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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Typical Evangelical Sermon

I’ve just finished listening to a sermon by Erwin Lutzer, at the  Word Of Life Florida Conference Center (January 28, 2018: “How to Die for the Glory of God”). It concerned our attitude towards our own death.

I won’t attempt to transcribe it, or outline it. But I do want to say something about it, as it seems to me to be emblematic of evangelical sermons written today. It contains the chief elements necessary for a sermon to be “evangelical.”

These are:
  • Placing ultimate value on an individual’s grace
  • God is Supreme
  • Call to circle the wagons
  • Reliance on cliche
  • Showing the divide between the Saved and the Damned, the Christian and the...well, damned, using biblical evidence picked, chosen among many verses leaving out any that might show another viewpoint.

Jesus is supremely valuable, says Lutzer. He says, “My death is my win [my emphasis].” To live is Christ, to die is gain. --Philippians 1:21 The evangelical sees death as a win...his win. There is so much of a kind of capitalism of the spirit that it leaves Jesus’ teaching to love another as oneself completely out of it all. We seem, in the evangelical church, to be concerned with our own saving grace, and less for those in the world.

And let me take a moment and speak about how the typical pastor will trot out commonly held information that is simply not true. It has been recognised for a long time that John could not have written the Gospel of John. It is too late a book. Also, it is written in such a way that a common laborer living within the confines of Palestine, in Galilee, certainly would not have written it. It also happens to be anonymously written. All the gospels are anonymous. Why trot out these unproven--unproved, and unprovable--claims? It just makes the entire evangelical Church look false and cultish.

God is supreme...except when He isn’t. Our deaths, Lutzer says, should be seen as God given, and along the timeline of God. Don’t commit suicide and muck of God’s plan. That’s putting a period where there should be a comma (another cliche). Yet he also holds out the possibility of suicide as being within God’s plan...leave it all to God. Here Lutzer probably understands that there are listeners here  that know someone who has died from their own hand. He wishes to give some comfort. But his reasoning is such that he is awash in inconsistencies and contradictions. Is God telling someone to commit suicide or not? Does someone go to Hell after a suicide? Is suicide of Satan...or is everything of God’s choice? How about this: just admit you don’t know anything and that this is all speculation. But that would be honest and plain.

And to evidence the devastation of mankind as a kind of glory to be lauded and appreciated is to go beyond the pale. Lutzer cities Cyprian of Carthage as someone who recognized that our suffering is but an opportunity to praise God. Here [I’ve simply copied from Wikipedia], Cyprian has written:

"This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith. What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!" [7]

This is reason to thank God? I see a reason to chastise God, but not to become chummy with Him in adoration.

Circling the wagons is a phrase I use to describe how evangelicals need to stick together for purposes of outreach to the sinning population as well as for forming a cohesive unit to defy the outer world. This can be seen in off-handed comments such as Mr Lutzer gave regarding the Bible and how smartphone Bibles do not qualify. He later disparaged how people with smartphones can even locate the grave of celebrities. Message conveyed: Keep it simple, stupid! Do things the old know...the conservative way, the Republican way. (I may be overreaching there, but he also made a comment about a certain Chicago politician--Lutzer was in the Moody Church in Chicago for some time--who once made a comment about hoping he wasn’t being too clear. Was this Obama? Certainly it was a Chicago Democrat.)

When you do not want to seriously investigate a matter, seriously dig deep into questions that human beings have asked themselves from time immemorial, you depend on cliche. These cliches (“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt”; death treated as a mere decision one made that leads to Heaven--and what is Heaven, Mr. Lutzer? Somewhere where people need an event coordinator--or Hell, and we all know what Hell is, yes?) give us a hand-hold to something I suppose, but it isn’t much. There is no question without an answer. No doubts are left hanging in the air. Those who disagree with this type of cultish thought are dismissed with a joke, or pityingly since they are to be burned in the fire of eternal torture.

