Where Have All The Christians Gone?

Long time passing.

The demise of Christianity was declared in 2018, and the declaration was made by the current generation of Evangelical Christian leaders who assumed the mantle of leadership from their fathers. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, tweeted the following: “Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome – he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor. That’s our job.” This was in response to Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who stated in the mulligan interview, “Evangelical Christians were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

So the last bastion of Evangelical Christianity, having sold its soul literally to the devil in order to accomplish its legislative and judicial agendas, now has openly admitted its hypocrisy against following the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. You know, all of that squishy liberal stuff about turning the other cheek, and overturning the moneychanger’s tables in the temple, and dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. Well, at least on that last count, Donald Trump has shown that he is more than willing to share space with a prostitute, and even to provide recompense for silence. I guess he turned the other cheek in order to have it paddled with the copy of Forbes.

For those of us who have wandered in the wilderness of the mainline Protestant churches, we have long awaited an exposition like this from the holier than thou crowd. I would gloat at the naked display of hypocrisy, but that would seem too much like hubris, i.e. pride, and you know, that is one of the seven deadly sins. But for us, it has long been apparent that actual Christian culture left the building a long time ago. Ironically, our current President Donald Trump formed whatever religious beliefs he has under the tutelage of the originator of the prosperity gospel, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is the progenitor of the prosperity gospel movement, where worth is measured by the bank account rather than by beliefs in the gospel. This bastardization of the biblical message has grown by leaps and bounds over the subsequent decades, and now, wrapped in its mantle of praise bands and lyrics to hymns displayed on screens inside of modernistic sanctuaries, has completed a hostile takeover of the message of the gospel. Combine this with those who discern prophetic messages about the ascension of Donald Trump from Youtube videos, it completes the surrealistic transformation of the evangelical wing of the Christian church.

Back in the late 1970’s, there was serious discussion about whether Ronald Reagan would be accepted by Christians since he was “DIVORCED”. The answer was clear, divorce was no longer a barrier to electoral success. Still, the issue of marital fidelity consumed the Evangelical crowd, so much so that when President Clinton had his infamous encounter with the blue dress, the response from the Evangelical community was not whether Bill Clinton deserved impeachment, but whether he deserved to be drawn before being quartered. Now, two decades later, the Evangelical community has chosen to cling to the robes of a charlatan who pretends when it is advantageous, to pay lip service to the precepts of Christianity. Or at least the Christianity he heard in his younger days. Now he is happy to have his little cracker during those infrequent times when he attends a church service. He has abandoned all pretense at following marital vows of fidelity, but then again, he got a mulligan.

So the Faustian bargain has been struck, and the Evangelical Christians are reaping the benefits. They’ve gotten judicial nominations aplenty, and the vacancies within the court system that were prevented from being filled by the Republicans during Obama’s terms of office, are being stuffed with judicial candidates that are declared as unqualified. The liberal organization calling the candidates unqualified? None other than the American Bar Association, a hotbed of liberal activism.

What else have the Evangelical Christians received as their part of the bargain? Daily doses of the violation of the commandment against bearing false witness (lying) from their dear leader. The honor of being represented by a government that believes the worst of anyone who does not look like America in the 1950’s – white, male, and macho. They’ve received reinforcing messages that the rest of the world owes the US – owes us trading relationships that always favor the US (because we deserve it so!), owes us unilateral obedience when we complain about another country (but don’t say anything about abrogating multi-lateral relationships and treaties), owe us respect when we take action that is nearly universally decried in the United Nations. We’ve gone, in one single year, from a nation that was respected for our moral position and standing (whether we deserved it or not), to one that is now being actively and deservedly disrespected for our selfish and short-sighted policy pronouncements and our diplomacy via tweet.

But the vast majority of Trump’s Evangelical supporters won’t consider that their leader is the antithesis of a moral follower of Christ. No, instead he is the first adherent of the Church of Celebrity ever to hold high national political office inside of the US. And as such, he is remaking the moral code of the nation into one befitting this new religion. It is now, what’s in it for me, and how much can I take, and what can I get away with. Those are the precepts driving the actions of this administration.

