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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An honest examination of the abortion issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staggering figures

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

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

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

Fertility issues

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

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

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

God the Control Freak

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

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

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

Number and rate of abortions

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

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

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

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

Beyond the numbers

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

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

Blaming Planned Parenthood

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

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

The wrong blame

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

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

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

What would Jesus do? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Do you live in the City of Sanitary?

By Christopher Cudworth

City of Batavia Sanitary

While walking the dog on a Sunday morning before the newspapers were even delivered and a low sun was casting long shadows on the street, I stopped to let the dog have a sniff of something in the neighbor’s yard and found myself standing directly over a manhole cover. I looked down at the circular metal object and read the words, which said: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA.

Of course what the manhole cover was supposed to read was CITY OF BATAVIA, SANITARY

Those two short phrases seem to convey exactly the same thing. But in practice and reality, they might not.

Either way you read the words on the manhole cover, it is intended to convey its function as an access point to the sanitary system under the streets of Batavia, a municipality of approximately 30,000 people in northern Illinois.

But let’s imagine that it is no longer 2012, but is instead the year 2812. Language and culture have changed significantly over the last 8 centuries. English is no longer the primary language on Earth, yet translators are being assigned to study the hardiest artifacts of the past. The manhole cover and its confusing words survived the nuclear holocaust that wiped out most of North America’s population and left an entire continent nearly uninhabitable for more than 800 years due to nuclear radiation poisoning and pursuant destruction of habitation and resources. Such a grim scene, and hard to imagine in a way. But really, the present and the possible future all comes down to the quality of our ability to communicate.

The natural tendency of that English language translator in the future is to read the words on the manhole cover in logical order, as it says: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA. The translators therefore struggle to understand the meaning of this lost language, and particularly of the meaning of the words on the manhole cover. Was it intended to convey some message about the place called SANITARY or was it designed to communicate some aspect of a function called BATAVIA?

You see, language is a funny thing. It can be used to improve understanding in rationally liberal way, in full context. Or, it can be used to intentionally constrain meaning in a conservative way, and limit the context. Both have their legitimate applications at times. We know that historians have struggled with this challenge for centuries. That is why we have so many translations of the Bible because ultimately not everyone can agree on what the holy texts are meant to say.

Beyond translation there are issues of interpretation. Should we take the Bible literally or figuratively? Did Jesus actually say the things for which he is credited, or were his quotes and activities reconstructed to line up with a constrained view of the Christian faith as written 80-200 years after his death?

We now know the books of the New Testament are not arranged by chronology, so a judgment has already been made to place the Gospels before the writings of Paul, arguably the first Christian author. In some respects, that forces us into a viewpoint about primacy that some people might now consider conflicted by the arrangement of the books in the New Testament. Yet this prioritization can in some ways be viewed as vital to the history and meaning of Christian faith. Liberals might contend that the Bible should be reordered to reflect its true chronology, while conservatives would likely place their trust in the judgment of the ages.

If something so historically relevant as an entire religious tradition can be dependent on liberal and conservative judgements such as these, then we are certainly at the mercy of many other sources of disagreement over what constitutes accuracy and truth.

The liberal vs. conservative debate

Liberals and conservatives argue over the use of language and its meaning on every front. So let us begin by examine what liberal and conservative language really means.

The liberal use of language is defined as follows:

liberal: favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.

Liberalism is therefore the pursuit of all possible meanings with respect to the course of comprehension. The ultimate determination of meaning may therefore require considerable study, even consulting with outside sources before full understanding of a word or phrase in context can be ascertained. This is largely the foundation for all academics, science and other forms of inquiry.

By contrast, a conservative pursuit of meaning in a word or phrase is by definition constrained to existing or traditional understandings as a starting point, with the resultant findings to be measured against prior knowledge. To be conservative is therefore defined as follows:

con·serv·a·tive disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.,or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

The full reach of conservative thought includes the right to limit not only the liberal or contextual understanding of a phrase or idea, but is also known to aggressively limit information deemed likely to change the meaning of and idea, word, phrase or a passage as it has been tested over time. This is judged acceptable in conservative thought because it places its highest values on traditional sources as primary virtues, and established principles as standards or qualifiers against which change must be measured.

This is known as a conservative viewpoint, and in America it bears influence on everything from standards in education to Constitutional interpretation of law by the Supreme Court. Ironically some of the so-called “conservative” interpretations of Constitutional law passed down by a conservatively dominated court have resulted in highly liberal interpretations of issues such as corporate personhood. Such is the confusion of liberalism versus conservatism. This raises the issue of whether our existing understanding of conservative and liberal thought is really accurate at all, a subject we will pursue further in a moment, in context of so-called media bias.

Still, conservatism can be largely defined as a preoccupation with the defense of the original or traditional understanding of an idea while liberalism is in a constant search for multiple or possible meanings.

Principle challenges

The challenge in this game of defining meaning according to conservatives and liberals is how the scope and scale of meaning is allowed to be either constrained or expanded. That is where ideology or intent enters the picture when it comes to defining the meaning of a thing or an idea.

For example, if the image of the manhole cover were cropped (or constrained) to show only the words CITY OF SANITARY we would be left with an entirely different understanding of the object, as show here:

THE CITY OF SANITARY

Now the word BATAVIA is invisible. We have lost the complete context of the manhole cover as an object, and are left with, or presented only, that information that supports the idea that the City of Sanitary is an actual place!

Of course it is not. But the conservative or constrained presentation of information is a real phenomenon. It happens every day in the news. Conservatives blame the general media for a ‘liberal bias’ in presenting only news that favors liberal political policies while liberal blame media outlets such as Fox News for serving up news that is highly constrained to a conservative point of view.

We must further consider the definitions of liberal and conservative news to consider who is telling the truth in this situation, and why.

Liberal Media Bias

If only news stories that favor liberal politics are being shown or discussed on so-called ‘liberal media outlets’ that is very different than pursuing a truly liberal understanding of the news. All news, politics and government is democratic and fair only if it is transparent and provides full context for its constituents. The accusation of a “liberal bias” is most difficult to justify, however, if the problem is simply that the general media is indeed providing full information to support a story.

The selective fact that a conservative viewpoint considers the truth an objectionable deterrence to their cause is not, therefore, a truly liberal bias in the media. It is simply reporting the truth and letting the public decide what to think about what they hear. But the claim that the ‘liberal media’ may be choosing news stories that favor liberal politicians or policies can be determined through analysis, and in some cases this has produced contentions with merit.

It is a very subtle argument, however, because like a so-called liberal media bias, the dividing line between truly “conservative news” and conservative opinion are highly difficult to determine. If a plot to bomb an abortion clinic is reported on the general news but an act of eco-terrorism against a chemical company goes unreported by the general media, then that may indicate a choice based on politically liberal objectives. News editors make decisions every day to determine what news to present and report, and the formats of daily news shows allow such narrow space and time to fully present a story that decisions to cut or keep news stories is made every day.