And that leads to the final, ever-popular Heaven and Hell. Mostly Hell, but Lutzer likes to imagine a Heaven that is so active, that it seems to resemble one of those old age gated communities with event coordinators and there is just too much stuff for any one person to do (guffaw, guffaw). And Hell of course is deserved, since those people didn’t exercise their God-given brains to decide to follow Jesus. You see that? They have to decide, use their brains. This might cause a thinking person to wonder what happens to people who don’t have thinking brains, or brains adequate for the decision. I guess they just burn in Hell. And what about that decision these evangelicals make? Can it be unmade? Nope. That pastor who happens to sexually harass women, or men, or kids...they get that ticket too. You know who doesn’t get it? Catholics. Because, as Lutzer erroneously states, they depend on the sacraments to be saved. Wrong. But Lutzer has obviously never bothered to even ask a Catholic who knows about such things what the Church truly teaches. I would direct him here. Or, better, anyone can read for themselves directly from the Catechism. They make it pretty easy to find out what is and is not taught within the Catholic Church. There is no excuse for such errors as Lutzer makes, other than laziness or prejudice.

I won’t detail the Catholic argument, but I will say that it makes a lot of sense. And the protestant argument seems to me to have a lot of holes. But we cannot argue the point within the Evangelical Church; we have to adhere to the talking points and spit out the doctrine. Even if it doesn’t make sense; even if it goes against verses within the Bible (see 1 John; see...Oh, here (from the citation above):
"Are you saved?" asks the Fundamentalist. The Catholic should reply: "As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Am I A Christian?

I’ve been asked if I am a Christian.

I said that No, not in the way that most people think of the term. I wanted to say more--so much more--but felt that there wasn’t enough time and besides, I was too tired to get into it.

So I’d like to get into it. When someone asks me Am I a Christian, I want to say Yes, but… or No, but… I also want to just say what someone wrote in a blog on Patheos (apologies but I cannot find the source) when she said that she was “a human being.” It would be nice to just sometimes leave it at that.

I do and I don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I do and don’t believe in his divinity. By that, I believe in the narratives (there are more than one) and their power and their truth. But I don’t understand those narratives to be some overarching historical artifact.

Because I don’t feel that there is any overarching historical foundation to any narrative. In other words, there is only narrative. That is it. There is nothing beyond that. Nothing that we can point to and say, definitively, There! This is true and I understand it to its core! No--there is nothing that the human mind can accept that isn’t transformed into a narrative acceptable to the human mind. [I think that this is a Kantian idea, but my grasp of Kant is rudimentary.]

I believe that the human mind transforms everything within its sphere of perception into narrative. The story is elemental to human existence. To treat “story” as if it were “fact,” history, as a kind of artifact of truth, is mere fantasy.

So I accept the story of Jesus. I accept it wholeheartedly. I do not accept it as artifact...because there is no artifact to accept.

In my system of belief I can also accept the narratives of the Hindi, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Jew. I was brought up within the Christian narrative, so that is what I am bound to more closely, but it is an accident of birth and nothing more. If I was born of Afghan parents no doubt I would be a Muslim.

So, I too, like to describe myself as a “human being.” The story, the narrative is uppermost. The arc of the Jesus narrative from virgin birth to heavenly throne is a miracle of human understanding. It can be so beautifully rendered and understood that it might bring the world together in harmony. Except for that wrinkle of human misunderstanding that states that only Jesus is true, only Jesus is God, and narrative is nothing but some child’s bedtime story.

We can view Jesus as God, Jesus as the Truth, the Light, but still understand the openness of other human concepts. Jesus can be the Only Way, but he can also be Gautama Buddha, or Krishna. How? How can Jesus be the only way but also not the only way?

Through the complementarian narrative (remember: there is only narrative!). Just as in quantum physics, so too within the human brain (which some scientists are attempting to describe as a quantum computer), we can hold simultaneous narratives/ideas within ourselves. This is merely to describe what we humans do on a daily basis. This is how we are made. We understand only what the brain allows us to understand. Our mind, again going back to Kant, is structured to reason as it must. We see the world in narrative only. That is our Reason.

What of the Bible? It, too, is narrative, or rather, it is a multifaceted bunch of narratives. In the Sepher Torah alone there are likely to be four or five different narratives threaded throughout. Evangelical Christians are likely to dismiss the hundreds of errors/contradictions within the Bible as “viewpoints.” They see no problem in assimilating an “error-free” Word of God with viewpoints that contradict one another or which contain different information (the time of the crucifixion, the robe worn by Jesus, the different ways in which Jesus is portrayed at his death, the sending by a risen Jesus of his disciples to Galilee...or to Jerusalem) or which contains simply unbelievable information (the raising of zombies in Matthew). They present the Bible as the Word of God and if one happens to see these issues crop up then it must be some weakness within human reason.

