The real meaning of Christmas, exposed

 

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Photos of oil on water by Christopher Cudworth 2017

On Christmas Eve the Christian world fills with anticipation as one of its high holy days is about to arrive. Millions will attend church to celebrate Christmas Day, the traditional time affixed to the birth of Yeshua, or Jesus.

Yet we now recognize the Christmas season as we know it is a fabrication. The most ardent biblical literalists are the ones that have exposed the ruse, and confessed. The website Answers In Genesis fashions itself a key defender of all things “inerrant and true” about the Bible, and even it has grave doubts about the time of year in which we celebrate Christmas.

After careful scriptural exegesis of the Jewish calendar and its documentation of the time of year in which John the Baptist was born, Answers In Genesis says:

“This would have put John the Baptist at about six months in the womb around August/September. Assuming about nine months for pregnancy, John would have been born about November/December by the modern calendar based on the assumptions we used.

If the Holy Spirit did come upon Mary in the sixth month (Elul) or around August/September, as it seems to indicate in Scripture, then Jesus should have been born about nine months later, which would place His birth around May/June. Since John the Baptist was still in the womb of Elizabeth when he leapt for joy in Jesus’ presence (Luke 1:39-42), this means that the conception had to take place within the next three months or so of the visit by Gabriel—before John was born. Regardless, by this reckoning, the birth of Christ isn’t even close to Christmas on the modern calendar.”

Answers In Genesis is not alone in this correction of supposed history, but this example makes the point that harsher cynics have long claimed: Christmas is an invention of religion designed to serve a specific purpose. The narrative of Jesus born in Bethlehem was cobbled together by a series of Gospel writers who either copied one another or chose a different emphasis depending on how they viewed the Christ story.

The Nativity with the animals gathered around and Wise Men attending is also manufactured for the purpose of giving the Christmas story a focus. People need that. It helps them pass along the Christmas tale to new generations. The story of the baby Jesus lying in a manger is appealing to parents sharing the tale with younger generations.

IMG_3794.jpgAnd so it goes. In the modern era, it has become a bit more difficult for Christians to defend the verity and meaning of this story because the season has become perverted by the massive commercial significance of the holiday season. This has not been the fault of the secular world. Many people celebrate Christmas because it’s fun, but that permission has long been granted by the competing tale of Santa Claus bringing gifts to small children and adults alike around the world. Christians have willingly conveyed this myth for over a century now. There is likely no turning back.

The history and popularity of the myth of Santa Claus is irrelevant to the true meaning of Christmas. But it does have a parallel significance in where we are in Christmas traditions today. Some Christians claim that Christmas as a religious holiday is under siege by secular forces who want to ban the words “Merry Christmas” from the cultural lexicon. The so-called “War On Christmas” is preached from the pulpits of Fox News and pasted like butter on the bread of social media for so-called devout Christians to spread the word that Christianity is under attack.

This serves as an important lesson on the real meaning of Christmas. If Christianity truly is under attack, then it is justified in every sense of the word. The holiday as we know it has been whored out to commercial interests just as the Jewish temple was once prostituted by the religious authorities in Jesus’ day. He attacked those authorities first through his words, warning them of their hypocrisy for making rules from scripture and basically charging people admission to the temple of God. Jesus castigated those same authorities as a “brood of vipers” for clinging to this power and lording themselves over others.

Jesus was born into this world to challenge that type of false authority. That baby in the manger was born out of need, not from kingly circumstance. His principle message was preached first by John the Baptist who exemplified the simplicity and virtue of true devotion to God in his call to repentance.

Jesus embraced and carried this message all the way up the chain of culture to the ultimate seats of power. He offended the chief priests and denigrated the scribes for the slavery of soul they imposed upon the rest of society. And when those offended gathered themselves in righteous fury they captured Jesus and delivered him to the Romans with the intent to dispose of the itinerant preacher they considered a blasphemer.

Do you see it now? Jesus was born to expose such charlatans. That is the real meaning of Christmas. And if we were to apply that meaning to the world today, who would those charlatans be? They would be religious authorities sacrificing true devotion to God for access and control of political power. They would be leaders who were unwilling to confess their own lack of virtue, yet who claim to know the true heart of God out of their own bold ego. They would be all those who embrace such leaders and buy into their serpentine logic that trying to act like God equates to being like God.

The characters we know as Adam and Eve fell for that trick once long ago. Christians call it Original Sin, and it resonates through the world to this very day.

So when you find a moment to consider the real meaning of Christmas, consider not how or where Jesus was born, but why. And apply that lesson to all that you do. The world will expose itself one egregious scam at a time.

And you will be blessed for knowing it.

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Who is really keeping us safe?

“If you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative by the time you are forty, you have no brain.” –Winston Churchill

Winston ChurchillYears ago I read a massive two-volume biography of Winston Churchill. It was with great disappointment that I learned that the author of those first two books had died. The third would have covered the period including World War II, and that would have been fascinating to study the actions and philosophies of the man that ushered Great Britain through the war.

Yet even with Churchill, his strong points as a war leader turned out to be challenges of a sort in the political realm. He was initially defeated for the role of Prime Minister after the war, yet returned to that role again before suffering physical and mental decline that may have resulted from strokes and heart issues.

A wealth of protectors

While obviously a man to admire, Winston Churchill’s determination that conservatism was the ultimate form of philosophical sophistication may have been formed more from his upbringing in a wealthy English family than his own evolution as a military man and spokesman. He was great at both those things, but there is an abiding factor to how these were developed and sustained that made it possible for Churchill to think like a conservative at all.

That factor was the presence and alliance of both the United States and the Soviet Union in World War II. Without that partnership, Great Britain would have been sunk under the pressures of Germany to take over much of Europe.

It was the liberal support of America’s Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and the hard right determination of Joseph Stalin that fought back Germany’s considerable will to conquer and subjugate. That enabled Churchill to essentially occupy an important middle ground from which he could flexibly consider and pursue his necessary options. That is conservative in the good sense of the word, in being considerate.

Modern times

Fast forward to the current world perspective in which we live. America’s President Barack Obama has behaved as a noted centrist on the world stage. And like Churchill, there have been wins and losses, risks and seeming triumphs associated with that centrist position. Obama has been the considerate if quietly brusque leader, not prone to launch off new wars, yet capable of effecting deadly drone strikes that many people protest as cruel and miscalculated.

Such are the risks of all world leaders. The apparently noble fight of America, Britain and the Soviets against the Germans, Italians and Japanese Axis was full of death and destruction. And while Germany clearly committed war crimes, the rest of the fighters were not a group of innocents. America ultimately dropped a massive nuclear weapon on Japan’s big cities, killing thousands of civilians in the process.

During the leadup to that event, America engaged in some rather heinous efforts to protect itself, ushering many of its own citizens of Japanese descent into camps. The object at the time was to “keep us safe” from perceived threats because Japan itself was such a threat.

Fear and strange decisions

Fear drives all kind of strange decisions in this world. And while some of our fears are very real, the collective anxiety of a culture can often be extremely misguided.

Such is the case wth current concerns over America’s possible acceptance of Syrian refugees. While France opens its borders willingly to Syrian refugees even on the heels of the terrorist attacks on its own soil, America’s arch-conservative population wants to ban them from entry into the country. All of this is based on the idea that terrorists will somehow disguise themselves as refugees and come to this country to kill Americans.

Raging debates

Having engaged in considerable political debate with a number of anxious conservatives on social media, a few simple things have emerged in the argument. 1) They don’t trust Obama or the government 2) They don’t trust the government or Obama 3) They really don’t trust either Obama or the government. That’s the substance of their arguments.

In the process of defending those arguments they also engage in considerable name-calling while simultaneously denying that the Bush administration or any conservative before him had anything to do with creating the terrorist problem in the Middle East. We all know that started with the Reagan administration, was fostered by the Bush relationships with the Saudis, and carried on with the patsy treatment of the bin Laden family right through the 9/11 terrorist attacks when our first priority was flying remnants of that family out of the United States when all other flights were suddenly banned. Conservatives also created the Saddam Hussein we overthrew, and set up the Shah of Iran that led to that country being so pissed off at the Western World.

Yet somehow it’s all Obama’s fault that we have problems in the Middle East.

Brotherly love 

Of course, Jeb Bush, the equally inept brother of George W. Bush, is now running for President of the United States. And like any conservative worth his radical salt he has publicly claimed that his brother “kept us safe.”

So for the sake of analysis, we should examine what he might mean by that statement. The expectations of conservatives about what “keeps us safe” clearly breaks down into categories that were demonstrated by the Bush administration’s actions in the Middle East. And we’ll get to those in a minute.

But first we must admit there was little resistance by the Democratic Left to any of Bush’s policies overseas. That was a sick and sad chapter in our political history as well. Either by choice or by fear, the Left stood down under considerable pressure from conservative dominance of all three branches of government. That included the power of the Presidency, a willing Congress and Senate and even the Supreme Court that handed Bush surveillance powers that broke every rule in the Constitution about personal privacy.

