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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Processed Church

To process: the performing of a series of actions to change or preserve something.

Michael Pollan’s documentary film series, Cooked, ends with the final episode on Earth, which describes the culinary act of fermentation. The penultimate episode dealt with Air, and mainly featured the baking of bread with an inspection of what process is involved with changing wheat kernels into flour. Previous episodes dealt with Fire and Water.

To watch as food is changed from form to form, by the action of fire, or bacteria or yeast, or simply time, makes you aware of how far we have become separated from original methods of processing food. How we now substitute manufacturing processes in order to produce cheap packaged products that last a very long time on store shelves. We know we lose something for convenience, and for costs.

What is that something?

Maybe we hide something. Or substitute something for another. Is this a kind of game we play, a trick? A pretense?

A loaf of genuine sourdough bread baked in one’s very own oven is not the white bread held in plastic bags stacked neatly on supermarket shelves. We call both bread. One is; the other is something else we merely call bread. The essence in the latter is hidden, to the point of vanishing.

I could make the same point comparing a finely made home-brew to Budweiser. Or a home-made yogurt to Yoplait.

One has been changed, processed out of existence. Bit by bit. To discover the original you have to go back to the very basics, before the manufacturing of profit and loss and indefinite shelf-life.

Modern religion is the processed food of the spirit. To wonder as the first wondered you have to remove yourself from the church, from the dogma and doctrine. You have to eliminate the answers others have penned in, pinned on, and concentrate on the questions.

This is the lesson of the Gospels. Jesus is portrayed in these stories as a man shoving aside the assumptions of the religion of his day. Prior to the doctrines concerning his divinity, the docetism, the christologies, there was the profound question: Who is this man? This man that says these things? When he died, his followers were shocked, I believe. They most likely had been told by him that he was the messiah. That was why he was killed, after all. How could it be he died without achieving the kingdom that he spoke so much about? He had spoken to them, had convinced them that the kingdom of God was at hand. And so they believed...until it wasn’t...and then they didn’t. But then new ideas crept in, new doctrine, and the rest is history.

The process of changing Jesus into God, of a small gathering of disciples into an empire, took many years. Layers of argument formed the concrete of liturgies and theologies. Lasting for almost two thousand years. The process of layering dogma upon dogma protects and hardens against almost all internal dispute. But there are always some who ask what was it like in the beginning, before the rules, before the answers.

Transformation is a change, an alteration from one thing to another. Processed foods are transformed, but we call the natural baking of bread, in its simplest form, a transformation, not a process. This is simply saying that processed things have a negative connotation, and transformation a positive one. Likewise, the fermentation of wine and beer use the natural transformation via yeasts omnipresent in the air and on surfaces to change into alcoholic beverages. The yeasts seated on the ground grain bubble up to breathe within a dark, warm, wet environment and produce sourdough.

Transformation reaches back to the natural beginnings, as we look for the reasons for a change, in order to discover the how’s and why’s. Perhaps that is really where mankind discovered science, in the laboratory of a dish of fermented grapes or grains. The transformation became both religion and science. We wanted to know what was hidden that delivered such a life-giving product to us. Dionysus was worshiped for the amazing properties of the foods and drink which gave us that fermented magic. Later in history that same wonder gave us science, which is really just a tool to answer questions, which then gives us more questions. And all along our history we sat looking, wondering at all the hidden things in life, creating works that showed what we were, how we thought: Art.

It is the question that alters, the question that spurs.

If one were to take a medical text from the 17th century and use it today to train our doctors and researchers we would be in a very bad way. Not only would people die needlessly, we would also be asking the wrong questions, the questions we have learned to ask since that book was written; we’d ask about how the humours influenced us, perhaps about the astrological influences, about the need for bleeding. We are doing precisely that when we go to church and use the Bible for our only spiritual guide. We ask what does the Bible say about homosexuality? What does the Bible say about the role of women in church? About the age of the earth? The Bible should not be tossed aside (nor should we toss aside our 17th century guide) as worthless, but we should learn to use it alongside other guides that we have learned are quite useful and that have taught us much, taught us too about the Bible, what it really is, how it was really put together.

