The true connection between liberal anxiety and conservative fear

It’s a constant debate: Liberals versus conservatives. And it all breaks down to simple beliefs.

This is how the sayings go when it comes to discussing politics in America.

Liberals are anxious about everything. They worry about global warming. Civil rights. And offending someone. God Forbid. 

Conservatives are fearful about everything. Terrorism striking close to home. Living without guns. Being politically correct. God Forbid. 

How fascinating it truly is that liberals worry about the world while conservatives fret that it is out to get them? How can two such similar traits drive people so far apart?

Worry warts

For starters, conservatives seem to believe that most liberal worries are made up. That’s the real nature of anxiety, right? It’s defined as imagining the worst when things are really not all that bad.

Fearmongers

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

In a similar way, liberals consider conservatives obsessive about their fears or prejudices. Conservatives are always bemoaning the decay of society or predicting the end of the world as we know it.

Thus, the two parties circle each other warily and angrily. Both claim they’re right about the other and seek to demean the corresponding anxieties and fears on the Left and the Right.

The End of the World

But there are connections. For example, liberals tend to think that if the world is coming to an end, it will be through environmental means. That’s why global warming is a concern, along with species extinction.

Meanwhile, religious conservatives (and by dint of Big Tent Politics, many other brands of Republican conservatives) tend to depict the end of the world through a theological lens. The coming Apocalypse. Armageddon. The End Times. Left Behind. The Rapture.

The Second Coming

That mindset colloquially embraces the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus and the idea that the Old World in which we now live will be replaced by an entirely better New World that will come about through some sort of heavenly means. Even Muslims believe that’s the fate of the world.

Armageddon

And of course, there is considerable speculation on where all that will start, and whether we should fear the day or bid it welcome news. The general thinking on the topic is that the Middle East will be the site of a great war between the forces of good and evil. For many years it was the Jews that were the potential focus of all this heavenly rage. Lately it appears to be the Muslims, whom many conservative religious thinkers blame for the woes of the world.

Muslim surprise

How ironic it is that the Muslim faith actually looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as well. They don’t buy the idea that Christ was ever crucified, but was instead zapped up to heaven by God outside the parameters of the Christian narrative. It’s a little vague of course, as most things in the Quran seem to be in terms of interpretive or predictive value, but this is what the Quran says:  “And there is none of the people of the Book but must believe in Him before his death, and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.”[Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 159] Allah also says about Jesus in the Qur’ân: “And he shall be a sign of the Hour. Therefore have no doubt about the Hour, but follow Me. That is the straight path.” [Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 61].

Judgement Day

If you stop and think about the fact that conservative Christians and conservative Muslims all look forward to the coming of Christ on the Judgement Day, it’s a pathetic fact that what people are fighting (or quibbling) about is what path this supposed course took in the path and how it will ostensibly transpire in the future.

Owning the narrative

All sides of this argument, including Sunni and Shi’a sects on the Muslim side, as well as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and all other forms of conservative Christian faith oas well seem willing to fight to the death over which narrative is chosen to decide how the world will end, and who might survive.  Then we throw in the Jews, who get it from both sides of this great battle, and that pretty much explains fears over the Middle East “situation” in a nutshell. And it’s a fearful, angry, vicious batch of insanity.

And conservatives on every side just love it. Because it allows them to grab hold of all sorts of other controls in life. That includes social and political laws, and fiscal regulations. Everyone is afraid some other sect or religious worldview will get the upper hand.

Political zygotes

ZygoteOf course not all those who abide by conservative philosophy or identify as fiscal or political conservatives share these religious worldviews. But they can no longer escape the association because the conservative alliance initiated in the Falwell/Reagan era. That’s when the religious and economic “revolution” originally fused the language of triumph into a giant political zygote of social, political, religious and fiscal conservatives. Now the product of this marriage has emerged like a freak of nature, and his name is Donald Trump.

Liberals get their freak on

Like the tale of Benjamin Button, in which a man is born old and grows young over time, the Democratic side of freak births produced Bernie Sanders. His ardent gesticulations and socialist contentions have been discomfiting to those who just want a normal, somewhat liberal candidate to run for President. His supporters freak out at the idea of supporting Hillary Clinton if and when the Bern fizzles out. It’s a bit like a backcountry family feud, both ugly and beautiful in its unsophisticated way.

Emotional defense

it is interesting to note that both conservatives and Christians lay claim to the authority of scripture. Conservatives side with the traditions and triumphs of the church while liberals share the heart of scripture and the ministry of tolerance advocated by Jesus. These simple differences may be responsible for the entire liberal versus conservative divide. We only wish these differences could be determined through dialectic, a term described as “a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.” Instead all we seem to achieve is emotional arguments for one side or the other.

Back to the Future

Some of these debates over conservative versus liberal interpretations of scripture go back to the very formative years of what we now call Christianity. That’s when a Jew named Yeshua (better known as Jesus) debated vigorously with the Pharisees and others over their efforts to turn scripture into law. Jesus chastised the priests and tried to liberate the Jewish faith from its own strictures. But it didn’t really work. So the followers of Jesus started their own gig. And it’s been a Back to the Future movie ever since.

Some Christians never learned the lesson Jesus was trying to convey. They still behave like the priests Jesus tried to change. These are the conservatives of today. They side with political power because it feels like the best way to exact the philosophies of Christianity on the world. This is the Back to the Future plot we are now viewing.

The fortress of belief

Conservatism views the faith as a literal temple, a fortress of belief or a city to be defended or taken over by force if necessary. They Bible is one such fortress, and must be read as if it were a pile of stones placed one upon the other. Take out one stone and the entire structure may fall.

Portable faith

Liberalism takes a more modular view of what faith is about. Its interpretation of the bible is more about its transportable qualities. In that sense, liberalism is more like a nomadic tent community. It can wander the desert and be happy in the company of God. This is more like what Jesus professed. The structure of his ministry and how the disciples came to view the temple of God was centered on the idea that God is with you wherever you go.

Crusades

Now we can understand why conservatives consider the Crusades so important. Their objective to evict Muslims from Jerusalem was based on the belief that God needed (or deserved) a place to live. Tradition demanded that Jerusalem be under Christian guard. The Holy City and the Temple had been there. What more was there to understand?

In this day and age there are supporters of Israel who abide by these same standards. It’s still about the Holy City and the Holy State of Israel. This is called Zionism, “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.”

