Answers In Genesis can’t stand the idea that the echidna evolved

Echidna-04.jpgWhen the creationist website Answers In Genesis sets out to debunk the theory of evolution, it loves to set up red herrings that it thinks will “stump” the theory of evolution and prove their own theory that God made everything all at once, and from scratch. So the AIG folks always set the stage with a cute nod to its readers that they’re going to explain, Oh So Simply, how evolution fails the test of scientific verity. In a post titled Echidna: Outback Oddity, the stage is set this way:

Evolution is hard-pressed to explain this prickly little digger. That’s because the Creator made it like no other single animal.

The intent is pretty clear. Evolution just doesn’t “get” the complexity of nature. Only God can do that. So they go on to complain, with seemingly vexing questions, as to why the animal is such a puzzle among living creatures:

You might think that spiky little animal waddling along the forest floor is a porcupine. But it has a long, sticky tongue and it digs for ants, so maybe it’s some kind of anteater. Nope? Well, it’s a mammal, at least, right? Wait—it lays eggs. Mammals don’t lay eggs. So what is this thing?

In order to understand all these questions in context of their evolution, one must first acknowledge that there is a time and environmental influence scale sufficiently long and diverse enough to provide the various configurations that went into evolving an echidna.

 

ape-family-tree-a-family-portrait-pasttime-org-episode-5-throwing-in-human-evolution.jpg

Graphs like these make creationists go ape. 

And of course, creationism denies any such time scale exists. The popular claim among the creationist sect is that the human genealogy mapped out in the bible dictates the total age of the earth at about 6,000 years. Some are even willing to admit that it might map out at 10,000 years. 

But in any case, these genealogies also require that creationists accept a time scale for human lifespans that in some cases extend for 900 years. You heard that right: creationists insist that at one time human beings were capable of living for nine centuries. That’s almost a millennium.

The oldest known verified lifespan among human beings tops out at about 115 years. So creationists are basing their entire worldview and the age of the earth on an unverified, rendition of oral history before the advent of written language to establish the potential lifespan of human beings. On the website creation.com, the explanation goes like this:

In the book of Genesis, the Bible routinely records human lifespans which seem outrageously different from our experience today. Adam lived to 930 years; Noah even longer, to 950 years (see graph below). These long lifespans are not haphazardly distributed; they are systematically greater before the Flood of Noah, and decline sharply afterwards.

These great ages are not presented in the Bible as if they are in any way extraordinary for their times, let alone miraculous. Many people are quick to scoff at such ages, claiming they are ‘biologically impossible’. Today, even if they avoid all fatal diseases, humans will generally die of old age before they reach much past 100. Even the very exceptional cases don’t make it much past 120 years.

geneticsThey go on to claim that it was a radically pure form of genetic sustainability and environment at work to produce such long lifespans. Somehow, the earth was simply a better place to live, and that allowed human beings to survive for nearly a millennium.

But even that’s not the end game of the creationism discussion. It has far less to do with biology than it does with theology. As creation.com goes on to explain:

 

Of course, the ultimate reason for all aging and death is the Curse on all creation recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Adam was told that if he disobeyed God, ‘dying, you shall die’ [lit. Hebrew]. Adam immediately died spiritually, and began to die physically on the very same day, just as we are all dying today.

Modern genetic research shows that we all inherit the inevitability of aging and death. When we look at our encroaching wrinkles in the mirror, it should remind us of the awfulness of sin in the sight of a holy God. And it should cause us immense thankfulness that God has provided a way of escape from His own righteous judgement on sin, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So to abide by a creationist’s worldview, we must begin with a massive rationalization of the age of the earth based on the miraculous nature of human lifespan upon which biblical genealogy is based.  Thus we must draw on theology as the starting point for any explanation of nature, science and the history of the earth. The limitations of this worldview are breathtaking in their shallow regard for the functions of nature. It’s all “wave of the hand” level thinking cloaked in language stolen from science to justify creationism as a legitimate scientific worldview.

So you can see why creationists love the echidna as a symbol of the inherent complexity of nature and the supposed confusion on the part of evolutionary scientists to seam together the forces of environmental conditions, selective pressures and population adaptations that could produce an animal seemingly constructed from so many sources. How could evolution accomplish such a feat? The goal of creationism is not to explain the possibilities, but to heighten the impossibilities and keep religious thinkers as far from material explanations as possible. This is how that is done:

The echidna seems to break all the rules. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s warm-blooded, but it has a low body temperature. It lives on land, but it detects food like some fish do. And, like so many other rule-breakers, such as the platypus, the echidna settled in Australia.

That last word in the bunch, “Australia,” is already proof that the case of the creationists against evolution is beginning to break down. It is consistently true that when a population of any creature is forcibly isolated from another through migration or some other happenstance, the isolated population becomes subject to the environmental pressures of that new environment. Some attributes of the ancestors may persist as the population is subjected to the needs for survival in all new circumstances. Even some of the formerly vital functions of a land creature can wind up useless and essentially vestigial as a line of land-based living things shifts to an aquatic lifestyle. The vestigial remnants of hips in whales is an excellent example of how nature “plays” with usefulness and the lack of it.

flightlessWe also have flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. For what good reason would a species of bird perfectly capable of flying in its ancestry relinquish the ability to fly? The answer is simple: Flying costs energy, and cormorants isolated on the Galapagos had no need to fly away from predators that did not exist. The rewards of evolution as sometimes ironic, yet still functionally beneficial.

The same can be said of the echnida. All the attributes wrapped together in a seemingly inconclusive creature are actually quite conclusively beneficial in the habitats of Australia that it occupies. There is a hard, fast rule to evolution that defies any other explanation of existence. If a creature is not equipped to survive or adapt to the habitat available, it will cease to feed and breed, and eventually die out.

This is what has happened to 99% of all living things that ever existed on the earth. Creationists like to claim that every kind of living thing that has ever existed on earth was borne up and carried around in an ark for a year, then released back onto the surface of the earth. This is a pathetically shortsighted view of how nature functions. There is no explanation of how highly specific lifestyles of desert scorpions in the Southwest United States were somehow able to migrate across salty oceans or through freezing landscapes across the Bering Straits to arrive at the Middle East where Noah waited with the appropriate food to nurture and regenerate entire populations of such specialized creatures in this world.

But as we’ve seen, that is not really the issue at heart with creationism. It is always about confession of sin and the admission that God is in control, and that nature cannot possibly operate on its own. Again, we find evidence of this religious worldview as the Answers In Genesis site struggles to justify its case:

Evolutionists have always had trouble explaining how it’s related to any other animal. So instead, to explain its oddities they invoke “convergent evolution” (the belief that a similar “need” produces similar designs in completely unrelated animals). But creationists understand that the echidna’s traits point to a Creator who made many unique kinds of animals.