What we should be using are the guides of science, guides that use experiments to test hypothesis, mathematical guides that tell us logically what is possible; and the guide of nature itself, looking at nature, as an artist or scientist, or just in wonderment, and asking questions of it.

Religion has become the hardened answer to what used to be a wonderful question. In science we form a hypothesis and see what turns out to be true, experimentally. “Is this the way things happen?” How? Why? What. Is. This. Really?

Similar to the kingdom of heaven is leaven that a woman, taking, hid in three measures of flour until was leavened all.  --Matthew 13:33

This yeast, is hidden within the flour--and a great deal of flour it was. What Jesus was saying, I think, is not so much an allegorical teaching as a pointing to the essence of ourselves, or at least our spiritual selves. He saw the kingdom of God as a community, a community where everyone saw everyone else as themselves, as members of a whole body, living in common, taking care of each other, a family of God. And as God within nature supports his creation naturally so does God support us. As the leaven, hidden, works its magic until it blossoms as a loaf of living bread.

Jesus was describing the kingdom of God: the hidden --but discoverable!-- source of life. Jesus himself was turned into the very symbol of that life, later worshipped as that source. The eucharist, a marvelous magical symbol, the transformation of the bread to Jesus Christ, delivered a symbol of a symbol of a natural source of God’s goodness: bread.

And then so many words were written to wrap Jesus up and deliver him to the people. In time he was processed like a plastic-wrapped package of Wonder Bread, words that held him like chains, so enwrapped and involved him that he is not even seen through them. So where to sit and try and view him, find him again?

Maybe an orchard, maybe in some baker’s kitchen. Hidden for a short while, but just wait a bit.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Old Church

The church that I belong to seems old. It has lost the ability to grow and it deteriorates with age. But it isn’t old just in the sense of losing its capacity to grow, in its energy; it is old in the sense that it imagines itself as old, and places itself at a time more than one hundred years ago, around the time of 1850 or so.


That was the time when science never heard of natural selection. A time that was still pre-industrial and climate change was far into the future. It was a time when race was solidly understood by the majority of people as a great divide and a biological imperative. It was a time before the age of mass destruction from warfare and mass shootings. It was a time before even the term “homosexual” was known and used, and certainly not other terms such as “trans-sexual,” “queer,” “gay.” It was pre-dispensationalist, and so end times were not given so easily as an excuse for inaction. It was a time before the landmark collection, Essays and Reviews, was published, which for a time destroyed the idea of an inerrant and consistent reading of the Bible (cf especially, H. B. Wilson’s ideas concerning the need for morality to be ascendant over doctrine; and Jowett’s essay On the Interpretation of Scripture), and gave a leg up to modern theological liberalism with its view that reason has received short-shrift in many an evangelical church.

We in the Church/church have walled ourselves off because we use creation science, not the real science, to justify the inerrancy of biblical language. We treat Jonah as really being in the belly of fish/whale; we treat Adam and Eve as being real people (and Moses, and Abraham, and Jacob, and on and on). We think that Noah (real guy, that Noah) built a great big ark (real ark!) so that all the animals would survive a worldwide flood (real flood!). We don’t tend to discuss climate change. We do tend to discuss the coming of Jesus. We spend all our time building a fortress that keeps other, more knowledgeable people, outside of our cult-ish interior.


With age comes many things, wisdom often quoted among them--but not always present--in aged institutions and people. Though there is often, with age, an impulse to divulge, to present openly when before, at a younger age, one tended to wait, to recede in the background, to see how others put forth their arguments, their beliefs. As you age you sometimes get bolder.


But not the church.


You cannot call yourself bold when you are living in the far gone past; 1850 does not allow you to be revolutionary in any mode of thought.