Mess of beliefs

Jerusalem_Dome_of_the_rock_BW_14.JPGIt’s a bit of an archaic notion, and a contradictory one at that, when Christians and Jews align to create and protect an Israeli homeland. The two faith traditions don’t even believe in the same thing. One accepts Jesus. The other does not. Meanwhile Muslims look forward to the return of Jesus while the Jews think the Messiah is yet to appear. It’s all a very confused mess if you really consider it. Yet the Crusades in the Middle East continue to this day and even the most informed people have lost track of what it is all about. The fighting now is about rallying the troops and never losing. Not at any cost.

Feeding worries and fears

The shared tactic of conservatism and liberalism is to consistently expound upon worries or fears about what is surely about to happen.

For conservatives, the list is long. The economy is about to collapse. Society is in moral decay. Terrorism is going to end our Way of Life. The Rapture is right around the corner. These are the go-to themes whenever conservatism fails on some, or many, fronts.

Meanwhile, liberals are busy wringing their hands in anxiety over environmental cataclysm and the collapse of civil rights due to prejudice and authoritarian rule by a select minority.

Beyond being afraid

The fact that both anxieties and fears align with the general belief that things could get far worse before they get better is telling. Isn’t there some way these two belief systems can come to a common ground?

The secret hides in how people on both sides of the philosophical debate define the idea of a “new world.”

For liberals or humanists, that would be world in which people actually collaborate to solve problems. This philosophy was effectively captured in the song Imagine by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

There’s a lot of Jesus philosophy in that very humanist set of lyrics. But the opening lyrics to the song would be of great offense to those who view the temple of God as real place.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

But if we focus on the idea that Jesus wanted the Kingdom of God to be real here on earth, and that the Bible advocates the idea that a New World will someday be created on earth, there is a great source of convergence going on in those humanist lyrics by John Lennon and the soul of the ministry of Jesus.

That is, God wants us to create this New World for ourselves. In fact, the Second Coming of Christ may be our responsibility to initiate. Not through war and Armageddon, but through love and all the good works of respect and trust and ministry we extend to others.

That is the true convergence of conservative and liberal ideologies. It also assuages worries and removes fears. Because a world where people genuinely care about each other and dispel differences rather than turning them into definitions of “the other” truly is the Kingdom of God.

And that’s the point at which both conservatism and liberalism as social, political, fiscal and religious constructs will cease to be.

How biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment

Christopher Cudworth is author of The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. It centers on how biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment. Originally published in 2007, it is being edited for re-release on Amazon.com. 

 

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Is God or Satan the real control freak?

IMG_6707During a New Year’s Day party, while talking with a young man and his father, conversation somehow turned to nature and conservation. We were standing by a large bonfire in freezing temperatures. Smoke puffed and billowed from the fire as the father, obviously excited to share his worldview with me, began to explain the difference between “predestination” and “preordination.”

“It’s not just semantics,” he claimed. “Predestination is very different from preordination.”

He went on. “All the world and history are preordained,” he explained. “God has mapped out everything in the past, the present and future. There isn’t a tree that falls in the woods that can change the course of history.”

Now, I will admit I typically ask for these types of conversations. Ever curious about the beliefs of others, and concerned for the manner in which faith is so casually used to justify all sorts of abuses in this world, I took the bait.

“What about free will?” I asked him.

Just then someone interrupted the conversation. That agitated him, because he’d just delved into his principal point, and he wanted to drive it home like a stake through my theological heart.

God is a control freak. That was his point.

What really matters?

My mind rushed through the implications of preordination. If all is preordained, then nothing we do as human beings can ever matter. “Science is wonderful,” he admitted. But it’s apparently useless. Still, he was proud of the fact that his son had been courted by schools for biomedical engineering. The kid walked away from scholarship offers. He’s working as a manager of an eldercare facility. “I like older people,” he smiled. “And I want to go into physical therapy to help them.”

The father was not finished with his soliloquy. “Evolution tries to explain things,” he observed. “But for what purpose? God already knows all that.”

I challenged him on that point, pointing out that Jesus seemed to have no problem incorporating nature into his parables as tools of exploration and instruction for his ministry. His highly symbolic parables based on nature’s wonders were a key tool to help people understand the nature of creation, which is reflective of God’s nature.

“Jesus would have had no problem with the theory of evolution,” I maintained. “He wanted everyone to learn from nature. And when his disciples didn’t get that, he call them as “dull” or “stupid.”

That seemed to catch him off-guard for a minute. But he quickly got back on his preordination horse and kept riding.

So I interjected again. “There are bookends to preordination and predestination that essentially defy the teachings of Christ,” I instructed. “The literal interpretation of Genesis and the reverse literalism of Revelation are literary tools for people to control the narrative of the Bible. Those are not the methods of God or Christ. In fact, Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for being so legalistic about faith and turning it into law for their own control and benefit,” I counseled. “There is far more truth to be discovered and known through metaphorical means. That’s where God resides, and how Jesus taught. He should be an example for us all. The Word and the world are living things. It’s up to us how we engage with God and creation. What really matters is the choices we make. That’s a more responsible way to act and it respects the gift of grace.”

At that moment, the flames seemed to rise a bit in the reflections of his eyes. He was burning to prove himself right. Just then someone threw another log on the fire. A stream of sparks shot up in the air. I took a sip of my beer and walked away from the heat of the flames.

The world is a pretty cool place if you let it be. The alternative is a bit like hell, because it turns out that it’s not God who is the control freak. It’s the character we know as Satan. He never wants to let you think for yourself.

 

 

Fighting over similarities

muhammad_ali_02aPerhaps the ultimate irony of Muslim faith in the public sphere was that of Muhammad Ali. The fighter formerly known as Cassius Clay controversially converted to Islam, then protested the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector.

The complexity of that decision confounded Americans. Some blamed him for refusing to serve his country. As the website This Day In History documents, Ali was penalized in the manner of a high profile figure.

“On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.”

That’s right, his case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United states, which overturned his conviction for draft evasion. In other words, Ali was exonerated of wrongdoing in his case against the United States. His faith was also vindicated.

In context with America’s troubled relationship with the Muslim religion and its “peace or no peace” controversies, the case of Muhammad Ali bears recognition as a sign that the Muslim faith does have a tradition of peace at its core.

Conscientious Objector

Ali was justified in his argument that “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” The nation entered the war ostensibly to stop the advance of communism. Instead, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War proved far more costly in terms of lives and political capital, and communism ultimately won the battle for control of Vietnam. One could argue that it ultimately lost the war in that communism ultimately collapsed the Soviet Union.

But in the moment, the Vietnam war was unpopular at the liberal end of the political spectrum, leading to war protests and civil unrest. The nation imposed a military draft and thousands of lives were spent on the guerrilla battlefields where victory and loss often felt like the same thing. In other words, a conscientious objector could find many reasons not to want to fight in Vietnam. That’s why Ali did not go to fight in Vietnam.