Echidna

It goes on to say:

God gave the echidna nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby ants, termites, and other potential snacks. God designed the echidna as a digger, with powerful legs and strong claws. He also equipped it with special ear holes to help keep its ear canals clear of dirt. Finally, God gave it electroreceptors, like sharks have—nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby wiggling snacks.

The idea that all these attributes could have converged in a single creature is anathema to creationism because its worldview is so constrained in timespan that it must use shortcuts to explain anything, or everything. The most (and only) convenient justification for this shortcut in time and complexity is a very literal interpretation of the opening chapters in the Book of Genesis.

In other words, creationism demands that people accept the laws of nature were radically broken in terms of human lifespan in order to assert the claim that the earth could not possibly be old enough to allow evolution to happen. That conflicted worldview is the convergence of great irony, human arrogance, fear and selfishness into one singular creationist mindset.

In other words, the better question we should be God is why the world should create such a conflicted creature as the creationist. After all, Jesus was quite at home with the concept that the natural world could be a source of great wisdom. He taught using parables steeped in organic truths. And he lectured his disciples when they expressed fear that people could never understand his message if he did not talk in literal terminology.

He called them “dull” and “without understanding” for these claims. Which makes the closing argument about the echidna found in Answers In Genesis sound painfully desperate for approval and justification. The authors begin to sound like children desperate to have their fifth grade theme paper graded with an “A” when in fact it is frightfully obvious they never did the research in the first place. Instead they credit God on the basis that no great teacher could give them a failing grade if they quote the Almighty.

Echidnas are just one example of how our Creator filled the earth with abundant, diverse, unique life that speaks of His handiwork, not evolution. These quirky little monotremes simultaneously demand and defy categorization. But whatever classification rules they may break, in demonstrating the creativity of our great God they obey His command, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6)!

As noted, Jesus didn’t give his disciples or the Chief Priests a pass when they exhibited such dogmatic ignorance and legalistic tendencies. Neither should we when creationists try to use scientific sounding language to make a legalistic case for the primacy of God in material processes. There is plenty of meaning to draw from nature without relegating it to a pathetically tiny backseat in human history. Just ask Jesus.

 

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What does it mean to be an Evangelical Christian?

ufcThe 2016 election was a doozy in terms of bringing strange bedfellows together into voting blocs for both presidential candidates. But one of the most confounding and in some aspects a disturbing conundrums was why a group of faith-oriented believers seemed so drawn to the likes of Donald Trump.

Here was a womanizing, money-worshipping television reality star who never met an insult he did not like. Yet Christian voters were flocking to support him.

What did the so-called “evangelical” community find so appealing about Donald Trump?

To answer that question, we can turn to a variety of sources. But one must first consider a definition of the term “Evangelical Christian” and where it comes from. So here’s a nice little description from a site titled GotAnswers.org, a Christian website.

Here’s how they answer the question: “What is an Evangelical Christian?”

Answer: To begin, let’s break down the two words. The term Christian essentially means “follower of Christ.” Christian is the term given to followers of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. (Acts 11:26). The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description “evangelical Christian” is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news.

In Western culture today, there are many caricatures of evangelical Christians. For some, the term evangelical Christian is equivalent to “right-wing, fundamentalist Republican.” For others, “evangelical Christian” is a title used to differentiate an individual from a Catholic Christian or an Orthodox Christian. Others use the term to indicate adherence to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In this sense, an evangelical Christian is a believer who holds to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone. However, none of these definitions are inherent in the description “evangelical Christian.”

In reality, all Christians should be evangelical Christians. The Bible is consistently instructing us to be witnesses of the good news (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 1 Peter 3:15). There is no better news than Jesus! There is no higher calling than evangelist. There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview and, yes, political belief. However, there is nothing about being an evangelical that demands a certain political party or affiliation. An evangelical Christian is called to share the good news, to preach God’s Word, and to set an example of purity and integrity. If these callings require political action, so be it. At the same time, evangelical Christians should not be sidetracked into abandoning our highest calling—sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Putting faith to work

There are several things I found fascinating about that description. For one thing, I am a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA.) Our particular congregation contains both highly liberal and highly conservative Christians whose issues of concern are often addressed from the pulpit. But the central goal of the church the last few years has been to encourage discipleship, which among other things, means putting faith to work through action.

This is a most effective way to distil issues of theology. When people are called together to work in service to others, as the bible calls us to do, fine points of theology do not matter that much.

Faith matters

Yet there are times when theology matters a whole bunch. Throughout the history of the Judeo-Christian religion, sorting out the meaning of scripture and the right relationship of God has taken on highly controversial tones. One could argue that the entire ministry of St. Paul, for example, was spent helping people confront misunderstanding of this new religion that would come to call itself Christianity.

But before that, a long series of *prophets stood on the outskirts of civilization calling people to repentance. When John the Baptist started dunking people in the Jordan river, the rumor mill about his activities got all the way back to the chief priests. John had no patience for their prurient curiosity.

And neither did Jesus. When it came down to it, the Son of God was a sonofabitch to the people in charge of religion. He set out to make them feel the wrath of God.

Unpopular voices

This proves that it is sometimes the unfortunate work of true evangelicals to say things and do things that are not popular with the proponents of mainstream religion. True to this tradition, Pope Francis has been acting like a prophet for the Catholic Church. His claim that “all scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ” is a highly evangelical statement.

He is not a popular man in conservative quarters because more conservative Christians, both Catholic and Evangelical, are accustomed to enforcing the rules of faith and driving a confessional brand of involvement. In order to belong, one must speak and choose to reflect the words of God in a certain way. In other words, “talk the talk,” or get out. You obviously don’t belong.

Dog-whistle religion

The sad thing is that this brand of faith can also come to constitute a certain “dog-whistle” cliqueishness. The confessional brand of religion is like joining a club. And when a club is formed, it can be leveraged to political as well as religious purposes. This is the exact form of social construct to which Jesus most objected. He branded those d0g-whistle priests a “brood of vipers” for huddling together and lashing out at anyone that stood up to their supposed religious authority.

But there is great comfort to many people in a religion where the rules are clearly mapped out. Not having to think about what you believe or explain it to anyone else is a simple form of existence. And if by convenience it also simplifies the voting process, well that’s just dandy, isn’t it?

And so many evangelicals look to their religious authorities for direction. If those authorities communicate that the “greater good” will be served by supporting even as flawed a candidate as Donald Trump, then evangelicals will support the man through thick and through thin. And sure enough, many evangelical leaders and conservative political voices called for evangelical Christians to vote for the man because promises were made that he would work to ban abortion, or gay marriage, or any number of theo-political issues bandied about during an election cycle.

Challenging authority

Anyone that challenges this central authoritarian call to loyalty can be branded an outsider and not worthy of attention. Traditionally, this is manifested in statements such as “you can only test scripture with scripture.” That is, the bible is the only source of truth.

The problem with this approach to authority is that it can fail miserably in the face of legitimate theological challenges. The preferred method is to simply deny the possibility that scripture could in any way be wrong. This is a convenient tautology.