So Bush and Cheney were given free license to engage in a series of cynical acts of aggression designed, in their minds, to “keep us safe” from terrorism. These included:

  1. Bomb first, ask no questions later. When faced with threats, conservatives love to bomb things because it makes them feel as if they are taking action against that threat. Of course, civilian casualties resulting from those bombings inflamed hatred for the United States as innocents perished. But that’s the apparent price of thoughtless war. “Collateral damage” they call it. The ultimate euphemism of course. Conservatives bomb, and then move on without a second thought about what the real effects of such bombings could be in terms of perception among enemies or friends.
  2. Torture is acceptable. Arguments in favor of torturing Iraqis and potential terrorist focused on the fact that such tactics were necessary to extract information that could “keep America safe.” That connection between information and actionable intelligence really never happened in any substantial way. And yet the apparent thought that our supposed enemies were being tortured made a certain segment of our society feel happy because we were “doing something” about terrorism. Never mind that many of the people we tortured and even killed through torture and mistreatment were in fact completely innocent.
  3. Spying on your own people is desirable. How ironic it is that the political force in America that claims to hate government most and wants to reduce its influence in our lives should choose to open a surveillance program that brought government into the very conversations we all hold over our telephones and cell phones. It seems a common phenomenon that the things conservatives most hate in others they ultimately become themselves. It happens on the social front when people who claim to stand for family values turn out to be serial wife cheaters or sexual predators. This repression haunts the conservative party like a ghost of unvirtuous fact.
  4. Always blame the other side. For all these insane actions and remorseless activities, conservatives have developed denial of responsibility for the evil outcomes into a very fine art. The virtual memo that says “never admit you were wrong” has been hard-wired into the consciousness of political, military and civilian conservatives. In fact, it is perhaps the greatest social conspiracy ever contrived as a political strategy. Its level of secrecy is protected by a devotion to denial and an entire lack of accountability. It is thus quite  breathtaking in its scope and effect on civil discourse. Its main mouthpiece, of course, is Fox News, whose claims of being “fair and balanced” as a “news organization” are the absolute expression of the virtue of lying with a smile on your face and putting tits above the fold as a distraction of the very audience you intend to recruit.

There’s a reason for all this aggression, repression and secession going on within the conservative cult in America. Only when a conservative breaks completely free of the party entirely, which means they can never go back, do we hear an ounce of truth and admission about what really goes on behind the scenes. The recent inadvertent confession of a certain Congressman on the real reasons for the Benghazi investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are just one such example of politically motivated use of government to harangue and discredit anyone that dares resist the conservative cartel in America.

It goes back a ways

John_F_KennedyResistance to this secret society of Conservatism with a Capital A (and its apparent arm, the CIA) is what got President Kennedy killed back in the 1960s. So the phenomena of killing threats to the cabal is not new.Kennedy was no saint, that’s for sure. But what he also represented as a political liberalism that some perceived as a threat to the security of America. But again, the considerations shown by John F. Kennedy in negotiations with the Soviets in the Cuba Missile Crisis are likely what prevented nuclear war. In other words, his small “c” conservatism kept us safe, just like Winston Churchill’s small “c” conservatism helped guide the Allies through World War II. It is this conservatism to which I believe Winston Churchill is referring in the quote above this column.

But it keeps happening that large “C” Conservatism is trying to kill its perceived enemies. And true to form, the conservative cabal went after Bill Clinton over engagement in a harmless blow job. The ensuing scandal turned into a political spectacle that distracted from Clinton’s ability to do his job, and keep us safe.

At that time, Clinton wanted to take action against bin Laden and potential terrorists in the Middle East, but was discouraged from doing so because it would appear he was attempting to “wag the dog” and escape accusations and impeachment over his extramarital affair. We seriously need to ask what would have kept us more safe in that scenario, the Starr Report or actually paying attention to real threats to our security. Capital A Conservatives clearly chose the former over the latter. America has paid the price ever since for this selfish, politically motivated debacle.

Fear, loathing and power

Paul Ryan

New House Speaker Paul Ryan

So you see, the goal of conservatism is never really to keep us safe. It is to gain and keep power, and that is all. Conservatives use fear to accomplish that mission all the time. That is why the call to war is so strong among them. War creates a deep tide fear in the populace, accentuated by methods such as “terror alerts” that the Bush administration turned on and off as needed to sway political will and push the perception of power in their direction. These are all tricks to get people to fall in line. Authoritarian thinkers on both the proactive and responsive side love these methods because it gives them a sense of control in otherwise chaotic circumstances. Of course it is all a ruse, but that does not matter.

FlagWaiverIndeed, Conservatives with a capital “C” want Americans to behave like Pavlov’s dogs in response to the call for war and acceptance of violence as status quo. They wave flags as patriots in fear until the very meaning of the flag is all worn out. Our flag has come to represent a national attitude of fear and a worn out ideology as a result.

Witness the marketing methods of the NRA, which flouts fear about race and crime as reasons to arm American on claims that more guns will “keep us safe.” Again, these are lies of massive proportions. More Americans have died from gun violence on American soil that all the soldiers ever killed in foreign wars. This is not “keeping us safe.”

Money kills

 

In the end, the sad thing about all this fear and terror and power is that it is all about money. Conservatives simply love money and all that it gives them. That’s why so many conservative whine about high tax rates and complain about giving their dollars through any social programs that might help the poor or elderly. This is the brand of conservatism that has evolved in America; selfishness as a life philosophy. It stands in direct opposition to the Christian call for charity and even giving away all you have to serve God and Christ. But modern conservatives (oxymoron intended) ignore all that real Christian stuff. That part is old-fashioned to them.

And we must return to the fact that top level Conservatives have always liked war because it enriches them. Former Vice President Dick Cheney used the Iraq War to increase the value of companies like Halliburton in which he has long held financial interests. The snarling visage of the man who almost singlehandedly leveraged America’s fortunes into his own while ruining our reputation overseas is like the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge, who without ever having gone through the happy change that made him into an advocate for the Christmas Spirit acts instead like the Grinch Who Stole America.

No Churchill

dick-cheneyCheney was no Churchill, let’s all agree on that. He seems to have envisioned himself that way, but where he falls short is in the ability to recognize the advantage of being a smart conservative with a small “c.” That is one who knows that conservatism actually involves consideration. Cheney appears to have none of that capacity, and as a result his version of “keeping us safe” turned the Middle East into a morass of angry terrorist hornets hoping to break free and sting the invader of their nest.

So let’s stop pretending that stirring up the hornet’s nest in the Middle East with bombings, torture and boots on the ground is a conservative strategy at all. It is not a conservative strategy, and it does not keep us safe.

And as for hornet’s back home, we’ve already got a system in place to detect their angry buzz. Typically they can’t keep quiet. Not if we open our eyes and ears and pay attention. And let’s not ignore those clear warnings this time, as Bush did back when he and Cheney were plotting to take over the entire Middle East to steal the oil and get some archly conservative kicks. That was stupid. And we’re getting stung as a result.

How preteens evolve into thinking human beings

photoAt some early age it entered my head that perhaps everyone around me was in on a secret. That I was the only one that thought as I do, and that even my parents were putting me on, big time.

I worried that I was not a “normal” person.

It happened again to some extent when I was 13 years old. That’s the age when your interests begin to collide with the world, and that’s a dual problem because your interests when you are in middle school tend to be really intense, sometimes nerdy and ridiculously easy to ridicule.

My interests happened to be all over the board, from art to nature, but one avocation got me in trouble with my friends who all seemed to think birdwatching was stupid, silly and less than manly. They made up bird names with obscene roots and laughed when I told them I’d identified a certain species of importance to me.

Resilience

To my everlasting credit, I never let the teasing stop me from pursuing any of my interests, even at the vulnerable age of 13. Now the same people who used to ridicule will call with a “bird question” when something unexpected shows up at their feeder, or they see a bald eagle along the river. The enthusiasm they now show for such things is a much-delayed apology for the abuse long ago.

As an adult I was asked to teach Sunday School for the middle schoolers because no one else wanted to take on the task. I liked it. Working with a series of teacher-partners over a 12-year period, it was fascinating to see the variability in maturity and self-awareness among preteens.

Sleepy minds

Many Sunday mornings they’d arrive sullen and bored, aching to get back to their sleepy beds where the rest of the world could not reach them. But reach them I did.

The church absentmindedly neglected to shove some curriculum my way for years and years. The parents did not complain about my teaching so everyone must have thought it was working out okay.

Little did they know that Sunday School was a perfect place to get those preteens thinking about what matters in life beyond the Bible. Sure, we always talked about scripture in a roundabout way. I’d always have an idea to discuss and would bring them around to the topic by asking what they’d done during the week and even how they felt about it. They deserved that attention. The minds of preteens seem to be largely ignored by this world, as if they have nothing of value to say about it. But the world would be wrong about that. It always has.

The example of Jesus

You may recall that it was a preteen Jesus (about age 12) who stayed behind at a temple when he was supposed to be following his parents back home after a visit to the city. This is what transpired:

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Echoes of Christ

In many ways that scene was replayed among the preteens who entered the middle school Sunday School class. They had ideas. They wanted answers. They asked questions and to the best of my ability I answered their questions or encouraged them to find answers, and at all costs.

That church did not preach tolerance for science, yet several of my former students went on to become chemical engineers and biologists and other occupations whose educational processes effectively denied what that simpleton religious worldview maintained.

Rational faith

You may ask why I remained a member so long (25 years) and I can answer that my rational faith survived outside of that venue, but was sustained by the fellowship that came through membership. I am now a member of a church that respects rational thought and yet embraces full discipleship as a matter of practice. In other words, a church that actually teaches what the Bible says to do. Instead of denial like the Pharisees and legalistic practices, my current church loves this world with all its heart, as an expression of creation, but not as an exclusive Creation that cannot be understood or appreciated by the human mind.