The ugliness of the fight game

Yet Ali was quite ironically a fighter by trade. He was also prone to controversial methods of race profiling as a means of fight promotion, calling men such as Joe Frazier “Uncle Tom” and engaging in pre-fight dialogue that was profoundly insulting.

Ali: “Joe Frazier should give his face to the Wildlife Fund. He’s so ugly, blind men go the other way. Ugly! Ugly! Ugly! He not only looks bad, you can smell him in another country! What will the people of Manila think? That black brothers are animals. Ignorant. Stupid. Ugly and smelly.”

Ali: “He’s the other type Negro, he’s not like me,” Ali shouts to the now stunned white interviewer. “There are two types of slaves, Joe Frazier’s worse than you to me … That’s what I mean when I say Uncle Tom, I mean he’s a brother, one day he might be like me, but for now he works for the enemy”

Lennon and Ali

John-Lennon-john-lennon-34078983-1024-768In his violent reproach toward his rivals, Muhammad Ali resembled another public figure of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was John Lennon, who spoke for world peace even as he engaged in very public fights with his former Beatles partner Paul McCartney. Their friendship for a while became a bitter rivalry.

But men like Lennon and Ali ultimately did apologize to their rivals.

Ali: “Joe Frazier’s a nice fella, he’s just doing a job. The bad talk wasn’t serious, just part of the buildup to the fight. The fight was serious, though. Joe spoke to me once or twice in the middle, told me I was burned out, that I’d have to quit dancing now. I told him I was gonna dance all night.”

Lessons learned

The point here is that personal rivalry drives public interest, and there are commercial and professional reasons why this is beneficial to the advancement of individual causes. Both Ali and Lennon are considered great artists in their trade. Each knew the value of slogans and sound bites. Ali engaged in a form of street poetry and Lennon lyrically crafted songs that appealed to both the common man and universal themes.

These similarities and differences are interesting to note. Ali advocated a religion while Lennon was equivocal about such matters, arguing through his song Imagine that perhaps even religion had its limitations in terms of seeking better understanding. Yet both seemed to arrive in the same place.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

It is worth nothing that that the statement by Ali that “I ain’t got no quarrel with no VietCong” could serve as a quick summary of the reasons why Lennon also protested the quasi-religious motives of the Vietnam War.

And indeed, communism was not resisted by conservative Americans only as a social and economic system, but because its “godlessness” was judged to be in direct opposition to the supposedly religious foundations of American history.

But it holds true as well that the most vicious of all wars are not fought over lack of a god, but as rivalries between two competing notions of God.

That is the precise reason why one sect of Muslims is killing another, and why ISIL is so committed to creating a caliphate or national state in Iraq. They are attempting to impose their version of Sharia law by conquering territory and forcing people to either convert of die. The entire enterprise is a rivalry over interpretations of God. As a result, ISIL wants to confront Christianity on its “home soil.”

Ali-Frazier redux

That rivalry over who represents the “real deal” is the the same sort of argument Ali foisted on Joe Frazier, who he openly accused of being the “wrong kind of black.” Their mutual anger over issues like these fueled three killer fights between the two men.

The same brand of story unfolded between McCartney and Lennon, who exchanged critical songs as a means to express frustration with the artistic differences that once made them the most dynamic writing team in popular music.

Religious rivalries

It is the same thing with the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths in this world. All share the same root histories, yet the advancing interpretations and judgment on what constitutes a prophet or a Messiah are to this day cause a triangulation of horror, murder and prejudice.

It remains to be seen whether these religious differences can be reconciled or forgiven. Some claim the differences are too fundamental or profound. Others point fingers at the murderous ways of the opponent while ignoring their own egregious modes of death and destruction. This is true of the collective efforts by Christian, Jewish and Musliim states.

Great rivals can become great allies, or at least show respect. Ali sooner or later did that with Frazier, as did McCartney and Lennon.

The rule we need to consider is that the more we share in history and the more we are alike, the more bitter the feud can be.

 

The height of arrogance and the depth of denial

DSCN1904The Republican propensity for denial of responsibility and grasp of fact is now so revered among the party’s elite it has become the first tool of response to any challenge.

The most recent denial of fact is the Republican claim that their last President of the United States was not, in fact, actually the President when the 9/11 tragedy took place. The initial volley about the issue came from none other than Donald Trump, ostensibly the Republican leading the polls among conservatives. This is what Trump said about George W. Bush and his responsibility for 9/11.

“When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,” Trump said. “He was President, okay? Don’t blame him or don’t blame him, but he was President. The World Trade Center came down during his reign,” Trump replied. ”

O Brother

Those simple facts did not set well with Jeb Bush, another Republican hopeful who has repeatedly claimed that his brother George “kept us safe.”

He may have been referring to the idea that no additional foreign terror attacks took place during the remaining years of the Bush presidency. But as noted, Trump was having none of that nonsense.

This harsh divide manifested in Trump’s domineering approach to criticism breaks with the Republican tradition of attacking only the opposition and not criticizing their own. That has been the presiding, if not perfect, strategy behind the Republican push for power over several decades. There may be ugly fights behind the scenes among Republicans, but the goal has always been to keep those spats private.

Breaking the rules

Trump is not playing by any of those rules, and as a result, is not really running for the Republican nomination so much as he is forcing the party to reform itself around this meme of gaining power at all costs. Even by Trump’s standards, that means leaving the rest of the nasty baggage behind. This could be the ironic salvation of Republicanism, if not the Republican Party itself.

See, the tradition of denying its own failures has both a benefit and a cost. Sooner or later you get to the obvious and well-documented parts of recent history, and you must deny even these to continue on the path toward power. The denials launch from the dusty calls of legislatures and courts on Constitutional matters to exploding buildings and wars started by sitting Presidents who stretched the truth to justify their ideology and their actions. In other words, you can only win by breaking every rule of conscience and truth.

Trumped at their own game

That’s what Trump is calling to account, and Jeb Bush has put his image of brotherly love and political credibility on the line, deciding to throw his support behind his brother’s claims of success rather than confont the facts, which point to a massive failure in intelligence, both gathered and native, by his apparently dimwit brother.

Yes, George W. Bush did some stupid things, and Donald Trump is having nothing to do with making excuses for what he perceives as the dumbing down of recent history. What we’re witnessing in real time is the height of arrogance and the depth of denial running the Republican Party. Their grasp of reality isn’t just slipping away, it is gone entirely.

