future and no budget set aside for its endeavors. They were all just clowning around, hoping for a good outcome.

Indeed, the Bushies proceeded to cut taxes for the rich while rolling out two new wars that had little ultimate purpose other than to express the might of American exceptionalism and maybe (if we’re lucky…) get our mitts on some oil and other resources. But we fumbled away billions of dollars in lost cash during these ventures, so it is no wonder George W. Bush ultimately quipped that “I no longer think about bin Laden” because he was too busy trying to figure out where all our money had gone. Poof! Into the hands of our frenemies.

Clowns at war

The clownish adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan cost thousands of young men and women their lives while crippling tens of thousands more. But the insane clowns in office seemed intent on obscuring the righteous efforts of these young soldiers when they returned home dead or wounded, even blocking publication of photographs of the caskets containing the fallen as they arrived by transport back home on American soil. What were the clowns trying to hide? Evidence of their cruel folly.

The Bush cabal also set in motion a frightening tour of torture abroad while simultaneously setting up an illegal prison camp back “home” (but not really…) at Gitmo. On the island of Cuba no less––the nearby soil of our supposedly sworn enemies!

It was all a sick little political show, “managed” by clowns who ultimately crashed the economy with their “let clowns be clowns” policies of cutting back fiscal regulation while “shrinking government” (what does that even mean?) as if doing nothing was the best thing our nation could think to do. Of course America paid dearly for this grotesque burlesque of slap-happy ideology, and yet here we are all over again, facing down a giant, heavy-breathing clown as America gears up for itsnational elections.

Tea Party Clowns

It is truly stunning that half of America sees fit to continue believing in the activities of these clowns who nearly killed the country the first time. The Tea Party (Mad Hatters?) in the House of Representatives nearly succeeded in forcing America into default on its debt, yet continue to lay claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. That is nothing short of a perverse joke and a theater of the absurd. But it can get worse. We could go all Milton Friedman on ourselves and take free market economics literally, without reasonable controls or judicious governance. That is not to say that capitalism or corporations are bad. Far from the truth. But we should pay attention when things go badly, so that instead of repeating or expanding upon our recent mistakes, we should learn from them and take reasonable precautions to govern well, and protect the nation’s wealth. Of course that is difficult to do when men like Mitch McConnell make public oaths that their only concern as political servants in America is to frustrate and defeat the President, Barack Obama. How is that statement not treasonous?

The Tea Party’s efforts to undercut the nation’s fiscal commitments were also fairly treasonous. But those folks believe, like the sad old clown act of using a mop to wipe up the light on an otherwise darkened stage, that the act of looking sentimentally patriotic (oh, those poor old patriots, trying to clean up our economy) is far more important than turning up the lights so everyone can see what’s really going on with corporate welfare, gigantic farm and oil subsidies and unbudgeted wars draining society of its wealth and balance. Instead they blame old people for being old and needing health care, and the poor for not having enough money to feed themselves. The new Orwellian double-speak is to blame the blameless and laugh at those who don’t get what’s funny about it.

Neo-conservative clowns

If the heavy-breathing clown that is the modern day clownglomerate of neo-conservatism is allowed to have its way in the upcoming elections, America will get a real taste repeat austerity craziness on steroids, ushering in the next Clown Kingdom like a new wave of the Roman Empire, only without the parades. Too expensive, you know.

If that happens, those will no longer be clown tears streaming down the face of the heavy-breathing giant, but droplets of sweaty avarice. Because the giant, heavy-breathing clown even wants to ingest your home and family––to keep them safe from the evils of the world, he promises, like a crocodile holding its young between its jagged teeth. But like Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies, the giant, heavy-breathing clown is no friend to anyone, and he has his prejudices, so don’t expect to save space for any so-called protection of rights for our gay populace, the black or Latino or female members of society, and especially the Muslims.

Clowns of devastation

The giant, heavy-breathing clown is the manifest expression of every nasty instinct America needs to avoid. Discrimination and divisiveness. Denial of responsibility. Devastation of hope. Dangerous fever for war and imperialism. But he demands that you bow down and pray to him, indirectly of course, lest he upset the Christian conservative base. But you will be praying to him one way or the other.