That’s what I taught all those years, and what it taught me in return was that the middle school, preteen mind appreciates honesty and respect. If you don’t give pat answers, it doesn’t feel like you’re patting them on the head, telling them to go away and quit thinking. For themselves.

Leadership 

One year I had as students three young women that each vied for the title of Valedictorian at their respective high schools. Keeping them engaged was not that difficult, but keeping the rest of the class in pace with their challenging minds was interesting at times.

Yet it happened. The other kids knew and appreciated true leadership and intellect when they saw it. The girls in return were not disrespectful of their peers. Even those who were brought to the church by bus from underprivileged families participated in the discussions. I often thought about how much those women brought to the table, and the fact that women were not allowed to assume positions of full leadership at that church. It bothered me. So I ignored that example and let them be leaders.

It was proof to me that the Kingdom of God, if that’s what you call it, can embrace the rich in mind and the poor in spirit alike. The principle benefit was, in the end, an open regard for the preteen mind that perhaps they would never have experienced if shielded from the concepts we discussed in biblical context. Those were evolution as well as salvation. I told them there was no reason why the Bible and science could not be reconciled. I told them Jesus was the original naturalist. He used organic symbols in his parables to convey spiritual principles. Later I wrote a book and continue a blog about that subject and more.

Other subjects

We talked about fame and deception, hope and depression. We talked about their lives and encouraged them to keep the confidence of others. Basic human respect was at play at all times.

And we talked about Jesus. Not the Jesus of the Sunday School curriculum that sails around the landscape working miracles. We talked about the Jesus who cried and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, abandoned by his friends. We considered what that meant to be alone, to feel alone.

Then we talked about what it meant to be normal in this world. To have fears and feelings that you poorly understood. To be worried about what others thought about you and about how adults don’t have all the answers. Those were just some of the things discussed with those preteens. They just wanted to know what it meant to be normal, and what it meant if you chose to depart from those norms on your own.

Jesus was a helluva an example on what it meant to go your own way. It has costs, but sometimes its worth it. Not being normal, that is.

Who are my mother and brothers?

Mark 3:33 New International Version (NIV) 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

By Christopher Cudworth

It is not often preached from the pulpit that Jesus so profoundly emphasized the isolation of the human condition. In 50 years of cognizant Christian worship, I have not heard this isolation emphasized with much clarity or conviction. It is too lonely a piece of scripture upon which to focus. It can frighten believers and frighten away possible converts.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

Yet the Bible clearly shows that Jesus, and God especially, want us to know that to be human is ultimately to be alone.

Part of the plan?

Of course that is what Christian fellowship is designed to conquer. And the Kingdom of God is created here on earth to prevent this form of isolation. From others. Even from oneself.

Yet the undeniable message of Mark 3:33 is this: Even your family and friends can and will let you down. God alone is the ultimate solace.

This isolating message is likely ignored in the Christian church because it flies too near the methods used by cults to trap people into wicked devotion. The famously devious method of some network marketing organizations is to have you try to sell and recruit your friends into the organization. But people are repelled by such efforts. Those who see the folly and the scam are legitimately repulsed. Yet a desperate soul often tarries on, convinced perhaps of possible wealth if only friends and family really understood the potential in the scheme.

The ultimate effect of network marketing schemes is that they can divest people of their human network. Then the “organization” or whatever you want to call it (some call it “my business”) has you dead to rights. Because once you have scared off your friends and family, the network marketing organization (or a cult) sets out to replace that network with whatever they tell you is vital and true.

Who are my mother and my brothers? 

How does that compare to Christianity? To the example set by Jesus in saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

We can take another example from the Bible to examine the issue of isolation. Just before he was taken into captivity by a calculating band of priests from the very faith he had come to fulfill, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

Mark 14:32
Gethsemane ] They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Of course we know how that segment of the story comes out. His disciples, who are depicted in the Bible as often failing in tasks of devotion and understanding, cannot stay awake while Jesus goes to pray. They fall asleep and when Jesus returns, having prayed to understand the very life he would soon give away as redemption for all, finds his devoted friends asleep on the job.

The deeper meaning of disappointment

It happens often to all of us. People disappoint us. We disappoint other people. And look at the word structure of that word, “disappoint.” To dis-appoint is to disassociate, or to send away either by intent or by mistake.

Jesus tries to warn us that disappointment is a big part of the human condition. Our failures are characterized by many as our sins, or our almost predestined capacity to sin.

Sin is the ultimate isolation from God. It is what separated the proverbial Adam and Eve from God in the Garden of Eden. Another garden. Another time. The garden is supposed to be a place of consideration and worship, our connection to stewardship and creation. And yet here we have two biting examples in the Bible where a garden is a rife example of disappointment. God disappointed in Adam and Eve. Jesus disappointed in his disciples.

And what are we to make of the idea that the world can be such a disappointing place?

Friendship and fellowship

This message seems to run counter from the idea that our fellowship here on earth can be a salve for the soul. Well, it is not wise to give up on friendship and love so easily, now is it? Our relationships are clearly of great value in this world. Love is built around and in them. Our families are designed, both in faith and through nature, to be a sustaining force in this world. The friends we gather around us and trust are people in whom we find joy and support.

None of those truths is undermined by the example Jesus makes in both his statement about his mother and brothers or his disappointment in his disciples. Jesus is master not only of this world in the spiritual sense, but also of necessary hyperbole. His teachings are full of striking examples that cut through our perceptions of what human relationships really are, and what they offer.

Salvation

Our disappointment is our salvation, you see. Friends and family can and do disappoint us, just as we sometimes disappoint them. It is the isolating nature of the human condition to disappoint those we need and love the most.

But the real message of disappointment and resultant isolation is that God provides a model of unifying faith. Because to love is to forgive, even when our friends and family doubt in us, and disappoint. We trust in God because God trusts in us to make choices that reach across that disappointment to heal and forgive. God even asks us to love our enemies. That is a potent message if you want to understand the true “way of the world” through the eyes of God. You cannot ultimately conquer disappointment and isolation if you do not choose to love. You will be alone if you choose not to forgive, or fail in your devotion to a friend.

Yet when hurt comes calling, our natural tendency is to withdraw, pull back, and feel disappointment. We feel it so keenly we can begin to hate. Then we begin to seek targets for our hate because it becomes part of our nature. We look for the disadvantaged and the weak because in our own weakness and fear we want only to feel superior to others, somehow, so that we do not feel put down or pushed away from life itself.

The dangers of prejudice

Those are the foundations of prejudice of course. And of economic inequality, and caring not for the poor. We find the wealthiest among us susceptible to this isolating force of the “other.” Often that sense of disgust toward those we consider inferior becomes magnifying the more life seems to dispense fortune upon us.

Jesus recognized all this potential for prejudice, power and loss of imagination. Because imagining ourselves to be superior to others in any way is the ultimate sin, at least in the eyes of God. That is why Jesus told the wealthy to give away their riches and follow him. That is why it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to gain entrance to heaven. Wealth can be an isolating force.

It can, of course, also be an instrument for good. We see many examples of people who use their wealth for good. Even the robber barons of the early 20th century, who built monopolies and wealth beyond imagination through industry did turn around and do great things with their money. Carnegie. Rockefeller. The list goes on, and continues to this day.

So it is not wealth alone that is a sin, but wealth in some way that combines with isolation that God does not appreciate. Jesus broke through social strata and perceptions that people who were disadvantaged or different were somehow victims of their own sin. He also forcefully resisted the practice by priests of his day (and ever after, it seems) to turn scripture into laws that trap and hurt others. Jesus did not tolerate using God’s word for punishment and isolation. He would definitely not approve of the manner in which so many supposed Christians  use scripture to create false social and economic strata today. The practice of using literalism to ostracize gays and women, for example, is abhorrent by nature to Jesus. The idea that the Bible is somehow a scientific text would also be absurd to Jesus, who taught in organic parables using examples from nature to teach spiritual concepts. Jesus was no literalist. He was no fool, in other words. Jesus disliked the actions of fools like that.

And what do we find as a result of such actions today? An increasingly divided faith, in Christianity. It has been that way since the start, it seems, where zealots who wanted a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Jesus were “disappointed” to find that his kingdom was one of spirit, not earthly wealth and power.

The many kinds of wealth, and corruption

Wealth is relative, of course. One of the catchiest devices of certain political parties is to figure out how to make people feel like they have ownership or a stake in the result of an election simply by making people feel like they will “win” somehow if they cast their vote in favor of the party making the promises. Of course, people can often be found voting against their best interests, be they economic or even spiritual, and voting on a one-issue platform that hands over power to people who pretend to care but really do not.

So we see that it is at times the power of isolating people from their best interests that is the most powerful political tool of all. Politics is the ultimate form of network marketing. It is the cult of all human cults.

Cutting through the lies

Jesus cut through the lies to make us understand that disappointment and fear of isolation is our worst enemy. Yet he calls us to stand alone first, to accept and understand that with the love of God, the grace of acceptance, we are never alone.

So have the courage to stand alone, and not be disappointed to the point of isolation when your friends or family fail you, or your work environment seems poison, or the very church that you attend turns out to be a flawed human enterprise. All these things are to be expected. Jesus and God want us not to be surprised by events like these.

Yes, we can still love the world, our friends and ourselves if we understand that the kingdom of God is made from the commitment to love and forgive. Then we will find and know our mother and our brothers, our sisters and our friends. They will be drawn to us by our humility and our example of faith. That is how it is all supposed to work.

Is the reason you vote Republican because your religion has failed society?

