Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Dilemma of Christianity in America, continued.

The last time I blogged I mentioned that a significant portion of the crisis we have in American Christianity is how we approach the Bible. There is a lot more to this subject.

Much is made about being Biblical. Being Biblical is a phase in need of a definition.

Being Biblical is most often defined by something, frankly, it is not.

It has become fashionable to carve out positions on politics, ethics, different aspects of faith, and find Scripture texts to back up one’s opinions.

Do you remember the uproar over the Harry Potter books and movies? Much of that uproar came from people who chose to cite Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19 contains a listing of ‘do nots’ for people. Many of them are in regards to the 10 Commandments and have little controversy behind them. But it also states this in verse 31:

Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.

In the second half of verse 26 it states:

You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.

Pretty clear and this teaching is imposed by some on many. Now, there is much wonderful in Leviticus 19 that makes a great deal of sense. However, here is my question. Are the people who are yelping loudly about Harry Potter keeping all the commands of Leviticus? I wonder.

Back to verse 26. The first half of the verse states:

You shall not eat anything with its blood.

It strikes me that if you are taking the whole passage into account one ought to eat all of one’s beef cooked to be well done. Rare, medium rare, medium, and medium well all have a chance of some blood. In some of the finer steak restaurants they often make the claim that they will not guarantee the quality of well done beef. Ironically, these ‘sinners’ who are encouraging people to break the law of the first half of verse 26 are never targeted for pickets and never have editorials against them proclaiming them to be godless heathens.

Verse 19 contains :

you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed;

The agricultural community has been cross breeding all kind of fruits and vegetables for years and have had great success. We buy many of these products in the grocery stores and I have yet to see a protester decreeing the grocery chains and the farmers to be godless heathens.

And then, of course, a continuation of verse 19 reads:

nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.

Yep. If you’re sitting here in clothing made from a cotton polyester blend, you are hereby decreed to be a heathen.

As a person who generally orders beef rare or medium rare, as a person who has enjoyed crossbred produce, and as a person sitting in a chair typing this while wearing clothing that are made from blending polyester and cotton, I am here as a heathen.

Or maybe not. Being Biblical has to be more than finding Biblical quotes to validate positions. Somehow I suspect that if Jesus walked into a room and found people preaching about Harry Potter and how terrible those books and movies were, he’d walk back out wondering why the preacher was wasting his/her time on such nonsense.

I’m realizing that there is much to say on this topic about the crisis of Christianity in America. Bear with me as I try to explore this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dilemma of Christianity in America

I think that there is a major dilemma in Christianity in America right now. It has actually been brewing for quite a long time. Many of the people in the baby boomer generation have either dropped out of church, and as a result, the following generation has never been part of church tradition. Additionally, many of the people who are finding themselves in churches are in churches that have Worship that bears little resemblance to historic Christian Worship and often have a theological vantage point that is actually rather new in a 2000 year old institution.

Part of the problem has been the Christian Church itself. Christianity seems hell-bent on fighting within itself with massive theological and ideological debates that generally succeed in tearing apart the fabric of the movement. Most of the debate is often projected as a liberal/conservative debate. Some interesting points about that.

If you read the Bible, the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' are nowhere to be found. Presuming that there is divine intervention in the Bible, and presuming that God uses the Bible to share what God sees as important, the idea of being 'liberal' or 'conservative' don't rank high on God's hit parade.

Second point in this. If you read church history and theology and go back a bit (recognizing that people of different eras had some profound insights), you'll note that the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' are not part of theological works until the latter part of the 19th century, beginning part of the 20th century. The words are political words, not theological words, and Christianity, it seems, swallowed these words whole.

There are some root issues.

The first root issue is how we approach the Bible. A classic perspective on the Bible that came to root mostly in the Middle Ages and has been a part of the theological scene is this. The Bible is inspired by God and totally correct on all matters of salvation history. Salvation history is simply stating that the Bible is totally accurate in teaching us the nature of God, the nature of human beings, the nature of the relationship of people with God, and on the subject of salvation.

This generally views the Bible in sweeping terms. The Book of Genesis'
creation story is not viewed as a literal, scientific perspective on how God created the universe in 7 days. This narrative would make the earth and universe 6000 years old and have dinosaurs and people living together. It's something of the Flintstone model.