It is also the practical method of those that used to stand on top of the walls or before the city gates shouting at the seemingly crazed prophets calling people to account for the true voice of God. So it is no coincidence that when a man such as Donald Trump puts forth a call to “build a wall,” the concept has great appeal to conservatives accustomed to blocking out that which they don’t want to consider. It is the perfect symbol for an insular faith.

A prophet in his home town

The problem with this approach to belief is that it is not biblical at all. It stung the Lord Jesus, for example, to be mocked and disavowed in his hometown. Mark 6:4: “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Thus it is not unexpected that even today, any evangelical willing challenge the cliquish or dog-whistle signals of Christian faith should be similarly despised and mocked. People take great offense in being questioned about their faith, especially when they sense a vulnerability in themselves that they might not like to admit.

Interesting observations

As a writer who talks about religion quite a bit, and who is willing to challenge both the religion and politics of others based on what the Bible says, rather than what people say about it, I have bumped into plenty of anger and disappointment from friends, relatives and strangers. One confronted me with this interesting observation: “You make me feel shitty about things.”

And I suppose that is probably true. If one clings to beliefs that don’t stand up to rational or religious scrutiny, it surely can make you feel “shitty” about it.

Stiff-necked and hard-hearted

Being challenged on theological grounds can simply harden those beliefs even more. I can honestly attest to the fact that I have likely had that effect on more than one Christian believer. The risk of abandoning cherished beliefs is never easy. But neither does God appreciated stiff-necked or hard-hearted believers. Giving up the legalistic ways of hard-hearted faith has always frightened the shit out of people.

Some have accused me of having no heart at all, that I am more about the theoretical idea of faith than having  a trust in God. But they have not walked a single step in my shoes, or faced the same deaths in my family that I have faced. I have trust that God will play a role in how those lives will end, and what happens to the spirit of that person in the long run.

Thus I feel empowered to speak as honestly as I can about the deceptions created on foundations of biblical literalism and the relativism that evangelicals too readily accept in trading approval for political power. It’s disgusting, and it produces ugly and false compromises in support for leaders such as Donald Trump. There have been many other abusive figures in history that claimed to be a Christian and turned out only to be selfishly murderous bastards.

And so, to not challenge those trading in politicized religious beliefs… when the Bible clearly maps out the call to speak truth to power… is to abandon the heart of all Christian belief.

Pope Francis

That is what the Pope is talking about when he says that scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ is obsolete. That is the true and honest calling of all evangelicals. To trust that the love of God has meaning, significance and purpose in your life, and to feel the love of Christ and do your best to extend that grace and love to others. That is the mission of faith.

Yet the Evangelical Prophet must also suffer in the face of distrust when challenging others to consider how their authorities might be misleading them. Jesus set the example, it is for prophets of all levels and calling to follow that lead. His disciples did it, trusting that they would be greeted or else they dusted off their feet and left that town to the dog-whistle virtues it claimed for its own.

That’s what it means to be a Christian Evangelical.

*In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

 

 

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.

Why the liberal doomsday never comes true

IMG_6707One of the strident complaints leveled by conservatives against liberals and progressives is that they constantly decry doomsday scenarios that never come true.

But there’s a good reason why the bad things about which liberals hew and cry never come about. Liberals actually do something about them to prevent doomsday from coming about.

Environmental doomsday averted

For example, in the 1970s the environmental movement began to make real traction in the public eye. Environmentalists warned about the dangers of industrial and chemical pollution. Liberals warned that air pollutions was not good for public health. So-called tree huggers and Save-the-Whalers and birdwatchers gathered forces and made their voices heard.

And even Republican President Richard Nixon got involved by signing the Environmental Protection Agency into being.

The nation’s liberals recognized that devastating levels of damage were being exacted on the world’s waters, land and air. Many species of wildlife were being treated with extinction. Only 60 years had passed since a species of bird known as the Passenger Pigeon had been literally hunted into extinction by mass harvesting. The American Bison was on the verge of blinking out of existence. Whooping cranes were down to the last 60 or so birds on the planet. Peregrine falcons were virtually an unknown species in the lower 48 states. The national symbol of the United States, the Bald Eagle, and its sister species the osprey were having successive years of nest failure due to the cracking of their eggshells from the trickle up effect of a pesticide known as DDT in the environment.

Yet rather than give in and let the doomsday scenario of mass extinctions take place, liberals dug in and fought for the banning of certain types of dangerous pesticides. In league with government agencies such as the EPA and backed by rulings such as the endangered species act, the harshest chemicals affecting our environment were regulating. Massive polluters were cited by law and punished. Billions of dollars were set aside in Superfund accounts to pay for the costs of environmental cleanup.

Rivers so polluted they once caught fire were able to recover from the effects of industrial dumping into streams and lakes. The blight on forests and lakes caused by acid rain from coal plants was arrested and cleaner forms of energy were investigated. The stunning fear caused by an event at Three Mile Island led to analysis of the role and safety of nuclear power in America.

Nuclear option

All the while, liberal protestors echoed by singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Neil Young took aim at the ignorance and greed causing the near doomsday realities of nuclear meltdown and chemical pollution so thick and pervasive it caused the residents of entire towns to live under the threat of cancer and birth defects, sickness and death.

These were real doomsday events in the making. And had liberals not shown the temerity and wisdom to fight back against toxic pollution, habitat degradation and loss and wildlife extinction, the healthier environment we now have in America would certainly not exist.

All these efforts protected the health and safety of millions of people in America. Because as goes the environment, so goes the human race.

Civil rights doomsdays

Liberals saw the social justice in all that effort. Liberals and progressive have continued to push the nation deliver civil rights for all citizens. The “environment” of the nation is thus a healthier place for all its citizens to exist.

Without benefit of these civil rights efforts, black people and minorities would continue to live under segregation and persecution on many fronts. The many deaths of black people from lynching and torture are undeniable evidence of the fact that the conservative wing of America was incapable of controlling its most extreme wing. And without that control, prejudice loomed like a doomsday for centuries in America.

But that doomsday, while not entirely averted, has not fully arrived either. Through liberal political enterprise and the leadership of men such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the walls of segregation and prejudice have been razed.

However, we are still sorting through the rubble. And some Americans typically of a harshly conservative, often ignorant bent, would prefer to build the walls of prejudice back up. These racial zealots whine about legitimate civil rights as if they were the exception in a democratic republic, not the rule. They simultaneously claim their own civil rights are being infringed and that they are being restricted in their freedom of speech by so-called “political correctness” that seeks to prevent hate from being spewed through politics or social media.

Religious doomsday

Sadly, the name God is often evoked to justify the hateful actions and rhetoric of those whose ability to imagine a better world has been choked off by their own vision of doomsday. How ironic it is that the very same people who on religious grounds claim America is in moral decay and headed for doomsday are the very people who seek to deny civil rights to women, blacks, minorities, and gays. Their priorities have more to do with access to power and appeasing their notions of unswerving authority than anything akin to creating the Kingdom of God here on earth, which is what the Bible actually encourages.