This election year millions of ostensibly Pro-Life Christians will vote Republican because they feel that Republican politicians represent the best opportunity to strike down legalized abortions.

Of course Republicans line up like sheep to claim the Pro-Life mantle. Some indeed do try to pass legislation to overturn existing laws resulting from court rulings such as Roe vs. Wade, which delivered protection for legalized abortions in the United States.

Religion in the public sector

For perspective on the use of religion as a foundation for political alliance and public policy, you may recall that many people of conservative faith originally threw their hopes behind a largely politicized attempt to bar teaching of evolution in public schools in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. A teacher named John Scopes defied the Butler act, a Tennessee law prohibiting public teachers from denying the literalist interpretation of the biblical account of man’s origin. Scopes was actually convicted of defying the law, but was let go on a technicality.

What that story illustrates is not a flaw in the judicial system or public policy, but the eventual and necessary failure of a segment of society to impose a religious view on the society as a whole. States across the country now advocate teaching of evolutionary theory because it is founded on real, discoverable science, not just a religious view dependent on a narrow interpretation of scripture. Evolutionary theory is also (not coincidentally) supported and complimented by myriad other scientific facts and theories. Evolutionary theory has led to important discoveries in sciences ranging from medicine to genetics to astrophysics. It is an important theory not just because of what it says, but because it works. Just as importantly, the theory itself continues to evolve, because that is the heart of science, not a fixed, one-time snapshot, as if life were a Polaroid picture.

Creationism, by contrast, is essentially the practice of denying science to support an anachronistic worldview. It is nothing but a Polaroid picture of the process of creation. And like many early Polaroids, its picture of the world is mostly black and white and not very clear. In sum, creationism is a negative theory whose only contribution to the world is the surety it provides to its adherents.

Sum-negative thinking

The same sort of sum-negative-thinking theory is at work in efforts to ban abortion in America. Years before abortion was legalized, millions of women engaged in the practice on their own or through black market providers delivering abortion services. Abortion was not invented after it was legalized. Instead it was legalized to make the practice safer for women in need of abortions for legitimate reasons, including protection of a woman’s health in at-risk pregnancies, termination of pregnancies caused by rape and yes, selective choice to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

That last phrase is what causes abortion opponents the most pain. The religious view that life begins at conception––itself an evolving contention––is used to contend that all forms of abortion are a type of murder.

Here is where the Pro-Life movement begins to resemble the creationist argument in its religious framework. The Bible makes no specific reference to abortion anywhere in its text. The 10 Commandments do say “Thou shalt not kill” but again, the interpretation of that commandment is short on actual, specific substance with regards to abortion, except when supported by scripture such as Psalm 139:13, which reads “for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (NIV)

That very elegant passage makes a great case for protection of life in the womb from conception. You can see how that image would move and motivate people to advocate for protection of life and the banning of abortion.

But here we are faced with a difficult question. If the religious case for protection of life is so compelling, why hasn’t religion been able to convince our nation and the world that abortion is not a good choice for women?

Religion’s failures do not make good public policy

The answer is that religion has failed miserably in its chartered role of reaching the world through its ministries. This fact relates to its failure to make relevant sense of its message in several key respects.

The first of these is that the most conservative forms of religion fail to reconcile scripture to any form of modern knowledge, especially the sciences that informs and improve our daily lives. In that context, the continuing effort by literalist sects to impose teaching of creationism undermines the credibility of religion as a whole in the public sector. How can we trust what religion says on any practical issue if a big chunk of the faith is living in a dream world where something always has to come from nothing, and never changes?

Secondly, large segments of the Christian faith also take a contrary view toward practical solutions such as birth control that would prevent the need for abortion. This sort of denial is cruel, aggressively naive and irresponsible, yet the largest bloc Christian faith in the world would deny its believers birth control under any circumstances. How interesting that more than 90% of Catholic women ignore this “law” imposed by the church.

Then think about what the Catholic church actually advocates for a method of birth control. The so-called Rhythm Method suggests that couples conspire to engage in “natural” birth control by timing their copulation to avoid impregnation. What a cynical “solution,” for it actually advises lying about the reasons for sex!

There are many examples in the bible in which Christ states that the intent of an oath or an act is as much a sin as the actual act. The idea of trying to avoid pregnancy and essentially “trick God” through use of the rhythm method sounds much like that moment when Adam and Eve were caught sneaking around the garden after they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and figured out they were naked. God didn’t like that little ruse, so the Creator surely must not like the Catholic Church encouraging its members to engage in procreative trickery.

The Catholic Church does not have a very good record in many such areas of theology, having actively persecuted scientists like Galileo for discovering that the earth was not the center of the universe, and others for teaching that the earth was round. These were practical realities that eventually revolutionized the Christian worldview, but not with much help from the Pope, who also threatened the life of Martin Luther for contending that it was not good works but grace alone that earned the believer salvation. Religion has a pretty sorry track record when it comes to figuring out the truth when it conflicts with some literal interpretation of scripture.

Old habits and infallibility

Yet we live in a time where many Christian believers persist in old religious habits and claims of infallibility (especially Leviticus and other texts of law) that have long been ignored, proven wrong or debunked through scriptural scholarship and newly inspired interpretation of holy texts. That process continues as faith evolves, as it always has since Jesus Christ himself came along to deliver the knockout blow to the love of law over the opportunity for fulfillment, salvation and life through redemption from sin.

Pay attention to what was just said. The love of law is not where Christians should reside, in whole. Jesus taught that the law of God is best understood through tools of parable, metaphor and experience, which when used together give us greater perspective on the will of God. He also chastised the religious leaders of his day for turning scripture into law, and turning the lives of believers into unholy efforts to justify themselves before the church or before God.

That also means that Christians should not try to turn their personal faith into the strict law of the land. Because as soon as you begin defining the core of your faith through the imposition of law, especially in the public sector, you have failed God in the commission of faith. Obviously your efforts have not been good enough on behalf of God to reach the people whom you seek to reach through law and politics.

If that sound harsh or accusatory, the truth really does hurt sometimes. But truly, nothing is so cleanly evident than the failure of religion when it claims to be the salvation of the world but fails in some grandiose and crucial way.

In politicians, not God, we trust?

Instead of taking direct responsibility for the failure of faith to convince people of those moral objectives some believers who high, they crawl instead to politicians in positions of public power, convincing them that the most important goal of the republic is to impose Christian law on a secular society. This is the exact same thing Christians find so abhorrent in the Muslim world when religious law is imposed in place of democracy.

The cynical sideline to all this has been the efforts of groups from the Christian Coalition to the Moral Majority working to install politicians who favor religious law over public law, thereby creating a virtual theocracy. This is done in spite of the fact that our own Constitution guarantees freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

But when religion fails as it has on the abortion issue to convince people of its brand of morality, it is too hard for believers to admit or accept.

So you get pompously righteous politicians pumping their fists, proclaiming they are “on the side of God” while  saying “We want to ban abortion!”

And why? Because it will get them elected and bring in campaign contributions. And yes, if they build enough consensus in America for their various pet “religious causes”, they may indeed seek to impose their religious worldview on the nation by banning abortion, teaching of evolution and taking away equal rights for gays and women and people of color. Well, America by definition and Constitution is supposed to provide equal rights for all, not just the religious citizens of the republic. Yet the Republican platform has determined that’s not good enough. They’ve made up their own agenda for America, supposedly in the name of God.

Failure twice over

We’ll state it plainly to make the matter clear. It is never right to use politics to compensate for the failures of religion. For religion to refuse to acknowledge its own failures and then blame America for persecuting the Christian faith is the ultimate hypocrisy. But that is the Republican platform these days, and it should be seen for what it is: A failure wrapped in political lies in an attempt to grab power.

So you should ask yourself: Is the reason you vote Republican because your religion has failed society? If so, then you should go to your church, not the voting booth as the means to effect change in society. Because if you really trust God, why do you need to rely on politicians to accomplish your aims?

The real dangers of clearcut ideology

Clearcut ideas aren’t always the prettiest in reality

Back when our family had plentiful opportunities to camp in Wisconsin and other woodsy sites across North America, we often traveled on day trips to visit other parks and go on adventures in places like Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It is always a pleasure when vacationing to enjoy the view of the woods as you whiz past on some state highway cutting deep through the forests.

Throughout the country there are designations for different types of state and government-owned forests. There are national and state forests. National and State parks. Bureau of Land Management property. All these different entities affect how those properties are managed, how much wood or other resources can be extracted (especially, these days, oil and natural gas) and in what manner.

In areas where tourism counts, keeping up appearances when it comes to the north woods is vitally important. Yet in areas where the timber industry, for example, is a key component of economic health, it is considered equally important to grant harvesting access to private firms that harvest wood of various types. Pine and hardwood are still valuable commodities in America. Competition for rights to harvest wood from public and private landowners can be quite keen. Building relationships and managing the extraction process well are also key elements of successful forest management. It is a convoluted game involving billions of dollars.

Balancing the economic and timber harvest interests of a region with tourism and outdoor recreation can be tricky. People on vacation are not exactly fond of seeing clearcut land as they drive from place to place. There are few more ugly sites than a forest that has been chopped down. Stumps and torn up brambles present a scene of apocalyptic chaos. It can be downright disturbing when you’re driving through thick pine forests mile after mile to suddenly be confronted with thousands of acres of torn-up forest and soil.

So they sometimes don’t let you see it. Timber companies adopted a practice of protecting the public from such sights by leaving a thick line of trees standing alongside the road. That tree line provided a visual buffer against the carnage of the clearcut land behind the roadside trees.