Science, obviously, has taught us that the earth and universe are far older than this and that people and dinosaurs lived at nowhere near the same time.

Classic theology has no major issue with evolution. There's a theological viewpoint of God as a creator, and as a creator God created a universe in motion, in process, and in evolutionary terms. The French Philosopher/Theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that to think of God other than a Creator who created an evolving creation to to diminish the Creator into little more than a cartoon character.

The problem right now is this. People are teaching that Genesis is a scientific fact. Other people are teaching that Genesis is a fairy tale with no meaning.

Sadly, right now, the major push is that the only way to approach Genesis is from either polemic, with no attempt to begin at the middle. There in lies the genesis of the dilemma of Christianity in America.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Clueless Wingnut

Years ago when I was teaching High School in New Jersey I had the kids do oral reports in a theology class. I was teaching in a Roman Catholic High School. One of the kids gave his report on Allah and he said, at one point, "Allah is inscrutable." I asked the young man what the word inscrutable meant as he was using the word in his report. I was met with a blank stare. I had the young man sit down and told me that he could do his presentation tomorrow when he knew the definition of inscrutable.

The next day he did his talk. He came upon the phrase, "Allah is inscrutable," I asked and he answered. He came upon another word in the report and I asked him what that word meant. He smiled and gave me a perfect definition with a, "I knew you were going to ask me that!"

I felt good that day. Some education actually did happen. I hope that this person, who would now be in his 40's, never uses words that he doesn't know.

And then there is Kevin James. Kevin James does a radio talk show on KRLA in Los Angeles. His background is as a prosecutor and and entertainment attorney. From what I gather, he does a conservative talk show and usually refers to legal issues.

But Kevin James appeared on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. Chris Matthews is a person some people really like and some people really don't. There are two things about Chris Matthews that are pretty obvious. First, he's a smart guy. He knows what's going on and who is doing it. Secondly, Matthews does not suffer fools gladly. A clueless wingnut on his show is going to be called out.

Kevin James demonstrated, on national television, that he is a clueless wingnut. He decided to defend President Bush's inane use of the word "appeaser' and James really wanted it applied to Obama. Fair enough. He then likened Obama to Neville Chamberlain. At this juncture, Matthews, who had a hunch that he was dealing with a loud blow hard in an empty suit asked Kevin James a very simple history question. What was it that Neville Chamberlain did that was wrong.

Matthews repeated the question between 24-28 times to James who blustered away and finally answered:

The things that Neville Chamberlain supported energized, legitimized, and made it easier for Hitler to advance in the ways that he advanced."

It was, obviously, the wrong answer. Matthews was looking to see if James knew the difference between negotiating, (talking) and appeasement, (giving something away) like Chamberlain had given away a chunk of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. James did not. He was using a word that he did not know the definition of. I suspect that his high school teachers, his college and law school professors looked on in horror to realize that a student who they had taught was little more than an ignorant blow hard on national television.

Something one learns in preaching class is that you do not use examples or stories about things you don't know about. The thing is, at some point, a person might actually ask you a question about something that you spoke about and if you don't know the answer you will be seen, properly, as a moron.

I respect that people have different opinions. I have little regard for clueless wingnuts who loves to speak and know little about that which they speak. I do have a character flaw. Like Chris Matthews I do not suffer fools gladly.

It would be nice if Kevin James' radio show vanishes because people realize that he has nothing to offer them. Sadly, I suspect, he'll be a national star, seen as a victim to 'liberalism' and filling the airways with nonsense.

If ignorance truly is bliss, I am always amazed how many happy people there are.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Am Angry.

I am angry.

First off, for an American President to stand before a foreign governing body in a foreign land, as President Bush did with the Israeli Knesset, and bash any American political opponent is beyond belief. That, in and of itself was disgraceful and he owes the American people an apology for doing such a thing. Our political debates are here, not in other lands. It was putrid behavior on his part. Putrid. I use the word very deliberately.