We can hardly tell the folds of flesh on the giant, heavy-breathing clown from the colorful costume he wears, all wrapped up in red, white and blue as he likes to dress. But mostly, he sees red, in the most evil sense of color-blindness. Because that is not only the political shade of his favorite states in America, but also the hue of the blood that will fly in our gladiatorial political arena if the heavy-breathing clown is (or is not) permitted to have his way in America. He’s a jealous type, you know, and not very patient or kind. It almost seems like he can’t wait for the show to begin, does it not?

There are some who claim that the giant, heavy-breathing clown has taken over both political parties, Democrat and Republican. Of course the Democrats behave like Jokers sometimes, and even clowns in their worst moments. But the fact that the nation has generally and legitimately enjoyed its greatest periods of prosperity and recovery under Democratic leadership––including the present time–– while also delivering greater civil rights for every segment of society, deems them far less the evil clown than their counterparts. Truly, we must be on our guard from heavy-breathing clowns on all fronts. But for right now the top priority is to stave off the vicious clown now slobbering on our collective blue and white collars in America.

Scary clown music

Listen. You can hear the the calliope music of the political ads now washing over the countryside as the giant, heavy-breathing clown approaches. Now he’s reached your back door, and whispering through the screen door at night. It sounds like white noise from the TV: “Vote for me and I’ll make it alllllll better. We’ll get government out of your life and you can trust Captains Grover and Karl and the King Koch Brothers to tell us what to do. When it’s all over, we’ll all have a big laugh together, we promise you that.  So let’s all be clowns together, and we’ll grant you a trickle-down share of our sweaty wealth.”

That’s the world they want to create, where we all dress in stars and stripes and run around blessing our good fortune (whether we have it or not) while the political leaders who lay claim to the special providence of God ignore the fact that history proves only fools and clowns can be that arrogant.

So let’s take them for what they are, and leave them in the wake of their own clownish desires. Or else prepare to share your bed, your bank account and even your holy brethren with a giant, heavy-breathing clown. Then you’d better make way for your new, very best friend. He’s breathing down your neck.

Scheherazade in the land of the evil riddle: Combatting patriarchal authority

Tales of 1001 Arabian nightsScheherazade and the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights is a story of a young queen betrothed to a bloodthirsty king, the Sultan Schahriar, who has killed all his previous wives for their supposed faithlessness. To save herself, Scheherazade invents stories so compelling the murderous Sultan is tricked into sparing her life. In resisting the murderous Sultan, Scheherazade exemplifies the value of a resolute spirit in dealing with tyranny. She also provides an example of feminine resourcefulness in the face of patriarchal authority. Her determination in the face of adversity encourages us to consider our own sense of purpose in a sometimes cruel and contrary world. The tales she uses to dissuade the Sultan inspire us to consider creativity as a solution to our own problems.

Symbolic stories such as Scheherazade help us explore concepts of good and evil without actually having to put ourselves at risk. One of the unique aspects of being human is the ability to learn lessons from rhetorical examples. That is the value of literature, the arts, our history, and religions. But if by choice we limit the meaning of stories to a literal interpretation of the events they describe, their significance may be diminished. Without tools of metaphor, the story of Scheherazade conveys little more than a woman affecting a change of heart in a stubborn man. What lessons can be drawn from such dry fare? Justice and inspiration deserve better role models.

Beyond the literal viewpoint, a host of worthwhile questions await: Do we want to be like the Sultan–full of wrath, suspicion and dogmatic anger? Or should we strive to be more like Scheherazade who is a brave and creative soul in refusing to submit to injustice. In the end, Scheherazade saves her own life even as she saves the Sultan from himself. Eventually she is able to conquer both their fears.

And if the idea of conquering fear and saving souls sounds familiar, perhaps we should consider the notion that universal truths come to us from many sources. The story of Scheherazade and the “Tales of 1001 Arabians Nights” may not be found in the Bible, but we can still learn valuable lessons about human nature from its rhetorical example.

Certainly no one source of knowledge or tradition, even the Bible, holds all the answers. It may be difficult for some people to imagine, but the kingdom of God might actually benefit from a belief system that does not require denial of key forms of practical knowledge to sustain the faith. One could argue that people who develop their faith in concert with reason have the most faith of all.  They have the courage to face down questions about life along with fears about the world and still choose to seek a spiritual relationship with God.