In a way that is precisely what I am saying: the weakness of human reason is that which Kant set out. We only see the world as we are structured to see it. These errors within the narrative of the Bible are not a problem for me. They are simply there, as they are there within any story, to some degree or another (although I do wonder at the “mathematical narrative, or language” which seems to be logically consistent...though Goedels theorem may offer a way out: undecidable statements will always occur within mathematics), and these can be thought of as baked into our psyche and mental acuity.

And that is what I like to call the Cloud of God.

Within this Cloud lies our sense--necessarily our personification--of the Ideal. From that Ideal we have created narratives. To flesh out these narratives we bake in historical evidence and a-historical “evidence,” or miracles and such. [As I once heard Bart Ehrman say, miracles by their very nature are non-historical.] The Bible is filled with these mnemohistorical tidbits. Layers of history and hi-story are placed one atop another and over time legend accretes with artifacts. Even more time places all within the topic of religious history, convincing many that everything actually happened as it is written down, forgetting that what was written down was a result of intermixed narratives to begin with.

So, I am a Christian as I self-define the term, but more, a human being. A human being that wonders, questions, and never trusts for the answer; for we only know what we can only know.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Insincere Christian

Evangelical Christianity has failed, and has failed for want of sincerity.

In order to explain, here is a paragraph from "Hugh Kenner's "A Sinking Island: The Modern English Writers" (pp 203-4):
One thing very engaging about the first half of the book [I.A. Richards' Practical Criticism] is Richards's genial aplomb as he sorts out the comments, never soliciting the knowing snicker. It's clear how his auditors could feel they were helping with a scientific inquiry, not being trapped into acts of self-exposure. And it's exhilarating still to watch the co-author of The Meaning of Meaning make a useful word out of such a rubber stiletto as "insincerity." This Richards defines as "the flaw that insinuates itself when a writer cannot distinguish his own genuine promptings from those he would merely like to have, or those which he hopes will make a good poem. Such failures on his part to achieve complete imaginative integrity may show themselves in exaggeration, in strained expression, in false simplicity, or perhaps in the manner of his indebtedness to other poetry." That is scrupulous and definitive and helpful in coming to terms with a Rupert Brooke, who mayn't have really quite known what he felt at all. 

The "auditors" were students in his class, Cambridge I believe, where Richards would hand out various unsigned poems for critique by the students. Richards, and later his students Empson and F.R. Leavis--even Eliot for one class-- attempted a close reading of literature, to teach reading, to show the method behind the madness of creation.


Within the evangelical community are many who have failed to "achieve complete imaginative integrity," or even to think that this was something they needed to possess. They do, at least if they are to be taken seriously, to be taken as sincere.

What they have substituted is the great flaw of dogma: unquestioning devotion with a lack of curiosity and a great deal of mental laziness. Curiosity and a devotion to truth--not dogma--leads to imaginative integrity. There is no meaning to the meaning of evangelicals any more, if ever there was.

We see this especially in the doctrine of inerrancy to the Bible, which truly is mere bibliolatry. Instead of examination of the hundreds of inconsistencies found therein, the question is begged and begged and begged: the supposition is that the Bible is inerrant, thus any perceived errors must be merely perceived as such and not in reality errors. The imagination is never piqued; the curious cat sleeps a very long nap.

An insincere person sees the Risen Christ not as a question to be answered--answered literally or perhaps literately?--but an answer so that no one may question. That is the very essence of a theological insincerity. A sincere person might ask Did this happen or might'n it have happened in some other fashion? Is this a story, a narrative meant to give us humans hope? Is this some very deep well of mythic meaning? These and other questions are all worth asking, asking by a sincere person; but an insincere person does not ask them, does not dare to take that leap of faith!

But we live in the times of questioning. We question our government, our corporate betters, and yes, we question our religious leaders. As we should.

We should question anyone who shoves the spade of dogma toward our throats. We should question any who portray the answer as greater than the question, who ignore possibilities in place of pictured certainties. 

I used to be in the habit of thinking truth was some mental destination in the manner of scientific inquiry (though a destination that was never going to be ultimately visited). I believed, until recently, that one’s life, if dedicated to truth, might bring you closer and closer to that promised land, but it was to be as that mathematical puzzle with the frog: The frog might jump half the distance to the shore, lily pad to lily pad; as it does so it gets closer, closer, closer but it never gets to pad on dry land. Never.

But of late I view truth not as a destination but as a quality, as sincerity, a quality that Greeks of old might have labeled arete, the living of one’s life to full potential. Living sincerely would entail living fully, living by moral example, by living rationally and imaginatively. It isn’t knowledge--though it does contain knowledge; it isn’t morality--thought it does contain that also. It is the full measure of a human being. Maybe this is what Pirsig was talking about. I do think this is what Jesus and Buddha were talking about.