The first time one realizes the pathetic purpose of this ruse, there is a feeling of real betrayal. When you imagine you’re passing through serene forests and then get a glimpse behind the scenes where the roadside woods thin out and you can see through to the hell and waste beyond, it’s like pulling back the veil on a very bad dream.

Wandering a clearcut on foot gives a better view of what the extraction process is all about. For all the glorification of timber haulers and woodsmen on reality TV these days, it really comes down to one thing: chopping down trees any way you can. The woods are left to recover any way they can.

Yes, there are methods and techniques in place, and standards to be met. But let’s not fool ourselves. Once you chop down a forest, it really is gone. The whole ecosystem disappears, sometimes overnight. Along with it goes the naive dream that the forest was meant to exist for any reason other than providing profit to the people who extract those resources and leave little behind.

Yes, the companies that take down trees also plant new trees. Yet many times these trees essentially comprise a monoculture that grows at the same general rate, dominating the landscape with a consistent look and feel. Much of America’s north woods and especially its “National Forests” have this look and feel. A diverse woodland of mixed hardwoods and pines is considered much more difficult to manage and harvest than a simple plantation of trees where you can literally drive along the rows and level the trees when they reach a desired height.

Contrast that with the deep ecology of an old-growth forest with its nobnobbed layers of downed and rotting trees, mosses and native plants, wildlife and micro-climates, and the two just don’t compare. That’s a good thing. We need to protect it. That old growth forest symbolizes the deep roots of America values.

The monoculture forests we tend to grow in their place symbolize the shallower approach to maintaining our heritage and values. The diversity of a forest is its life. Impatience with that diversity is a sign of a worldview that cares not whether the forest exists for any purpose other than extraction of its wood products. The fact that America’s national forests often stand only for that purpose is disturbing at its core, for it represents the commodification of life. It is an ironic fact that it seems the very people who proudly brand themselves “Pro-Life” seem determined to ignore that fact that the raw commodification of life is just as dangerous. It is apparent their worldview focused on the merits of human endeavor became disconnected from a respect for creation and life itself. The cause of this disconnect may be casual or willful selfishness, or an ignorant, shallow interpretation of the texts that inform their worldview. Hurdling over the issue by claiming a right to dominion over the earth ignores an important truth: that with dominion comes responsibility, and strictly commodifying the creation you were entrusted to protect is the most cynical abuse of that trust imaginable.

It is that strict commodification of nature that made timber interests leave buffers along the roads so that tourists would not get peeved or disillusioned by the sight of the radical clearcuts beyond. It is a desperate illusion, of course, and indicative of a cynical approach to social morality that says people won’t object to what they cannot see. The sad thing about not being able to see the clearcut former forest for the trees is that it symbolizes so much of what goes on in the American in other ways.

Our society puts up with all sorts of obscured commodification, including companies hiding dangerous truths about the chemicals and food substances we eat, as well as products that cause cancer and obesity and mental illness. We have politicians hiding facts about these practices while conducting government for their own cynical economic and political gain. This is far worse than the fox guarding the henhouse. This is a clearcut case of wholesale corruption in the political and civic business of America.

And it all starts with cynicism, the belief that “your ideas” are more important than the welfare of society as a whole. Others might call this fascism as well. For clearcut ideology, the “winner take all” brand of politics, bears all the signs of propagandist practices of the past. America fought fascism on a grand scale in World War II, yet it seems unable to recognize or control its own fascist tendencies back home.

As one illustration of American fascism at work, the term “greenwashing” was invented to describe the behaviors of companies that concoct environmentally friendly names to market products, services or ideas that are in actuality far from Green in nature. That line of trees along the roads designed to obscure the ugliness of forest clearcuts is a form of greenwashing. But so are “Astroturfed” organizations created to serve the interests of companies whose business practices actually harm the environment in many proven ways. The truth about the media age is that if you are astute enough to push your messaging out in palatable ways, and are aggressive about deliveyr of that message, you really can convince people you are acting in their own best interests even if it is literally killing them and their neighbors.

Ultimately all forms of ideological disguise is a form of greenwashing, and also fits in the fascism spectrum as well. It happens all the time in politics, religion, economics and entertainment. The sad truth is that it is often the most harmful forms of ideology that go to the greatest lengths to obscure their real purposes. We see it in politics when candidates make their stated goals sound appealing to the very people those policies would harm the most. By the time the truth comes out after the election, those candidates are elected officials with the power and authority to impose clearcut actions in their respective territories of jurisdiction.

It happens with Senators, Congressman, Presidents and Judiciary nominees. They can say whatever they want to get elected or be appointed, but once in office their clearcut nature comes out. Some even cut down the trees along their ideological roads and contend, “You knew what you were getting when you put me here. Now deal with it.” As a result we now have laws in place that grant personhood to corporations, the ultimate commodification of individual citizenship in America.

Still, America loves to foment its illusions of Yankee exceptionalism. We love to pretend that we live in the greatest nation on earth because from all appearances that we can see, that is true. So we drive along our country roads with green trees growing on either side and love to think those trees (there they are!) along the road symbolize God and Country and that all is right in America.

But too many people never take the time to consider the deadly illusion created by that thin band of trees, which were specifically left there to deceive the public, while behind that faux forest, grand schemes of extortion and extraction are being executed. The Great Recession of 2008 was an opportunity to witness the clearcutting taking place behind the barrier of social and economic trees, as Wall Street, mortgage schemes, derivatives and deregulation each got busy chopping down a sector of our economy. We almost got clearcut right down to a Depression.

Real Americans paid for the costs of that clearcutting. But here’s the sick part. We not only paid to have our woods chopped down, but let the people who chopped them down sell off the wood for profit, keep that money for themselves and award themselves bonuses for doing such a good job of clearcutting the economy. No one went to jail for this wave of criminality. Instead Americans were told we’d have to consider austerity as a means to regrow the forest of our economy. Go out there and plant a tree, we were told. And good luck. Hope it grows.

Maybe it’s fans of reality TV shows like American Loggers, that buy the myth that cutting down trees, both literal and metaphorical, is the path America needs to take to prosper and regain its moral high ground. So along comes a fellow with a square jaw and an outdoorsy look who says seemingly nice yet vacuous things about trees being the right height in Michigan. And people somehow buy his message. Yet he’s spouting the same clearcut ideology that wiped out the American economic forest the first time. He and his woodchopper friends are telling us again that chopping down the trees is necessary to save the forest.

Never mind that the vision of that promise remains obscured to this moment. The trees along the road are still very much standing. We can’t see or hear any details about what that clearcut ideology really means when it comes to cutting budgets, cutting debt, cutting programs, cutting off social programs, cutting and cutting and cutting until there’s nothing left to cut.

That’s a very clearcut way of doing things, to be sure. But what will we have left? Surely not the America we love, or will recognize. At least not behind the trees along the roadside of life.

Have we had enough of Superhero Comicbook Jesus?

Personally, I’m sick of Superhero Comic Jesus.

Perhaps you’re sick of him too. The Jesus who is depicted as a comic superhero destined to come rolling back to earth when heaven supposedly sucks up the good people and leaves the bad people behind. Because it seems that same sort of Jesus also serves as shepard for the bigoted, moneygrubbing, biblical literalists who think their brand of faith is question-proof. It’s a very vengeful cycle, you see; setting up victims and knocking them down. Arguing theology with that crowd is like arguing who is the stronger superhero, Spiderman or Superman, Batman or the Avengers? It isn’t really theology we’re talking about, you see, but a new sort of myth-making that tries to put Jesus on par with our post-Modern theories of what the human race needs to survive.

Here are the plain facts––minus the comic book dress-up clothes.

When you read the Bible with any sort of rational consideration, the Superhero Comicbook Jesus does not appear to exist. Yet that Jesus appears to reign over so much of America. He is the type of superhero that ardent Comicbook believers want taught in our public schools. The Superhero Comicbook Jesus can’t be defeated by evolution or even global warming, because those things are temporal and earthly, and everyone with any sense knows that even we human beings are more superhero than that! We’re Specially Created, the Favorites of God! We have no earthly connection to apes or insects or genetic histories, and don’t try to tell us that we do! Noah is our only real ancestor, if you take the Bible at its word. Well, we can add in Adam too, but only if you want to align yourself with a superhero prone to the fatal flaw of eating Forbidden Fruit. That was Kryptonite for Adam and Eve, you know.

Then along comes Superhero Comicbook Jesus. To rescue us average human superheroes from all our fatal flaws! Hooray! He’s the Jesus we all know and trust!

Boy, I’m sick and tired of that Jesus. And perhaps you getting a little of sick of Superhero Comicbook Jesus too.

Jesus the Comicbook Superhero just seems so, unrelatable. It’s a little hard to imagine ourselves performing miracles anything like the Superhero Comicbook Jesus, feeding the 5000 and all. So many of us don’t really try to be miraculous in any way. We leave the miracles to others, even though God himself asks us to give of ourselves in ways that really are miraculous. That is, giving ourselves away that we might be a blessing to others. Forgiving our enemies. Sacrificing wealth for spiritual virtue. And yes, even supporting social policy that might help others, controversial though it might be. Birth control. Social welfare. Racial and social tolerance. All these things are supported when you read the Bible in its fullness through tangible interpretation in which parables and metaphors are understood to help us understand the whole truth of scripture, not just its Sunday School basics. That is how Jesus taught, and that is how he admonished his own disciples to understand his teachings. Otherwise he called them stupid and without understanding. Nothing superhero about that. Just the basic facts.