A divided Republican Party tests the conservative faithful

American Bald Eagle

America's symbol seems to be looking for direction

It has become evident that the race for the Republican nominee for President of the United States is completely different from any campaign in history.

Some Republicans have been scratching their heads wondering how the race produced four such disparate candidates. Candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul appear to have very little in common with each other. And you would think that would not be the case with a political party where doctrinal lockstep has been the hallmark of the ruling class for so many years.

You can analyze the cause of the shakeup all you want. The Tea Party. The collapse of the Bush presidency. On and on goes the analysis as to why Republicans are fighting among themselves. But there’s really a simple reason why Republicans have four such strange candidates to choose from: Sooner or later, it had to be this way.

The Republican platform in the last 30 years has relied on four doctrinal pillars that have had to work together to deliver Republican candidates to power. And for a long time, it worked. But now those four doctrines are set apart in stark outline.

Fiscal conservatives are the branch of the party that focuses on monetary policy and prefers to let economic markets determine distribution of wealth. “Less regulation” is their call to action.

Political conservatives contend that the freedoms of democracy (especially as originally outlined in the Constitution) are sufficient to provide opportunity for every citizen to succeed. “Less government” is their mantra.

Social conservatives promote the value of traditional institutions and cultural laws as a foundation for government and society. “Less liberalism” is their war cry.

Religious conservatives bring God, faith and moral values to the cultural and political table. Hewing most closely to fundamentalist approach to the scriptures, their political action plan is “Less God means a weaker country.”

So, do you know which candidates fall into which conservative category by now?

Romney is the most obvious. His background as a venture capitalist is how he became fabulously wealthy. And his statement on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend,” illustrates his worldview. Definitely playing the role of the fiscal conservative.

Next up is political conservative Ron Paul, who would prefer that government be shrunk down to almost nothing. The man with the Libertarian bent occupies a political conservative space so far to the right no one dares to reach out and touch him, for fear of being sucked into an invisible vortex.

Newt Gingrich should be functioning as a political conservative. As the key proponent of the Contract For America in the 1990s he led the Republican charge to distill politics down to a laundry list. With its politically fundamentalist bent, that tactic appealed to political conservatives at the time. But as Gingrich succumbed to his own hubris and drew breach of ethics charges that seemed to have destroyed his reputation as a political conservative, he was forced to abandon that strategy for a political future and came back through a different channel, and he chose that of a social conservative. But first Gingrich had some baggage to unload, so he conveniently joined the Catholic Church, that portal of confessional virtue, and briefly surged as a frontrunner leading up to the Florida primary where social conservatism is so highly valued. But playing the social conservative has been a strange and difficult role for Gingrich, and he has ultimately failed, in part because he walks sideways and talks out of the corner of his mouth about everything, at least figuratively. In  other words, he ultimately wasn’t believable as a straight-talking social conservative. But it was the only card he had to play.

That’s because Rick Santorum had locked up the position of religious conservative well before the campaign even began. Santorum’s views on virtually every subject are so heavily tinged with a conservative brand of Catholicism that many Republican voters early in the race shied away from such a marginal candidate. His recent rise in popularity is a sign of conservative desperation. The label “authentic” is being applied with some pride to Santorum, but what they really mean is “suitably extreme,” and we’ll get to what that means in a minute.

Because you see the electoral process for Republicans worked like a centrifuge this time around. The tightly spinning centrifuge of debates, caucuses and media exposure have slung the substance of Republicanism hard against the walls of the conservatism. And this time around the ideology produced four completely separate candidates, each of them pushed to the extreme limits of the ideology as a means to look convincingly clear about their respective subjects. In fact it has been the extreme failure of Republican policies under Bush that put so much centrifugal force to play upon conservatives in general. Economic policy: Costly Fail. Political and foreign policy: Damaging fail. Social and education policy: F+. Religious policy: Just plain creepy and hypocritical. Republicans tried everything they believed would work in America and got four “F’s” for the effort. So the pressure was on, especially now that President Barack Obama’s policy’s have actually had time to correct some of the mistakes made by conservative legislators the last decade. Obama rescued the automotive industry. Slowly stimulated the economy and didn’t overheat it. Provided intelligent support in foreign policy and military action that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and the fall of several dictators. These actions have got Republican heads spinning. And now the economy is bouncing back as well.

