We once had a prayer

urlThe hopes of so many American Christians seemed to have rested on the election of Donald Trump as President. His was the premise upon which Christian leadership so often depends. A man of conviction. Of strong words. A man who promised, along with his running mate Mike Pence, to ban the legal right to an abortion.

This was the centerpiece of the movement by the voting bloc known as evangelical Christians to elect Trump. There have been many other attempts over the years, with hopes pinned to men such as George W. Bush, who talked the talk but never even flirted with the idea of banning abortion.

Going way back to the likes of Ronald Reagan, fundamentalist Christians and biblical literalist have been leaning on presidents and politicians to make the case that America is indeed a Christian nation. If only some form of theocracy could take over the national narrative, everything would work out. America would again enjoy favor in God’s eyes, went the theory.

Instead, the nation leaned toward installing human rights to people that were not favored by the Christian Right. In particular, the notion that gay people deserved civil justice such as the right to marry has stuck in the collective craw of evangelicals and their ilk. It all sinks back to a literal interpretation of the bible and a selective view that some passages found within Holy Scripture are immutable even though others, such as outmoded laws in the Book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy can be conveniently ignored.

We might have had a prayer of progress on such issues if such claims were not at the heart of the cognitive dissonance behind what so many evangelical Christians claim as truth. The history of literalistic religion is anchored in such false beliefs that have also been used to make the contention that blacks are inferior, or should be kept as slaves. Or that women were not capable of working the same jobs as men, or to vote.

Such prejudices are not the product of honest biblical understanding. Instead, they have long been the product of stubborn, stiff-necked minds wrapped in fears of The Other. Most adherence to biblical literalism is the product of selfish aims. The fact that the Chief Priests in the days of Christ were legalists who turned scripture into law drew wrath from the Son of God. Yet to this day, so-called Christians behave the exact same way, exacting punishment and disbarment on all who do not agree to abide by harsh and strict forms of law derived from a literal interpretation of scripture.

Admissions

These are the sins of believers that they never like to admit. Indeed, they will not. And as a result, they must become ever more forceful in their endeavors to install their belief systems on the world. Deep within their conscience, they know that their selective beliefs are a house of the tallest order. A Tower of Babel, as it were, constructed of repeated errors in using scripture as a weapon, not a tool of understanding.

The same selectivity that supports the prejudice of so many Christians against gays or other supposed cultural opponents was also applied during the 2016 presidential election. Evangelicals lined up against Hillary Clinton on belief that her support for her husband in his transgressions actually constituted a character flaw of her own.

This contention was not a Christian instinct at all, but a political one for sure. It gave evangelical Christians an excuse to dismiss the very public demonstrations of misogyny and aggression toward women by Donald Trump. Evangelicals lined up to justify voting for the man by claiming that he stood for a “higher purpose.” That would be the vote against abortion and installation of a conservative Supreme Court that would do the religious will of the evangelical Christian community.

Silent Night, Holy might

We might have had a prayer of defeating this anti-Constitutional movement if the Christian church at large had attempted to call these gross interpretations of scriptural verity and political expedience to account. We might have had a prayer of calling Trump’s bluff in those moments when his claimed devotion to Christian faith proved so shallow and false that it bore not resemblance even to the casual Sunday worshipper who struggles through church just to get back to the couch and watch an NFL game, the other Sunday religion.

It did not help that the conservative media spent the past two years castigating the Catholic Pope Francis as a “liberal” who therefore did not deserve the attention of “real Christians” or conservative politicians. When Pope Francis explained that everything in the Bible that does not lead to the love of Christ is obsolete, he wittingly offended evangelicals whose very life support in faith depends on those passages that are interpreted to offend and isolate entire segments of society.

It is the opposite of what Jesus came to represent for the Christian faith. We might have had a prayer of respecting real Christian tradition by resisting the likes of Donald Trump. But the complicity of evangelicals in electing a man who is clearly a money-grubbing, selfish, sexist, racist, misogynistic and fascist jerk put all that to rest. That prayer of understanding and Christian leadership was exploded like a balloon the day that Donald Trump was elected. And to fulfill his role as the effective anti-Christ, Trump turned around and named Stephen Bannon as one of his chief advisors. Bannon subsequently praised Satan and the value of darkness as inspirations for political practice and cultural foundations.

Turning backs on God

We once had a prayer of doing the right thing. But Americans with narrow minds and fear in their hearts turned their back on God and elected a man with the heart of a wicked king that has installed heartless, clueless and faithless people as leaders of this country.

God will not be amused. Nor will Jesus Christ or all the saints of the past. Donald Trump is the worst thing to ever happen to America. And so-called Christians made it happen.

It makes you wonder if Stephen Bannon and all those Left Behind Christians haven’t been right about this place we call America all along. Perhaps it is the height of evil on the order of the Roman Empire in its worst moments. We had a prayer of proving that wrong. But we didn’t. And now the reincarnation of Caligula is in charge.

We once had a prayer. But we had better start praying all over again. And this time get it right.

An honest examination of the abortion issue

It has taken a long time in life to learn some of the family history that does not often get talked about. Mainly, this has pertained to miscarriages. Stillborn children. Lives that did not make it much past the birthing process, or not at all. My mother had two children that did not survive. They had names. But they did not live to use them. The same held true with my mother-in-law. There is a grave for the child to which she gave birth, but did not survive.