Denial as a worldview

IMG_5827Republicans also deny the science behind global climate change on claims it is arrogant to think human beings could ever cause such a massive shift in the earth’s foundational temperatures.

Look at how that works. The GOP hates Al Gore for his claim that global climate change is, to quote a phrase, “An Inconvenient Truth.” So by directing their anger toward Al Gore they accomplish two things. Poor Al tends to come off as arrogant in his general demeanor, which makes him an ideal target for Republican denial of fact. They use him to deflect the factual arrogance of denying 97% of the world’s climate scientists who find tons of evidence that our current pattern of rising temperatures and warming oceans is a result of human activities.

But think about what’s happening here. If it is possible to deny the fact that 9/11 happened under the watch of George W. Bush, denying the complex and scientifically predicted influence of climate change is simple by comparison. The height of arrogance and the depth of denial work together fantastically in the propaganda-driven mode by which the Republican Party communicates.

In other words

As a result, terms like “sustainability” and “gun control” become catchphrases and buzzwords of resistance in the party of denial. These terms bespeak change in favor of temperance and planning, which are translated as government intervention by the party with a professed aversion for government even as it seeks total dominance over the three branches of jurisdiction; the Presidency, legislature and the courts.

This is the height of arrogance and the depth of denial at its most sinister level. To claim to hate the thing you want to rule is both an arrogance in purpose and a denial of responsibility.

Christian fakes

That’s what’s taking place on a grand scale here in America. The height of arrogance and the depth of denial also rules the brand of Christianity used to back Republican aims. The movement to wield the power of Christian faith in politics without abiding by the basic principles of Christianity is now 30-40 years old. Conservatives seeking to align their supply-side economics with biblical authority conveniently ignore the call to divest themselves of wealth in favor of spiritual governance. As a result, churches feel free to politicize and make the claim that you cannot be both liberal (ne: a Democrat) and a Christian.

Running interference

It’s no surprise that the inconvenient truth of science, especially the theory of evolution, interferes with this narrative that a fundamentally literal interpretation of the Bible is the only way to gain truth. This also denies the fact that Jesus taught using metaphors drawn from nature to explain important spiritual principles.

Donald Trump's proposed golf courseWhen pressed about his own faith and love for the Bible, Donald Trump ripped a page right out of the Republican playbook with this statement: “I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me, that’s very personal,” he said. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.”

Again, the height of arrogance and the depth of denial is at work.

Twitterized

But not everyone buys this brand of junk. Using his own quotes and philosophy, folks on Twitter took after Trump (and by proxy, all of RepublicanLand) with a feed called #TrumpBible. Take a look at how they handed Trump his stupid hat.

It’s time we all got a bit wiser about how this game of arrogance and denial really works. No one should get away with stupid remarks like Jeb Bush claiming his brother was not responsible for 9/11, or the partnered meme that Bush was not even President when it happened nine months after he was installed as President.

The sad fact is that so many people prefer the height of arrogance and the depth of denial. It fulfills their worldview on many fronts, exonerating them from responsibility for painful social issues such as gun violence, racism and economic exploitation. Let’s be honest and hold these people accountable. Stop letting your friends and conservative associates turn bald-faced denials and unaccountable arrogances into something resembling fact.

Donald Trump is just the starting point. He symbolizes the so-called anger expressed by so many Americans, and for all the wrong reasons. Denial is not a form of government. It is the absence of governance, and an entire lack of conscience.

Don’t let them get away with it. Call them out. The height of arrogance and the depth of denial is exactly what is killing American hopes and a future fit for all.

We’ve reached the point where some people are too Christian to function

mean-girls-1In that cinematic pillar of conscience titled “Mean Girls” starring a still-functional Lindsay Lohan, there is a marvelous scene in which the male homosexual character (Damian) in the movie is the subject of commentary by some of his close friends. “He’s almost too gay to function,” someone says.

What that means is that his gayness places so much emphasis on consideration of fashion, behavior and grooming it is almost impossible to move around in the world for fear of breaching some gay standard.

Yes, gays have standards. Plenty of them in fact. If you ever stumbled on the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, you might have witnessed the transformation for formerly slobbly, careless men into creatures that actually knew how to dress and groom themselves so that women (not men) would be attracted to them.

Yet there are no cliches that apply to all gay men or women. The large population of gay and transgender people is this world is too large and diverse to make generalities about.

We can be thankful that society is beginning to appreciate the contributions of gay people to professions and industries of all types. That’s because the last 20 years have produced an increasing openness about homosexuality.

Of course this trend has been resisted by those who still view homosexuality as a lifestyle or a choice rather than what it is: a manifestation of the biological, emotional and psychological diversity found in the human species.

But because there are scriptures that single out homosexuality as a sin, some people take those words verbatim and claim that there is no way society can tolerate or accept homosexuality in any way, shape or form. Some scholars such as Bishop John Shelby Spong have made the case that the Apostle Paul was actually a repressed homosexual. Repression never seems to come out well. It’s a highly dysfunctional aspect of social frabz-lisa-biron-zealot-christian-lawyer-for-antigay-alliance-defense--16e4e7behavior. Often it turns out those most opposed to a social issue are those who struggle with some other form of repression in themselves.

They are too repressed to function.

Now that brand of confrontation is coming to a head. The Supreme Court of the United States is considering cases pertaining to gay marriage. Never mind that the Constitution already states that religion has no say in the matter. The guarantee in the Establishment Clause says it clearly: the nation shall make no law establishing religion as the law of the land, nor preventing its free exercise.

Some people insist that second section of the clause proves the right to oppose and repress the right to gay marriage. They claim it imposes restriction on their beliefs.

It so happens that conservative Christians also claim that teaching evolution in public schools is also a breach of their beliefs.

Yet how convenient it is that there are Christians out there preaching a prosperity Gospel on claims that God wants us all to be rich! Well, the Bible is full of indictments on the worship of money. So which is the truth?

Meanwhile the Catholic Church has for decades banned use of birth control among its members. Yet some 90% or more of its members ignore this dictum.

See, there’s this problem with Christianity and the functionality of society. Since there is no single interpretation of the Bible accepted by all Christians, it is impossible to make exceptions for all variations in interpretation of the Bible. Otherwise we would not have national holidays or even celebrate Christmas according to some branches of Christianity. We would all be forced to consider the strictures laid out in a set of golden plates if the Church of Latter Day Saints were to have its way as well.

That is why the Founding Fathers made plain that no religion can define the activities of the nation or state. They knew that people become too Christian to function at some point. Unable to distinguish between their personal beliefs and the law of the nation, they too often choose to impose their personal beliefs and concepts of God on others, sometimes forcefully.