Beaten at their own conservative game? 

But even if liberal media outlets are guilty of biased reporting, that is still a conservative or constraining choice of how to report the news. That is likely what conservatives find so objectionable. For years they have been beaten at their own game.

Which is why news outlets such as Fox News now attempt to level the playing field by appearing to conduct themselves as liberal media outlets, committed to reporting the full truth while in fact they are radically committed to a conservative approach to news reporting, and not by coincidence, favoring a conservative political viewpoint as well.

So there you have it. What appears to be a battle between liberals and conservatives is in fact a protracted fight over an overall conservative approach to reporting and presenting the news. The battle then, is not between liberals and conservatives as is so often presented, but between conservative methods of reporting the news.

Colbert exploits the ruse

That is what makes the comedy of a man like Stephen Colbert so hilarious. Colbert imitates the presentation methods of conservative media outlets while actually espousing and presenting liberal perspectives. The fact that these opinions about the news are force-fed through a faux Fox News filter is what makes the satire so funny. There is nothing Fair or Balanced about Stephen Colbert just as there is nothing Fair and Balanced about Fox News. It’s all just highly charged political information disguised as news.

Fox News, you see, excels at the City of Sanitary method of so-called news reporting. The company as a whole typically receives its marching orders on the choice of appropriate news topics and how to report on them from the very top where Roger Ailes, the chief network executive who built the American outlet for Fox News from the ground up, highly favors political conservatism as the solution to America’s problems.

His “news” staff is cleverly disguised as reporters and anchors when in fact they are positioned with a conservative ideology (and prescribed ‘talking points’) in place to constrain and deliver the information Fox News creates. It controls its messaging on a regular basis by taking a “closeup” look at news stories rather than backing up and providing the whole (and therefore liberal) context of the story. In other words, the difference between what Fox News does is the same as the difference between taking a look at the whole manhole cover that shows City of Batavia Sanitary as opposed to just showing the City of Sanitary image and using that constrained viewpoint as a jumping off point for political commentary.

Sanitized at Fox News

Fox News viewers seldom if ever get to see the entire context of a news story. Instead they are “sanitized” into thinking only about what Fox News presents as truth. It is hard to argue that Fox News is lying, exactly, because that they show on TV often exists as a “fact” just as the manhole cover actually does read City of Sanitary. But this “sanitizing” of the news is a grand deception of sorts, because it disallows context and essentially brainwashes viewers into a clipped understanding of the world and its activities.

Then the Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity further present these constrained, conservative media talking points to generate outrage over issues that have never been fairly presented. This radicalization of the news through constrained reporting and conflagratory discussion is the poison that has undermined true journalism in America.

The goals of sanitized news

Fox News has used its carefully “sanitized” views of patriotism, its jingoistic and flag-waving support for ugly and dangerous wars, its support of torture and covert aggression against nations around the world, and its advocacy for domestic policies and administrations that clearly have failed the nation and risked it very sovereignty in the process.

Insanitization of the news

We must therefore consider whether we should characterize the information presented by conservative news outlets like Fox News as the “insanitization” of news and information. It is literally as if the insane have taken over the media on all fronts. It is no longer possible or profitable for media outlets to engage and invest in liberal news reporting. The news cycle and competition for viewer attention is so tight and self-fulfilling that companies who attempt to present news in its full context are losing out to aggressive competitors like Fox who sound byte everything through the insanitization of the information presented. The American public can no longer even identify or understanding news as it is defined in journalistic terms. The insanitization of news and information has cut attention spans and comprehension among consumers to a bare minimum. Viewers now prefer the City of Sanitary to the City of Batavia Sanitary. “Don’t bother me with the facts,” the public seems to say, “Just tell me what I need to know.”

Screw the fact-checkers = Ignore the truth

In 2012 the Mitt Romney campaign boldly proclaimed that it won’t be constrained by “fact checkers.” This is a precise expression of the insanitization of information.  Think about what politicians like Romney claim they are entitled to do: They are running a campaign where the truth literally does not matter. Yet 40% of Americans will support a candidate who makes no claim to represent the truth? That is insanity. But that is exactly the strategy of the conservative brand of thought. Through sanitization of information and turning the truth against itself, people can be convinced to believe that what you are saying is “more real” than the truth.

Think of the manhole cover. Think of think of the City of Sanitary. Is that where you really want to live?

Sanitization: It’s a religious tradition

This is nothing new, of course, under the sun. Religious groups have for years blindered believers with literal interpretations of scripture and controlled their belief systems with law and practices that even Reformation and revolution have not erased. The result is a society where 50% of Americans still believe in a literal Adam and Eve and refuse to comprehend even the slightest truth in the theory of evolution. This is the insanitization of religion just as politics and news have been distorted and contorted. Conservative religion rather precisely limits its believers understanding to the City of Sanitary level. In fact it likely goes a step further, focusing only on the word SANITARY with claims that true believers must sanitize themselves from recognizing equal rights for gays and women, or associating with environmentalists or tolerating other faiths.

Meanwhile the Muslim faith is engaged in the very same sanitization and insantization of its ideology, producing radical terrorists engaged in a fight to impose Muslim law in otherwise democratic societys and engaging in an ideological fight with Christianity that produced the Crusades.

A walled city under a siege of misinformation and fear

The City of Sanitary is a walled city that behaves as if it is in a state of siege. It promotes and feeds the fears of its dwellers. Indeed, fear and constrained thinking is the main and primary focus of its ideology, for fear is the factor that keeps its audience under control.

The City of Sanitary is therefore the most dangerous enemy of America, which fully depends on the liberalism inherent in its Constitution along with freedom of a press and a truly liberal media committed to full reporting– and not sanitization–of the news as a means to protect and defend America’s most precious freedoms, both liberal and conservative.

Anything else deserves to be shoved down the manhole of history.

RELEVANT DEFINITIONS

san·i·tar·y [san-i-ter-ee]  adjective

1.of or pertaining to health or the conditions affecting health,especially with reference to cleanliness, precautions againstdisease, etc.

2.favorable to health; free from dirt, bacteria, etc.: a sanitarywashroom.

3.providing healthy cleanliness: a sanitary wrapper on allsandwiches.

san·i·tize [san-i-tahyz]  verb (used with object), san·i·tized, san·i·tiz·ing.

1. to free from dirt, germs, etc., as by cleaning or sterilizing.

2.to make less offensive by eliminating anythingunwholesome, objectionable, incriminating, etc.: to sanitize adocument before releasing it to the press.

insan·i·tize [san-i-tahyz]  verb (used with object), in·san·i·tized, in·san·i·tiz·ing.

1. to purposely constrain information in a radical way as a means to confuse and obfuscate while claiming to speak the truth

2.to propagandize factual information by limiting its context, thereby avoiding the appearance of lying by being able to point to a portion of the information as demonstrable fact

2.to lie like a sack of shit and deny that you are lying despite all proof to the contrary, as in presenting your corporate brand as Fair and Balanced when it is anything but.