Instead, the true doomsayers embrace an End Times theology that spatters like blood across the face of conservative theology. These are the real doomsday preachers. And their most common mode of offense (and defense) is to accuse liberals of their own worst flaw, which is not believing in the future.

This brand of self-doubt spills into politics, where conservatives claim to hate the very government they represent. This self-hatred is the self-fulfilling prophecy of doomsday conservatism, where everything is supposedly going downhill and always will, until the end of time. Yet there are many conservatives who claim to be the happiest people on earth. But as the Bible clearly points out in the tale of the Good Samaritan, when supposedly holy men walk past another soul in need and ignore that need, they are the very people God will choose to ignore on that day of judgment, if it ever comes.

A perversely fashioned zygote

ZygoteYet conservatives continue to claim the high ground. It’s as if they’re never read the many passages in the bible where Jesus chastises the chief priests for their moralizing, legalistic ways. Or the parts where Jesus points out that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Instead, we’re left with a perversely fashioned zygote made of political, social, fiscal and religious conservative cells. This unholy creature proclaims doomsday at every turn. Political conservatives have shut down the government. Social conservatives say that granting gays the right to marriage will be the end of America. Fiscal conservatives have already crashed the economy a couple times in American history and predict another crash while telling people to “buy gold” as if that would stave off an economic doomsday of their own making.

And finally, religious conservatives lay claim to the Doomsday of All Doomsday predictions. That would be the End Times, the Rapture, Armageddon and the Apocalypse. The End of the World is a favorite topic of the Christian Right. The subject crops up with even though the events predicted in Revelation already happened long, long ago. The Doomsday appeal of owning the bookends of Creation and Apocalypse are literally too good a story to relinquish.

No credit where credit is due

But it sounds pretty good to accuse liberals of being the naysayers and doomsday predictors in this world. That way anything bad that happens out of your own negativity, selfishness, neglect, prejudice, legalism and persecution can be blamed on people simply trying to make the world a little better place. And succeeding, for the large part.

Because many types of doomsdays have been averted through the heart, soul and humanism of liberalism. But you would never know it from listening to conservatives.

Of course, extreme conservatives also claim that global climate change is just another false liberal doomsday scenario. Perhaps it helps that so many Christian conservatives (between 30- 50% of the American population, some studies say) do not believe in evolution or even the basic science of geology. With that level of scientific ignorance at work, there is no wonder the world considers America such a pack of selfish dolts.

Maybe conservatives are right. Maybe there is a doomsday right around the corner. If so, it will be one of their own making through denial and unwillingness to work through practical means to make the world a better place.

And if they do cause the world to end, they will deny it until the day they day. 

The Wheaton College House of Cards

NewsThe January 11, 2016 edition of the Daily Herald covered the continuing story of a Wheaton College professor put on leave for statements of support about the Muslim faith: “Roughly 100 Wheaton College students filled the steps of Edman Memorial Chapel Monday to call on administrators to reconcile with political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who was placed on administrative leave last month and could be fired for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

Well, it rather fits with the school’s tradition to be divisive about the schism between Christian and Muslim faiths. It’s only been a few years since the college changed its own mascot name from the Crusaders. The institution clung to a medieval theology tradition for a little too long. But echoes of its ideology apparently still remain.

Knowing quite a few good people who graduated from Wheaton College, which is 10 miles from my home, it might seem wrong to pick on the place. But my personal history with intolerance from the institution goes back more than 40 years. That’s when a Wheaton College student as a Campus Life director at our high school pulled me aside after a weekly meeting to issue a harsh bit of advice about my pursuit of answers about Christianity. “You’ll never be a Christian if you keep asking questions like this,” he told me in a hissed whisper.

Ten years later, as I’ve shared in other posts about that encounter, we met by chance at a McDonald’s restaurant and made up on the spot. His tears and apparent anxiety on seeing me were motivation to initiate a discussion. We reconciled. That’s what real Christians do.

But that’s not what all so-called Christians do. In many years of church service and volunteer work, it has been common to find people at angry odds. Some of these have been pastors and youth group leaders, choir directors and board members. The list goes on and on.

Still, you don’t expect to see a public spat over theology to erupt in the form of the situation at Wheaton College. Tossing a professor out of her job for expressing the basic fact that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? That’s just being a bully.

Of course, the world’s culture has always been full of such bullies all the way back to the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was consistently forced to face down the threats of priests who aggressively asked if he worshipped the same God. And by the time Jesus claimed he was the Son of God, those priests tore their robes and screamed “Blasphemy!”

That’s because the institutional call for power and authority supersedes all other judgment. Which explains why Wheaton College has gone all authoritative on this issue of a shared history with the Muslim faith. The god they’ve worked so hard to define as their own has no room for other interpretations or even a metaphorical understanding of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.

Instead, the college is acting on its binary instincts for literal possession of the truth. These are sourced from the narrow-minded interpretations of scripture that lead to belief systems such as creationism and other fundamental attempts to reduce the Bible’s truth to theological memes and sound bites.

And now that their selfish motives are exposed, they will likely recoil behind claims of persecution as fundamentalist factions always do. Anyone that questions their underachieving yet overreaching version of religious doctrine will be accused of attacking the Christian faith itself.

Meanwhile, other more liberal (and more rational) believers in Christ with courage to challenge the Wheaton College meme and fealty to a literalist version of God will be accused of corrupting the one true faith. That’s how conservatives religious leaders worldwide are likewise responding to the liberal (and liberating) actions and words of Pope Francis. You literally can’t win with these people. Hatred for change leads the day.

Those of us that have long tracked these defensive responses to theological challenges recognize a religious House of Cards when we see one. It’s all about feelings of betrayal and revenge with these people. At Wheaton College, there will likely be demands for retraction and perhaps the appearance of an extension of forgiveness to professor Larycia Hawkins. But we all know the truth. The zealots who run the arch chapters of faith are incapable of greater understanding or change. Wheaton College may be a fine institution, but they simply urinated on their own feet when it comes to enlightened behavior. If that pisses you off to hear someone say, then you should take a close look at your own soaking wet shoes.

Perhaps Wheaton will wait for their shoes to dry before tromping on anyone else. But like the Crusaders of Olde, they are always gearing up for the next fight on another day. They’ll tell themselves they are defending God when in fact all they are defending is their own anxieties over the certainty they claim to hold, but are never quite able to defend in the public sphere.

All forms of religious fundamentalism are a House of Cards. Christian. Muslim. Jewish. The list goes on. But our interpretation and application of scripture should not be so brittle and arch, so literal and parched of meaning.

But that’s how some people seem to like it. It’s very hard to show them anything different. More typically they’re proud if a bit confused at how tall their House of Cards has actually grown. Which explains the likes of Joel Osteen or Franklin Graham.