The evangelical community are stoppered by the doctrines allotted them. They are not free to imaginatively explore options unavailable within Bible colleges. What might Jesus have meant by “Son of Man”? Did he call himself Son of Man? You may not ask those questions within the community of believers; you could only assume the answer. That is not living a sincere life.

And if you cannot live a sincere life within the religious community, you should not be in the religious community. Better to start all over.

Does God Care About Football?

Today I finally received the answer to the question I’ve asked nearly all my life: Does God care about football? Richard John Mouw informs me [TU, Voices of Faith, 2/3/18¹] that “God cares much about how the game is played. And it is not simply about how the players treat each other.” Has Mr Mouw read the New Testament? I get that the Old Testament is quite football-worthy, what with all that smiting and so forth, but it sure seems that the NT becomes quite un-football-esque in places. But maybe that’s just me.

It’s not as if Matthew 25, or the Sermon on the Mount comes down on the side of how we treat one another. Did not Jesus say it best when he offered us, "Do to others what you want them to do to you...and hit ‘em hard! Knock his block off. Role the replay!"

No, he didn’t say exactly that, but one can imagine him saying it...if you pretend for a moment that you live in the universe of Richard John Mouw.

I’d leave football out of the equation. No spectacle wherein participants gravely injure themselves could possibly be thought Jesus-like. And I’m not just talking about the broken bones, but about the brain injuries that will show up in twenty years. Football produces thousands of people lying in nursing home beds with dementias. It creates scenes of carnage where a man places the barrel of a shotgun to his chest--so his brain can be later scanned showing people like Richard John Mouw how this evil thing we call a game is really just about money and pain. How much destruction does this game create? Vast swathes of waste and violence--but is this not predictable from a “game” which has its modus operandi as violence? That is what the “game” is about, after all. The Creator must care about how we play our games, but to conclude, as Mouw does, that He would affirm and validate this evil is a perverse conclusion that should never go unanswered.

The more I ponder this question, the more I see football as a form of mass hysteria, a madness that infects even those who claim to care about such things as religion, God, and how we treat one another.

¹In case the link does not work, as a subscription may be needed, I'll past the article below, since it is quite short:

Twenty years ago I had a public theological disagreement with Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.
In addition to being a defensive end for the Packers, who were soon to play in the Super Bowl, White was a Pentecostal preacher. Both of us — and other players and theologians — were interviewed for the Sports Illustrated cover story, “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?”
Several of my theologian friends took the negative position on this. One doubted God cared about the game at all, and a couple were wary of any suggestion that God had anything to do with deciding who wins.
Reggie White was a supporter of the idea of an active divine role in the outcome. What basis do scholars have for thinking God does not take sides? he asked. After all, he observed, “God intervened in David‘s fight with Goliath.” There was the clear case of divine intervention “in Jesus’ victory over death.” The SI reporter who interviewed me told me Reggie had observed to him that God “doesn’t think much of losers.”
While not ready to endorse the idea that God determines who the winner will be, I rejected the view of those of my theological colleagues who insisted that God stays rather aloof from what goes on in football games. I said — and I still see it this way — God cares much about how the game is played. And it is not simply about how the players treat each other as competitors. It’s also about the physical prowess that is on display in a well-played game.
My friend and colleague Lewis Smedes mused about the range of things God enjoys: a well-written poem, a Bach concerto, a courageous act of justice. I would add to the list: an exciting football game. When a quarterback throws a pass and a player makes a spectacular catch, I imagine the Lord saying to himself: “Nicely done! This is one of the reasons why I created the human race!”
Twenty years ago, the Packers lost to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. John Elway, the Denver quarterback, completed excellent passes in the game. I think God enjoyed watching those plays. I don’t think he was disappointed with Reggie White for being on the losing team.
I must acknowledge the Creator’s interest in how the game is played while not being a fan of anyone. We human creatures are not bound to that neutrality. I keep a theological perspective on the Super Bowl. I am not wondering which team God favors more than the other. But I have an interest in the outcome. I have strong feelings about one of the teams playing in Super Bowl LII: I hope they get beat. But if their quarterback happens to complete a few passes, I will remind myself about what God enjoys.
• Richard John Mouw is a professor of faith and public life at at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pacidina, Calif.