A new perspective on the Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation may be yet to come.

The popular American narrative relative to World War II is that the United States dedicated its troops and might to defeat fascism. We helped lead the Allies to victory over Germany, Italy and Japan.

There is little doubt and volumes written about the merits of that war, and the credit for winning it is given to what is now called The Greatest Generation, known for their sacrifice of life and dedication to a vital cause.

One could argue that necessity breeds heroes, just as it is the mother of invention. When the need arises, Americans are well known as first responders (or as in the case of World War II, best responders.) We shook our fists in murderous fury at the perpetrators of 9/11, yet the people we initially chose to celebrate were indeed, the first responders.

Historical bookends

Those two moments in American history, World War II (1941) and 9/11 (2001) are bridged by a period in American history some self-described patriots would vehemently prefer to forget. We are talking now about the evolution of dissent and protest that began in the 1960s. The social liberations that took place were the result of very public protests against America’s trenchant racism, sexism and discrimination of all kinds. We are about to explore whether the 1960s were also about America’s inability to wrestle with its own insecurities, its penchant for fear-mongering and a nation’s seemingly godly but ultimately misguided tradition of boasting Christian-only values.

Let’s talk about what really happened in the 1960s

We must commence with some basic facts that are demonstrably true as proven through time.

The first is that racism in America persisted even after the nation’s nobly grand effort to stop fascism abroad through the battles of World War II. So while we must thank the generation that fought that war, we must also acknowledge our nation’s failure to liberate our own citizens even as we stood proud in protecting the world. Sadly, America’s own values did little to bring the needed changes about. That meant leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., were forced to take great risks using the words of the bible against people wielding the same book in support of racism–to point out how badly America had failed in its responsibilities toward its own people, millions of whom did not enjoy even the basic rights of citizenship, much less equal opportunity.

It is interesting indeed that in classrooms across America during the 1950s and 60s, millions of schoolchildren were required to recite a Pledge of Allegiance that ends with the words “…with liberty and justice for all” Millions of those kids grew up to take the actual meaning of that pledge seriously, piling into the streets to demand liberty for people of all races and backgrounds. That same generation of people also turned its sights on an unjust war in Vietnam, a violent venture that was initially engaged in fear over communism, and that ultimately evolved into a consuming effort to prove that the military-industrial complex was right in its motives, tactics and increasing commitments of expense and reputation. Thus the Vietnam war was executed to the precise prediction of one Dwight D. Eisenhower– himself an heroic general in World War II–who had warned against the dangers of the military-industrial complex, and what it could do to America.

So we see that the arc of the 1960s was not all about liberal values, nor sexual liberation and freedom from responsibilities. The 1960s were about a generation taking its pledge to the flag and the America for which it stands quite seriously. But instead of being acknowledged for this effort, and its pursuant victories for civil rights and all that has come to represent in freedom for America, the 1960s are maligned by some as a period of social decay and destruction of American values.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1960s not actually represented America’s second major attempt to eradicate its brand of internal (racist) fascism, the first attempt being our own Civil War, by a new generation discovering that ideals really mattered.

America had President Kennedy inspiring the nation to fly to the moon, and to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.” Well, what better answer to that question than to stand up for liberty and justice for all. But it appears not everyone believed in those virtues as they were written, or spoken. The represented an inconvenience to a status quo that was seemingly desperate to maintain its self depicted superiority. Thus the tone was set for a struggle over what America represents. That struggle would produce not only violence, but economic and social upheaval.

Turncoats try to kill actual American ideals

Of course Kennedy was murdered in cold blood on that November day in 1963, sending the country into a spiral of introspection and self-recrimination. Some fingers pointed out dark quarters in our nation’s own infrastructure, and many still speculate that figures tied to the military-industrial complex carried out the hit on Kennedy, who actually had the nerve to negotiate a temporary backdoor peace with Kruschev and the Soviet Union, thereby averting a potentially catastrophic nuclear war.

But it may also have been simple lust for political power that killed Kennedy, for some posit that it was LBJ himself that masterminded the unthinkable violence and intrigue of the JFK assassination. That would mean it was an inside job. So many circumstances around the treatment of JFKs body after the assassination and the lone video record of the incident tend to raise more questions than they answer. But even these questions begin to help us arrive at our main point. Because after the JFK murder came the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Are we to assume this was all just coincidence? The odds are too far against it.

Fortunately the 1960s were a time of idealism as well as the enactment of the painfully evident cynicism that rained death on the decade. There certainly were an abundance of people who thought they knew better the direction the country should take. Conflicted men like J. Edgar Hoover, who could not confront his own identity with any degree of honesty, and so pursued anyone who breathed a sniff of truth while evidencing flaws of their own. Hoover had the goods on Kennedy, for sure, a devout philanderer if there ever was one. But Hoover had the goods on everyone, and that turned into a corruption of its own sort. But that is how America operated then and likely continues to operate in many respects today. As a nation we simply cannot bear to unearth the fascism that undermines our own government. There are people who make millions and billions of dollars off the murderous guarantees of military profiteering, violent deregulation of markets, insider trading, health care exploitation and limitless extraction of resources without tax or compensation to the nation. That is the inside game. But it all starts with flawed personalities and frankly, a form of psychopathy that at once disgusts and seems to fascinate Americans just the same.

The byproducts of exceptionalism

Our collective psychopathy is why America raced off to fight a war in Afghanistan Iraq rather than face up to its own tortured foreign policies that once funded the very people we now had to go kill. Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden. Manuel Noriega. All these people, like it or not, were once “friends” who became enemies once they recognized the hypocritical state of American virtue.

And just look what the nation has chosen to do: fight the so-called War on Terror. As one pundit expertly put it, how can you fight a war on terror when war itself is terror? We require double-speak to cover up our patent greed and imperialistic desires. But the purported protectors of American integrity like to point to a phantom ideal called American Exceptionalism as the reason why we should be able to do what we want, when we want, to whomever we want.

Our trickle-down brand of exceptionalism resulted in Iraqi citizens being hung up on metal bed frames and tortured with electrocution, because we needed to know more about who our enemies are. It is a vicious cycle, and a selfish game for selfish gain.

Time to look within

Well, it seems like we should start to look within, does it not? Is that not what the Judeo-Christian God tells us to do. Secular humanists seem to know more of such inner light as those who claim to be on the side of religion. So let us take a look inside America to see what we can find out about concepts like The Greatest Generation. How we once fought for good, and how we do that at home as well as abroad.