Christianity really is too Christian to function as the law of the land.

How the Republican Party will blame liberals for climate change

FlagWaiverIt seems almost impossible to think about. Yet one day soon all those who spend time denying the fact of man-made climate change will embrace it as a way to blame liberals for ruining the world.

Here’s how it will go down. There will be a conference somewhere amongst all those that have spent the last 10 years hating Al Gore for stating the inconvenient truth. And the financiers of phonily constructed research that denies the existence of global climate change will suddenly find ways to fund credible science because it serves an all new, entirely political purpose.

That purpose will be to blame liberals, especially environmentalists, for anthropogenic climate change.

There will still be an anti-science motive behind the science climate change deniers use to suddenly reverse positions on the idea that humans can effect climatologically disastrous levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

That motive will be to bring religion to the forefront of the so-called argument over climate change. Religious conservatives will contend that it is the policies of environmentalists that have gone against the will of God. They will claim that it is the arrogance of all those seeking to outsmart the Creator by imposing manmade laws and environmental regulations that has led to our pending climate disaster.

Predictable outcomes

Playing righteousness for political favors and power is how conservatives always operate in this world. It doesn’t matter that there is no logic behind the argument that conservation laws and international governmental agreements to reduce carbon emissions are the cause of global warming.

What matters to conservatives is framing the argument under terminology they can control. That’s where religion comes in so handy. They will point to passages from the bible where people defying the will of God have suffered punishment. The exile of Israeli people to Egypt and to Babylonia will likely serve as the apocryphal bludgeon used by conservatives to illustrate how God punishes those who try to think for themselves and “fall out of worship” with God.

Falling away from God

That means conservatives will rally all the talking points they use to assail what they call liberalism. Which is in fact nothing more than guaranteeing basic human rights. But that has never gone over well with conservatives. For a long time it was persecution of black people that occupied their attention. Then came the 1960s and social revolution. Then women’s rights became the enemy. Now tolerance of gays will be cited as a sign that America, which conservatives brand a Christian nation, has fallen away from the ways of God. For sure there will be a bit of apocalyptic fervor and imagery thrown in for good measure. Just to appeal to the frantically preoccupied base that believes the end of the world is coming about anyway. Nothing like a bit of threat and lost hope to motivate those who see the Bible as a set of bookends with Genesis and Revelation providing the sudden beginning and end of the world. How very convenient it all fits together.

Murderous ways

Never mind that our endless wars of choice and murderous habits of the CIA and other secretive organizations within government do far more evil and murderous things in the world. None of that matters because, in the minds of those who believe in American exceptionalism, none of that comes home to roost. We’re trying to change the world for the better, the argument goes. A few eggs are going to get broken in the process. Some of those “eggs” might have included the killing of JFK or even the complicit design of 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq for oil and influence. People lose their lives to these murderous schemes. But what matters more to conservatives is that someone might lose a little profit due to environmental regulations? Talk about skewed priorities.

Shame and blame

So the calculatedly blameless core of the religious and political right will have absolutely no problem blaming liberals for anthropogenic climate change. The sin of trying to act like God by invoking environmental protection laws is to blame for God’s swift justice on this earth. God is changing the climate to punish us all, they will say.

And it won’t be very long before this narrative comes to the forefront of American and world politics. The pressure to recognize this reality is soon going to force conservatives to admit they were wrong. But that just means they need to find someone to blame for their own egregious behaviors.

Need proof? Look at how quickly the religious and political right concocted the narrative that George W. Bush and Republican policies had nothing to do with the economic recession. Or that Bush and Company somehow screwed things up in the Middle East. No, there was no responsibility there on the part of the GOP or worse, the operatives that carry out the will of the corporatocracy.

Because that’s how it all really works. The confusing mix of business, religion and politics all mix together in the netherworld of people who want to own it all and accept no blame for the consequences of their actions. God comes in handy in those circumstances. All you have to do is claim you’re on God’s side and people find it hard to argue with you.

You heard it here first. It shouldn’t be long now. In fact they’ll probably steal the idea from this blog. We can only hope the Pope speaks out against the plot of the new Pharisees.

Republican Presidential candidate Scott Walker would love to punt us all

IN a recent interview in London, Scott Walker illustrates how and why Republican conservatives refuse to accept science as a foundation for dialogue about politics

Scott WalkerOne of the leading Republican candidates for the presidential nomination in 2016 is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. A well-known advocate of conservative principles such as busting unions and defunding public education, Walker is exploring his Republican darling status by setting up a campaign office in the state of Iowa, where all presidential aspirations begin.

In the meantime, Walker is still playing Governor for the State of Wisconsin. In that role he drifted overseas to London, England to talk trade. During an introductory interview with his London contacts and the press, Walker was asked a simple question by his English hosts. “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it? Do you accept it?”

Walker’s reply was textbook Republican political deflection. “For me, I’m gonna punt on that one,” he said. “That’s a question a politician should not be involved in one way or another.”

Shallow depths

Really? That’s all the deeper the thinking goes with Scott Walker? That when asked about his understanding of the primary descriptive theory used by science to define the origins of life, he chooses to “punt?”

It’s no wonder the audience laughed at Scott Walker’s reply. They were not laughing with him. They were laughing at him.

Scott Walker evidences a very shallow grasp of the impact of worldview on one’s politics and by proxy, on the politics of the world. By denying evolution one essentially denies one of the principle foundations of modern science, the realm of human thought that drives all technology, medicine, agriculture and environmental science.

Not fit for office

A politician that does not grasp or accept the concepts that drive our understanding of the world is clearly not qualified to serve in public office. It’s time that this qualifier be brought to the very front of the political equation.

This is especially true here in America, where one in four people claim not to accept the theory of evolution. Most base these beliefs on religious grounds and a literalistic interpretation of the Bible that says evolution could not have occurred because everything on earth was created instantaneously and fully developed by God.

Never mind the clear evidence in the morphological processes that take a human zygote from cellular to human form in a mere nine months. There can’t be any trace of our genetic and development history in that short process, can there?

Cognitive dissonance on science

When someone raises the question as to whether evolution is true or not, it comes packed with an even more important question. How can you accept the benefits of science without believing in it? Isn’t that the very same thought process as taking the very grace of God for granted?

And yes, we did just equate science to God in that sentence. Because God has no problem with science. Neither did his son Jesus, who taught important spiritual lessons using highly naturalistic yet metaphorical symbols from earthly life to teach about the kingdom of God. All throughout the Bible these wonderful examples of organic fundamentalism exist. We find expressions of God in all of nature, but that does not make nature into God.