This pattern is real, and it is painful. Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral for the daughter of a woman that I have known since she was born 20+ years ago.

All this infant carnage made me curious about how common it is for women to lose children through miscarriage, stillborn or otherwise naturally terminated pregnancies. What I found was stunning.

“Among females who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20% while rates among all fertilisation is around 30% to 50%. About 5% of females have two miscarriages in a row.”

True to these statistics, I know many, many women that have had miscarriages. Some have persisted through these immense challenges in carrying children to term and now have families. Others tried repeatedly and ultimately accepted their chances for a healthy birth were minimized either through biology, advancing age or infertility issues.

Those moments of agony when losing a child may be relatively brief, yet they provide a lifetime of grief. The turbulent experience is like being involved in a shipwreck where lives are lost, like these lyrics from the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…

Theologians warn us not to question the will of God, nor the love that supposedly abounds in all things. Yet those statistics about miscarriage are a haunting fact of reality. Because it’s true: Between 30-50% of all fertilization results in miscarriage. 

Staggering figures

Women may know this is going on, but many millions more will not. The numbers are still staggering to consider. If 20 million women per year come pregnant, that means between six million and ten million of those pregnancies terminate before or at the moment of birth resulting in lives lost.

This is human biology at work. It is a direct product of the big wheels turning in the process of evolution. Among all living things, fertility is evolved at a rate necessary to sustain the population. In any kind of living thing, the rate of fertility and reproduction must exceed the rate of mortality or the species will die out.

This is what makes it so sad to see the last living remnants of an animal species left on earth. Sometimes the last male or females of a species are incapable of breeding due to age or other fertility issues. Captive or artificial breeding can sometimes rescue species at risk of extinction from these factors. Successful artificial breeding programs have helped species such as the Whooping Crane and California Condor survive.

Fertility issues

This paradigm also holds true for a human couple trying to create a family. Yet the process can turn into a caricature. Fertility treatments can produce entire litters of children, and human fascination with extreme fertility has produced TV shows such as Kate + 8 featuring a woman with octuplets. Yet the extremes of human behavior also includes tragic response to extremes in fertility.

The harsh reality is that infant or child mortality is a real thing whether it is driven by human biology or wrought by human hands. The Pro-Life movement is insistent that the act of conducting an abortion is a sin against God because it takes the life of an unborn child. Arguments against abortion focus on the idea that a child exists from the moment of conception. That would apparently be somewhere in the process from the moment a sperm penetrates a human egg to the point where that egg begins dividing on the path toward creating human tissue.

Arguing the point at which a fertilized egg constitutes a human in existence is difficult. But the raw and gutsy argument must also be made that between 30% – 50% of all fertilized eggs go to waste, as it were, according to natural law.

God the Control Freak

Depending on your belief system, that might mean God is directing the whole process. Which would also mean that God has little reverence for what we consider human life at all. If half of all the human lives conceived in this world naturally get dumped in a wave of blood from the female vagina, then what does the term Pro-Life even mean?

The numbers ratchet up even further when we consider that with relatively rare exception, women menstruate beginning at the age of 10-12 and continue through their fifties or so. With more than 400 eggs stored in their ovaries from birth, women have the choice to breed and turn those eggs into children, or avoid motherhood altogether.

That is first and foremost a woman’s choice. Regardless of belief systems, we are all faced with the reality of free will. Our choices are our own to make. To argue otherwise is to insinuate that God is a control freak and indeed, murders all those real or imagined babies by cause of natural process. Is God really such a murderer? Where does the love of God go when the big wheels of nature keep turning?

Number and rate of abortions

There’s a fascinating website titled numberofabortions.com that ostensibly tracks the rate and number of abortions in the US and worldwide. As of November 2016, an estimated 900,000 abortions have taken place in the US. That is .0027 of the total American population.

The Guttmacher Institute reports statistics on the number of women who are sexually active in childbearing years in America.

  • There are 61 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44).[1] About 43 million of them (70%) are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method correctly and consistently.[2]

Given the known rate of miscarriage in America, the number of pregnancies ending by s0-called “natural causes” each year could be as many as 30.5M. Whether these are known or unknown terminations due to miscarriage or other causes, the numbers are still quite compelling in context with what constitutes our understanding of the relative preciousness of human life.

Beyond the numbers

Again, we must return to the emotional component to understand the harsh costs of these statistics. Women bear the brunt of emotional scars from terminated pregnancies, natural or otherwise. There is a very real effect in having lost a child no matter what stage it occurs in a pregnancy. Some might argue that the effects are far worse the later one gets into a pregnancy term. And yet, who is to determine that for a given women, or her given circumstance?

So the arguments for and against a woman’s choice to have an abortion must take all these factors into account. Yet the one factor that is seldom mentioned, if ever, in the debate over abortion is the natural mortality rate of human conception, the effective rate of miscarriages and stillborn children. All these factors define the context of human fertility and medical ethics surrounding the rate of abortion in America and worldwide.