But, some in this old, old church will say, it is better to be right than merely modern. Prevailing opinion isn’t correct just by virtue of it being current.


Granted.


Yet a church that fails to argue the points is a church that has already failed to convince any to its point of view. The secularists have made their choices. They have walked away. They have largely argued these views individually and come to conclusions that the church disagrees with, and not just those views touched on previously, but spiritual doctrines that many people simply do not believe in anymore.


A church that teaches the same doctrine, views the world through the same eyes, has the same viewpoints that occurred in 1850, is not a church that will survive much longer. Indeed, it is something of a miracle that it has survived this long. Do not expect it to survive beyond this next generation, because this generation has made itself known as one for which progress is important, and which demands that ideas be talked about, and defended. This generation wants, and needs, a church that will be the tip of the spear to thoughtful, progressive ideas and solutions to the problems in a modern world. That is where the energy is deployed. The church, to them, is now more the butt of the shaft, held tight (to the past).

If the church wishes to remain relevant, it needs to speak to relevant topics, in a modern way, with modern ideas (science) not viewed as the enemy of God but as Calvin saw it all, as non-threatening, as merely a part of a revealing nature. And if it does not wish to take part in relevant discussions, does not wish to partake in the controversies that surround us, then why should we care if it lives or dies? Something else will replace it. Jesus said nothing will prevail against his church, but did not say that the church would remain stagnant. As the church changes, it becomes other than what it was. Someday, perhaps very soon, those in the church will find themselves outside what the church currently establishes itself as, and those in the church of 1850 will not recognise it, will not even see it as a church at all. They will be lost in the past, and only history books will speak of them, if they’re even that fortunate.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Beautiful Book

Image result for signsThere is a sense in which you can take any sign whatsoever, whether a tree, a musical note, a word, and find ambiguity, find a space that resonates and echoes until you lose it completely and you wonder, What did that mean?
There is also a sense in which you can take any sign and apply it almost exactly, precisely to a given situation. You have the sense that you know it completely.
Signs are like this, like a jazz composition, that the composer has written down and gives to a few different bands to play. All the bands have the same musical notations, the signs, and they appears exactly the same on the page. Yet all the bands will play a different song, if only slightly different, playing within the ambiguous space of the composer’s signs.
That is language.

Everyone knows what it is; and no one knows what it is.

Nietzsche apparently felt that truth is a “mobile army of metaphors, metonymies and anthropomorphisms...illusions whose illusory nature has been forgotten.” Umberto Eco apparently disagreed. When reading semioticians my mind fogs. But however Eco dismantled Nietzsche, the philosopher caught that sweeping nature of signs, of pointing to an expanding truth, but a truth that is vaporous and that does not have a distinctness to it. You simply cannot draw an outline around the truth and shade it all in, point to it, and say, There! That’s it.

So when I listen and read the evangelical predisposition to absolute truth as written in the inspired Word of God, the Bible, I am predisposed myself to add a rejoinder: Have you never thought about the words? The words themselves? What do you know about them? What can you know about them?

I am going to guess that after studying Eco and all the other great semioticians one would, if even a little like me, still be left a bit askew. It’s a tall task. It is a task that few even seem to know exists: a bit like not noticing that, Ah! Over there is a mountain called Everest. Never noticed it before! How’d I miss that?

Here is a bit, as explanation, of Eco’s formula (taken from an online lecture by Gary Genosko:
Consider, then, the nuts and bolts of Eco’s model. A sender makes reference to presupposed codes (and the circumstances orienting these) and selected subcodes in the formation of a message that flows through channel; this message is a source of information (expression) with contextual and circumstantial settings (settings that are coded according to cultural conventions or remain relatively uncoded or not yet coded such as biological constraints). The addressee receives the message and with reference to his or her own presupposed codes (and the actual circumstances, which may deviate from the presuppositions) and selected subcodes, the selection of which may be indicated by the context and circumstances, interprets the message text (content). Here, Eco adopts from Metz the redefinition of message as text as “the results of the coexistence of many codes (or, at least, many subcodes).” ((A Theory of Semiotics, p. 57.)) The structuralist disconnection of the message-text from authorial intention helps to underline Eco’s sense of the interpretive freedom found in certain kinds of decoding that eludes such a point of reference.