The Bible tells me so

The Bible is fully reconcilable to science if a rigid template of literalism is not clamped over its interpretation. Jesus was a naturalist in its most broad definition. He saw the earth as a wellspring of meaning, something about which we should be both curious and proud.

Despite these incredible truths we find that the ardent anti-scientific crowd is not content with metaphorical truths. So they construct their own brand of hardened truths around constructs such as creationism, which is not a science at all, other than a science of denial. There is also so-called “intelligent design” which claims that the world is simply too complex to have evolved on its own.

That is the lobby to whom Scott Walker beckons and bows when he says he has to “punt” on the question of belief in evolution. We have 25% or more of the American population proud as hell that they’re ignorant of their own biblical tradition and its metaphorical foundations. They are aggressively content to ignore the example of their own spiritual naturalist Jesus Christ in favor of putting more import in the methodologies of the Pharisees, whose passion for putting law over love was repugnant to Jesus. He called them a “brood of vipers” (another organic image!) to their faces. They didn’t get it.

Pandering for power

Paired with an equally pandering political herd of political and economic conservatives, there exists an entire alliance of doctrinal freaks who like to deny that evolution even exists. As a result, America is stuck in a cycle of patent denial of such realities climate change, a theory of anthropocentric pollution that is causing the earth’s atmosphere to warm.  97% of of the worlds credible scientists worldwide agree that climate change and global warming is a human-driven problem.

But not conservatives like Scott Walker. We can ascertain from his answer about evolution what Scott Walker would say about climate change as well. “The science is not decided.” The reasons why he would give that answer have to do with who funds his political aspirations. The Koch brothers are highly invested in carbon-based industries that have made them both billionaires. Scott Walker is suckling at their trough along with a host of other politicians paid to do the bidding of the oil, gas and coal industries causing global climate change. It’s that simple. And that corrupt as a worldview.

But back to the main topic. We have some news for you Scotty. Things like evolutionary science are never “decided.” On anything. Science researches and tests and revises its understandings about the physical and biological world based on experimentation, analysis, discoveries and documentation. Then scientific peers try their best to tear it all down. If it survives––as has the theory of evolution in most of its forms–– then it becomes the canon by which we describe how things work.

Conservatives politicians love to claim this dynamic as a defiant reason for resisting science as a worldview. Yet conservatism has an absolutely horrid track record of being right about anything to do with the physical and material realities of this world.

Pope Francis shoots down the conservative worldview

Can we consider the position of the Catholic Church on the position of the earth at the center of the universe? And can we consider that same August body insisting for quite a long time that the earth was flat? The Catholic Church resisted the theory of evolution when it was first introduced as well. Yet even the Catholic Church acknowledges that evolution is true.

How interesting that even the new Catholic Pope Francis is now experiencing blowback from conservative American interests for calling very biblical principles to the fore of the church’s ministries. He calls for helping the poor. Holding the rich accountable for their conduct in business. Pope Francis is opening the arms of the church to gays and all who experience discrimination in the world. He lambasts the idea that the Bible should be interpreted literally at all. His main contention? That which does not lead believers to the love of Christ is obsolete.

The Pope’s entire ministry does not sit well with American conservatives who prefer their pet discrimination projects against gays and the poor. Now that the Pope is calling people to account for their backwards beliefs he has run afoul of the very supporters of men like Governor Scott Walker who frankly would rather “punt” on real solutions to social problems in favor of casting blame on all those they deem lazy, inferior or flawed. Frankly that’s a fascist worldview. It is neither Christlike or scientific in foundation. Instead it is selfish, plain and simple.

Patent ideology

And that’s why Scott Walker is unfit to hold public office. His worldview evidences a cognitive dissonance that embraces the love of money and a patent ideology of social control over all else. He’s a passive/aggressive personality, if not indeed a true sociopath. His interactions with public unions demonstrate a severe lack of empathy or even curiosity about the actual concerns of the very employees he was elected to serve.

So it’s no wonder he chooses to “punt” on a very legitimate question from a very legitimate source in the world. Scott Walker will punt us all if it would serve his selfish, psychopathic aims and the economic motives of those who fund his efforts. He’s already proven that at the state level. Let’s hope his sociopathic tendencies are exposed well before he reaches a national stage.

The entire message of Genesis comes down to one thing: “You should know better than that.”

By Christopher Cudworth

Nature and eternity are foundations of the BibleThe narrative of the Book of Genesis begins with the creation story at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As such it is also a watershed in terms of competing worldviews. Some take as literal truth these fundamental ideas: God created the world in seven 24-hour days, created man from dust and woman from the rib of man, kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for cheating on a few rules set up by God to protect them, and then the trouble started.

Ostensibly sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve. Eventually the nasty little habit of people doing bad things led God to wipe out most of the living things on the planet. That’s according to the legend of Noah and his ark, which is also considered a literal truth by those who consider that important to the verity of the Bible.

Having read the entire Book of Genesis over many times, and having read everything I can about the book from both literal and metaphorical perspectives, there’s a plain fact staring everyone in the face that is too often ignored. The entire message of the Book of Genesis comes down to one thing, something God wants us all to know. “You should know better than that.”

If you take the Bible literally, that is still the message of Genesis. “You should know better than that.” God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. But they did. They obviously should have known better.

As chronicled in the rest of the Bible, God repeatedly tries to warn his chosen people and all those who would listen that they need to have faith and trust in the principles God has mapped out for the human race. Time and again people breach these promises from God and all hell breaks loose.

When wandering in the wilderness after being freed by Moses from bondage by the Egyptians, the Israelites complain and moan and create idols in defiance of God’s orders to be faithful. God is not pleased.

Later on in biblical history God’s people complain that they have no king. God tells them, “Pay attention to my guidance and you’ll never need kings.” But they insist, and the kings turn out to be flawed and tragic and selfish. Just like the rest of us. God tried to tell them. “You should know better than that.”

Of course the entire arc of the Book of Genesis ultimately points toward the arrival on earth of God’s own Son. That would perhaps be Yeshua, if we were hewing to the pronunciation of the day. To those of us reading various translations of the Bible, that man is Jesus.

Whose main message is that you should love one another even to a fault. You should even love your enemies. That is the only true path to forgiveness, grace and salvation.  Versus the ugly path our journeys take when we let our base instincts rule the day. In so many words the primary message of Jesus was an echo of Genesis. “You should know better than that.”

The people who really should have known better never accepted the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. They conspired to have him killed and succeeded in their mission to retain power and authority over the religion of the day. Of all people, they should have known better than that. Problem was, they were so obsessed with the rule of law and owning that authority for themselves, they could not see that they were the very real problem Jesus came to address.