Blaming Planned Parenthood

Castigating organizations such as Planned Parenthood for conducting abortions is, therefore, an inaccurate reflection of the greater reality with what happens in pregnancy and women’s health in America. Recall the Guttmacher statistics above, and the fact that some 70% of women capable of bearing children in America have inadequate access to birth control. If more women were given access to birth control services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the rate of abortions could go down dramatically.

And yet, abortion opponents attack Planned Parenthood over the effects, not the cause of unwanted pregnancies. This is truly putting the cart before the horse. Stop and consider the name of the organization in question: Planned Parenthood. Isn’t that a rational notion, that planning your pregnancy is the best option of all?

The wrong blame

It is false moralization to simultaneously accuse women of wanting abortions when efforts to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood are often led by Pro-Life politicians and their supporters. This is all done on the supposed higher moral grounds that people should not be having sex outside the bonds of marriage. But that is not the law of the land in America. There are no laws in the Constitution suggesting that people cannot have sex anytime or with anyone they want. The Founding Fathers had no interest in such concerns.

So it is a false notion that America is bound by such moral confinements as the claim that abstinence is superior to birth control. The Catholic Church has fought that battle for years, advocating the Rhythm Method as a supposedly moral alternative to wearing condoms or taking birth control pills. And yet 97% of Catholic women apparently ignore dictums of such as patriarchal nature. And why shouldn’t they?

Because if you want to get literal and technical about your religion at the same time, you could make the very legitimate argument that God is the ultimate abortion doctor. If you compare the number of abortions conducted in America each year (about 1 million) to the number of terminated pregnancies directed by God, the ratio is about 1:10 or higher.

What would Jesus do? 

So we should stop with all these Pro-Life claims on religious grounds that abortion should be illegal. Life is much more complicated than the Yes or No option to have an abortion. There is yet another layer to these issues as well. If abortion opponents were to ask Jesus Christ if it was the law that mattered, or ministering to the women who were considering abortion as an option, what do you honestly think the Son of God would say?

It is clear that Jesus never felt that the human race should depend on laws to effect change in the hearts of those facing challenges in their lives, of any sort. Jesus castigated the chief priests of his day over their dependence on law to define moral behavior and gain the approval of God. The same lesson had to be learned again when Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church to emphasize grace over law, thereby launching the Protestant Reformation.

And here we are again in history, fighting the same battles over laws such as Roe vs. Wade that are not borne of religious freedom at all, but center on a woman’s own right to determine the outcome of her pregnancy.

But let’s remember, if you truly believe that God has a say in all this, then you must consider the painful results of so many miscarriages on the lives of so many millions of women. This is the honest examination of the abortion issue.

Because how is it for you to judge that these outcomes are any less painful than the rational choice to end a pregnancy that might have been the result of forceful or desperate circumstances? And who are you to decide what is the more moral choice? To plan parenthood, or not?  Those are not your decisions to make for a woman. Not at all.

And if you disagree, then you should take it all up with your apparently meddlesome and murderous God. Because that is the one you obviously worship.

 

 

American Hustle, Trump style

irving-rosenfeldThe movie American Hustle focused on the scam activities of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. As fate would have it, America is now witnessing the return of a scam artist the likes of Rosenfeld, whose dramatic combover and clandestine financial dealings strongly resemble our ostensible President-elect, Donald Trump.

The similarities are striking on many fronts. Trump’s refusal to release any type of financial information about his business dealings have raised suspicions about the nature of his relationships and his true net worth. All these questions he dismissed with a wave of his hand as if there was nothing to see behind the man that has left a long trail of bankruptcies, lawsuits and business failings in his wake.

urlHis claim instead is that “I am rich.” But he forgets that the word has an ironic as well as a literal meaning. When someone questions your integrity, and your response is that your integrity is unassailable simply because you have money, the appropriately cynical response is, “Oh, that’s pretty rich.”

In other words, something stinks about the claim of absolute integrity. It deserves to be questioned, because Donald Trump is a scam artist the likes of Irving Rosenfeld.

Facts have now emerged that Donald Trump may well have been helping to scam America to win the election. His associations with the Russian government and the favoritism he has expressed toward its President, Vladimir Putin, are now exposed as scam designed to vladimir-putin-afp_650x400_81464860163shift results in favor of Trump. Russian hackers stole information and dumped it into the public sphere through Wikileaks.

This was all designed to damage the reputation of Hillary Clinton. If this was a true collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the scam may well constitute treason. It would almost certainly provide justification for the Electoral College to dump Trump on grounds that he is unfit for office.

Let’s face it: Even the Republican Party itself feels scammed by its President-Elect. There is a fair chance that even if Trump were installed as President, the Congress might move to impeach Trump on whatever grounds it can establish. The goal would be to install Vice President-Elect Mike Pence as President.

But that too would constitute a scam on the American people. It is likely that the arch-conservative Pence was approved by the GOP with the plan to replace Trump somewhere along the way. This entire ordeal is an American Hustle that is, according to all standards of political ethics, highly un-American at its source.

 

An existential take on Donald Trump and Mike Pence

Even at the Christian school where I went to college, we were encouraged to challenge the precepts of our faith. “The unexamined faith is not worth having,” was repeated over and over.