Instead many people gravitate to a faith tradition that relies on a Superhero version of Jesus to convince people that the Bible is infallible, inerrant and literal in every sense. That is an armor of perception for fans of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. The triune claims of infallibility, inerrancy and literalistic interpretation stand against any question of truth or authority. But they are a brittle armor.

The real Jesus was the first to question authority and point out the fallibility of radically conservative interpretation of scripture, especially the dangers and misappropriations of literalist and legalistic application of scripture truth to daily life. He called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for hiding behind the rock of radically conservative views.

But to the point: the Bible clearly predicts the rise of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. It even tells why.

In the following bible text ascribed to St. Paul in 2 Timothy: 4 we find the master letter-writer doing a marvelous job of summing up the dangers of turning Jesus into a Comicbook Superhero around which great urban myths can be built. Paul warns that faith can easily be waylaid to doctrine. These would include pursuit of personal wealth in the name of Christ, speculation about the End Times and leveraging of faith for political power.

That is exactly what’s happening in leading evangelical communities today. But Paul warned us:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Here we find Paul challenging believers to rebuke those who turn faith into law, and thus a brutal, literalistic caricature of itself. Paul encourages people of true Christian faith to patiently and persistently fight back against this brand of legalism that dominated even early believers.

Paul, while no perfect human being, suffered at the hands of those within the very own faith tradition he helped to start, and also suffered the pain of the secular world around him that distrusted his ministry because it stood against the politics of the day.

Paul was of course a contradictory character, and this inner conflict sometimes resulted in philosophical rifts in the service of God. In Titus 2:9-10 we find Paul advising slaves to “be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

Then in Titus 2: 11, Paul states: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

Is the future promise of salvation enough to justify human slavery here on earth? Paul seems in error on this one, but his judgment was produced in context of societal norms of his day. We might expect better from the Word of God, but of course some might rationalize these conflicts by insisting that slavery is an apt symbol for holy servitude. But tell that to people in bondage or slavery today. Are we to ignore their plight? Not in the name of God, we’re not. There are other examples in the bible where human understanding of social equality (women’s rights) or biology (sexual diversity and orientation) fall short in standards of behavior and scientific knowledge that evolved in 2000 years. We also know that the earth is neither flat or the center of the universe, yet somehow the human race has managed to overcome these viewpoints that were once promoted through anachronistic interpretations of scripture. But we do not depend on them today, and we are the better for it.

Paul’s abiding tolerance toward slavery is unfortunately a brand of Superhero theology, in which the misfortunes of others are somehow judged to be the product of inferior makeup, intellect or approval by God. But that attitude essentially imbues the more fortunate with a brand of “superpowers.” Hence our societal worshipping of the very rich. They can seem like Superheroes to those who aren’t rolling the dough.

Superhero mythology also disconnects faith from the temporal reality that people of every race, gender and sexual orientation are to be seen as equal in the eyes of God. Just as no one deserves to be a slave, no one deserves to feel scorn or discrimination for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or the fact that they were born transgender. Despite what some people insist, the Bible does not support this type of discrimination. Otherwise we are playing the role of gods ourselves, using the Bible as justification for our singular or collective prejudices. This Superhero Comicbook version of faith is both discriminatory and insidious, for it ascribes at some point a hierarchy to those who claim to be destined to own and run the very faith to which all people are called.

Timothy 4 warns us that prejudice and runaway desires for power and authority are bound to come along. It is thus our duty as Christians to challenge and rebuke the Superhero psychology of literalistic faith, through which evangelists claim the very authority of God, to dispense or withhold at will, inject in politics or education, and to judge those it deems worthy of discrimination, without question or trial, nor rational appeal to human virtue.

The more humble, earthly relevant Jesus is not so much Superhero Comicbook character as genuine friend in time of need. He seeks the humble and protects the needy and powerless through the moral character and actions of those who abide by his Word. Our Friend in God Jesus cherishes the earth itself, for he taught through parables based on its rhythms and profundity, and is therefore never in contradiction with natural law or even the science upon which human beings build a celebrated and sustainable world. We also find the miraculous through science, inspiring us to both respect and explore the world in which we live, without fear or trepidation of discovering anything that God cannot explain, if we but allow scripture room for its metaphorical grace.

We don’t need a Jesus who flies around the sky shooting lightning bolts and threatening the damned. We need a Jesus who is by our side advising us on how to do good to others, who recognizes that we are intimately connected to the kingdoms of plants and animals, and who urges us to respect them as genuine products of an eternally evolving creation. We need a Jesus who urges us to restore and renew our world even as we extract and expand its resources for our use. Most of all we need a Jesus who is not vengeful or conflicted––as so many Superheroes seem to be––but who guides us to attitudes of humility, forgiveness and encouragement of these same qualities in others so that we can build a more civil society. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all people.

That is a Jesus who has escaped the comic book fantasies of those who propagate their own literalistic myths to satisfy millions of ears itching for news of power and authority, who would also gladly vote or give money to those who promise shares of that same power and authority if elected as earthly Superheroes with all the rewards and attention it accords.

But that’s not how God calls us to love and reflection of His image.

In the end, even Paul seems to have redeemed himself on the issue of slavery. In the tiny book (letter) of Philemon he pleas to a slave owner on behalf of Onesimus, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good––no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”

Those are the words not of a Superhero Comicbook character, but of one loving human being to another. We could use a lot more of the latter than the former to make the world a better place.

Who’s to blame for the neo-Confederacy of corporate politics?

A symbol for rights or privilege?

The American flag is a symbol held dear by many Americans. But does it stand for greed or rights and social justice?

In 2007 when my book The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age was first published, the divide between so-called liberals and conservatives had achieved a strident tone. But the real reach of the divide had yet to be revealed until a combination of class warfare, racial prejudice and plain old nasty partisan politics emerged with the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Obama’s election produced a political paradox for  Republicans who were forced to admit that President George W. Bush & Company had done an absolutely terrible job in leading the country the previous 8 years. The GOP wanted to distance itself from Bush as a President but certainly did not want to accept any blame for the pain of his Republican reign. So conservatives adopted a strategy of claiming that Bush was not in fact a real conservative, but something else entirely. Maybe a Republicrat?

But the disavowal of Bush amounted to an essential denial of responsibility for any of the nation’s problems. Despite their potentially genuine dislike of the Bush Doctrine (Whatever it really was…) conservatives still basically rubber-stamped everything their once-favored son did while in office––right down to torture, illegal detention of prisoners, trumpeting illegal wars and gutting the nation’s middle class while giving away costly corporate welfare subsidies for industry, agriculture and the financial sectors.

All those giveaways, financial failures and protracted wars meant that President Barack Obama had inherited a nation in economic crisis, teetering toward a possible Depression.

But as far as Republicans were concerned, those were now Obama’s problems. “Hell, he even created half the mess,” they claimed. So true to form, Republicans stuck together despite the very evident rot in their patented ideology. Instead a new strategy emerged with ramped up attacks on the new Democrat in office, led by the promise of Republican Mitch McConnell who vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Despite this resistance Obama did manage successful policy implementation including passage of a health care reform bill that now covers millions of young Americans under their parent’s policies, and will someday protect patients from exclusion based on pre-existing conditions.* Obama also closed down military intervention in Iraq (but left the mercenaries behind?) and presided over the killing of Osama bin Laden. Conservatives should have been joyous over such news, but some even attempted to give credit to George W. Bush. Somehow.

Over issues such as these, America has become a giant battlefield for hardball politics. The far right wing of the Republican Party as represented by Tea Party candidates even caused a downgrade in America’s debt rating by threatening to default on the nation’s debts. Still, that constituted a form of heroism in the minds of some Americans. The nation was clearly in the throes of a brand new form of Civil War in which some would rather kill the country than have it run by anyone they choose to hate, and for any reason. Race. Religion. Sexual orientation. Gender. Political persuasion. These became the pillars of partisanship. But to what end?

Here is what I wrote in 2007: “The current-day battle between liberals and conservatives carries the same stridency and stubbornness that marked the first American Civil War. The difficult question we must face is whether we can anticipate the rise of a new form of “confederacy” in the modern age.”

To illuminate the subject, I provided some historical context on the American Civil War and how it came about:

“The original, Southern Confederacy stemmed from dissatisfaction with the state of the Union and the future of government.  It might seem easy to assume that the Union was 100% on the right side of political issues in the Civil War. But no matter how correct the Union cause might appear in retrospect, the Confederacy was not by definition without virtue. As a political entity it may well have been justified in defending itself against economic and military aggression by the Union. And in spite of the notion that the ideology of the Confederacy was purged through the Civil War, the personal and political freedoms advocated by the South are alive and well today in modern society, woven into the politics of libertarians and other conservatives who contend that the best government is that which governs least. These principles the Confederacy sought to defend, and the sense of pride in defending moral principles has never been lost on the South. However unfortunate it may have been for the Confederate South to secede, one can admire the determination of the movement as symbolic of the American revolutionary spirit.”

The Tea Party attempted in some ways to reclaim these ideals as it emerged with its call for limited government, less taxation and claims that America was being taken over by political interests that were too intrusive in the lives of everyday Americans. The Tea Party was suspicious even of Republican leadership, making noise of secession from that party to lay claim to the core of American values, especially the Constitution. But still the movement was joined at the hip because it needed to share the mantle of power owned and dispensed by Republicans.