Which brings us to the current day, and how so many people wield the message of Genesis like a weapon. They brandish a literal interpretation of the Bible as if it were God’s own words. But let us not forget––the real message of Genesis is this: “You should know better than that.”

God has been telling us the same thing for millenniums, yet people refuse to listen. They’re so busy being faithful to the idea of what the Bible is about they fail to see the basic message of it all. “You should know better than that.”

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and a brood of vipers for being so possessive of the truth. He blamed them for obscuring the true message of scripture, which is and always will be, “You should know better than that.”

So those of us who believe in evolution and do the honest work of reconciling the legitimate worldview of science to our faith cannot be blamed for for being the ones who undermine the true message of scripture. That has long been the work of those who patently should know better.

Jesus admonished his own disciples for failing to grasp the meaning of his parables. “Are you so dull?” he asked them. See, there’s a whole lot of truth that is healthily accessible through metaphor. That’s why Jesus taught in parables, to help people get a grip on spiritual principles by using natural examples such as mustard seeds and yeast to explain the growth of faith and the reach of grace. People “got it” because the truth was distilled to a simple principle.

Divorced from these cogent examples, the Bible really is just words on a page. We lose the symbol of the Lamb for Jesus Christ. We lose the foreshadowing of Abram willing to kill his own son Isaac. We lose the glorious fight that David engaged in for God. But we also lose the significance of the hugely flawed human being that David was, and why his sins hold true for us as well. Indeed, God did not even allow David to build a temple in His honor. God told David, in so many words: “You have too much blood on your hands.”

The patent irony of God’s decisive powers should not be lost on us. Even when you are a dedicated servant of God, not everything is going to go your way. Truly, you should know better than that. But just because our lives have difficulty does not mean that we are not special in the eyes of God. All things in the universe are special in the eyes of God.

For those of us with a hunger for attribution, the 14+ billion year history of the universe only confirms the special nature of our existence. The fact that for millions of years human beings did not exist on this earth, and the fact that 99% of all living things that ever existed are now extinct makes it even more special that human beings know how to survive. Yet we waste that gift of creation in so many ways. We have poisoned and polluted and abused our world many times over, and often in the name of God. Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Nothing in that phrase justifies abuse of the earth. In fact the word ‘dominion’ can be translated in other ways, especially to mean ‘good stewards.’ Yet that is not the legacy demanded by so many who take the Bible literally. They proceed with such force of will and selfish perspective it cannot possibly be the will of God. Yet they claim it so.

Remember that God favored David in many ways. Yet when it came time for David to honor God by building a temple in His name, it was not for that servant to receive that honor. That fell to his son Solomon, a wise man in many ways, yet also a flawed individual.

It was a harsh directive God returned to David. “So you thought you could earn the right to build a temple to me through violence alone? You should know better than that.”

That is the lesson people refuse to learn. Yes, you may have done your job well in your devotion to God. But you can also do it too well, which was the lesson for both David and the Pharisees. By being so religious and forceful that you miss the true message of God, it become possible that ego and desires run your soul when a share of prudence, consideration and metaphorical breadth of mind would serve you so much better than that other thing you do.

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age is being revised for release on Amazon.com

Salvation from a liberal perspective

By Christopher Cudworth

PaversThe Second Presbyterian church in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania was our family’s religious home from my elementary school years through middle school. Then we pulled up roots and moved to the tiny town of Elburn deep in the cornfields of Illinois. My parents landed at a Presbyterian church in Geneva, nine miles east.

I got confirmed with a group of fellow 8th graders at a congregational church run by the pastor who was our neighbor. Then our family moved once again and my church attendance dropped away with obligations in high school.

A brush with conservatism

But then a group of friends joined Campus Life, the evangelical youth ministry staffed mostly by students from nearby Wheaton College, one of the leading bastions of conservative education in the Upper Midwest.

Most of us did not recognize the conservative ideology behind Campus Life when it first arrived in our town. We attended with students from other high schools, which was pretty radical for the time. So it all felt new and exciting in its way.

As the program grew and its participants were encouraged to dig deeper into the theology behind the feelgood high school ministry, I began to ask questions about what we were being encouraged to learn. Some of these questions exasperated the head of the group, who pulled me aside with a warning and an admonition. “If you keep asking questions you’ll never be a Christian.”

I ignored his aggressive warning and finished out the year with the group. But something about the confrontation made me even more determined to ask questions about the Christian faith and its teachings.

New laws

In college I received a C grade in a New Testament course. I failed to grasp that in that particular situation the path to success was to recite what we were being taught, not to question its verity.

As a senior I fell in love with a girl with whom I watched the television program Jesus of Nazareth. It’s narrative was basically traditional, but the emotion was compelling. My curiosity about faith was kicked back into gear. My questions about some notable aspects of faith were answered. For the first time in life I recognized the liberal truth of Christ. He resisted the wrong kinds of authority. He fought back against people seeking to control religion through literal or legalistic means.

Watching that program taught me that Jesus also asked and welcomed a lot of questions. In fact he won many of his most famous arguments by asking questions in response to legalistic challenges. I’d found a hero of sorts.

Narnian virtues

The summer following my senior year in college I took turns reading all the books in the C.S. Lewis series The Chronicles of Narnia. Christian themes were evident in the metaphorically fantastic story of a band of children who travel to a different dimension where animals can talk and evil sorcery is resisted by the lion known as Aslan. Much like the parables of Jesus the Chronicles of Narnia use symbolism to convey spiritual principles. That opened my eyes even further to the fact that symbolism is one of the most powerful forces in all of scripture.

Marriage and beyond

I did not marry that girl from college but our mutual spiritual exploration did have a deep effect on my life. When I got married in 1985 my wife and I began worship at a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregation because that is the tradition in which she had been raised.

The pastor at the time was a wise former campus minister who once gave a sermon titled “Liberals, Bleeding Hearts and Do-Gooders” in which he boldly challenged the growing perception that the Bible was strictly a conservative document. His main point focused on the fact that Jesus himself was a do-gooder, a bleeding heart and yes, a liberal. Scandalous!

When that pastor retired the church brought in a fire and brimstone preacher from the St. Louis area. He wore a wickedly bad toupee and spent most Sundays railing about an angry God. But my wife and I hung in there even when the church itself became an angry place to be. This was a new and not delightful experience for both of us. We loved our fellow church members and continued our bible studies, church participation and teaching. Yet Sundays often left us sad and confused by the near hatred we kept hearing from the pulpit. We talked often of leaving. But we hung in there.