In that light, I enrolled in a course titled The Philosophy of Existentialism. We studied Jean Paul Sartre and read the books of Albert Camus and others. It was a grinding, difficult semester because existentialism is not an easy thing to take. Our professor was an engagingly deep thinker who would sit for minutes at a time with his index fingers pushed into the skin of his forehead as if he were attempted to push forth the thoughts lurking within.

IMG_3180But no reading struck me more than the short Sartre piece titled No Exit. Basically the premise of the story is that Hell is Other People. Example: if a person dies, they would be locked in a spare room forever with two other people. At any moment in time, you would not get along with one or the other person in the room.

That sure is hell. And as luck would have it, America is facing that sort of hell and having its supremely existential moment right now. Because if the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is allowed to go forward, and that is not a certainty, then every American will be locked in their own version of a spare room with these two zealots for what will seem like an eternity.

One can imagine getting along with Trump eventually. He changes positions on just about every topic known to man.

But Pence, he’s a stodgy, difficult friend to keep. He may seem nice on the exterior but given his highly dogmatic approach to theology, one would never know if he is agreeing with you or saving up philosophical ammunition to take you down in collaboration with his running mate, Donald Trump.

gettyimages-461656522-e1436299461791Just living with Trump on a practical basis might be a form of hell. The time it must take him to prepare his hair to face the public would be agonizing to witness. And surely Mike Pence wears some kind of magical underwear even though he is not a Mormon. Pence just has that uptight Magical Underwear look about him.

And so it would go for all of eternity if one was locked up in a room with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. We all know that hell is other people. But with Trump and Pence as Eternal Roommates, one would live in a perpetual state of fear and threat just by hanging out with two guys whose very candidacy and reason to exist seems to be based on manipulating others and controlling them for their own sakes.

And at some point, given that you were already in hell, it would be excusable to charge either one of those guys and put them out of the existential misery they apparently feel from having to exist in a world with other people. Because Trump has stated how much he distrusts Mexicans and Muslims, women and people who are poor.

Pence hates gays and who knows who else. His ostensibly Christian faith can apparently be twisted to fit the circumstance of whoever it seems convenient to hate. That his how he came to be the running mate for Donald Trump. It’s Hate and Hate. For all Eternity. And welcome to the room where they might reside. It’s called America. But it might just be hell for the next four years at least. Along with all the other deplorables crowding the front door.

 

The Commodification of Christ

Commodity: something that is bought and sold, something or someone that is useful or valued

Christmas Crunch.jpgFor the last five to ten years, the Right Wing theme come November is that some segment of America is conducting a War On Christmas. The complaint centers around the idea that people have taken to referring to the period leading up to the Christian holiday known as Christmas as “the Holidays.”

These complaints center around the idea that to refer to the Christmas season only as “the holidays” is to show a sign of disrespect to the Christian faith. Some view this cultural habit as a form of oppression of their faith, as if Christianity itself were being persecuted.

Perhaps it pays to examine that premise before its acceptance as a continuing cultural meme. After all, it was Christians who adopted the tradition of Santa Claus and turned it into an entire “thing” that essentially replaces a celebration of the birth of Christ with a grandiose gift-giving event.

This was the first sign of disrespect toward the tale of Jesus. But there are many others that preceded the Advent of Santa Clause.

The Nativity Lie

Because, ss the story goes, the Christ child was born humbly in a manger, bereft of home or comforts. And while the traditional presentation of the Nativity scene shows three wise men bearing gifts standing by the very manger in which Jesus was born, this part of the tale is less than concrete. A study of the Gospels in fact reveals that none of the so-called Wise Men were present in the manger at all.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:9-12 

So the presentation of the Wise Men at the Nativity scene is, if taken literally, quite a lie. And to be sure, wise Christians actually know that there always is a little white lying going on with ntales in the Bible. The little white lie that underscores meaning in scriptural literature is called metaphor. Without it, none of the Bible makes any sense at all. Yet literalist deny this fact with such fervor they turn the Bible into an absurd acrobatic act in which believers must walk a tight rope of indefensible ideas anchored in anachronism. The entire faith becomes a selective act, holding onto some literal elements while quietly discarding others (the laws of Leviticus, for example.”

Defending the lies

That means people fighting for the right to display Nativity scenes on public property are actually defending a well-accepted Christian lie about the very scripture that claim as sacrosanct. But because of its function as a symbol of Christian faith, Nativity scenes have been commodified to serve a purpose. They “sell” the notion of Christmas and its tender emotions.

Not so the specter of Santa Clause, who is frequently quoted in songs that children tshould be good or they will get no presents. “You better be good for goodness sake,” is likely some adaptation of Christian morals to quell the greed associated with morning full of presents, but Santa Claus is no Jesus, nor are his reindeer a band of angels holding people in awe of the Son of God.

All this means is that Christmas, as a holiday, has long been commodified into something entirely different than the original tale of the birth of Christ. And yes, many Christians seem to sense the need for guilt about this ugly situation with Christmas as a raw expression of desire and greed. “Don’t forget the Reason for the Season,” goes the plea for temperance.

White Bread and Christmas Crap

It hasn’t worked. The Christmas Season now kicks off just after Halloween. We go straight from pumpkins and witches to bands of styrofoam angels slinging lights in Aisle One at Home Depot. There are Christmas Moose and Christmas Dragons. Inflatable Snowmen and Blowup Santa Claus compete for attention up and down the side streets of White Bread America. It’s an orgy of Christmas whoredom, worse than Sodom and Gomorrah in many respects. Because if you don’t buy into all that Christmas Crap, according to Fox News and the like, you’re fucked in the head.