Friday, November 24, 2017

God, Music, Language, Art

Given the notion of a creator God, it can easily be guessed that it--this creator-god--would communicate with its creation, yes? One might imagine a less collaborative deity, I suppose, one that just exists, theistically, and that was the view of many of our own founding fathers. That view, however, seems such a blind alley. A creator without the interplay, the teamwork, of its individual creations, that is just a stifling thought.
So what would this communication be like? Would it be in language, in words, that men use? How could words work to convey the mesh of a creator’s inner-workings? Can language hold that much meaning? Even if so, the best language can do is to hold it within one language at one time. Anyone who has attempted the fool’s errand of translation knows how impossible it is. But I guess it is possible for a creator to speak in one language. Maybe he chose Hebrew, then Greek and Aramaic. But what of the native tribes out there? Where is their Bible? What of the Slav’s and the Chinese (all eight different linguistic groups with their many different dialects), and the Saxon and the German and the Romance languages and the Asian-Tibetan and Viet and African language groups? What is “The Bible” to them?
It gets worse: What is the Bible for the trees? The shrubbery, the grasses? Don’t laugh: a creator would treat all its creation as its children, yes? What is the language meshwork for the fungi and the potato?
Perhaps it isn’t in language at all. Maybe that is a blind alley.
Perhaps it is in music. Listen to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Opus 135. Is that a communication by our creator? Is the sound of a chord played by a concert symphony the sound of God [Now, I've heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord /But you don't really care for music, do you?]? What is this creator-god saying to us? What happens when we attempt to “translate” the joyful sound of a Mahler Symphony into words? Or any music into words?
It is impossible, as absolute music is...absolute. It registers as emotion, not rationality. How many wars would not have been waged had we heard the voice of a creator in music, instead of words? How many acts of terror avoided?
Not to say that this creator wouldn’t have used words as well. But not words as historical artifact, not words as descriptions: that kind of language does not hold enough power. I cannot envision a creator-god of the universe describing the comings and goings of some small group of people.
But language as poetry, with the artful techniques that can be employed by people of genius, that I can envision. That’s possible. I think of works like The Song of Solomon, Psalm 23, the Gospel of John, but also of The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote, King Lear, Hamlet, and countless individual poems and stories. These are like music; they cannot be translated (at least, they cannot be translated without another genius who creates in that translation another great work of art--an entirely different work of art). They cannot be distilled into some summary of rationality. They are of a whole, indivisible as works of art must be.
The music of art allows us to hear this communication with a creator; we can call it spirit, we can call it any number of things. When you hear it you feel it, and once you feel it, you can know it.
Here is an exercise some might want to entertain: After watching a movie with a wonderful score (I suggest Gladiator, or The Last of the Mohicans), listen to just the score. As you do, don’t you re-track the movie? Don’t you re-examine it, see it, feel it? The weight of the movie’s core is within the score, held in the notes, the melodies, the harmonies. The remaining parts of the film, the plot, the actors, the cinematography, seem excess, seem dross: as the skeleton falls away we hold onto the essence of the movie. The Bible is like that, too. If we could scrape the literalness away, we could feel the essence remaining; we could slough off the silly notions of historicity and literal inerrancy and just feel what remains at the core.

What prevents us from understanding is the literal word. It hinders in its walling off of possible connections, possible meanings, possible...possibles. It is the impossibility of language--its inevitable failure at conveying total communication of any idea--that opens the door to spiritual connectedness. This is what the genius does when he writes great works of art, great poems, great stores. He takes the failure of language, its cracks, its broken pieces, and molds something that conveys great emotional meaning: the lie that language tells gives way to a spiritual truth. The closer language comes to music, in the way it can hold truth and experience closer due to the brokenness of itself, to allowing the music of a truth to fill in the cracks in language,  the closer it becomes possible to see, and feel, what it is we really are.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Museum of the Bible

The new Museum of the Bible  has officially opened in Washington, D.C. It does not proselytize (openly). It does not apparently teach Creationism. It seems to be fairly open about certain narratives that ended up being, shall we say, in disrepute (slavery, ahem). It attempts, in the words of one of the directors, to make the Bible “cool.”

Nice location, right near where the Smithsonian sits, not far from the Mall, so it takes in the gravitas of a serious museum along with a near hand-holding with government. One might be forgiven for thinking the Green’s (the Hobby Lobby family and chief funders of the museum) are acting within the Dominionist ideology, which states that Christians (meaning evangelical Christians, not those of the baser mainstream denominations, thank you very much) must integrate themselves into government. Can you say, “theocracy”?