Well, that clears it up.

It must be clear that our texts, and our cultural assignations of that text, and our interpretations of that text, the connotative and denotative meanings, and so forth, render meaning inescapably...fuzzy.

Back to our jazz band. Let’s suppose that the musical score is Genesis (an analogy). Each of our jazz bands takes the notes and interprets them differently, each sees some freedom within the signs and toots out a different tune. Chord changes occur quite apart from the text itself, but one’s interpretation of signs leads to different outcomes. A different song appears, and not just between the three bands, but if allowed to play the tune again, each time it becomes something else.

This is not merely true of music. This is what happens to language.

The Bible is not language embedded in concrete. It is musical. It is interpretive. It is fuzzy. That is just the way it is, you cannot get around it, though many pretend otherwise.

An evangelical fundamentalist reads Genesis and interprets the melody, calculates the rests and time signature, and concludes that the earth is 4500 years old, give or take. He calculates that we came from one man, Adam. He calculates that God walked the earth and gave him fruit to eat but that Adam disobeyed and ate of that one tree he should not have eaten from. He further calculates that evolution is crap and a whole lot of people walked the earth named Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Moses. And so forth. He closes the canon and declares it Good! (But homosexuality is very bad!)

Such is the result of not knowing much about semiotics, language interpretation, mythic reading, translation theory, or much about anything. This is what ignorance does, propping up mis-readings as idol-worship, as bibliolatry.

There is a cure for this sort of destructive non-interpretive mode of reading the Bible: it is to read it as Art. William Blake thought of the Bible as the Great Code of Art. And so it is, but only if you understand how language works, how the hidden inconsistencies (actually, they are not so hidden but are quite openly declared if you choose to see them) within the Bible show humanity’s grappling with the warring tendencies of life, how life is this and that, at the same time; Job resisting the impulse to curse God but pretty much cursing him anyway; God telling Job who he is talking to...and not telling him anything; psalms of great praise to God and psalms questioning God’s goodness. And that is just the Old Testament. There is a lot here in the Bible; a lot that needs digesting. But don’t think that it actually can be digested, that it can be made sense of. It cannot. You have to hold the warring factions in your head all at once, as if a Zen koan; the Jehovah of death and destruction alongside the Adonai of Jesus. The sound of one hand clapping.

Beautiful things have tension, lack perfect symmetry. They say: A terrible beauty. They emerge, beautiful things do, out of time and space and history, full of noise and terror and cradled softness: it comes and then it goes, born to die. It is not easy, this sort of book, and neither should it be.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Greatest Enemy of the Spirit of God is...


[I was going to title the blog post as "The Greatest Enemy of Religion," since it is pithier; but the point isn't truly Religion's enemy, as an institution...and I like Spirit instead of God because Spirit is more numinous, more hazy: God cannot be a "being" but must be seen as more of a verb--so say I.]

The greatest enemy is...The Bible.

Now, it doesn't have to be, need to be; but it currently is the greatest enemy. I am going to use a metaphor that Timothy Beal uses in his  book, "The Rise and Fall of the Bible." Professor Beal compares the Bible (which he notes in the sixth chapter of that book, which I like quite a bit, is actually a mistranslation as the original Greek ta biblia truly means the scrolls, or the books) to a rock which people cling to, unchanging, hard, a foundation we can firmly stand on. Or...we could choose to see it as a river, which can carry us onward, to a journey that we leap into, that carries us to unknown places in unknowable ways, if we let it. If we stop clinging to what it is we think we know.