So the commodification of Christ is now complete. There is no more room for real Christmas left in the Holiday Season. So trampled by greed is the Christmas season that churches can’t even rescue what remains of its significance. Reading the Nativity tale from scripture seems trite because the entire myth has been turned into a debacle. One fellow down the former block where I lived did not hesitate to mix his snowmen with his angels, or his aliens either. Jesus kept company with anything that could be hooked to an outlet and light up at night.

It is not liberalism or humanism that has destroyed the Christian holiday of Christmas. It is Christianity itself that has offered up the season in this grotesque burlesque of spending and acquisitiveness designed to attract worshippers. The spirit of the season was not stolen, it was prostituted.

Kidnapped and sold

The Christmas holiday itself may have been kidnapped from the tradition of (so-called) pagan worship of the solstice. Perhaps the competition over who owns holiness is far older than we’ve all been led to imagine.

Yet Christmas is not even the worst commodification of the Christian faith. Easter is even worse with its strange contrasts between the crucifixion of Christ and an Easter Bunny that brings brightly colored eggs and chocolate through the night.

This willingness to soft coat and commodify the seriousness of the Christian endeavor has bled over into modern politics as well. The Christian faith has been repackaged as a “family values” checklist through which conservative Christian leaders can cajole and recruit believers into their moneymaking or political schemes. Many Christians gobble up this commodified and politicized versions of their faith as if they were Christmas gifts of approval and Easter baskets full of chocolatey political promises.

Casting blame

Nowhere is the commodification more evident than over the issue of abortion. Conservative churches preach abortion as the final measure of true Christian faith. If you can’t preserve a life, the reasoning goes, then you can’t believe in Jesus.

And yet, those same churches gather forces to oppose efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies, preaching abstinence rather than birth control, all while seeking to defund legitimate agencies such as Planned Parenthood which provide legal abortion services.

Instead of blaming Planned Parenthood or the national law Roe vs. Wade for the need and practice for abortion, the Christian church has never admitted its own failures to reach all those women seeking protection from unwanted pregnancies or the often abusive, broken relationships that result in women seeking abortions. As for those women who are perceived to use abortion as a form of birth control, that is also a massive failure on the part of the Christian church to work hard enough to reach the segments of society to which Jesus himself most frequently ministered. The poor, the desperate, the sick and the needy.

White Bread America weighs in

Instead, the church has commodified abortion as an electoral voice for Christianity. It does so to the point that some people seem to vote for political candidates based on this sole issue. This is not the foundation of morals upon which Christ which lectured. His version of the Kingdom of God all all-embracing, not hammered down into a single hook the likes of a fishing lure, sharp hooks and all. This was the phishing technique of Donald Trump to hook all those evangelicals looking for approval of their social agenda. All Trump had to do was make oblique promises to ban abortion, throw conservatives onto the Supreme Court and torture gay people over civil rights and the horrific commodification of Christianity as a political tool was complete. White Bread America bought his pitch hook, line and sinker.

He must be laughing at the foolishness just like Herod before he killed all the children under two years of age. Just in case this so-called King was for real.

The Real War On Christmas

The real War On Christmas, and by proxy, the War On Christianity itself is being waged by so-called Christians who turn these harshly conceived single issue memes as designations of real Christian faith. Only disenfranchised believers abide by this brand of religion. It’s no mistake that the complaints about the War On Christmas ignore that it was Christians who started the whole commodified mess in the first place.

To all those that have commodified the Christian narrative with lame excuses and a fear of admitting the failure in responsibility, don’t feel too bad. Peter denied Jesus three times before realizing the ugly truth: he’d believed in the commodity of Jesus without realizing the real cost.

Why the Christian church deserves a big kick in the ass, or at least a tweak on the nose

Gecko Toad Tweek.jpgA few years back, I considered signing up for seminary school. I filled out all the applications. Considered the financing. Even attended a class or two to see what seminary classes were like. And I remain intrigued. But I have not enrolled for a very simple reason. I don’t think the church is committed to change.

That is, I do not think the Christian church as a collective body is capable of challenging itself to arrive at some kind of comprehensive understanding of what Christianity is supposed to be.

My contention is based on a conversation I picked up during my travels in and out of those circles. The church to which I belong is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA.) And I love my local church. Love the pastors. Love their ministry to so many people. I have been a direct beneficiary, both financially and spiritually, of the service of my church to its members and the community.

So my complaint is not with what the church is, or what it does. I am concerned with what the church may never be.

As a member of Christian churches for all my life, my faith has gone through a long evolution of belief and purpose. Most recently, I have sensed that the church itself feels as if it is failing in its mission. In many places, church attendance is dropping. This is especially true with mainstream denominations. And churches like that are in a quiet panic. They don’t know what to do.

Meanwhile, megachurches keep growing. I have sat in those congregations as well. Listened to the sermons. Watched the stage show with the perfectly matched musicians playing their praise songs in perfect harmony.