All that amounted to was an even bigger ball of trouble in which the politics of corporate largesse take over the entire process, as predicted in The Genesis Fix:

“It may still be possible that partisan politics will produce an America divided over ideology, geography, oligarchy, or all of the above.”
And here were the finer points of that prediction:

“Perhaps the most likely scenario is the formation of a “neo-Confederacy” around “doctrinal states” or politics focused on “Red” and “Blue” states. Proponents on either side of the political fence have begun to see the value of the “winner-take-all” approach. We are not far from a moment in history when battles over doctrinal authority could lead to a new secession in the hands of the “neo-Confederates” and the states they represent. 

But there are other issues afoot as well. The next Civil War may be fought not in the fields and forests of America, but in courtrooms where armies of lawyers battle over the rights of corporations to control America’s life and politics. Corporate lobbies and revenue now influence every facet of American life.  The largest corporations and the individuals who run them have more money and power than many countries in the world. It is not a stretch to say that one cannot become a governor, senator or representative without the backing of corporations. A neo-Confederacy of corporate largess already exists in America, and it is not limited to the Republican side of the political fence.  It may not be long before the power vested in corporations becomes a self-fulfilling mandate and America will be forced to choose between its original model of a democratic republic recorded in the Constitution and a new, corporate society that is ruled by companies who run the business of America. Whether we have the courage to resist this takeover of American life is a question for our age.”

All it took for that prediction to come true was the ruling of a court case known colloquially as Citizens United, which essentially granted corporations the same rights as people, and privacy to boot, in making unlimited political contributions and buying advertising to support partisan interests.

The impact of the case has already essentially determined the outcome of an election in Wisconsin where the recall of Governor Scott Walker was initiated through citizen protests over destruction of collective bargaining rights for public workers, among other issues. Outside money resulted in a 7-to-1 spending imbalance between Walker and his opponent. That same month the Republican candidate Mitt Romney coincidentally (or not so much) raised more funds than incumbent President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile the battle over social issues raged across America with conservative religious factions damning gay rights as President Obama stood up for equality for people of all gender and sexual orientation. The modern day form of slavery or at least discrimination continues for many citizens denied full rights of citizenship in America. Their rights are consistently denied by conservative, legalistic and literally interpreted religious interests standing on the wrong side of history, again.

It will no doubt be a long and ugly fight just as the first Civil War divided the country, and the fight has really just begun. It remains to be seen whether the battle will spill blood on the streets and hills of America. That depends, we must assume, on whether half of America can come to its senses and stop believing in the God of money and power over the God of mercy and tolerance. It appears some political interests believe strongly in the former and not at all in the latter, much less as a political strategy and brand of social justice.

Here is how The Genesis Fix outlined these issues:

“Corporate largesse has a close relationship with the power of doctrinal politics. Any government owned and run by business will obviously favor the interests of business over that of individuals. When religion adds to the clout of corporate government by giving its stamp of approval to something so profound, powerful and self-fulfilling as the military-industrial society, then a nation has lost its grip on democracy and turned itself over to commerce as rule of law.

Part of the reason doctrinal politics, economic aggression and triumphal religious language make such a potent combination is that all three appeal strongly to a sense of personal pride. Some people refuse to distinguish between the three.”

And that is where we stand. Americans have not changed much in the 100+ years since our nation immersed itself in Civil War. It is our inability to collectively define and rationally justify our various convictions that gets us into trouble. But it gets much, much worse when commerce and greed get to decide our fate and start our wars. Just as a reminder: the bible tells us that God does not like that one bit.

*Republicans claim to hate the health care reform bill on grounds that it is a form of medical socialism and would result in “death panels” where the government gets to decide who lives and dies. Yet the bill actually shows much more respect for life than the current corporately controlled, profit-oriented (and therefore often Darwinian) health care system that notably excludes millions of Americans from even basic coverage.

From a religious perspective: God tells us life itself is a pre-existing condition. No one gets out alive. Health care is designed to protect quality of life while we are here. That basic fact seems lost on the ideological opponents of health care reform, who turned on Obama with vicious fervor even though their candidate of choice in 2012, one Mitt Romney, essentially built the same system when he was governor of Massachusetts.

 

Do clowns creep you out? Political clowns might be the most dangerous of all

“Clowns freak me out,” a co-worker said as we wandered the floor of a sports carnival at a major exposition center. “I mean, really freak me out. Like, it’s a phobia of mine,” she said, pondering several clowns entertaining small crowds around the hall.

The woman is not alone in her fears, and the segment of society that is afraid of clowns seems to have grown considerably the last 40 years or so, sparked by real life psychopaths including John Wayne Gacy, who dressed in clown suits. His perverse legacy has been carried forward by shock performers such as Insane Clown Posse that have built their careers around killer clown psychology.

No more clowning around

For better or worse, the formerly innocent, charming, child-friendly image of clowns has been forever changed. Now the collective public impulse seems to be that of suspicion and fear toward the whole clown tradition. Perhaps the world finally woke up to what it really might mean to hide behind the visage of a clown, as one too many crazy characters emerged (example: Heath Ledger in the Batman movie The Dark Knight) to safely give clowns a free pass to our post-modern psyches.

Which helps explain why my co-worker was totally freaked when a very large clown––weighing 400 lbs. if he weighed an ounce, wandered up behind us as we stood watching a Jesse White Tumblers performance at the sports carnival. The giant clown was breathing so heavily he made a sound like an industrial bellows, and his makeup was badly smeared by the sweat streaming down his face. I glanced at my co-worker to see if she had already noticed this horrific clown standing behind us, but she seemed blissfully unaware. For the moment.

Not wanting my co-worker to suffer emotional trauma, I turned to her and whispered, “Don’t turn around, but there’s a really giant clown behind us. Let’s walk away.” Of course the first thing she did was turn around, and the look of horror on her face could neither be faked or disguised.It all seemed like business as usual to the giant, heavy-breathing clown, staring straight at us with greasy eyes until he finally gave my co-worker a weird smile. That’s when she bolted.

It took more than half an hour of walking around outside the exposition center to calm her down. Even then I could not offer a satisfactory explanation of how or why the heavy-breathing clown showed up behind us. “These things just happen,” I told her. But I knew it wasn’t true. There are forces in the universe that are inevitable and unswerving, like the cat that climbs into the lap of the one person in the room who truly hates cats. The forces of chance––or calculated––evil seem drawn to fear like an open door. Then fear overwhelms the senses like a giant, heavy-breathing clown who is all appetite and no joke.

Clowns and the human condition

Yes, clowning was once considered an art form. Good clowns and perhaps a few mimes have always transcended the human condition to bring us laughs. But bad clowns play on this presumed innocence and leverage the goodwill of well-intentioned clowns, methodically twisting it to their own vicious aims and needs of sociopaths eager to exploit our trusting natures.

That brings us to our current political climate, where certain bands of politicians and their cronies have been going about behaving like happy clowns in hopes we’ll all laugh along as they rape the nation of its wealth. These clowns excel at mouthing timeworn party lines and cracking wise about abortion and family values and banning gay rights as they tear away the progressive virtues of a free and liberal society, or what it should be. That’s what evil clowns do. They take advantage of others while laughingly creating one sick little sideshow after another to distract us from the real evil of their motives.

This giant creepy clown (both a misanthrope and a misogynist) stands innocently behind the lies of politicians pretending to speak for all Americans. In reality he favors only the interests of a few greedy ringmasters and for-hire carnival barkers like Donald Trump. If we let them have their way, the America that was once a land of opportunity will be laid waste beneath the falling tent of middle class hopes and dreams.

The giant, heavy-breathing clown wants what he wants, and that is everything. Yet a big chunk of America sits dumbstruck inside the cable-driven media tent that is the Fox News Circus, laughing at the Rush Limbaugh Show (Dittos! What a clown!) and wandering naively around the Mitt Romney Hall of Mirrors. Why can’t half of America see that these clowns has been leading the nation to a place that is neither good or wholesome, to a place where real freedom is murdered and consumed, not won and shared? The answer is plain and simple: political narcissists love to see their own shallow ideology reflected back at them by the seemingly happy faces of political clowns predicting happy times.

PAC of elephants

Meanwhile, across America, the PAC elephants have secretly been loosed from their cages to wreak havoc in the countryside, razing little towns by tearing down households and pulling up the trees for a bonfire of political vanities the likes of which we have never seen. And still the rapt audience will laugh and cheer. Look at the pretty flames! The light of liberty!

Backstage, the giant, heavy-breathing clown of neo-conservatism is having a perverse little Tea Party with the ringmasters who conceived it all. These are the same ringmasters who stole the presidential election in the year 2000 (Y2K indeed) through use of a conservative Supreme Court whose partisan clowns later ruled that corporations were the same as people. What a funny joke! Let’s all laugh along!

Once in office, the Bush clown posse and its snarling, fetishistic leader Dick Cheney (Power is All) ignored clear warnings of terrorism, thus allowing America to be attacked. Then they used a cloak of resultant fear (like magicians!) to steal off to Iraq and kill a dictator who had nothing to do with the reasons behind the 9/11 tragedy. We now know the Bush clown posse had literally no plan for the future and no budget set aside for its endeavors. They were all just clowning around, hoping for a good outcome.

Indeed, the Bushies proceeded to cut taxes for the rich while rolling out two new wars that had little ultimate purpose other than to express the might of American exceptionalism and maybe (if we’re lucky…) get our mitts on some oil and other resources. But we fumbled away billions of dollars in lost cash during these ventures, so it is no wonder George W. Bush ultimately quipped that “I no longer think about bin Laden” because he was too busy trying to figure out where all our money had gone. Poof! Into the hands of our frenemies.