All this centrifugal force has left the formerly unified party to wonder aloud, “What happened?”

The fact is, reality happened. Conservatism as a social movement is, after all, a deeply hypocritical and confused mess. In fact, if you look close enough, it is possible to argue that the ideal we know as conservatism does functionally exist at all.

We’ve seen the effects of literalistic capitalism in America. The less we regulate the more things blow up in our faces. Like a bad chemistry experiment gone awry, the economy definitely needs a set of processes and ground rules and regulation performs that function. So conservatism likes to talk ideologically about the power of the free market to govern itself, but that is an exceptionally Darwinist notion that is not at all acceptable for civil society.

The claim of political conservatives that “less government is always better” is hypocritical by definition. If you don’t believe in the power of government to do good, why run for office?

Social conservatives simply fail to account for the fact that the world is not only changing all the time, but it has to change. Even if something was good in the past, the environment in which it functions is altering daily through technology, science, social progress and globalization. But if social conservatives had their way we would still have slavery, women would not have the right to vote and Jim Crow laws would still exist. Prohibition would still be in force. The list goes on and on. Anachronism is not a force for social good.

The archest forms of religious conservatives want to impose theocracy on America, and the Constitution defies that. Plus the belief system of fundamentalist Christians ignores and distorts the true meaning of the bible in ways that are simply irreconcilable to the natural laws and science upon which modern society depends.

Jam all four of these dysfunctional worldviews together and you have a real mess on your hands. And that’s what we got under 8 years of the Bush II presidency. A near total collapse of our economy, the 9/11 tragedy, illegal wars, torture and flaunting of Constitutional laws like never before, and Bush claimed his actions were the will of God somehow.

The dysfunctions of conservatism as a conglomerate doctrine complicate matters by trying to reconcile ideologies that stand for different truths. These are meant to balance each other out, but instead conservatism tries to pretend the differences don’t exist.

For example, if one truly believes in the literalistic version of market capitalism, then sharing your wealth as Jesus recommends in the bible is a ridiculous and socialistic notion. But in fact the Bible shows Jesus frequently requiring the wealthy give away their riches if they hope to gain entrance into heaven. Recall the parable of the camel going through the eye of the needle?

So based on dichotomies such as these, it was inevitable that the conservative wad of ideology would someday blow apart. We should be surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But people desperate for political power will cling together under the most egregious of banners, and conservatism has served that purpose for many people too many years.

Now we have Romney, Paul, Gingrich and Santorum standing before us like they don’t even want to be in the same room together. They argue and claw at each other furiously, proving forever that the four pillars of conservatism really have little to do with each other. Not if you look closely enough, and we’re getting that chance now. Real Republicans, the kind that understand the art and benefit of political compromise, want to puke. But one of these candidates will either get the nomination or the Republicans will arrive at an ugly conclusion too late and throw the whole lot out in favor of a brokered nominee. We can only hope it is not Jeb Bush.

But it’s quite obvious the Republicans prefer a messy wad of a candidate to the clearly defined truths that divide their party. Republicans have been so busy dismissing the various faults of their highly flawed candidates… even the strident bellows of Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and Fox News are almost squeezed out with the effort. But like always, they’ll find a way to justify whatever they believe is good for the country, even if it’s not. Based on what we can learn from this year’s electoral race, it is still power that matters to Republicans and conservatives in the end, not principles.

It all seems like art imitating life. The Burt Reynolds character in the original football flick “The Longest Yard” once said, “I’ve had my shit together a long time. It just doesn’t fit in one bucket.”

Truer words could not be said of this year’s Republican nomination race.

What the bible really says about the nature of human knowledge

Nature can help us look beyond our earthly perspectivesNaturalism and Organic fundamentalism

Some high profile politicians like to profile faith issues as stark “either/or” propositions. One of the most divisive arguments is over what it means for humans to have “dominion” over the earth. A literal translation of this term leads to a theology that says the earth and every living thing were put there for human use. Lashed together with conservative fiscal doctrine that resists environmental legislation and government regulation on business, this literal translation can be used to make the argument that environmentalism and science undercut key foundations of moral values.