But that confused wonderment at the seeming works of God do not make it an any stronger brand of faith in the end. Mega-churches and TV preachers may attract plenty of so-called believers, but there is often plenty more air than substance blowing through those structures. So it’s worth giving them a blow or two to see how they stand.

Why Christianity needs healing

BruisesThere is so much pain in the world. Christians seeking to heal that pain rightfully turn to their faith as a means to promote forgiveness that can relieve personal and spiritual pain. That leads to healing.

The challenge to this process is in learning how to use the Bible to communicate the forgiveness that leads to healing. The Christian church with all its variegations and interpretations of the Bible is not much help.

The prime example of how to understand scripture rests with Jesus Christ, who taught using parables anchored in organic symbolism to convey spiritual principles such as love, mercy and justice. Christ’s parables made the kingdom of God accessible to all.

Authoritarians

This example was lost on those whose zealotry for godly authority drove them to turn scripture into law. Jesus, therefore, experienced conflicts with religious authorities who refused his often symbolic warnings and prophecies. When Jesus threatened to knock down the temple and rebuild it in three days, people mocked and laughed at him because the stone temple had taken years to build.

But that’s the point of scripture: it uses hyperbole to express the spiritual wonders of God.

People who take the Bible literally often miss these crucial examples. The Book of Genesis is one such book that has been raked and damaged by those mining it for literal interpretations of the Creation story. As a result, Christianity itself has been ripped up the middle by this divisive interpretation of Genesis. Jesus himself would be aghast at what has become of the Creation story in the hands of these so-called Christian perpetrators, religious fundamentalists without imagination, hope or trust that God’s Word can do more than talk like an ignorant child.

Recovery

So Christianity needs healing. It needs to be recovered from the wounding hands of those who try to use it as a weapon against modernity and science. It needs to be rescued from the medieval notion that Christianity necessarily needs to be a Crusade for religious anachronism and the threat of sending all to hell who do not abide by zealous literalism.

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

A viper waits below the surface.

Again, Jesus called that brand of believer “hypocrites” for casting blame against all those who broke the rules they created. He further characterized them as a “brood of vipers.” Take note of Christ’s use of naturalism to explain that powerful concept familiar to all. You don’t want to enter the den of venomous snakes, do you? Well, then we’re supposed to know that it’s best to avoid those who turn literalism into legalism.

None other than Pope Francis of the Catholic Church is promoting a departure from legalism, literalism and faith build on ramparts of dogma and divisiveness. Of course he’s getting tons of resistance from religious conservatives stuck in the past and happy to use the divisiveness of legalism to win political and religious converts to their own benefit, power and authority.

It will take quite an effort to recover the faith from the hands of these murderous intents.

Modernity

So the healing of Christianity needs to come from these clear warnings from Christ. There is no need to castigate science or evolution as oppositional to God. There is no call to avoid modernity at all, for the Word of God is eternal, not intransigent.

What follows is a passage of healing for all Christians to consider. It is written with all loving intent, for it is designed to heal the rent between old brands of faith and a new, truly born-again approach to faith in God and Christ.

This communicates the basics of a sustainable brand of faith that does not cower before science or force people to rent the gut of Christian faith in order to demonstrate their fealty to God. Consider it a creed of sorts, for Sustainable Faith in the modern age.

Healing Christianity

Evolution explains our material origins. The Bible explains our spiritual origins. Genesis represents humankind’s spiritual awakening to God, our birth, as it were, into that relationship. The entire Foundation of scripture depends upon deeply organic imagery to describe creation and how that is an expression of God’s love for the world. Jesus taught using parables anchored in naturalism as well. He did so to make spiritual concepts accessible to all those who would listen. When his disciples either refused these methods or did not get it, he called them “dull” for missing the vitality and purpose of these metaphorical stories. Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. Jesus would have no trouble with Darwin, evolution or science.

Jesus taught using parables anchored in naturalism as well. He did so to make spiritual concepts accessible to all those who would listen. When his disciples either refused these methods or did not get it, he called them “dull” for missing the vitality and purpose of these metaphorical stories. Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. We repeat: Jesus would have no trouble with Darwin, evolution or science.

Christ’s example is how we need to look at the entire Bible in order to grasp its connections between material and spiritual truth. In fact, he celebrated nature as expressive of God’s fidelity, but also free will and change. Evolution and free will go together, you see. Our lives are not predestined, and God makes no guarantees of happiness, wealth or favor. But our relationship with God and Christ overcomes all such circumstances with faith and grace.

In the end, it is our spirit that defines us. The body withers and fades away. This is true for all living things from amoeba to insect to bird to ape to human beings. Dust to dust. But explaining our evolutionary and proven material relationship with nature is no crime of thought. Through genetics, we understand that human beings share 98% of our genes with apes, and more than 60% of all our genetic material with every living creature on earth. We are connected, in other words, to all of creation.  

This worldview mimics that of Jesus Christ and the Bible, and we should grasp that worldview in the same way. There is only conflict between the world and God if you make it so. Yet that explains much of the state of religion and politics today. 

Christianity needs healing. It must begin with this understanding that Jesus Christ was our leader in how to approach and understand the organic roots of scripture and our relationship with God.

The Virgin Mary needs a better publicist

virginmaryPoor National Geographic. Since being purchased by the conservative scion Rupert Murdoch, the first issue out of the gates is a massive tip of the hat to conservative religious ideology. The biblical figure of Mary is hailed as the most powerful woman in the world.

Of course the figure of Mary carries with it some heavy theological baggage. That would be the so-called Virgin Birth.

How unsettlingly ironic this new testament to the power of womanhood really is. The Virgin Mary myth begins with the idea that the Son of God could not be conceived by conventional sexual means. Instead, it requires an immaculate conception in which the Holy Spirit essentially rapes a woman for God’s supposed purposes.

So, the question has never been answered. Is she still a virgin after this conception? Or is pregnancy not somehow an establishment of womanhood? Which is it?

How the Virgin Mother myth evolved

We know by now that the concept of a virgin birth (itself a malapropism) is adopted from other cultures to serve the idea that a supernatural being has entered the human race. The idea that some people become gods through status or divination was important to ancient cultures seeking leaders for military, cultural or religious purposes.

Buddha was ostensibly born of a virgin. So were many other goddesses and mothers in religious history. All impregnated by heavenly spirits.

Christianity was late to the game but just as determined to turn their Virgin Mother myth into a powerful religious meme. So the New Testament does a bit of work to make that a seeming reality. The Book of Matthew tells the story as a sort of scandal in which Joseph considers divorcing his wife when he learns that she is pregnant without his seed.

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:20-21 NIV

Virgin Births in the Modern Age

A group of University of North Carolina scientists dug into the issue of virgin births in the modern era. Their findings were interesting, as the main pool of people claiming “virgin birth” were Christian women who took the vow of chastity or some other indication of purity (abstinence education, for example).