But I do not advocate forgetting it, or burning it or anything drastic like that. The Bible is valuable; it is necessary to read it to understand history and the current political situation; it is valuable spiritually if only for the parables of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount and many of what the historical Jesus said (one does have to realize that there is an historical Jesus, the man-Jesus, and another Superman-Jesus) as well as Psalm 23 and the Song of Solomon and many, many other writings within it.

The Bible is the enemy of the Spirit because religions keep teaching that it is unchanging, that it is fixed, that it is inerrant, has no discrepancies--is sufficient. The more you study the Bible for yourself, without the leading hand of some study manual or pastor, the more it becomes obvious that this is not history, and is not inerrant. We've been sold a pig in a poke.

Ever since the New Criticism of the mid-nineteenth century (cf Julius Wellhausen and Essays and Reviews, 1961) we have learned bit by bit that there is no original Bible. There are many variants. The variants do not always agree. They've learned that the Torah is not one story but several all melded into one, being pieced together by different factions.

And we've learned that there was no actual Eden, no real Adam or Eve (or Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, or Noah). Archaeology has not been kind to the Bible. Sure, it has found evidence for certain important events, such as the existence of many cities and civilizations mentioned in the Bible. However, the Noah's Ark, exodus, the First Temple, the wandering in the desert...nope.

They have learned that the Gospels are sometimes historical and sometimes not so much; you have to be careful to apply the tools of historical scholarship to the New Testament before saying that Jesus said this or that (cf Bart Ehrman). They have learned that Paul did not write all the letters ascribed to him. They have learned that Revelation was not written by John of the Gospel, nor did John the son of Zebedee, write the Gospel of John. Who wrote the other Gospels? No one knows.

If you read the Bible in parallel versions you will realize that discrepancies not only exist, they are everywhere. You will be unable to square certain sections such as the account of Genesis (there are two in Genesis but another in Job and another in Proverbs), which robe was placed on Jesus (the scarlet or the purple?), who saw Jesus and when at the resurrection (and where did he go and to whom did he go?), and you will be unable to account for modern scientific theories (evolution, the theory of gravity in Jericho's demise in Joshua...though alternate reading for that merely could allow for a long day's light...but still the Bible is still contradicting itself when it states that God allowed himself to be influenced by man for the first time here: "there has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice."  Um...wrong. Cf Moses, cf Abraham.) And if any book will turn you away from God it's probably Joshua, where we are given a description of God that can be likened to Stalin.

That isn't to say you cannot find God in the Bible. You just have to be discriminating. The Song of Solomon. The Sermon on the Mount. Psalm 23. Genesis (if you don't allow yourself to treat it as some sort of scientific treatise). The parables. There's a lot of great stuff here. Don't ignore it. And don't pass it all off as the skeptics often do, throwing out the baby with the bath water.

God is in there, but he is hidden.

To reveal Him in the Bible you can do the same thing that you do when you reveal Him elsewhere: stop looking for Him as a Him (or a Her or an It) and start looking for the verb, the action, the love: love as action, moving through creation: love as creative action. That is God.

The Bible has become, in the hands of evangelical conservative Christians, a house of cards that has already fallen. It came against science and science won. It came against historical criticism and the latter won. To rely on this version of the Bible, the one of literal truth, is to plant one's foot squarely on the brakes of any future revival of Christianity.




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

God is in control

God is in control.

So say the evangelicals after the Trump election. So says Michael Gerson albeit in a more honest and intellectual way (I have pasted his column to the end of this blog). And so say I, though with a different inflection, a different meaning entirely, from the Christian Right.

Today I saw that, while traveling in a plane to the finals in Colombia, the Brazilian soccer team, Chapacoense, crashed and all but three team members and some from the crew perished. God is in control.

God is good, all the time. So says the evangelical Right.

Aleppo battle continues. 16,000 civilians flee.

God is in control. God is good. All the time.