Still, it does not seem to matter. What matters to many is that Trump speaks his unfiltered thoughts via twitter. He does not need any intermediary in order to shovel his best covfefe into the brains of his addled followers. They can judge the validity of his statements on their own. And why in the world would we ever need eloquence in the political sphere? Eloquence, like competence and expertise, is much overrated in this day and age. When anyone and everyone can state something as a fact, and dare the world to contradict it, why do we need universal standards of behavior? It only gets in the way of our agenda.

Normality and morality are being redefined before our eyes. I hope that the deviancy that Trump has brought to our national stage is transitory, and that we can regain our moral bearing and actually be a light unto the world again. You know, back when America was Great.

Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold

tectonic

“A House divided against itself cannot stand.” These words from Abraham Lincoln as he began his campaign for the Senate seat in Illinois, are just as true today as they were nearly 160 years ago. For the US in 2017 is divided against itself in ways that are difficult to comprehend. Fault lines exposed in our society in the 1960’s have widened, and the shifting of the electoral tectonic plates threaten our stability as a nation.

In the 1960’s, Richard Nixon evoked the image of the Silent Majority. That is, the good honest working men and families who shared true American values, who decried the changes in society playing out on TV and in the streets. Yet the 1960’s proved to be the time when the belief that American society was a monolithic culture, came apart. The beliefs in monogamy and consumerism were challenged by the hippies. The belief that the Federal government always had good motives and would never lie were chipped away as the truths came out regarding Vietnam, and past programs like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Then Watergate revealed that even our top leaders were capable of deception and crimes. A schism grew between those who considered themselves anti-establishment, and those who represented the silent majority.

Fast forward through the decades. Societal changes continued through the succeeding generations. Some changes were evolutionary, such as those wrought by the 1965 immigration bill that removed the preference for white, European immigrants in favor of other groups that were not as prevalent in the US population. The fallout of our war in Indochina led to a large increase in Asian immigrants. Small cities that had been homogenous, like Lincoln Nebraska, developed a growing ethnic nature through the settlement of refugees, and later, their families.

One of the largest fault lines in US culture was created in 1973, with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. Before that decision, abortion was legal only in a few states, and services to terminate pregnancies were spotty throughout the rest of the nation. Desperate women sought the services of unlicensed and often incompetent practitioners, resulting in many having to go to hospitals to repair the effects of a failed abortion. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions. This document from the Guttmacher organization from 2003 gives an excellent perspective on the nature of abortions prior to Roe v Wade.

https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue

Quite simply, throughout history women have faced the issue of unwanted pregnancy, and have sought extreme means to relieve themselves of pregnancy. Although the stigma of unwed motherhood has been reduced (are there any homes for unwed mothers still around?), abortion will continue to be sought by women. It is only in the past 44 years that it has been recognized in the US as a right for the would-be mother to choose to terminate a pregnancy within certain bounds.

Another of the tectonic plate slippages of the past few decades is the change in religious attitudes. We have seen the demise of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) leadership in society. The P’s have migrated over the years, over to E’s and C’s (Evangelicals and Catholics), or to Nones. Those who moved to denominations with more fervent beliefs have led the efforts to reverse Roe v Wade. Those who moved from P to None are often wondering why the religious right is looking to take away their freedom. Those of us who have remained behind in one of the standard P churches are wondering how to retain our relevance in a society that seems to actively align against our own choices. The chasm that exists between the Christian sects gets ratcheted up multiple notches when non-Christian religions are brought into the equation. Especially in the past few years, the hydra heads of anti-Semitism have remerged, and the internet overflows with references to the Protocols of Zion, about Jewish domination of the US media empire, and with conspiracy theories of various false flag operations aimed at deceiving the US into fighting Israel’s wars by proxy.

Then there is the issue of Moslems. To many in this nation, Islam is viewed as an affront to all that is good and sacred. For those who are against Moslems, the words of the Quran are parsed and spat back out, showing those portions where the texts call for Jihad. Those quotes are taken as emblematic of the entire religion, relegating Islam to be a religion of hatred. Never mind that one can find similar quotes in the texts of the Jewish and Christian religion, and never mind that the history of civilization has often been punctuated by battles over religious supremacy. The despising of Moslems has motivated Donald Trump to try multiple ways to permanently ban one fifth of the earth’s population from having access to this country, all in the name of preventing domestic terrorism.