The articles notes:

“Except for in the Bible, virgin births or asexual reproduction occur only in the plant world and among a small group of vertebrates: pit vipers, boa constrictors, sharks and Komodo dragons.”

Of course none of these creatures considers virgin birth all that important. Asexual reproduction is a matter of practicality, not miraculous events.  But it does make one think hard about the fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus referred to religious leaders of the day as “a brood of vipers.”

Brood of Vipers indeed

That was because the original fundamentalists of the Jewish faith were caught up in the process of turning religious laws into a power structure that conferred them political advantage and wealth. If you tried to divest them of that power, they struck at you like a brood of vipers. In fact that is exactly what got Jesus killed. He was bitten by the poison power of fundamentalism.

In his absence, the ministry of Jesus Christ was hijacked by similar zealots who then interpreted the story of his existence to fit their desires in some ways. They had already aggressively borrowed traditions like the virgin birth to make predictions in what Christians call the Old Testament.  It was now up to the authors of the New Testament to make those prophecies “pay off.”  Competitive prophecies have to fit together like a puzzle or they are unconvincing. Hence the Virgin Birth was canonized and copied over and again in the Gospel narratives.

Beyond theft and deceit

If this makes you sad to think about, don’t be alarmed. We can still believe in the power and majesty of Jesus Christ without the stolen myths of pagan religions to prop up the story. The teachings of Christ are sufficient in wisdom and transformative power to work miracles in the lives of everyone they touch. Men such as Thomas Jefferson saw this and extracted the miracle stories from the Bible to put greater focus on the wisdom of the man we call the Son of God.

But thanks to the conservative, patriarchal tradition in which men competitively want to cherish the notion of owning and then taking the virginity of a woman, we’re forced into reciting this falsehood in Christian creeds and other ways.

New Conservative Zealots

It’s no coincidence that the magazine National Geographic has been forced into parroting the Virgin Mary myth by its new conservative owner Rupert Murdoch. Oppression of women is a favorite habit of male conservatives.

One wonders how that actually squares with the supposed humility of Mary’s husband Joseph, who demurely accepts the idea that his wife is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Would conservative men of this day and age accept that as truth? Or would they behave like conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, who branded Sandra Fluke a “slut” simply for advocating the idea that birth control should be covered under health care plans? We already know the answer to that one, don’t we?

Perception and truth

Again, perception is often more powerful than truth. The University of North Carolina study found a not-too-surprising commonality among women claiming to be virgins and even men claiming to be virgins even though their wives were already pregnant. “For the larger original study in 1995, which included both males and females, she said scientists were surprised by some of the findings. “There were a few virgin fathers lurking around in data field,” said Herring.

The article states: “We found [the “virgin birth” phenomenon] was more common among women who signed chastity pledges or whose parents indicated lower levels of communication with their children about sex and birth control,” said Herring.

“The immaculate conception group may have been small, but researchers did find an even larger group, whom they called “born again virgins. “They reported in an earlier study a pregnancy, then later said they were virgins,” said Herring. “Those may have been a misclassification issue.”

False Virgins

Such may be the genuine case with the so-called virgin Mary. The controversy about her “virginity” stems from interpretation of the Hebrew word almah, which can just as logically mean “young maiden” as virgin. But given this prophecy from the book of Isaiah, one can understand the longing for fulfillment of this passage: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).

Who made the original mistake? Likely a patriarchal author seeking to compete or outdo competitive religious claims to godhood. Then it got worse with the advent of Jesus.

As noted on the website Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, “The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This translation was made around 200 B.C. by 70 Hebrew scholars. In Isaiah 7:14, they translated the word, almah, into the Greek word, parthenos. According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,2 parthenos means virgin. This word is used in the New Testament of the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:23, Luke 1:27) and of the ten virgins in the parable (Matt. 25:1, 7,11).”

How the Virgin Birth hurts us all

What is the damage to all these Virgin Birth claims? For starters, it sets up an artificial standard for the divinity of Christ.

It undermines the notion that normal sexual relations can serve to fulfill holy means.

It depicts women as subservient to a male standard of desirability.

It enforces a power structure in which women are property rather than human beings.

It deceives millions of women into thinking that chastity is preferable over a healthy, normal sex life.

It egregiously twists the notion of bible prophecy to fit the aims of a perpetual “brood of vipers” seeking to control the biblical narrative for their own select purposes. Often these aims include the oppression of women. The fact that so many women buy into this narrative is a sad consequence of history.

What would Jesus say? 

None of this would have been necessary if it were up to Jesus himself to determine the notion of a Virgin Birth. He fully accepted the earthiness of life and embraced in his most intimate teachings the organic foundations of the world because these symbolized the creative powers of God. Is not conception itself a miracle? Ask anyone that has tried and not been able to conceive whether that is true or not.

Jesus would not have demanded that his mother be called a virgin in order to be blessed. It’s as simple as that. Of course the faith developed in his name will not likely abandon the falsehood of the Virgin Mary myth because it is a cult unto its own means. After all, we have politicians and religious leaders claiming to represent Christianity while simultaneously advocating greed, dunning the poor, espousing racism and discrimination and battling with other faiths over power and authority here on earth.

None of these things is Christian. They are as false as the Virgin Birth. So it should be no surprise that so many people are misled by the “brood of vipers” that continues to vex the world to this day.

But that doesn’t mean that rational believing Christians have to play along in the myth that disrespects and abuses real womanhood.

 

 

The only thing that isn’t fake

Somehow I stumbled on this propagandistic video about Dr. Ben Carson, a Republican candidate for President of the United States. I found the video stunningly obvious in its structure and production values. Then when I looked at the comments, they all seemed manufactured. And as you’ll see if you visit the comments section, I asked the people who commented if they were fake.

Turns out they’re real people. Sort of. Which surprised me a little. But the nature of their comments and the banal, surface level responses to the video still strike me as very fake. In other words, I have my suspicions whether these particular self-described  “millennials” are “real” in the sense that they are not paid for their comments on the video.

Listen, public relations in the video age is a highly crafted art designed to sway public opinion. But the one thing that isn’t fake in this video is how patently disconnected from reality Dr. Ben Carson truly seems. Now understand, I voted for Barack Obama twice, and I am proud of both of those votes. So this is not some hidden racial meme or dog whistle call to sink the lone black candidate on the Republican side.

Personally I’d love to see a conservative black candidate succeed. If someone in America can proceed with an agenda that delivers on ways to acknowledge and value the contributions of black Americans to society, I’m all for it.

Basic coherence

But Ben Carson is not the guy I’d like to see running our country. That’s a disturbing thought. His inability to proceed on any subject with consistency or even basic coherence is a problem. His mental health has even been raised as an issue.

Right away, Internet resistance was raised against the idea of calling Dr. Ben Carson mentally ill. This was one of the points of contention: “There is nothing, I repeat nothing, that rises to the level of evidence of a diagnosable behavioral pathology cited by Palmer. And yet, the piece plays into the all too readily accepted narrative that any person with whom we disagree on a vitally important issue must be a flawed, damaged, and ethically compromised human being.”