Think of the God of the Now. Think of His presence throughout all the created universe, His influence, His power, His essence. Where is this God, this He? Nowhere. Not in heaven, which is not a place any telescope can point out; not on Mars or any star; He is not in the Kuiper Belt or in the sun or on the dark side of the moon, hiding. 

He is not a He. But He who is not a He is in control and is always So God-awful good?

"God is a verb, not a noun."--Buckminster Fuller. Why isn't that obvious? He is not an old man, he is not some angel; it is not a he nor a He. Nor is he a She. Even in that dusty tome, The Holy Bible, God says to Moses I am that I am (Ex 3:14), which is a verb. I have read that in the Hebrew the phrase can be considered as conflating all the tenses of the verb "to be," past, future, present.

God is good. All the time.

Three army personnel killed in terror attack in Nagrota, India.

Where is God when a child is suffering? When a child with cancer is undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments, that child suffers torment; it is the same as if someone were torturing her. The child, she screams, screeches. The father can do nothing. Except weep. 

God is good. All the time.

Where is God then? In the space-less heavens? Where? It is the wrong question. God is nowhere. God is a verb; God is what is alive, God is creation as it is creating itself. 

There is no goodness in God except for what is becoming. There is no control from God except for what is and is to come. 

To be is not about happiness. It is merely to be. 

Perhaps we expect too much of God.  
..............
The Michael Gerson column is pasted below: 

Among the disappointments of the 2016 election, the close identification of many evangelicals with a right-wing populism has been the most personally difficult. On Election Day, it was disturbing to see so many of my tribe in Donald Trump’s war paint.
The most enthusiastic Trump evangelicals have taken the excesses of the Religious Right in the 1980s not as awarning but as a playbook. In this political season, they often acted more like an interest group seeking protection and favor than a voice of conscience. They blessed an agenda that targeted minorities and refugees. They employed apocalyptic rhetoric as a get-out-the-vote technique. And they hitched the reputation of their religious tradition to a skittish horse near a precipice.
As a citizen, Ihope that the faith many evangelicals have placed in the Trump administration is justified. As a commentator, I expect a tunnel at the end of the light.
It is part of my job to have strong opinions on public matters. But lately I have been conscious of a certain, unwelcome symmetry. When it comes to Trump evangelicals, I have found myself angry at how they have endorsed the politics of anger; bitter about the bitter political spirit they have encouraged; feeling a bit hypocritical in my zeal to point out their hypocrisy. A dark mood has led to anxiety and harshness.
This is the mortal risk of politics: to become what you condemn. It is not limited to one side of our cultural and political divide. Religious conservatives, for example, are typically attacked by liberals for being preachy and sanctimonious. But televangelists have nothing to teach the cast of “Hamilton.” In my case, I know — in calmer and clearer moments — that an attitude of fuming, prickly anxiety is foreign to my faith, for a couple of reasons.
First, Christian belief relativizes politics. The pursuit of social justice and the maintenance of public order are vital work. But these tasks are temporary, and, in an ultimate sense, secondary. If Christianity is true, C.S. Lewis noted, then “the individual person will outlive the universe.” All our anger and worry about politics should not blind us to the priority and value of the human beings placed in our lives, whatever their background or beliefs.
Christianity teaches that everyone broken, sick, and lonely — everyone beneath our notice or beneath our contempt — is, somehow, Christ among us. “He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the Earth,” said Dorothy Day. I suspect this also applies to Trump supporters — or never-Trumpers, depending on your political proclivity. “Those people” are also “our people.”
We show civility and respect, not because the men and women who share our path always deserve it or return it, but because they bear a divine image that can never be completely erased. No change of president or shift in the composition of the Supreme Court can result in the repeal of the Golden Rule.
Second, Christians are instructed not to be anxious —“take no thought for tomorrow” — because they can trust in a benevolent purpose behind events. This may, of course, be a delusion, though it would be a mass delusion affecting most of humanity through most of history. If the atheists are correct, the universe is vast, cold and silent, indifferent to the lives and dreams of jumped-up primates crawling on an unremarkable blue ball, destined for destruction by a dying sun — a prospect that may be even worse than a Trump administration.
If Christians are correct, that blue ball was touched by God in a manner and form that Homo sapiens might understand. And the vast, cold universe is really a sheltering sky.
Days away from the start of Advent, many Christians are beginning their spiritual preparation for God’s implausible intervention. Advent is a season, wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell, “in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.” For believers, Christmas culminates the remarkable story of a God who searches for us. The only adequate responses are stillness, gratitude and trust.
After a dismal and divisive campaign season, many of us need the timely reminders of the Advent season: That people matter more than all our political certainties. That God is in control, despite our best efforts. And that some conflicts can’t be won by force or votes — only by grace.
• Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