At least in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we still had the vestiges of a common enemy to unite our population. Communism was our existential threat during that time, and we built up our military-industrial complex to face its menace. Then, within the blink of an eye, the entire edifice of Communism collapsed, and suddenly the economies of nations long suppressed through isolation of socialistic regimes was unleashed. China became everyone’s favorite supply chain partner, and the US began hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, especially low value-added jobs, and jobs in energy intensive industries like steel. Those were often the jobs that held together smaller towns and cities in fly-over land within the US. The phrase Rust Belt was coined to represent the decline begun when old manufacturing sites were shuttered and left to the elements to oxidize, since they had no economic value anymore. Entire regions where a good and honest living could be made through factory work, now had few options for advancement. Emotions began to boil as resentment built at the unfairness of life when those on the coasts were living the high life, while those in the heartland subsisted on fast-food jobs and big-box retail clerk jobs.

With the advent of the internet and the shattering of the old system of 3 television networks showing only what they wanted you to see, came the next stage of this nation’s partition. The media fragmented into self-reinforcing segments, and for those who stay within their media world, it becomes impossible to understand those who listen and watch the other side’s media. Fox News and Breitbart fans do not believe that old-time media outlets can report the truth. Thus the allegations against Roy Moore are viewed as part of the plot of the deep state to take down the leadership of Donald Trump. Similarly, those who follow the elite media and liberal television networks cannot comprehend why those who support Roy Moore are ignoring the facts. We are now in an age where facts are irrelevant if they don’t agree with your preconceived notion of the truth.

In 2017, the fault lines of this nation have split off both sides of the spectrum. On the left you have the remnants of the counter-culture of the 1960’s, with calls for radical redistribution of wealth across society. The right itself has fragmented, and what has emerged is the Donald Trump manifestation of nationalism and ethnocentrism taking over the Republican party in a hostile takeover. This segment of the population has assumed the anti-establishment role that hippies played in the 1960’s. They have a deep distrust of all things related to social elites. Even though they have seized the reins of power, they have not yet been successful in exerting their will to move the ship of state to their liking. The events of the next year will likely determine the eventual fate of this movement. Will they be reaffirmed by continued electoral success, or will the segment of the population still residing in the center of the political spectrum end this attempt to hijack the American experiment?

 

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy!

The story in the paper finally explained to me why I feel like an alien in the land of my birth and an alien in my chosen religion. Dr. Robert Jeffress, who had previously escaped my notice as a pastor of a megachurch in Dallas, explained to me how it is that Donald Trump is God’s weapon of choice to take out the evil exemplified in the North Korean government. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

That statement and the belief system underlying that statement are so alien to me that I am seeking vainly to forge any type of reality-based connection to someone who would make such a horrendous statement and issue it as speaking with the authority of God. How to begin? Well, first I would say that anyone who would defend the taking of military action resulting in the deaths of millions of humans is not speaking with the authority of God. Those who take the name of nuclear holocaust in vain share the unimaginable consequence of being responsible for the immense loss of life and the innumerable lives that will be changed due to the detonation of nuclear weapons. To think that such a consequence would be due to someone just demonstrating to Vladimir Putin that he has cojones makes the potential devastation just that much more sickening.

I have wondered how the group of folks associated loosely as evangelical Christians could ever have supported such an overt sinner as Donald Trump. Yes, I use the biblical term sinner to define his existence prior to seeking the Presidency. Donald Trump revealed himself to be a sinner as he failed to pay multitudes of small contractors what they were owed for services to his multiple properties. Why? Mainly because he could and it would be too expensive for a small contractor to demonstrate harm from the behemoth that was the Trump empire.