There is likely not going to be an exhibit showing visitors how the Green family stole artifacts, and was fined $3 million dollars. It seems they bought some Iraqi cuneiform tablets on the cheap, labeled them as “clay samples” with a worth of a couple hundred dollars, when they were actually worth...well, who knows; unquestionably their value was much more than a couple hundred dollars. Maybe the Green family feels the Eighth Commandment to be too communist. No one, except the Green family, knows if their are other stolen artifacts held in their collection.

Now, there has been some mention that the Green family ended up supporting ISIS through their fraudulent purchasing of stolen artifacts, but that isn’t strictly true. The fraud occurred before ISIS formed. However, these acts of purchasing artifacts through the black market do support the further demolition of archaeological sites.

The Museum of the Bible attempts to show the Bible as one narrative. It doesn’t mention the Koran, doesn’t mention The Book of Mormon, even though those books are dependent on the Christian Bible. It doesn’t treat them at all. The Museum of the Bible pretends that there is one view of the Bible, and that view is that of evangelicals such as the Greens. The Bible to them pretty much stopped at The King James Version. It pretends that the scholarship in the 19th and 20th centuries never happened. It pretends that the Bible is entirely without flaw, that scribes copied “The Bible” perfectly down through the ages. It pretends that we have one original Bible. It avoids the deep questions of what is the “original” Bible? I doubt it treats of translation problems at all (though I have not visited the site and cannot say for certain). It pretends that the Bible is the perfect text that they show within the museum and that evangelicals are the authorities on the Bible.

There is an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although there is a plaque that states that their authenticity has not been verified (yet), there is the implication that these are the real deal: Scholars are just about united in stating that they are forgeries. But worse than that, although the Dead Sea Scrolls can be used to show that the Bible is not the concretized uttered Word of God, evangelicals like to pretend that the Bible is inerrant, and that there are no grey areas of textual divergence.  

It would be nice if there was a public catalog of all the 40,000 items held by the Greens. Are they correctly provenanced? Were they legally purchased? Is the black market of archaeological tablets, scrolls, and the like still being supported by the Greens?

The Museum of the Bible is not about truth, it is about propping up a monument to evangelicals. This is the FOX News of Museums, somewhere people can go who have preconceived notions of the Bible, who do not wish to have those notions challenged, and who can feel good about themselves for belonging to the correct religion, and even the correct subset of that religion.

There should be no religion above the truth”--motto of the Theosophical Society. You will not find that motto in the Museum of the Bible, nor will you find that sentiment.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Leonard Cohen's Sufi Mysticism

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch be my homeward dove
And dance me to the end of love.--Leonard Cohen

and this made me think that this could easily be a Sufi poem, something like

Suddenly the drunken sweetheart appeared out of my door.

She drank a cup of ruby wine and sat by my side.
Seeing and holding the lockets of her hair
My face became all eyes, and my eyes all hands.--Rumi [Translator: Shahram Shiva]

Mary Blye Howe's book, Sitting With Sufis, instructs us that:
"For the Sufi, Love is the path to God. Rumi tells us that only the person whose garment is'rent by the violence of love' can be be wholly pure from covetousness and sin."
And this love is not the "agape" love that protestants like to portray it as, or rather, it is and it isn't. Agape love is a general term, one that can also include the passion of a lover (it is used in the Septuagint to describe Amnon's love for his half-sister, Tamar (not that Tamar...the other Tamar) who he then rapes.
Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, both of us above
And dance me to the end of love. --Leonard Cohen
What wedding is Cohen speaking about here? And what time period does he refer to, dancing very long? And how can we be beneath our love and above it at the same time? Perhaps this no ordinary human love he speaks to.
Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, through every thread is torn
And dance me to the end of love.--Leonard Cohen
"Through the curtains that our kisses have outworn." Doesn't that dovetail nicely with Rumi noting that our garments should be rent by love? And the tent of shelter...a temple?
I don't know enough of Cohen's theology to make him into a Sufi mystic or Kabbalist (the Zohar text of the Kabbala is replete with this sort of language like The Song of Songs) or even a proto-Christian. As a columnist once said, "If he were to be theologically categorized, he could be called a panentheist, in dialogue with a God that lured him onward."
It really doesn't matter what you label him as. Cohen was a man who sought to find the right question more than to find the answer. And that question was filled with an ocean of love.