But is it really that simple? And does the Bible really contend–and does Jesus really teach us–that the earth is a vessel to be poured out at our discretion, and that science stands in opposition to God?

We can examine this issue by looking at some  basic principles of human knowledge, both naturalistic and scriptural.

In modern culture, naturalism and human reason drive the pursuits of science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine and more. The worldview we conceive through naturalism has been developed through increase of human knowledge tied primarily to the sciences. This approach has simultaneously defined how we gather, employ and relate information.

Yet we need to recognize that naturalism is primarily an organized system of observation. As such, naturalism has always been part of human culture. It informs the workings of our lives just as knowledge about nature, planting, sowing and harvesting informed the lives of people during bible times. Granted, advances in technology and our corresponding ability to manipulate nature have been used to create tremendous change in the world. But the basic practice of observing the natural order of creation to form beliefs about our selves and the universe has changed little in the last 10,000 years. We remain a culture of human beings in which storytelling infused with natural images is a primary method of communicating universal truths.

Let us be specific: the knowledge conveyed in the Bible utilizes the same observational methods as naturalism to gather and pass on knowledge. The key difference between biblical and scientific knowledge is the manner in which naturalistic observations are used, and to what ends. For example, one of the ways in which naturalistic observations form the basis of literary truth in the bible is through metonymy, a literary device that describes “the use of a name for one thing for that of another, of which it is an attribute with which it is associated.” 

Metonymy is based on “organic metaphors,” natural symbols used to draw parallels between our worldly life and what we call the “kingdom of God.” For example, the “tree of life9” portrayed in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8) serves as a symbol for the nature of knowledge, cultures and descendants. At a literal level, we can observe a tree and know that it is an example of the constancy of nature. But we can also view a tree as the symbol for intellectual concepts such as genealogy and wisdom. Other examples of biblical metonymy include the mountain of God in Isaiah 2, symbolizing the higher moral ground of faith. The river of life in Revelation 22:1 similarly symbolizes the flow of life’s generations through time. In each case the literary device of metonymy illustrates a spiritual concept using the natural dimension, size or structure of something we can readily see or observe here on earth. The Bible plainly uses these material examples to teach us about spiritual concepts.

Of course one could argue that the modern tradition of using naturalism to define knowledge denies the supernatural by definition. But the corresponding argument is that the Bible cannot be understood without some foundation of naturalism to help us appreciate the symbols and meaning conveyed through the literary device of metonymy and other metaphorical, literary devices. The methodologies of naturalism help us identify appropriate organic symbols for knowledge, truth, moral and spiritual concepts. We might call this the nature of revelation.

Put another way, the Bible is so reliant on metaphorical devices that we would have little affirmation of the concept of God if it were not for the naturalistic biblical metaphors describing how God appears, acts, feels or creates in this world. Metaphor is an indispensable tool for understanding the literature we call scripture. By contrast, treating metaphorical symbols literally divests them of nearly all meaning. So it is crucial to avoid unmerited literalism when reading the Bible, especially if it leads us away from the original and organic sources of knowledge that drive scripture. We should instead respect the important role played by naturalism, metonymy and symbolic language as tools chosen by God and Christ to make the Bible’s ultimate message relatable to the human race. Thus the organic fundamentalism of the Bible is defined as wisdom anchored in observations about the natural world delivered through literary devices such as metonymy.

Jesus the naturalist

Organic fundamentalism plays an important role in the ministry of Jesus Christ, who used a simple form of naturalism in so many of his parables. Jesus uses parables to describe spiritual and moral principles that would otherwise be difficult for people to understand without some way to make them tangible and relevant to his audience. In Matthew 13:31 we find Jesus playing the role of naturalist with this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

The significance of this parable is that it communicates an important concept of faith by drawing on the seemingly supernatural ability of a tiny seed to become a giant tree. People in Jesus’ day understood this parable because the illustration of faith was presented to them in terms with which they were familiar. The concept of faith in God is not so threatening when it starts in the image of a tiny mustard seed. So we see that Jesus was able to communicate revelatory concepts through organic principles. This is organic fundamentalism in action.