But when I look behind the scenes, and it isn’t too hard to do, these megachurches are nothing more than Old Time Religion packaged in cereal boxes of modern trappings.

Because I played the same Praise songs they play at the Megachurches when I played my little guitar at the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church where our family belonged for 25 years. We attended that church because that’s the denomination in which my late wife was raised. She went through Lutheran parochial schools until high school. Then we met after she attended college and we got married by the wise and relatively liberal pastor who presided over our church in those days.

But when that pastor left, the theology of the church first careened around thanks to some pastor with a bad toupee and then a series of interim dudes took over. There are no women pastors in the Missouri Synod, so don’t ask any questions about that.

Finally, a nice man took over. But his backwoods Minnesota theology was the same as the dirt poor churches from sections in America where no one believes in evolution and gays are considered one of the great evils on the earth. So after 25 years we left that church for one that preaches tolerance, love and the mission of serving Christ without denying science or humanity.

And that should be enough for most of us. But there’s a problem in this world that needs to be addressed. We’ve previously mentioned the fact that Megachurches rely on highly conservative sources for their theology. Often this is anchored in a quite literal interpretation of the Bible. Secretly this theology hides all sorts of anti-intellectualism beneath its crinkled leather cover. Openly it preaches a Pro-Life attitude and often wrinkles its nose at the idea of evolution without really coming out and saying it in the open. This is Wink and Nod Christianity at its worst.

And that brand of close-minded faith bleeds out from the halls of quasi-conservative churches all over America. It holds hands with conservative beliefs in social, fiscal and political arenas as well. The dog-whistle secret of its power and force is evidenced in the most recent election, where a cabal of principally white people falling within all these stripes of conservatism got together and cast a protest vote against what they all consider the demise of American culture and Christian tradition. That would be liberalism.

And that’s why I blame the Christian Church for the election of a profane and incurious man in the likes of Donald Trump. This dog-whistle conservatism has to stop. It must be confronted for what it is. That is, a habitual and well-preached resistance toward modern and progressive thinking.

Christianity has been wrong on so many things in its history it hardly deserves credence as a source of knowledge. It has forced its ugly anger and prejudices based on confusingly literal interpretations of the bible for far too long.

But the worst part in all of this is that no one within the Christian community save the current Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church, for God’s sake, has any balls to challenge this mega-stupidity being preached in the most popular churches in the land.

Where is the theological challenge to the brand of dumbed-down theology being pumped out at he Moody Bible Institute? And why doesn’t the mainstream ELCA aggressively confront the doomsayer traditions that threaten society with predictions of the apocalypse, and by proxy preach the dog-whistle belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the earth because Jesus is coming back any day now?

The church has not got to guts apparently to force these issues. It ought to be engaged in a vicious wrestling match for the narrative of Christ. These TV preachers stealing money from old ladies ought to be tarred and feathered and dragged through the streets as examples of heresy. Yet we sit back and let them rip off the world in Jesus’ name.

I say fuck all that. For too long the church has been acting like a lazy teenager that does not want to get off the sofa on a Sunday. It needs a big old kick in the ass to get moving. Jesus would puke if he came back now to find the brand of conservatives (he called them a ‘brood of vipers’) now running the show. He kicked their asses with his sacrificial Passion Play two millennium ago, and yet the latter-day Pharisees have been allowed to waltz back in and shove legalism down everyone’s throat as if Jesus never existed.

Grow some balls, you Christian leaders. Challenge the goddamned conservatives that have perversely stolen the mantle of Christ and turned it into a spiked Iron Crown used to torture the minds of all those who attempt to uphold the true and liberal ministry of Jesus Christ.

We’re sick of you, and not surprised that numbers are falling at mainstream churches. It’s because you show no guts, have a bad habit of dampening down real initiative and dun your innovative members. These are the people who actually want to change, and hold those accountable who do not. Would the church die if it risked these types of changes? Which is more important in the mind of Jesus, to push the envelope and test the faith of others or to wrap our arms around them and pretend we’re all not dying off?

It’s time to stand up and be real leaders. Stop worrying about organization and start thinking about action. The world needs you. Get off your ass. That couch is no place for anyone on a Sunday, much less the rest of the week.

Trump names his favorite beaver to be Secretary of the Interior

sarah_palin-1478931822-329The news of who will serve in Trump’s cabinet just keeps getting richer. Insiders say that all around anti-feminist and experienced Alaska Governor Quitter Sarah Palin may be named to serve as Head Beaver for the Secretary of the Interior job.

When asked what qualified her for the job, President-elect Donald Trump tossed a word salad together that was part political nonsense and part Serious As Hell Insanity.

“Well, as we all know, the Secretary of the Interior is in charge of all the parks and wildlife and things outside and below the Beltway. And given the fact that Sarah Palin has a nice beaver below her Beltway, I think that perfectly positions her to be the Head Beaver of the Interior Department. And as I’ve told you before, I excel at grabbing beavers, and I’m really excited that a hot beaver like Sarah Palin is ready to do this job.”

 

Stop neoliberal insanity in its tracks

ronald-reaganAt the age of 21 my political awakening occurred with the election of President Ronald Reagan. What I thought was a harmless attempt at bringing back the Good Old Days with a harmless grandfatherly figure turned into an unthinkable nightmare of ideological purpose and action.