For starters, America can’t seem to get around to admitting our own flaws, and that causes us to lash out in anger at those who point them out for us. America goes out out of its way to invent enemies when we can’t find them organically. The CIA is good at that, for example. They’ve created four decades of boogeymen to fight on behalf of America because it feeds their system of beliefs, which are the same arcane, ascetic and conservatively-inspired beliefs that told us America was perfectly in the right while chasing all over Vietnam shooting and bombing human victims while defoliating millions of acres of land using a chemical we called Agent Orange. Or was it Clockwork Orange? It’s so easy to confuse the two.

It’s really only a question of scale, which is how people behaving like self-justified thugs see fit to castigate and kill those we fear for being ideologically different (and sometimes defiant) of American aims. As if our aims were the only aims that matter.

That’s what some people in America genuinely believe: that only their beliefs matter. But that is precisely why racism has been allowed to persist for so long in America. Those of us raised by the parents from the Greatest Generation do recall, however, the often “colorful” yet uncomfortable jokes about niggers and spics and chinks and fags. These are all dehumanizing terms, and their horrific power remains intact today, obscured perhaps by political correctness, the liberal attempt at correcting the problem without truly recognizing what the problem is. Which is the fact that some people refuse to change and will use any means possible to prevent you from making them change. It is all a self-protective device to feel superior to someone, somehow.

Deconstructing American exceptionalism

That is ultimately what so-called American Exceptionalism is all about, for it has become a political ideology expressed in conservative, and not progressive terms. Therefore it is has become less and less about America’s tradition of charity and leadership in the world and has become more about our will to imperial doctrine. And that’s a shame, because it is true that America often leads the way in freedom and democracy.

But we lost focus somewhere along the way, and waltzed into Iraq (for just one example) under the banner of American exceptionalism while completely failing to anticipate what it really takes to accomplish democracy, much less protect that country’s antiquities or its people. In fact we rather grossly set about plundering Iraq’s oil resources under a thinly guised contract that said they should pay us back for invading their country. We did them a favor, we assured them. But it’s always about the aims, folks. Which is another word for money.

Killing our own, and not just euphemistically

Even at home, we aim to kill our own. There’s even been a slogan invented to describe that phenomenon. And listen to it: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Have you ever heard such pathetic double-speak? As if guns were ever invented to do anything but kill. The fact that they are used for sport is but a valorous distraction. Remember that when protestors against the Vietnam War swarmed the campus at Kent State, they encountered fearful yet gun-bearing militia, who shot four students dead. And what did it prove. That guns don’t kill people? That is a dark-hearted farce.

We know that the NRA holds enormous sway in American politics whilst hiding behind an interpretation (a rather liberal one, ironically) of the Second Amendment that blatantly ignores the phrase “well-regulated” in relation to the term “militia.” This is known as selective intelligence. Or perhaps that’s too forgiving a term. You could substitute “stupidity” for intelligence and get the same result. That’s how euphemism works.

We should also point up the fact that the NRA was instituted in the same year as the Klu Klux Klan. That is likely no coincidence. It illustrates that any organization with a conflict of aims at its heart does require considerable force to uphold, and look at how those two organizations have managed to survive, and even thrive. The KKK has long used God to justify its racism while the NRA choose to ignore the term “well-regulated” whilst promoting its considerable lust for term “militia.” Both organizations have made claims to stand for what’s right in America.

Is idealism dead? And if so, who killed it?

The 1960s did expose the ugly sides of such organizations, but there’s one hard, fast rule in politics: Ugliness never quits. And so the NRA and KKK, and organizations like them, right on up to far right political parties in many instances, have plotted and planned in concert for four decades, carefully conducting back door meetings to establish allies with religious factions whose interpretations of scripture are conveniently hateful, discriminatory and conflicted. And so the claim to God, Country and Flag has been co-opted to the controlling interests of our most fearful factions in America.

A word about the power of words

America has become a nation where politics is being used increasingly to enforce the aims of those who bear the most fearful, controlling and self-righteous aims. It is not surprise then, that they have become most cunning and deceptive in their use of words.

We need only look at the term Citizens United, the euphemistic organization that took its case to the Supreme Court in a fight to establish the right of corporate personhood. Some portray the case as an heroic act to protect free speech in America, when in fact action essentially sold out the value of free speech to giant, moneyed and often faceless conglomerates with no responsibility to reveal their motives or identify. Citizens United was essentially the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover, writ large. But how is that the rights of individual citizenship, which were written into the Constitution and protected by the courts for more than 200 years, were suddenly erased in a period of a few months. It is because a group of activist judges beholden to such interests felt they were suddenly much wiser than the Founders were about what it means to be human.

A great generation, in deed. 

And that puts an exclamation point on the real purpose of the 1960s, and how that period was a step in the right direction for America. But that step has since been waylaid by jealous, angry souls who cannot admit they have flaws, and thus cast aspersions and project their own worst tendencies into all they distrust for questioning, and thus refining, the real legacy of America.

We should remember perhaps the ideal so familiar to Christians that the divine force we call God seems to see value in our personal and collective trials, and that Christ and Ghandi and every moral being who ever walked the earth do too.

But for America, it is up to us to recognize that the foundation of this nation is not based on one religion or one creed, but on tolerance, acceptance and equal rights for all those who believe in honest, forthright aims. The Greatest Generation is the one that upholds those virtues. It may be seen that a current generation succeeds in fulfilling that dream, or it may be that a future generation will earn the right to be called our greatest yet, by having learned to appreciate in full that citizenship, and individuality, and equality in the laws of the republic shall forever be the highest aims of human endeavor.

Now that will be a great generation. In deed.

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.

The Gift and Responsibility of Teaching

Nature and eternity are foundations of the Bible

Human perspectives on nature are defined principally through science and religion.

Vacation Bible School is a tradition of Christian churches across America. The week dedicated to bringing youth to church for fellowship, learning and fun is a rite of summer. Organizers put hundreds of hours into implementing curriculum material, which has become its own industry, issued with high-tech video productions now providing thematic support to vacation bible schools.

Yet the basic act of teaching and interacting with children has not changed in thousands of years. Anyone who has participated in teaching Sunday School or Vacation Bible School knows this. For thousands of teachers the responsibility of helping children learn about faith is genuine, and also a gift.

For to teach is to learn. There is no question about that. Reviewing scriptural lessons to convey the meaning to children leads one into a place of innocent wonder at the very heart of God’s word. No matter how strong your own faith may be, or how much doubt you might personally experience through a faith journey, the moment you are called to participate in teaching about God is a humbling and enlightening enterprise.

It is an enterprise, teaching about God. Or teaching about anything for that matter. The growing notion that teachers in the secular school system (and that is as it should be…) are somehow overpaid is absurd and damaging to our country. No teacher is overpaid. Even bad teachers are part of the overall mission of helping people learn, so let us help them improve or find a different role. Good teachers are a critical component of civil society. Great teachers are a treasure. There are many of them. The fact that our country is disabusing itself of the value of education is the primary sign that we are a nation with challenges at the heart of our central values. Those are liberty, freedom, justice, equality and the right to learn.