Get help

Here’s the difficult part in all this. For people experiencing the effects of mental illness, the most important thing anyone can do is to help them get help.

Many years ago a friend and runner from another community near my hometown was experiencing the first stages of a mental illness that would come to dominate his life. He showed up at our school with a bag of bread and tracked me down in the hallway. “I’m feeding the foxes on the bridge,” he told me. The foxes on the bridge were made of bronze.

Later this fellow went on to become an individual All-American runner. But he did so by engaging in some extreme behavior, training up to 250 miles per week as preparation for racing just 5 miles in cross country competitions. One could make a compelling observation that to this young man, the only thing that didn’t seem fake in his world was his running. Because after college his mental illness took on a different form, making it difficult for him to function in work and other activities. He did get help but as his mental illness progressed, even medications could not harness some of the delusional qualities manufactured by his brain. But the fact that he got help was the most important aspect of his particular journey. Without that, he likely could have harmed himself or others.

Because I had another running friend that tried to take his own life. And we all know that with accessibility to guns, people in that mental condition can certainly harm others.

And so can politicians whose mental state gravitates to extremes.

Loving the extremes

I think there’s a compelling case to make that for some people, politics is both their sport and their passion. And just like my friend with mental illness who ran 250 miles a week just to compete in a five-mile race, there are people with a propensity to go to extremes in an effort to make their point, and create a reality in which they feel more alive.

In fact I’ll argue there are many people in politics who think their extreme views are the only thing that feels real in this world. That’s how we’ve gotten the long list of extremists running for the Republican nomination. And there’s little doubt that on some days, men like Donald Trump talk and act a little insane.

We also know there have been plenty of zealous religious believers whose obsession with the end of the world has led to manic predictions and even death rituals. Entire cultures get caught up in these visions, as much of the world did with the y2K obsession.

Making it real

scary-romney_debate_angryThere are high-level officials here in America whose obsession with a Zionist vision of Israel have made them hunger for war in the Middle East, and Armageddon, which might bring on the apocalypse. So there is both inherent and operative insanity at work in this world.

Sometimes, and to some people, the only thing that isn’t fake is either that reality is out to get them or there is an opportunity through politics to create a reality that suits their particular brand of economic or cultural prejudice. That explains the KKK, the Third Reich and the threat we call ISIS in a nutshell. These are people pissed off to the point of world domination. And they’re everywhere.

Haters and baiters

We see people who hate the rich and we find people who despise the poor. We see people who fear for the climate because of human activity and we see people who think that no one but God can alter a single thing about the world.

It’s the longtime struggle between the willingness to change and the fear that change will ruin everything. The very state of the human condition is one of madness in dealing with his dichotomy. When people say things like, “The world has gotten crazy,” this is what they’re talking about.

And when we selectively view politicians such as Dr. Ben Carson or Bernie Sanders, we see them through very different eyes as a result. Both are obviously passionate people. Both are struggling to change the status quo. There are people who call both of them crazy. And there are people who take the bait.

Hard-liners

Businessman Matt Bevin Challenges Senate Minority Leader McConnell In Primary ElectionExtremism is a byproduct of trying to make sense of this dichotomy. People simply choose sides and gravitate to the far ends of the spectrum. Standing somewhere between the will to change and fear of change is known as being a moderate. But those voices can barely be heard over the screams of the extremes.

Perhaps more commonly, people choose candidates who represent their views or fears, and somehow Dr. Ben Carson has attracted a fair number of followers. But what creeps me out about the guy is not his potential mental illness. It is crazy ideological statements such as this: “No body with bullet holes is more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” And granted, that might be some form of hyperbole. Even Jesus Christ was known to exaggerate to make a point. But there’s no way Jesus Christ would equate the right to bear arms as more important than human life. So I think Ben Carson is the one that’s talking crazy talk.

And statements like those are why Ben Carson deserves to be scrutinized from every perspective possible. Because they evidence that fact that when it comes to issues of moral gravity, Ben Carson is either a fake, or he’s purposely faking it. Which is even more disturbing. Because what is his true agenda? No one can really know for sure when the “real” statements he makes cannot be separated from the supposedly playful manner in which Carson takes issue with serious social issues.

Fox News “reality” show

Consider that even in the cloistered environment of Fox News, where conservative viewpoints like Carson’s are cherished and promoted, things get strange when talking about standing your ground during a mass shooting or running away.

As reported on Salon.com: “On “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning, he (Carson) said that “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’” When asked about the remarks by ABC News later that day, he repeated his assertion with a smile, which Kelly said many people would take as an evidence of callousness. (italics by the author)

Carson disagreed, saying that “I was laughing at them, at their silliness. Of course if everybody attacks that gunman, he’s not going to be able to kill everybody.”

Actual military veterans who were armed and on the campus while the shooting occurred didn’t abide by the dictates of Carson’s assured tactical acumen, but that’s beside his point. “If you sit there and let him shoot you one-by-one,” Carson said, “you’re all going to be dead.”

This is a man operating in an imaginary world, where his ideology rules the day, and reality be damned. That’s why people are questioning his mental fitness. It’s not because he’s a conservative. Or he’s black. Or any other reason. He simply refuses to make sense.

“Getting” Carson and Cain

Some claim that he’s so smart the rest of the world doesn’t “get” Ben Carson..because he’s a brain surgeon, you know. And a Christian, apparently. And who knows what else?

Well, the Republican Party keeps trotting out ostensibly conservative black guys as evidence they “get” the needs of so-called minorities.

Herman Cain was the last iteration of this brand of conservative, running on grounds that people did not “get” his message. But he had other axes to grind as well. “I honestly believe that there’s an element in this country, in our politics, that does not want to see a businessman succeed at getting the nomination for the Republican party, and does not want me to succeed at becoming President of the United States of America.”

Well, now that’s a bit of news isn’t it? How many millionaires do we now have in Congress? And why does Wall Street throw millions of dollars behind candidates like Mitt Romney, the businessman and massively callous job-killer whose main professional accomplishments were delivering profits to shareholders? Or Donald Trump, an erstwhile businessman who now leads Republican polling?

But Cain was delusionally obsessed with his inability to convince people he was right. So he blamed others.

Blame and shame

john-boehner2-1024x780Again, the methods of extremists are always to blame others for their failure to get elected, or to govern. Right now the brother of the former President of the United States of America, candidate Jeb Bush, is busy denying that his brother GWB bore any responsibility for preventing the attacks.

This is mental illness as a political ideology. This is imagined reality superimposed on reality. This is why extremists and political ideologues such as Dick Cheney and perhaps Dr. Ben Carson cannot be trusted. They made not be mentally ill, but they certainly act like it. And that’s the only thing about them that isn’t fake.