That was the first time that I recognized the real power of politics to impact the people and places I love. When Reagan installed an environmental cynic in the form of James Watt to serve as Secretary of the Interior, the unthinkable became reality.As documented on the website Thisdayinquotes.com, Watt was a man with a perverse mission:

“Before Reagan appointed him Secretary of the Interior in 1981, Watt was a lawyer who specialized in representing people and groups who opposed environmental laws and regulations — particularly the laws and regulations designed to protect natural areas from environmentally-damaging development. Thus, his appointment as the head of an agency that’s supposed to protect America’s parks and wilderness areas was highly controversial in itself.”

It didn’t take long for Watt to demonstrate the rest of his selfishly insensitive character, either.

“A classic example of the latter occurred on September 21, 1983That day, James G. Watt, who had been appointed as U.S. Secretary of the Interior by President Ronald Reagan, was giving a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. At one point, he explained the diversity of the members of the “U.S. Commission on Fair Market Value Policy for Federal Coal Leasing” with this dunderheaded description:

“We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple.”

This brand of insensitivity illustrates the dangers of trusting people with conflicting self-interests to important posts in government. But to put an even sharper point on these dangers of ideological affront, Watt’s offenses didn’t stop there.

“Once in office, the policies he pursued were, as feared, slanted in favor of opening parks and wildlands to more development, rather than toward preserving them. Understandably, this outraged environmentalists.But they weren’t the only people Watt managed to annoy and insult. For example, in January of 1983 Watt said: “If you want an example of the failures of socialism, don’t go to Russia, come to America and go to the Indian reservations.”

james-wattThese layers of remarks and backward policies continued throughout Watt’s reign as Secretary of the Interior. These and other results eventually forced even Ronald Reagan to fire Watt, who seemed unable to tell wrong from right on any issue.

As documented on YahooAnswers: “James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior was indicted on 41 felony counts for using connections at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help his private clients seek federal funds for housing projects in Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Watt conceded that he had received $500,000 from clients who were granted very favorable housing contracts after he had intervened on their behalf. In testifying before a House committee Watt said: “That’s what they offered and it sounded like a lot of money to me, and we settled on it.” Watt was eventually sentenced to five years in prison and 500 hours of community service.

And that wasn’t Reagan’s only debacle. There was more. Much more. “Although not convicted, Edwin Meese III, resigned as Reagan’s Attorney General after having been the subject of investigations by the United States Office of the Independent Counsel on two occasions (Wedtech and Iran-Contra), during the 3 short years he was in office.”

Thus we have plenty of proof about the dangers of installing ideological zealots to run government agencies where they clearly have conflicts of self or political interest.

In fact, Reagan’s administration turned out to be on the most corrupt in American history. Yet conservatives somehow still consider it the height of righteous revolution. This is called cognitive dissonance, a pattern that runs rampant in the conservative factions of this country where people readily and regularly confuse God and country on purpose to justify their selfish aims and faux righteousness about their often anachronistic worldview.

urlSuch is the attitude today with Donald Trump. That means we are justified in questioning and resisting all such appointments that promise selfish carnage in intent and philosophy. We must work to protect our nation’s national parks, our healthcare system, education and civil rights from those who would sell them off to their buddies and sell the nation out against its own carefully built traditions of conservation, preservation, consideration and civic respect.

See, we already know from recent history how zealots like these will behave once they’re in charge. Iran-Contra was a warning sign that neoliberalism had no conscience. So was willful choice to attack Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and the torture that took place in Iraq under the Bush-Cheney watch. The zealots will stop at nothing. They care about one thing only: that is benefitting themselves and their friends. The rest of the country be damned.

So we must stop this corruption of democracy before it can take hold. Protest. Resist. Demand accountability. Be American.

And impeach Donald Trump the first opportunity we get. And likely Mike Pence too. These people are un-American, angry and repressive souls determined to make people pay for their own miserable guilt and lack of real conscience. Stop the insanity in its tracks.

Why the Bible isn’t a brick to be thrown

The Christian Bible is a tremendous source of insight on the human spirit. It transcends humdrum human understanding as well. As such, it is a book that is foundational to much of what we call the human condition.

But while the Bible is considered by Christians to be foundational to understanding the role of God in our lives, it is critical to know how the book is intended to be used.

Let us consider, for example, the contention that the Holy Bible is the only source of trustworthy knowledge for the human race. Recently a Tweet by Seth MacFarlane was shared on Facebook. It read like this and received no less than 15,180 Retweets.

seth-mcfarlane

The people who also shared this to their Facebook page no doubt got resistance to those Christians that have not updated their personal beliefs to accommodate the idea of evolution. One supposed retort pasted in response contained the following counter-meme:

roosevelt

Roosevelt was a noted conservationist, but it may indeed surprise ardent creationists that his understanding of the origins of the human race included the processes of evolution. Here are Roosevelt’s own words as contained in a 1916 article published in National Geographic. The article was titled “How Old Is Man?” (Source: scienceblogs.com)

“The mammals, which for ages had existed as small, warm-blooded beasts of low type, now had the field much to themselves. They developed along many different lines, including that of the primates, from which came the monkeys, the anthropoid apes, and finally the half- human predecessors of man himself.”