Friday, November 25, 2016

So what the heck is evangelical Christianity?

So what is evangelical Christianity? There are the basics, or five fundamentals (or more depending on your particular denominational flavor): Biblical inspiration and the impossibility of error within scripture; the virgin birth; Jesus' atonement for sin; bodily resurrection of Jesus; belief in Jesus' miracles.

Okay, so that is a beginning.

But at some time, not sure when but probably around the mid-century, something else happened, something that created a sub-set of fundamentalism: the evangelical movement. They still liked the five F's but seemed squishy regarding other non-fundamentalists, more likely to reach out, as Billy Graham did, to the youth. Youth for Life and like-minded organizations sought out the young with rock concerts (Christian rock concerts, but still) and Bibles that emphasized paraphrastic interpretations, emphasized form over content one might say. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Bible, Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve Univ at the time of the publication of his book, shows that there has been a definite slippery slope toward the promotion of the Bible over the sanctity of the Bible.

Evangelicals also emphasized the "born again" experience, and the relationship with Jesus. They were true Lutherans in the original sense, believing stridently in salvation through faith by the grace of God's gift of Jesus' death and resurrection. There is a strong attraction to end times (we are always, it seems, living in the end times...until we aren't) and dispensationalism. There is also a strong tendency to judge: Gays have not been known to flock to evangelical churches (neither have any LGBTQ people).

The term, however, is difficult to really pin down. Mainline Christian churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and even the Catholic Church (decidedly looked askance at by evangelicals) have the appellation "evangelical." Evangelicals will use the term, at least in the US, to differentiate themselves from other mainline churches, and Catholics.

There is a cultural difference, too, it seems to me. Evangelicals are largely white, and fervent nationalists, fervent capitalists, Republicans all (I am aware of something called Progressive Evangelical Christianity but it seems so far afield from what I experience in the evangelical world that I do not speak of it here), and also largely of the Tea Party/Libertarian sort.They are chiefly set in the South. But inroads have been made even in New England where an evangelical college has been started, the New England Baptist College and the Southern Baptist Association has helped to plant churches all through New England but mostly Vermont, seen as a bellwether of insidious liberalism (if they can grow churches in Vermont, one can hear them say, they can grow them anywhere).

Evangelicals love football, sports of all kinds, hunting, conservative politics, and prayer. Prayer is a biggy. Not the sort of prayer that Kierkegaard spoke of (The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays) or squishy meditation, but healing prayer, prayer that changes the lives of others and even the world. It is said often that the most important thing we can do for the nation, for the planet, for one's neighbor, for one's church, is to pray. God is always in control, you see? Nothing happens without the hand of God in it. But what of disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamies, war, torture, starvation, injustice... but why ask these pesky questions. God is in control!

Revival is a popular topic. Waiting and praying for revival. End times, as I previously mentioned, is another.

Climate change is not really a concern to evangelicals. Why would it be if we are living in the end times, if the new kingdom of God is just around the corner. Heck, all of politics is pretty much just a forerunner to the coming of Jesus--some even think that we can egg on God to get this going faster by pricking the Israel-Palestine conflict. Get that temple built!