It is not the teaching of Christian values in our public schools that will save our country. Our forefathers wisely separated church from state in the Constitutional call for freedom of (and from) religion. The public school tradition reflects and respects that separation. In fact it is the invasion of highly infectious religious thought that is dumbing down America’s schools, killing respect for real science and teaching of evolution, censoring great and compelling literature in some cases, and thwarting the encouragement of intellectualism all the way up to higher education, where American initiative is formed and forged into productivity. All this is being done under the guise of protecting so-called “conservative values.” What we are experiencing is something else entirely, a regression in civic and social liberty as a result of regressive (and aggressive) attitudes now defining public discourse. To put it simply, we are going backwards against the stream of liberal thought that invented and defined progress in America. Conservative religion is partly responsible for these reverses in progress. It has been used over the years to support slavery, deny rights to women, defend racism and prevent teaching of well-proven science in public schools. Now it has infected politics like a virus as well, all while waving the flag and claiming to represent America itself. Its time we taught our youth something entirely different through our churches. It’s time to promote the liberal heart of Jesus Christ and show that he was never threatened by science or any other type of truly academic enterprise. The very notion is absurd. Jesus was a great teacher. But let’s start following His example by putting faith where it belongs.

The teaching of faith, especially in traditions like Vacation Bible School, is where learning about God belongs. Not in public schools.

Teachers of faith can then teach with conviction. We can hope they also teach with wisdom. It is time for churches everywhere to examine and challenge each other to do just that. For too long Christian thought has been left to wallow in a pit of non-contention. Where is the vigorous debate between churches over what scripture really means? Are we afraid of each other in Christ? Do we leave it to chance that a few blowhards have it right, and that their bloviations have earned them the right to dominate the image and message of Christian thought in society?

That’s wrong. It certainly isn’t the tradition given to us by Jesus Christ, who publicly challenged teachers of the law the look at faith in God in a clear and different light. His testimony ripped through traditions wielded like a fortress against bible-era society. Jesus had no patience for the “brood of vipers” dominating others with threats of punishment and damnation, implemented through extortion and manipulation. Neither should we put up with these brands of supposed faith today.

To say that we are protecting our children from evil when fighting these forces of untruth is the truth, in all instances. The Bible is a living, breathing document. Its stories are built on tremendously powerful metaphors that are still valid today. When these living metaphors are turned into dogmatic, stiff notions of literal interpretation they not only lose the life God imbued them with, they also poison the wells of faith at will.

So let us take a moment and consider what we are teaching our children, and why.

While walking with 30 kids and 8 adult assistants through the woods to talk about the meaning of light and how Jesus used the symbol of light in so many ways, it came to pass that one of the boys in the group raised his hand and asked a question. The context was a discussion of how light filters through the trees in the woods, and how the plumage of birds is highly adapted to the phenomenon of light, even to the point of ultraviolet ranges the human eye cannot see. It was explained that birds do not need to “think” about these things when moving about their daily lives. Nature has provided them with unconscious tools for protective coloration. This is a marvelous evidence of God’s powerful creation. And the boy raised his hand and said, “So we’re talking about evolution, right?”

Yes, we are, I wanted to say. But a part of me held back because even in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, to which our family transferred from a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church after 25 years of membership, there are families that hold the literal creation story dear. Who still teach that the earth is just 6,000 to 10,000 years old. Who insist that ‘created kinds’ are original and unchanged in those years of existence.

I do not believe any of that. In fact last night after teaching Vacation Bible School there was a NOVA production on the PBS station documenting the progression of telescopes, invented by none other than Galileo, who was deemed an enemy of the Roman Catholic church for telling the truth in showing that the earth was not at the center of the universe. In fact we’ve now learned the earth is not at the center of anything. There is no center, except that which we conceive. We are so small and insignificant in the dimensions of space that we hardly matter.

Yet that is why God is so important to our conception of ourselves. To be forcefully alone in the cosmic truth of space, time and eternity is too much for the human mind to bear. But God is there. We do see evidence of metaphysical beauty in the design of the universe. Scientists do not need that notion to conduct their trade, nor should they be assigned to accommodate theology in exploring the tenets of cosmology. We must strengthen our faith on the backs of what they find, not the other way around. The Bible can help us do that, you know. Its metaphorical elasticity is not some grand mistake. Forcing it into a position of an anchor of resistance is no way to make it relevant or help us move forward in faith in the future. Great scientists also know this. A great many may also dismiss it. That is not their problem, or ours. Truth is real no matter where we find it. Reconciling great truths in faith is the purest mission of them all.

We have Jesus, the great teacher who used organic metaphors to teach spiritual concepts as our leader and our guide as human knowledge expands. So why should we be afraid? That is the heart of literalistic faith: fear that faith will be proven wrong somehow.

But we have no fear. We should not be fearful in teaching our youth the strength of faith or the brilliance of science. They go together. Great scientists from Einstein to Darwin recognized these virtues. Admittedly all have struggled with the issue in one way or another. That struggle is how God designed the universe. It is there in the changing of species and in the development of the human mind and culture. It is random material processes at work and the patent reality of free will. What a glorious God we have that leaves us choice in the matter, to believe or not to believe. Our destinies are wrapped in that simple question, and that is the responsibility of teachers to convey every time we look into the eyes of a child.

They are not stupid creatures, children. They are us; eager and vital and curious and malleable. When we fill their minds with truth, reconciled and challenging, then they are truly alive. That is the gift and responsibility of teaching. Jesus knew that well.

On Praying for Colorado

I am a religious person who prays every day. I believe those prayers have been answered in ways that exceed the ability to comprehend or imagine how it happened.

Having been the beneficiary of answers to my prayers, and to those of others praying for me and us (wife and family) it makes spiritual sense to return the cosmic favor and pray for others as well. Now people are asking for prayers for Colorado.

And I will pray for the people whose lives are being turned upside down and burned to rubble as wildfires consume acres and acres of Colorado forest. As recently as November 2011 I walked in those hills near Colorado Springs. Hiked up in the cool morning air for a look around, and saw rings of snow lacing the mountaintops, much higher than where I stood.

The red rocks of Colorado crunched underfoot. Tiny stubborn oak trees with miniature leaves clung to the crumbling ground. Colorado seems to be eroding by the inch in fact. The hot sun beats down all summer, tanning the rocks themselves perhaps, and giving the skin of Colorado visitors and residents that ruddy feel of mountain peoples. It is a unique place.

People have turned Colorado into an environmental plaything. Miles of hiking trails run up into the hillsides above Colorado Springs, home to an Olympic training center and epicenter for the Colorado good life. To the immediate west the Rockies jut higher and higher into the sky, to 14,000 feet in places. Trees cease being able to exist above certain elevations. The gray and red rocks of real mountains stand stubborn against the sky, thrown up by tectonic forces deep within the earth. The entire ridge of the Rockies runs from the southern United States far into the Canadian wilderness. People settle in towns all along the Continental Divide. Other vacation there, drafting on the mountain air and dipping toes into cool lakes or raging meltwater rivers.