This concept of growing a faith through knowledge of nature is given another application in Matthew 13:33, only this time human beings are assigned an active role in the organic process: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Here the act of adding yeast to dough symbolizes the ability of human beings to effect change in the world through faith and good works. This is organic fundamentalism with an added human dimension, demonstrating it is acceptable for human beings to be materially involved to the world. Naturalism is again no enemy of God in this context.

Matthew 13:34 outlines just how important organic fundamentalism really was to the ministry of Jesus Christ:  “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (reference to Psalms 78).” This prophetic reference to “creation of the world” outlines the unifying role of parable, metonymy and organic fundamentalism present from beginning to end in the Bible. Now let us consider the importance of parables in the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ and what it says about how we should read the bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Parables: The link between matter and spirit

A parable is defined by Webster’s Dictionary this way; “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or principle.” To ascertain the meaning of a parable, the listener (or reader) must make connections between the subject of the story and what it illustrates in terms of good and evil, but also the difference between matter and spirit. This process requires thought and rationality on the part of the listener. Matthew 13:34 is an ideal illustration of the spiritual truths of the bible communicated through rationality (parables) spirituality (things hidden) and organic traditions (creation of the world) that form the foundation of biblical tradition. It makes perfect sense that for Jesus Christ “things hidden since the creation of the world” should be discerned from organic or naturalistic sources.

The bible recognizes that Jesus was a man in the material sense, but with a spiritual essence that challenged all notions of human limitation. In this respect both his existence and his parables are an essential link between life on earth and whatever we think of as heaven. By constructing this vertical link between earthly examples and spiritual purposes, parables anchored in organic fundamentalism make it possible for us to imagine concepts of faith that would otherwise be foreign or inconceivable. Language is a key link between the apparent objectivity of natural theology and the emotional experience we call revelation.

Some people get so wrapped up in the revelatory experience of faith they may choose to ignore its organic foundations altogether. But Jesus perfectly demonstrates the value of a faith in balance with organic fundamentalism and revelatory experience. What can we learn from this example?

We should ask ourselves how well we are following the example of Jesus in the modern age. If through literal interpretation of the Bible we ignore, dismiss or fail to appreciate the organic tradition upon which biblical knowledge is dependent, we deceive ourselves into thinking an anthropic or revelatory interpretation of the Bible is the only way to establish and sustain a relationship with God and creation. Instead we should be skeptical of any teaching that imposes a prideful dichotomy between our material and spiritual lives. That approach is not in keeping with the ministry and message of Jesus Christ, whose use of naturalism to convey truth demonstrated an attitude of sanctity toward creation. Worldly knowledge is a compliment to faith. Organic fundamentalism affirms the idea that gaining wisdom through the metaphorical significance of nature as a creative act of God is the wellspring for biblical truth. All that is required for us to bring the bible into the modern context is a corresponding openness to metaphor and the pursuant will to draw parallels between the organic fundamentalism of scripture and the naturalism driving modern culture. The Bible is more alive, accessible and materially pertinent if we celebrate its organic fundamentalism rather than forcing our interpretation of scripture into a literal doctrine that effectively separates us from the heart of naturalism at its core.

True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. And take note: Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on selected texts to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth.

The useful knowledge we gain from sciences such as geology, biology and physics is therefore not the enemy when it comes to understanding and appreciating God. The natural conclusion of this analysis is that we can sustainably engage a reading of the Bible while maintaining a fluid worldview. That is, a worldview that accepts science, naturalism and the notion that the world is part of an infinite and changing universe. And a fluid worldview is a more consistent way to make God and the Bible relevant in the modern age than a worldview of biblical literalism and its typically rigid, purposefully limited and fearful perspective.

The lesson is that politicians like to make use of the rigid, limited and fearful perspective to draw stark lines among the voting electorate. But do not confuse their worlds with good theology, or perceive them as some kind of gifted message from God. The very human motivation of worldly power often negates the very real connections between our earthly lives and our truly spiritual goals of understanding and respecting God’s creation.