All this comes at a cost. The kind of society that Jesus was teaching us about, caring for one's neighbors, peaceful but progressive change, helping the homeless the poor, widows, orphans, children, making sure everyone has healthcare, treating everyone equally and with respect, all these problems have solutions; but these solutions are not seen as necessary if we have another New Kingdom coming around the corner. Why bother changing the world if Jesus is coming tomorrow?

This is why I see evangelical Christianity as something to be fought against, something to be argued against, something to be at war with. It is one thing to believe prayer can alter the course of the universe by convincing the Creator that, Hey, that girl with diabetes should really be treated better don't you think? Those being tortured by ISIS can use a helping hand 'cause apparently you forgot about them; it is one thing to think that scripture was written by God's hand (or his inspiration whatever that truly means); it is one thing to think Jesus is coming in glory tomorrow; but it is quite another to ignore the present danger of climate warming that will destroy the lives of billions. It is quite another to ignore inequality that takes food from the mouths of children. It is quite a different thing altogether to be pro-birth but care not one wit about children drinking lead and other poisons and breathing in mercury from coal stacks, or starving, or just plain dying because their parent don't have any health insurance.

Evangelicals have also aligned themselves so fervently with the GOP that they voted (more than 81%) for Donald Trump, who cannot even be described as a Christian, let alone an evangelical. They previously voted for Romney, a Mormon, a religion evangelicals do no even consider Christian. It does not matter that Trump proved a liar, a philanderer, a man of no morals, a cheater, a xenophobe, a sexual predator. Didn't matter that his wife posed naked for a lesbian photo-shoot (I personally have no problem with the photos; but evangelicals show their hypocrisy when they don't). Didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the "R" next to his name. It should be scarlet, and it should have been a "P" for Power.

And this is why I will no long ever consider myself an evangelical Christian.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Epilogue

“Our names may perish” said the boy, Kolya, at the funeral of the little peasant boy, Ilyusha, in Dostoevsky last masterpiece. And they will. Time will fly on by, like the sparrows that the boy wished to flock to his grave, to keep him company.

The election now seems like a funeral, so that is why the reference to The Brothers Karamazov. And for those who dislike veiled references, I point out that the progressive movement which hoped to push the nation into the future space of its past promises, Ilyusha, the poor peasant boy struck down by a mixture of peasantry and bad luck, is that very same progressive movement; a movement that hoped to quell the poverty and homelessness of a sick, anti-Christian austerity, heal the earth from a despoilment of over a century of greedy oilmen, and finish the social movement built on equality and fairness for all: gays, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and the transgendered.

It was all going so well. Until it wasn’t.

Now we face the shovelfuls of dirt pouring down on our shocked faces.

Not forever. But long enough. At least for a generation. Until this pitiful “Boomer” generation has passed on and we make space for our children and our childrens’ children, only then can the earth hope for some respite from our clawing, grasping hands. Has there ever been a generation more deserving of its name perishing?

The world needed one more “greatest generation.” It got instead one that can be described as miserly and measly. Another conservative court will abscond with its corruptible Citizens United verdicts, its shackling of the EPA, its allowance of Republican voter fraud (known as gerrymandering).

The novel ends hopefully. Alyosha, the true hero of the novel, spiritual heir of the author, expounds on the beauty within the ties of humanity, how they will remember their friend forever, will remember their brotherhood on that day, when they stood around the grave, humbly, together in humanity and love.


Dostoevsky hoped for great things from his countrymen. Love, brotherhood. One generation after his death came the 1917 revolution and decades of death and repression. Standing over the grave of the progressive movement, after this victory of an alt-right racist, misogynist, and it also must be said, idiot, we can remember our brotherhood as Alyosha did. That is what I prefer. But I wonder about the revolution of 1917. The progressives will always be a force. Now though one does have to wonder if it is all just too late.