Donald Trump revealed himself to be a serial adulterer and as someone who used his position of power to extract sexual benefits during his association with the Miss Universe beauty pageants when he ran that obsolete version of an event aimed at objectifying women. For evangelistic Christians to overlook the multiple adulteries of Donald Trump while they crucify his predecessor for imagined sins of, well, I’m not sure what sins Barack Obama was actually accused of. I never heard an accusation of womanizing as he has been faithful to his only wife throughout his marriage. I never heard of an accusation where Barack Obama admitted to taking liberties with women because it was overlooked for those individuals who were blessed with power and status. Even taken from the biblical perspective of “he who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone” does not seem to apply to Donald Trump’s predecessor. Although Donald Trump certainly lobbed many paving stones at Barack Obama accusing him of being a less than 100% American born citizen.

Donald Trump demonstrated his ability to steal from his lessers when he established his ersatz Trump University. Can you imagine someone audacious enough to attempt to cash in on his bogus reputation as a master real estate developer by offering a cascading offering of real estate courses, each level purporting to reveal more and more secrets from the man himself (of course for a much higher price), only to reveal itself as a fraudulent enterprise aimed at preying on the dreams and aspirations of those who had been damaged beyond redemption by the financial crisis and the subsequent financial collapse. That Donald Trump was ever required to provide financial reparations for his rapacious greed is a miracle of contemporary jurisprudence.

Donald Trump demonstrated that he has no concept of the term of bearing false witness. Through innumerable statements he has made, he continues to bear false witness even against himself, due to the volume of falsehoods

he has made that he subsequently contradicts in a later statement. Or tweet. We haven’t even gotten into the issue of him using a new media offering as his unfiltered access to his base. Well, if he has a base, it is pure sodium hydroxide solution, and his credibility is softening into mush as it soaks in this solution.

No, what I realized when I saw the comments from Dr. Jeffress, is that Donald Trump is a manifestation of a phenomena that first revealed itself when I was a teenager. At that time, a Presidential candidate by the name of Richard Nixon invoked the Silent Majority as critical supporters of his bid for office. He was able to convince enough voters that his view of America as being intolerant of dissent, insufficiently strong to withstand opposing viewpoints, and convinced voters that he alone held the secret answers to solve the external problems that plagued America in the era of Vietnam and hippies.

The same divide that was enunciated in our culture in the 1970’s TV show All In The Family still shows up as fault lines in our current society. We are still divided into the hard hats and the hippies of those days. You either support Archie Bunker, or you support Meathead. The difference is that now both sides of the cultural divide have our own media environments to reinforce our biases with the 24/7 proclamations of our chosen media service. Since we can inoculate ourselves against exposure to opposing viewpoints, let’s do so now and therefore prevent us from ever considering that we may be wrong in our beliefs.

As I reflect upon the comment from Dr. Jeffress, I realize that indeed, the perspective he espouses could be found in the Bible – deep in the bowels of the Old Testament, where the sexploits of the leaders of the Israelites are documented. Where the cruelties inflicted upon the enemies of Israel are celebrated throughout the books of Judges and Kings, where the will of the Lord is reflected in an angel slaying one hundred and eighty-five thousand Syrians, leading the sons of the King of Syria to slay their own father. This is the mentality that is reflected in someone saying that it is the will of God to bring untold misery into the world by unsheathing the nuclear sword once more upon the world.

Much ink has spilled over the differences between conservatives and liberals. It seems to this follower of Jesus that the conservative position is for those who long for the Old Testament vengeful God, those who believe that strength defines right, those who believe in subjugation of the individual to the majesty of the government. The liberals favor the wisdoms revealed in the words of the Gospels, where the government is addressed as having authority (render unto Caesar), but the kingdom defined is not mainly of the government. Instead, the entreaty is to treat the stranger as a friend, to share with those who have the least, and to express righteous indignation at evil being done even in the house of worship. Of all of Jesus’s faults in the eyes of the Pharisees, the one that was unforgiveable was interfering with commerce in upsetting the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.

Maybe just gaining this perspective for myself can help me to deal with having to coexist with a segment of the population who share few of my values. At least I can understand their frame of reference, and maybe that is a start in trying to bridge the gap between two diametrically opposed perspectives. That it took referring to texts from thousands of years ago to gain this perspective, is indicative that the differences in perspectives has always existed, and we as a species are no closer to closing the gap between us. Only now, the stakes are higher since our tools of destruction have grown immeasurably more deadly.