The mountains are so profound it is almost hard to recall the profusion of forests in the Rockies when you go back home. That is, unless your home itself is nestled in the Colorado forests, built on a mountainside or snuggled in a canyon among the red rocks.

It is easy to forget that Colorado forests like forests all around the world actually depend on occasional fires to clear the way for new growth. It has been that way for millions of years. At least, that’s what scientists tell us.

With Colorado’s well-known conservative political and religious bent there are probably plenty of people living there who don’t believe that Colorado and its ecosystem are millions of years old. They probably don’t accept that the mountains were pushed up by movement of whole continents across the face of the earth.

The conservative worldview based on a literal interpretation of the Bible demands that people deny these facts. And that is truth for approximately 50% of the population in America, who deny basic geological facts and contend that the accompanying theory of evolution that converge with earth’s geophysical history are just fairy tales. People who deny evolution in favor of the creationist worldview believe that nature is the direct work of God’s hand, and God’s hand only. Those mountains? Created by God in an instant 10,000 years ago. Those forests…while changing and dying and growing anew over the last 10 millennia are still no sign that forests in general are part of a greater cycle of evolutionary development. Forests are forests. The words are clear, just as human beings were thrown together from dust at the dawn of time.

So the prayers being thrown to Colorado do meet the conservative worldview of creationism, where praying to God might somehow earn the mercy and favor of the Almighty and stop the fires. But tell that to the people whose homes have already been consumed. And tell that to those whose homes and all their belongings might still be burnt to a crisp. Is this punishment for some sort of spiritual crime on the part of Coloradans?

Some earthcentric “pagans” might leap to that argument on grounds that human abuses to the land have brought down the wrath of Mother Earth. That’s the other extreme of the deist-driven universe. But be cautious; begging mercy and exacting vengeance for one cause or another are not so very far apart.

That leads us to the natural explanation for the Colorado wildfires, for fires will always burn away forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California and yes, even New York state and southern Florida. On a vacation trip to Glacier National Park I witnessed hundreds of acres of forests burning away along a ridge east of the park. Firefighters dumped water and flame retardants on the runaway fire every day. But it burned out when it was damned good and ready, not when humans put it out. On the other side of the park and entire mountainside bore stubble across its face from a grand fire 30 years before. These things happen. Smokey the Bear once tried to prevent people from starting forest fires, but he doesn’t control the lightning that starts the bulk of natural conflagrations.

Fire has been part of the earth since its inception. Hot lava forms the very guts of our planet, erupting at times in fury that once was credited to the power of the Gods. When are we going to get that through our heads, that both the heaven of creation and its accompanying hell are right here on earth? The symbol of yin and yang seems to get that idea more clearly than the Christian notion of good and evil. Some forces don’t like the names we give them. But they still exist.

And until we grasp that our prayers for or against the fires that form our planet are likely fruitless, we are not likely to grasp the real meaning of prayer, or its consequences and potential benefits. These are the real miracles. For the Bible itself tells us that the kingdom of God is alive in the things that we do. That when natural disasters strike it is the welcome hand of those who care that brings the favor of God alive in our world. So it is fine to pray for Colorado, but it is also important to pray that we can find ways to help those affected by the natural disaster, that our government officials will not turn a hardened heart toward those in need simply because they are tight with a dime, or stingy, or worse; possessed of a political worldview that somehow disparages those less fortunate, holds prejudice against the misfortunate, need or poor.

We’ve seen the consequences of forced negligence in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, where delayed response and disorganized and (even) dismissive attitudes toward those affected can result in human and natural tragedy. We also know that it has been human activity that put cities like New Orleans at risk, where human activity has reduced coastline wetlands and put that city at even greater peril when hurricanes hit. Perhaps we even need to stop being stupid in certain circumstances, like building major structures on barrier islands, or on the face of flood plains, or throwing up junk houses in earthquake zones. Or, we simply accept that that’s just people being people.

Because it is often our selfish or sentimental interests that override the facts and blind us to the reality that it is human greed and stubborn belief that makes us think nature is supposed to be benign to our consumptive habits and acquisitive natures.

But let us be clear: These are the end games of the creationist worldview, which insists that human beings literally have dominion over the earth. If we buy that approach, then it makes no sense to engage in prayer during natural disasters. We’ve clearly either brought them upon ourselves or else God is a vengeful being who does not care about us. Better to take the liberal example of Jesus Christ, whose natural parables explain that we are engaged with creation as a living thing, that we owe it respect and appreciate its force as an expression of God’s almighty power. That just might include the ability to set things in motion through the results of geology and evolution that express the random nature of the universe, which also parallels free will. See, the natural world and our spiritual choices align much more closely than you might think. It really is a yin and yang thing.

So it is ours to make sense of the world, not for the world to make sense of us. The idea that prayer can somehow stave off the fires, blot out a hurricane, seal up the earth to prevent a quake, or prevent flooding, hail, drought, tornados, erosion and powerful storms at sea is overreaching.

Indeed the Bible speaks of Christ committing miracles that silenced the wind and settled the sea, but we must understand that those metaphysical parables are designed to help us comprehend that the peace that passes all understanding is ours to engage before the tragedy happens, not during or after. That’s real faith, for it calls us to accept that tragedies will strike, and that we must be prepared to extend love or even beg help from our fellow human beings in a world that is imperfect, random and sometimes cruel. God wants us to help each other.

For we are bound to a cycle of life and death that unfortunately does not guarantee that any one of us gets out alive, or spares our houses, keeps green our grass or even saves the family dog from a passing car. Life is painful, real and fiery at times. Our prayers need to be focused on how we can help each other get through, because God did not design the world to operate in a way that bends to our prayers. We must bend and aim our prayers to the eternal conscience of human need and conscious grace. We must ourselves be the grace appreciated that God extends to us in giving us life. This is the favor we must return to God, through prayer and other means, if we hope at all to be a reflection of God’s image. It is a wonderful, perilous creation we live in whether you believe the earth is a mere 10,000 years old, or 10,000 x 10,000 years old. None of us is old enough to know, nor will we ever be. So let’s pray for each other, that somehow we really can make our world a better place.

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.

The roots of faith in farming and politics

Seeing a high school friend after 30+ years apart can be awkward sometimes. But usually the years melt away and you find common ground somehow through talk about family and friends.

Such was the case in joining up with a friend whose profile cropped up on LinkedIn. It was a little odd in his mind that he was on the business social network at all. He’s been a successful hog and crop farmer all his life, working land that his family purchased in the 1850s and still works today. But a politically minded mutual friend of ours decided one evening over drinks to create a LinkedIn profile for my farmer friend, and that’s how we connected.