Clowns at war

The clownish adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan cost thousands of young men and women their lives while crippling tens of thousands more. But the insane clowns in office seemed intent on obscuring the righteous efforts of these young soldiers when they returned home dead or wounded, even blocking publication of photographs of the caskets containing the fallen as they arrived by transport back home on American soil. What were the clowns trying to hide? Evidence of their cruel folly.

The Bush cabal also set in motion a frightening tour of torture abroad while simultaneously setting up an illegal prison camp back “home” (but not really…) at Gitmo. On the island of Cuba no less––the nearby soil of our supposedly sworn enemies!

It was all a sick little political show, “managed” by clowns who ultimately crashed the economy with their “let clowns be clowns” policies of cutting back fiscal regulation while “shrinking government” (what does that even mean?) as if doing nothing was the best thing our nation could think to do. Of course America paid dearly for this grotesque burlesque of slap-happy ideology, and yet here we are all over again, facing down a giant, heavy-breathing clown as America gears up for itsnational elections.

Tea Party Clowns

It is truly stunning that half of America sees fit to continue believing in the activities of these clowns who nearly killed the country the first time. The Tea Party (Mad Hatters?) in the House of Representatives nearly succeeded in forcing America into default on its debt, yet continue to lay claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. That is nothing short of a perverse joke and a theater of the absurd. But it can get worse. We could go all Milton Friedman on ourselves and take free market economics literally, without reasonable controls or judicious governance. That is not to say that capitalism or corporations are bad. Far from the truth. But we should pay attention when things go badly, so that instead of repeating or expanding upon our recent mistakes, we should learn from them and take reasonable precautions to govern well, and protect the nation’s wealth. Of course that is difficult to do when men like Mitch McConnell make public oaths that their only concern as political servants in America is to frustrate and defeat the President, Barack Obama. How is that statement not treasonous?

The Tea Party’s efforts to undercut the nation’s fiscal commitments were also fairly treasonous. But those folks believe, like the sad old clown act of using a mop to wipe up the light on an otherwise darkened stage, that the act of looking sentimentally patriotic (oh, those poor old patriots, trying to clean up our economy) is far more important than turning up the lights so everyone can see what’s really going on with corporate welfare, gigantic farm and oil subsidies and unbudgeted wars draining society of its wealth and balance. Instead they blame old people for being old and needing health care, and the poor for not having enough money to feed themselves. The new Orwellian double-speak is to blame the blameless and laugh at those who don’t get what’s funny about it.

Neo-conservative clowns

If the heavy-breathing clown that is the modern day clownglomerate of neo-conservatism is allowed to have its way in the upcoming elections, America will get a real taste repeat austerity craziness on steroids, ushering in the next Clown Kingdom like a new wave of the Roman Empire, only without the parades. Too expensive, you know.

If that happens, those will no longer be clown tears streaming down the face of the heavy-breathing giant, but droplets of sweaty avarice. Because the giant, heavy-breathing clown even wants to ingest your home and family––to keep them safe from the evils of the world, he promises, like a crocodile holding its young between its jagged teeth. But like Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies, the giant, heavy-breathing clown is no friend to anyone, and he has his prejudices, so don’t expect to save space for any so-called protection of rights for our gay populace, the black or Latino or female members of society, and especially the Muslims.

Clowns of devastation

The giant, heavy-breathing clown is the manifest expression of every nasty instinct America needs to avoid. Discrimination and divisiveness. Denial of responsibility. Devastation of hope. Dangerous fever for war and imperialism. But he demands that you bow down and pray to him, indirectly of course, lest he upset the Christian conservative base. But you will be praying to him one way or the other.

We can hardly tell the folds of flesh on the giant, heavy-breathing clown from the colorful costume he wears, all wrapped up in red, white and blue as he likes to dress. But mostly, he sees red, in the most evil sense of color-blindness. Because that is not only the political shade of his favorite states in America, but also the hue of the blood that will fly in our gladiatorial political arena if the heavy-breathing clown is (or is not) permitted to have his way in America. He’s a jealous type, you know, and not very patient or kind. It almost seems like he can’t wait for the show to begin, does it not?

There are some who claim that the giant, heavy-breathing clown has taken over both political parties, Democrat and Republican. Of course the Democrats behave like Jokers sometimes, and even clowns in their worst moments. But the fact that the nation has generally and legitimately enjoyed its greatest periods of prosperity and recovery under Democratic leadership––including the present time–– while also delivering greater civil rights for every segment of society, deems them far less the evil clown than their counterparts. Truly, we must be on our guard from heavy-breathing clowns on all fronts. But for right now the top priority is to stave off the vicious clown now slobbering on our collective blue and white collars in America.

Scary clown music

Listen. You can hear the the calliope music of the political ads now washing over the countryside as the giant, heavy-breathing clown approaches. Now he’s reached your back door, and whispering through the screen door at night. It sounds like white noise from the TV: “Vote for me and I’ll make it alllllll better. We’ll get government out of your life and you can trust Captains Grover and Karl and the King Koch Brothers to tell us what to do. When it’s all over, we’ll all have a big laugh together, we promise you that.  So let’s all be clowns together, and we’ll grant you a trickle-down share of our sweaty wealth.”

That’s the world they want to create, where we all dress in stars and stripes and run around blessing our good fortune (whether we have it or not) while the political leaders who lay claim to the special providence of God ignore the fact that history proves only fools and clowns can be that arrogant.

So let’s take them for what they are, and leave them in the wake of their own clownish desires. Or else prepare to share your bed, your bank account and even your holy brethren with a giant, heavy-breathing clown. Then you’d better make way for your new, very best friend. He’s breathing down your neck.

Like a snake underwater: How the conservative alliance has led to flawed public policy

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

Snake Under Water

The goals of political conservatism are all noble ideals; keeping the powers of government in check, protecting citizens from excessive taxation, maintaining moral certitude as a principle of government, and encouraging free trade and commerce.  And at a values level, conservatism prides itself on support of tradition, liberty and love of God and country.

Despite its reputation as a staid element of society, conservatism has at times been quite progressive in pursuing its goals, especially as it set about using media outlets to communicate what it brands conservative ideals from the 1980s to the present. Conservatism’s doctrinal approach to seeking power, influencing culture and leading government has attracted many followers thanks to the aggressively proactive approach.

If you are looking for a single factor in the success of conservatism with the American public, convictions are the political capital of conservatism. Any discussion of politics, social policy or human welfare must contain a healthy dose of “convictions” to be taken seriously by the alliance of political, fiscal, social and religious conservatives.

People with strong convictions tend to love clarity. But the desire for absolute moral clarity among conservatives can lead to intolerance for other viewpoints and even cultural prejudice. Ironically, this may be one of the principle points on which conservatism runs afoul of the true message of the Bible. It is difficult for people to have compassion and tolerance for others if they are blinded by a discriminatory fixation on the competing interests of material, political and personal priorities. The apparently missing component of doctrinal conservatism as it relates to Christian beliefs is compassion.

There have been attempts by the conservative alliance to manufacture empathy for its political cause through invention of terms such as “compassionate conservatism.” But there is little room for compassion in a political movement bent on doctrinal dominance. The fact that the term “compassionate conservatism” even needed to be invented is evidence of the moral contradiction—one might even call it hypocrisy—at the heart of the conservative alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives.

By definition, hypocrisy means, “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” and, more specifically; “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” Hypocrisy is a strong accusation to make toward any belief system, but the alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives fits the description in at least one critical sense. Conservatism as a social movement still struggles in its ability to reconcile the market-driven demands of its fiscally conservative constituents with the call to charity and compassion inherent to religious faith and the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. Specious terms such as “trickle-down economics” celebrate the supposed beneficence of the free market. But truly they only show how cynical some elements of the conservative alliance can be toward those in need. If the most that conservatives can manage to share is the grudging spoils of the rich, then greed remains in control and the collective ideology of conservatism stands in opposition to the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.

Real contradictions enter the picture when conservatism seeks to justify the doctrine of free market conservatism with the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:12, we find the story of a rich young man who wants to know what he can do to reach the kingdom of heaven:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.  “No one is good––except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Granted, this passage may be steeped in hyperbole. But this and a good number of other passages (John 2:12-17, Luke 12:22-34, Luke 12:16-23, Matthew 27:3) leave little doubt that pursuit of personal wealth and social advantage are not the top priorities of Jesus Christ.  As Mark 10 suggests, a ministry in the name of Jesus calls for a selfless disregard for wealth as opposed to the “winner-take-all” focus of unbridled capitalism.

If the Bible is to be trusted as a tool for social justice and democracy, then those who borrow its authority must keep in mind the liberal standard at its core. That predicates treating people as equal souls, avoiding discrimination and exploitation and promoting the virtue of charity through actions as well as words. Jesus emphatically calls us to reach out to others with resources that we might normally keep for ourselves. The liberal agenda of Jesus Christ always puts the needs of others first. Otherwise its message is captive to motives that have little to do with the ways of God.

Some Christians, frustrated by their inability to promulgate their version of faith in the free market of ideas have decided that politics may be the means to force society to accept their doctrine. The problem with this approach is that a contradictory theology never leads to good public policy,and that is at least one of the reasons by the United States Constitution guarantees freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

The conservative alliance has led to flawed public policy because of the contradictions and hypocrisies at the heart of its own doctrine.