Introduction to Sustainable Faith

What follows is the Introduction to a new book by Christopher L. Cudworth to be titled Sustainable Faith. 

What you are about to read is a wakeup call, a “connect-the-dots” moment in which Christianity is urged to take a fresh look at where it has been, and where it is going.

This book is necessary because some of the traditions Christianity has used to stake its cultural tent now hold it back from pulling up stakes and going where it is meant to go. Instead, there are many Christians hammering ever harder on the stakes of treasured convictions and timeworn traditions. 

You may recall that according to the Bible, many of the people chosen by God to carry forth his kingdom were either asked to uproot themselves or were taken by force out of their homes, even to the bonds of slavery.

Their circumstances were often dire as a result of these actions. Yet God kept watch on them and ultimately chose to lead these same people out of slavery or out of the wilderness. And that is where their faith in the sustaining power of God was put to the test.

Let us always remember that while people felt they were suffering and complained loudly about being left to fend for themselves in that wilderness, God reached out and gave them enough food to sustain them through days, months and years of exile. This was the original lesson in sustainability. Be grateful for what you have and use it well. 

These were the lessons in sustaining faith and trust that God wanted people to pass down through generations. But of course, people grumbled and rebelled, challenging their leaders to give them better food, better news and firmer directions than the mere sustenance of “Tomorrow is another day, live it well. God will come through.”

When the Promised Land was finally delivered, new problems of leadership and dissatisfaction arrived. God asked people to continue in trust and faith. Yet they begged and demanded God to give them kings to rule over them. God finally relented, and with that earthly concession came wars and dissolution. The kings always turned out to be selfish or overreaching, and the people followed their lead, always getting themselves into trouble.

So God sent prophets to tell the people there was hope if they repented of their selfishness.

Long periods of imbalance and divorce from God ensued, until finally a man arrived that had a simple message to convey. John the Baptist was a voice crying from the wilderness. This time, he bore good news for all the people. An entirely new kind of king was arriving.

John was no ordinary character. He wore wild-looking clothes crafted from camel’s hair, tied by a leather belt around his waist. He ate insects such as locusts, and dined on wild honey. In other words, he had a flair for strange sustenance and knew how to survive outside the realm of traditional society.

“Listen,” he shared in ministry with his people. “I have come to bring you the Kingdom of God,” he said. “But it is not I that brings you this gift.” Then John baptized none other than Jesus, who in turn spoke of John this way. “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John …”

It is clear that Jesus appreciated John’s unflinching approach. He also loved the wild strain of his faith, which bucked convention, challenged authority and depended not on temples or hierarchy for its strength, but sprung up from the earth itself, the very foundation of the Kingdom of God.

IMG_1870That Jesus understood the organic nature of John’s ministry is crucial to our understanding of the fulfillment of the entire Judeo-Christian narrative. Later when Jesus began his ministry in full, he kept with John’s example of calling people home to the earth, teaching through examples drawn from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. Jesus taught using parables that sprung from these eminently sustainable sources of wisdom. Nature is always there, he strove to tell us, and with it comes an appreciation for the creative power and sustenance of God.

In keeping with this approach to wisdom, he also warned that all people are but leaves of grass. Human beings come and go, and it is this ephemeral quality of life that you must recognize if you are to appreciate the unique and special place you occupy in the realm of creation. Life is precious, he encouraged us to understand, but not so precious that it cannot be lost for a million reasons. It happens every day, and none of us knows our time.

While this hardly seems like a sustaining piece of wisdom, in fact, it is the paradox you must grasp to appreciate the true nature of your circumstance here on earth.

To better comprehend our unique yet fragile relationship with the earth, we must return to the example of Jesus, who used parables formed from earth and water and light to communicate the vital connection between worldly experience and spiritual principles. This example of using natural symbols to teach about our spiritual nature is the prime paradox of scripture, yet also the most important to understand if we hope to achieve reconciliation with God.

From the opening passages of Genesis with its iconic description of creation to the fantastically imaginative brilliance of Revelation, we find scripture calling on examples of organic truths through metaphors to illuminate the power and wonder of God. If we limit ourselves to a literal interpretation of all this wonder and power, we risk driving yet another stake into the ground and tying people to it with a chain of ignorance. In so doing we imprison the beliefs of all those who seek but are not free to pursue these truths in full. 

It is time to wake up and understand the limits that literalism has so long placed on the faith through its traditions and its halting brand of theology. It is instead time to pull up these stakes and step over these stumbling blocks in order free our beliefs from idols of law and zealotry dragged along from the past.

We instead need to be free to embark on a walk with Jesus that allows God to enter our lives in every step along the way. No longer should we fear science, because Jesus did not fear knowledge or the use of organic symbolism to convey the nature of truth. Likewise, we should no longer choose to fear or discriminate each other based on reasons of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

These were conventions that cultures once knew as rules, but they no longer apply. The selective method of choosing which rules from the Bible to emphasize and obey must end.  And we should confront and hold to account all those who do these things in the names of other religions as well. Leave the tents of fundamentalism behind. Let them rot in the desert wind. Reach out to the people trying to free themselves from these prisons of perception, and help them yank up the stakes and uproot the horrid windrows planted to keep people from moving on. 

There is only one set of sustaining principles from the God asks of us, and always has. Love one another. Respect creation. Sustain each other in all things. 

Christianity and its close relatives in Jewish and Muslim faith can indeed embrace these healthy new realities and bring about a “new earth.” In fact, it is sitting outside our door if we go out with a sense of wonder and appreciation of creation in mind. The New World we are waiting for is both within us and outside of us. We must accept that paradox and get to work demanding that the church yank up the stakes of its false and harmful convictions. We must move the tent of where God wants us to go.

Yes, this is the hardest path to choose. But that is the path the Bible clearly asks us to consider. God sends people away from comfort to find themselves, and to call all those who would listen to follow. If those who are stuck in their ways want to stay behind, they should know clear and well why they are not right with God. It is our job to tell them. To offer for them to come along. To help them get right with God and the world. 

There’s a great tradition in this regard. We have John the Baptist, the man crying in the wilderness, from whence all truth and understanding ultimately comes. Then Jesus himself was sent to the wilderness to face down Satan through 40 days of temptation that included an offer to have and own all of creation for his own. But Jesus stood by the sustaining power of his faith through it all, and turned down the selfish offers of Satan for a faith sustained not by expression of power but by expression of trust in God. 

Matthew 4

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

    and they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

How our desires and our differences dissolve in the face of such words. Behold the power of sustaining faith, which does not live on bread alone but feasts on every word that comes from the mouth of God! It also stands up to every test, and does not fear other forms of knowledge, but embraces them for the manner in which they expand upon our understanding of the world, just as Jesus taught us to do. And finally, a sustainable faith grows in the presence of all creation, and finds hope not in exploiting these resources, but by respecting the gift enough to restore whatever facets of creation we impact, and to act wisely for future generations.