Clearly these are not the words of a man who believes that a thorough knowledge of the Bible transposes what one can learn about science in college. What Roosevelt was implying in his quote is that spiritual knowledge provides on temperance that one may not gain simply through a college education. This temperance and ability to weigh the relative merits of human behavior is indeed valuable. In modern parlance,  we might call it emotional intelligence.

But to imply that one should toss one’s college education out with the bathwater and trust only the Bible for information about how the world works is clearly not the intent of what Teddy Roosevelt had to say on the matter of human evolution.

Yet it also turns out that Roosevelt was captive to some dangerous beliefs that were the product of less-than-advanced thinking in his time. Some flirt with a form of religious judgment, while others cast aspersions pre-historical human beings as being inferior. This should be the thing that is most upsetting to Christians, because it implies that people like Adam and Eve or Moses and Abraham were likely knuckle-dragging dolts without intellect, much less divinity coursing through their minds:

“The earliest monuments beside the lower Nile and lower Euphrates, like the earliest monuments on the high plateaus or in the dense tropical forests of the new world, are purely modern — are things of yesterday — when measured by the hoary antiquity into which we grope when we attempt to retrace the prehistory of man, the history of his development from an apelike creature struggling with his fellow-brutes, to the being with at least longings and hopes that are half divine.”

 

A Fight.jpg

Painting of UFC fighter by Christopher Cudworth

This idea that the earliest humans on record were brutelike and unrefined runs directly in conflict to the Christian narrative that men such as Moses were so full of insight we can scarcely imagine their brainpower. But you see, too many Christians want to own the narrative for themselves, and as such, struggle to possess both science and religion for themselves. They seek to deny the path of evolution that led to human awareness.

 

The idea that human awareness came from strictly material origins is anathema, insisting instead that human awareness must have burst upon the scene in the singular case with Adam and Eve. Never mind that these figures could just as easily symbolize the point in time when comprehension of God came into being. This was Creation as released through advancement in human culture. It precisely parallels the New Testament narrative in which Christ comes to earth fully formed, and a part of God, to lead human beings to even greater awareness. What’s so hard to understand about that? Well, even the disciples had a bit of trouble grasping the fluid narrative of Christ’s message. So today’s Christians possibly can be forgiven for being stubborn about their fixed beliefs.

Throwing bricks

The world was essentially born anew into awareness at that moment, and a comprehensive explanation of how the earth was formed through material means was unnecessary to the  just as the New World is predicted to come at a future date

The real brutes are those who deny that religion and science can co-exist, and that one can inform the other without implication of falseness. That is where real human progress awaits, at the intersection in history where religion is not used to dumb down the population. The intent of the Bible is to elevate the notion that the human race in all its material force can still be capable of higher thinking. That is where spirituality awaits as a source of wisdom to guide our actions, inform our stewardship and fuel our love of the earth as an expression of God’s creative power and love.

But when Christians only extract the Bible like a brick from the foundations of scripture, and throw those bricks around in defense of a small and narrow-minded view of the great walls of wisdom, it only hurts the faith.

 

Let’s privatize Donald Trump instead

gettyimages-461656522-e1436299461791We’ve all heard the amazing attribute of the man who promises to Make America Great Again. He’ll build a wall across the Southern Border with Mexico. It will be a Huge Wall. With lots of Keep Outs slapped on the Mexican side.

And Trump has promised to bomb all the terrorists right off the map, wherever they are. That will Make America Safe Again according this his exceedingly Huge Logic.

Then Trump has promised to bring all the jobs back to America. He’s guaranteed his supporters that he’ll cure our health care system of all its ills. He’s got a plan for that. And a plan for this. And a plan for that other thing.

Donald Trump may just be the best planner this world has ever seen. Trump is also going to cut taxes and get rid of America’s trade deficit by charging all kinds of tariffs on our trade partners. That’s how Donald Trump is going to make America a profitable nation again.

In fact, it seems to waste all this talent by electing Donald Trump to be President of the United States. After all, according to the philosophy of President Ronald Reagan, government is not the solution to the problems facing America, government IS the problem.

So why waste the prodigious talents of Donald Trump in government, especially in a job that requires as much time as being President of the United States? Well, we know that Donald plans to hand off all the real duties of the presidency to Mike Pence while The Donald runs around the country making even more promises about ways to Make America Great Again.

We should just save him all that trouble of handing off those responsibilities to anyone. Let’s privatize Donald Trump before he even has to worry about all those burdensome activities. It seems like he’d make a fine member of some posh business club where deals are made. That way he can make his deals without any bureaucracy in the way.

Privatizing Donald Trump on Election Day could be the best investment the United States has ever made. His skills would be put to much better use in the private sector than that pesky old government stuff anyway. In fact, if we privatize Trump efficiently enough, we’ll get a tw0-for-one deal with Mike Pence going into private business too!

Now that’s a wise investment if America has ever seen one. Privatize! Privatize! It’s the responsibility of every good Republican to do America this good favor and keep the skills of these two highly capable men out of the public sector where their talents will obviously be wasted. In fact everyone should save Trump and Pence from having to dirty their reputations any further by hanging around in government. Let’s spare them the trouble. It’s our duty as Americans.