We shared lunch at a restaurant near his place that happened to be on the south side of a small Illinois town to which our family moved from Pennsylvania in 1970. I was headed into 8th grade, knew very little about the world and was simply happy to find friends through sports at the middle school we attended in the middle of windswept cornfields.

In recent years I’d taken up cycling and often pedaled past my friend’s farm 15 miles west of the Chicago suburbs. Once in a while I’d thought about stopping in to say hello.

So it was gratifying in some way to close that loop, share a meal and catch up on his life and mine.

Rumor has it there is now a lot of money in their family, having sold off some of their prime property in a real estate boom a few years ago. But my friend showed no pretentiousness and in fact apologized for smelling like hogs when we sat down for lunch.

I come from farming stock myself with a mother and father who both lived and worked on dairy and crop farms in upstate New York. Our family visited both those farms frequently and as a kid I loved shoveling cow manure into troughs so it could be whisked away by the conveyor belt that took it to the fertilzer spreader.

Later when our family moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania there were Amish kids who showed up for class smelling like manure and walking around in bare feet. So farming was no particular mystery to us.

But my uncle who took over my mother’s family farm sold it in the 1960s and took a position as a land assessor. His advice to me at one point was, “Go to work for the government. You make good money and the benefits last you for life.” That uncle was a fabulously fun-loving man, known for driving his cars too fast and carrying on with ribald humor. He often showed off his tanned, muscular body while working around the farm, treating a ride on the tractor as if it were a surfing expedition as we flew down the two-track toward the Susquehanna River.

Trouble was, my uncle rather disliked farm animals. He named his cows after old girls friends so he could smack their asses when sending them into the stalls. Eventually he also developed a pretty bad back from the rigors of farm labor, and not because he was out of shape. In his early years he’d been a good runner and set a course record at his community college cross country course that lasted 25 years. His distance running skills were honed trotting after dairy cattle up the side of the Catskill mountain that formed the dairy pasture.

Nichols Family Farm circa 1958

My grandfather who worked the farm before him was a reportedly liberal thinker who sent most of his children off to college. My mother studied music and became a teacher. Several of the other children also went into scholarly professions. Farming was valued in the family, but not as the sole occupation of the generations.

And so it was that my uncle alsogot out of the farm business. Perhaps a spirit that can grow to love the liberal enterprise of a non-productive activity like distance running cannot adapt to the soul-wrenching difficulty of farming.  At any rate, he left that world and moved to Florida after years of employment as a land assessor and finally died in a car crash at the age of 94. Rumor has it he was driving a little too fast for conditions. In other words, he remained true to his nature, loving speed and excitement over the mundane. The land where our family once farmed is now overgrown. Only memories remain.

My father’s farm also was sold off when no one in the family wanted to continue paying taxes on it in the 1970s. Several families lived on the farm until it was sold to the power company that had always wanted the property. The family barn and house were finally leveled. All that’s left of that legacy is a pile of stone rubble.

With these farm roots nestled firmly in my past, I have always remained curious how “real” farmers think and live. And that was part of my curiosity about my friend.

It turns out that farming is just like any other occupation. There are wins and losses. Ups and downs. Family matters come and go. Some you resolve. Some you retain. Most of all you try to keep an even keel and maintain the family pride through thick and thin. Money doesn’t seem to change things all that much. People still have problems. People still find faith where they can, and when they need it most.

Our conversation turned to faith and my friend shared an interesting observation about his small little church. “We say this thing where we all confess our sins and say how bad we are as people. But I go to church to feel joy. I feel joy seeing people that have known me all my life. Sometimes I wish our church would find ways to do more of that. Find joy as well as speak of sin.”

As discussions of faith are often wont to do, our conversation soon turned to politics. My friend acknowledged that many of his fellow farmers were frustrated with President Barack Obama. “They don’t hate the man,” he shared. “They just hate his policies.”

Not wanting to turn the renewal of a friendship into a political battle, we both steered clear of digging too deeply into the issues of partisan politics. But it is a ready-known fact that many farmers declare themselves Republicans. Credit that to the Republican platform of economic self-reliance, firmly conventional social structures and a strong proclamation of faith-based values. Yet it seemed to disturb my friend that the people who were his friends had become so adamantly opposed to any sort of consideration toward the President. Something about that form of rigidity bothered him.

Perhaps there is no joy in service to such rigid doctrine, which has a confessional effect upon the masses. But there is little room for joy when criticism of the perceived enemy becomes the primary basis for your politics. Because what happens when (not if…) your own party fails you somehow? Then your confessional values, your whole world even, can get turned inside out.

It is not likely that farm politics will shift anytime soon from conservative to liberal. The perceived relationship that Republicans are the primary supporters for farm subsidies may be one facet of that loyalty. But the deeper claim to conservative values is another anchor to the farmer’s penchant to vote Republican.

These instincts can hardly be criticized without tugging at the fabric of American culture itself. Our original and continuing role as an agricultural nation is such a firmly established tradition that our national identity is at stake when one questions the role farmers play in our economy and culture. Even many of the Founding Fathers were farmers.

And so Republicans seem willing to prop up their image of support for farmers at almost any cost. A June, 2011 USA Today story carried this news item; “Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid. The GOP move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest. The maneuver, along with the Senate’s refusal to end a $5 Billion annual tax subsidy for ethanol-gasoline blends, illustrates just how difficult it will be for Congress to come up with even a fraction of the trillions in budget savings over the next decade the Republicans have promised. Meanwhile, the annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10% below this year’s budget.”

It is quite fascinating to realize that the supposed conservative, faith-based values that align farmer with support of Republican politics somehow prefers to subsidize some of the nation’s wealthiest farmers while denying food aid for low-income mothers and children. It absolutely begs the question as to what Jesus would do if he controlled the purse strings in America. Would he engage in the liberal enterprise that government proposes to care for the needy and poor? Or would he vote to continue subsidies to an agricultural economy that has become increasingly commodified, corporatized and wealth-concentrated. And how many of our nation’s farm policies actually do encourage family farmers to make a living? The organic farming industry, often driven by entrepreneurial farmers dedicated to serving smaller markets and local economies is growing in America. But ironically that is a liberal enterprise by definition and by nature. Do Republicans also by nature support organic farming or consider it a cross-market aberration driven by phony liberal instincts? Let’s ask Rush Limbaugh that question sometime soon. Or for that matter, Monsanto?

Perhaps these are questions about the morality of farmers that only God can answer. But let us at least confess that on the surface at least, that the traditional patterns of political support for the political right by the nation’s farmers seems to flow as much from love of mammon as from love of fellow man. In some cases our farming practices may indeed even run counter-productive to the welfare of our society and environment. Again, it is difficult to distinguish fact from dearly held fiction on so many issues. Like the construction of the Noble Savage assuaged guilt over America’s genocide of native peoples, the image of the Noble Farmer may be obscuring the ugly truth in some ways.