Facts and fictions

Through a succession of increasingly conservative pastors for another 12 years my wife and I served that church in many ways. She took a job in the preschool. I sang in numerous choirs and ultimately had the opportunity to sing and play guitar in Praise Band too.

Our children were confirmed at that church. But during the process they both admitted exasperation at the manner in which certain “biblical facts” were being taught. The pastor railed against evolution, for example. Both of them had learned plenty in school that taught them science was a reliable, well-founded worldview. Yet both kids dutifully recited what they were told to learn for confirmation and the pastor praised them as model students of the Lutheran faith.

As the church grew increasingly conservative, sermons attacked evolution as a godless belief and characterized homosexuality as a nearly unforgivable sin. After 25 years our family migrated up the river to an ELCA Lutheran Church with open communion and even women pastors. God Forbid.

Questions and devotions

All through this process of growing up and raising a family, the questions I had about faith did not keep me from a certain devotion to God. All the journals I kept about my running through high school, college and beyond express thankfulness to God for the opportunity to compete and sometimes win. I prayed for insight through both challenges and triumphs.

My 25 years of service to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church taught me there was no special insight gained from conservatism. As a board member several times over I saw how decisions were made, or not made, by people with ostensibly ironclad convictions. How desperately wrong they could be, and in so many ways.

That confirmed many of the suspicions I had about conservatism in the world at large. Starting with Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, It struck that conservatism was far more concerned with ideology than justice. When Reagan installed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior, he openly proclaimed himself an adversary of the environmental movement on grounds of religious views. Reagan himself claimed to be a protector of moral values in America, yet the so-called Great Communicator branded ketchup a vegetable and played dishonest games through the Iran-Contra affair. The fact that people called Oliver North a hero for his illegal activities and seemed to worship his “above the law” convictions confirmed my worst suspicions about conservatism and its methodologies.

Chance encounter

Ten full years after I had participated in the high Campus Life program where that evangelical counselor confronted me for questioning conservative ideology, I encountered the same man at a McDonald’s in my hometown. At first he avoided looking at me, but when our eyes finally met I could see tears running down his face.

Immediately I went over and invited him to sit down with me. We talked and he confessed that he was upset about what he’d said to be a decade before. I told him: “There’s no reason to be upset. What you said to me did not discourage me from a personal faith. I still ask questions. But I still believe.”

Perhaps he was surprised. We parted on friendly terms and I thanked him for his service to Campus Life. It still strikes me that so many people find it hard to believe there is salvation from a liberal perspective. As noted, Jesus often answered questions by asking questions of his own. This was particularly true when he encountered people with conservative opinions trying to impose their convictions on him. Here’s one classic example from the Book of Matthew:

That Which Defiles

15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]

And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m now a liberal and will always be a liberal believer. That liberal pastor in the conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church was also right when he preached the Jesus was a “Liberal, Do-Gooder and Bleeding Heart.” Salvation from a liberal perspectives comes through the very act of questioning false authority, and standing up for the social justice deeply integrated in the liberal Christian faith. That’s how it’s always been, according to Jesus at least.

How biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment

Revisiting biblical dietary laws and other anachronisms of scripture

Dr. GottFor years I’ve kept a simple news clipping published in the Daily Herald, a traditional newspaper in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where I worked for 7 years.

The clipping featured a short column by Dr. Peter Gott, a physician whose column on health was syndicated all across the country.

A reader had written Dr. Gott with the following question: “Based on the dietary laws in the Bible, my wife believes that it is unhealthy to eat pork and shellfish. This is causing quite a disagreement. Can you tell us whether pork is less healthful than any other meat and whether shellfish is less healthful than any other seafood.”

Dr. Gott replied most simply, telling his reader:

“In interpreting biblical laws, it is important to put them into perspective. You have to remember that they were the products of a nonscientific age, long before infectious agents were even dreamed about. 

The Bible prohibited pork because pigs had a tendency to be infected with trichinosis, parasitic roundworms that could make people who ate undercooked pork susceptive to severe infections. Modern pork is largely free of such risks, therefore, its consumption is safe. Eating raw pork is a rarity, even though the meat is free of trichinosis. 

The same is true for shellfish, which centuries ago was a common cause of food poisoning. Today, however, commercial oyster and clam beds are regulated carefully by appropriate public health authorities, so these shellfish do not ordinarily carry anywhere near the risks posed by their ancient brethren.”

What an interesting choice of words to close his advice. “Ancient brethren.” It says a lot about the attitudes that lead people to take ancient aspects of the bible literally. Then they seek out people with similar attitudes and call them “brethren.”

Ancient laws

The Bible not only documents ancient dietary laws, but also lists warnings against contact with women who menstruate and homosexuals too.

We now understand the full biology of the female body. Back when the Bible was written, that was certainly not the case. Women were also discriminated against in civil and equal rights, treated as property and even murdered for infidelity. The patriarchal society from which the Bible emanated feared women’s bodies in ways that we no longer need in modern times. However there are still many men who do fear women. Some of those men hold positions of great power and still try to control what women can do in society, even to the point of legislating their personal and reproductive rights. But women aren’t buying it. 

Being gay is not a demonic issue

The same goes for homosexuality, which along with mental illness was viewed as a sign of an accursed condition like demon possession or a permanent state of sin. We now understand the brain chemistry of mental illness. Educated people no longer speak of mental illness in terms of demon-possession.

Education matters

Educated people also understand that homosexuality is not a “choice” but a rather common biological orientation estimated by many to constitute as much as 20% of the American population. Some experts place the figure lower, at 10% or so, while some like to believe that the homosexual population is relative miniscule, as low as 1-2%.

That would not reflect the seemingly panicked reaction many conservatives espouse on the prospects of gay marriage being legalized in many states across America. Fears over the so-called gay “agenda” also indicate that securing equal civil rights for gay people is considered anti-American and certainly anti-biblical.

Discriminating minds

But that old clipping by Dr. Peter Gott seems to counter the fears and anachronistic beliefs by which some people still choose to use as grounds for discrimination against all sorts of formerly mysterious aspects of human culture that are now better understood through science and medicine.

Getting past the fears and acknowledging the fact that the bible is no longer absolutely right about many topics is hard for people who equally fear the intellectual requirement to think about their faith and culture rather than live by terms that are black and white.

But as we learned from cultural wars over slavery, racism and women’s rights, society does not collapse when fearful attitudes are forsaken and replaced by practices and policies that are more enlightened, tolerant and civil.

In fact those are principles that Jesus would have liked just fine. He lived by them most certainly, and expects us to do the same.