And yet my farmer friend seems both a compassionate and faithful man. We can be assured there are many like him among the ranks of American farmers. But if America is to succeed and the nation’s resources are to be sustained, it might be farmers who most need liberal instincts to survive and thrive. Whether conservative Republicans like to admit it or not, free will and the free market do go together, and the Christian notion of self-discipline must be balanced by the liberal notion of charitable acts and goodness. That is the yin and yang of the bible, and the economy.

Both free will and the free market do require some degree of self-discipline and self-governance to be sustainable. God knows America needs a liberal dose of both.

Is Newt Gingrich a latter-day King David in our midst? Maybe so. But not how you think.

Whether Christian believers like to admit it or not, the Judeo-Christian tradition is both a religious and political story. Jesus Christ was willing to challenge both the religious and political leaders of his day, calling them to guide their actions with truth, justice and morality. In the process he stood up to some politically powerful people, and we know the earthly results of those efforts. But if the moral of the story stopped there, Christianity would not be much of a religion. Instead the courage of Christ in standing up to the forces of earthly power and poor religious judgment is the ultimate model for Christians to hold leaders accountable for their words, deeds and actions.

Truly, as Christians we need to draw on the example of Jesus to guide us in not sacrificing the spiritual purpose of faith in pursuit of power. Jesus set a clear example for us all. It is not okay to rationalize our faith to try to win favor with the rich and powerful. We are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that.

But many Christians find that a tough example to follow.

You would expect that Christian leaders would demand basic patterns of moral behavior from political candidates who come to them for support. These include of course reasonable respect for marital fidelity, embracing financial ethics and legislating on behalf of the the poor and needy, whose welfare Jesus most consciously favored.

Yet a certain breed of politically motivated evangelical Christian leaders seems willing and even eager to ignore basic moral principles whenever political power comes within their reach. Thus we find evangelical Christian leaders dispensing forgiveness like Pez candy to front-running political candidates who have nasty personal and professional records.

We all know forgiveness is a powerful and wonderful thing. Some would argue it is the heart of faith itself. But let us be honest: it is not true forgiveness if our primary motive is power-brokering. That is nothing more than an ugly rationalization. Christian evangelicals who claim to have their finger on the pulse of faith yet lend their support through rubber-stamped forgiveness for corrupt leaders should be called to account for giving away the authority of faith for cheap political promises.

By example we have the 2012 election cycle, in which we find Christian evangelicals bending over backwards to support none other than Newt Gingrich, the serial wife-dumper and man of apparently confused moral character who recently blamed his propensity for dalliances and faithlessness on an overabiding love of country. Talk about a cynical argument for patriotism and a poor damn excuse for a husband! Why would any Christian evangelical support such a lout?

The answer is that Christian evangelicals are still achingly desperate for political power. Frankly it may be that because their attempts to convert society to a theocracy through religious means have failed, they hope to leverage political influence to impose a virtual theocracy that would fulfill the motives of an often warped, anachronistic interpretation of scripture. In fact the consistent policy failures of conservatives in general, all who seem set on turning back the clock through an agenda of regressive, repressive doctrines is driving the movement to new extremes. They really have nowhere else to go. So they push back even harder. And that is why social and religious conservatives are willing to dismiss all sorts of sins in political candidates. It is rather like the Old Testament stories where people in the desert beseeched God to deliver them from exile. But this time round they are not justified. Quite far from.

For example, many of today’s Republican evangelical leaders are attempting to forgive the politically front-running Newt Gingrich his many sins. Gingrich recently converted to Catholicism and that would seem to give evangelicals grounds to forgive. As if he were a changed man. Despite his very long track record of questionable ethics and a calculatingly harsh demeanor toward his enemies. In fact he does not even seem to have all that much patience or compassion for his supposed friends. Or anyone. Given his strange act of endorsing child labor to teach them the value of work, one wonders if Gingrich’s next act will be protecting child-abusing priests because it will teach children the merits of obedience.

Gingrich is a living, breathing hypocrite as well as misanthrope. We can all recall how Gingrich and the entire GOP castigated Bill Clinton for his extramarital affairs. Yet we now know that Gingrich was engaged in behavior as bad or worse than Clinton’s while the whole political takedown took place. That makes Gingrich a hypocrite and a liar.

Jesus really did not like hypocrites most of all, especially in political and religious quarters. He saved a particularly harsh brand of invective for anyone leveraging religious influence to gain power, calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for turning scripture into literal law. So why does anyone think Jesus would favor a hypocrite like Newt Gingrich for president? It’s frankly ludicrous. And yet so-called Christian evangelicals seem to be lining up to endorse him.

In a November 2011 Newsweek article, writer Michelle Goldberg documented just how far Christian evangelicals will go to partner up with politicians approaching the nation’s key seat of power. When asked why evangelicals were suddenly willing to embrace Gingrich as a candidate when his serial affairs indicate a man of poor moral character, prominent evangelical Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Center, brushed away concerns about Gingrich by saying, “Under normal circumstance, Gingrich would have some real problems with the social conservative community. But these aren’t normal circumstances.”

That is moral relativism, plain and simple.

Consider also the moral gyrations of influential conservative radio host Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host who outlined the evangelical moral quandary over Gingrich this way; “Maybe the guy in the race that would make the best president is on this third marriage. How do we reconcile that?”

Deace goes on to answer his own question by drawing on examples from the Bible: (Deace says) “I see a lot of parallels between King David and Newt Gingrich, two extraordinary men gifted by God, whose lives include very high highs and very low lows.”

But let’s follow that comparison of Newt Gingrich to King David to its true conclusion.

The supposed parallel is that both King David and Newt Gingrich lived less than exemplary lives. Both committed adultery, and in David’s case he conspired to have the husband of his desired mistress sent to a war front, so that he would essentially be killed so that David could then claim the man’s wife.

The Bible also tells us that David committed multiple counts of genocide, including crimes against his own people.  So bad was David’s behavior in life that when he asked God if he could be allowed to build a temple to his Name, God responded: “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.” You see, even God has his limits when it comes to accepting rationalizations of bad behavior.

The Christian evangelical community conveniently forgets to mention this sordid little episode toward the end of the life of King David. That is because it does not seem to fit the conservative narrative of the triumphant leader who wins the permanent favor of God, and who is rewarded for everything he has done.

Instead the honor of building a house for God must be passed to David’s son Solomon, who asked God not for wealth, nor riches or honor, nor the death of his enemies, not even for a long life. Solomon instead asked for wisdom and knowledge, a decidedly liberal engagement of the Almighty, you see. And God granted Solomon that request. And Solomon built a great temple to God.

Solomon went on to educate himself on matters of the natural world and became known for his great capacity for equity in judgment and justice for all. But even Solomon had his failures of character, proving that it’s altogether dangerous to use religion to justify placing our hopes on our political leaders, both flawed and virtuous, because they are virtually guaranteed to place their own priorities and motives over those of the people they are elected or appointed to serve.