This is not to mention how inane his remarks were:

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,"

"We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

The speech does explain a great deal about the situation we are currently in. President Bush does not seem to know, or grasp the difference between negotiation and appeasement. He further cites an isolationist Republican Senator from Idaho, William Borah who lamented in a rather bizarre fashion that he had wished he could have spoken to Hitler before the Nazis invaded Poland. The ultimate act of appeasement before World War II was by Neville Chamberlain of England who appeased Hitler and the Nazis in a fruitless effort to win ‘peace in our time.’ The appeasement came when Chamberlain negotiated away the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, forcing the Czechs into giving away part of their country to Nazi Germany.

American Presidents, before President Bush, have all negotiated with other countries with varying degrees of success. We maintained diplomatic relations with Japan right up to December 7, 1941. No one called those relations with Japan appeasement and upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, we went to war.

It had become obvious that there was a threat with the Soviet Union that loomed greatly at the end of World War II. American Presidents, one and all, Democrat and Republican maintained and kept diplomatic negotiations with the Soviets. No one called it appeasement. In fact, many fans of Ronald Reagan credit Reagan for his willingness to go one on one with the Soviets. To his credit, his willingness to remain at the table, and even be tough at the table, proved to be beneficial. No one called this appeasement. No one ever called Richard Nixon an appeaser after he opened diplomatic relations with China.

President George H. W. Bush was often referred to as a ‘wimp’ from people in his own party for his deft ability to interact effectively with world leaders of every ilk. (It is interesting that the very people who inferred that George H. W. Bush was wimpy never served in the military and were very much chicken-hawks, whereas Bush was a decorated war hero.)

George W. Bush, not to be confused with his father, was inferring, quite obviously, that electing Barack Obama would be to elect an appeaser because Obama wants to open or maintain diplomatic relations with even our enemies. Again, the President, does not have a clue that there is a difference between negotiation and appeasement. Obama wants to ‘talk’ and he has given no indication that he has any desire to appease. He is actually simply looking to do what many of his predecessors have done.

Some might criticize him that he’s willing to talk without pre-conditions. Maybe he shouldn’t----or maybe he should.

The philosopher Dallas Willard has a great line. “The system we have now is perfectly designed to produce the results we are now getting.”

Our current method of foreign policy has gotten us where?

Our military is still fighting in Afghanistan. The soldiers in Afghanistan are too few in number and are under-equipped to be able to do their job properly because of the war in Iraq. We invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass-destruction that United Nations inspectors said did not exist (and who were eviscerated by the Bush administration) and we found that the United Nations inspectors were, in fact, correct.

We invaded Iraq to ‘fight the war on terror.’ Of course, the nations that were harboring terrorists at that time were Iran and Syria. So, we invaded Iraq. This kind of logic makes me think that if George W. Bush had been the Prime Minister in England in 1939, observing Germany and Italy, he’d have invaded Italy and proclaimed that getting ‘Mussolini’ was going to solve the world’s problems. Meanwhile, the real threat would have remained.

As a result, our military has been placed in the precarious position of fighting two insurgent wars at the same time. Historical precedence for fighting insurgencies with great success is rather limited, I’m afraid.

Meanwhile our relationships with other countries goes like this.

Most of Europe holds us in contempt. Tony Blair’s career was destroyed by siding with the United States. France and Germany, in hindsight, look brilliant.

Saudi Arabia, George W. Bush’s one true friend, laughed in his face when he asked them to please increase oil production. This is his second visit this year asking his friends to please help.

Under George W. Bush, our current foreign policy reminds me of a game we boys used to play in the 6th grade. We’d line up in the boys’ room and see who could urinate the furthest. We all learned that one kid was the champion so the game soon ended. We also got a bit more mature and realized the stupidity of this game. But this, now, is how the Bush administration conducts its foreign policy.

The system we have now is perfectly designed to produce the results we are now getting.

Barack Obama was simply stating that what we are doing now is not working so perhaps a change of tactics might be in order.

George W. Bush, who doesn’t know the difference between appeasement and negotiation decides to protest this to leaders of another country.

His speech was mindless, historically inaccurate, and putrid.

And I’m still angry.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Recognizing what is really important...

Sometimes recognizing what is really important is difficult. In the midst of a debate on the gas tax, on Barack and Hillary, the John McCain story, a cyclone hit Myanmar. The estimates are that over 100,000 people have been killed and that over 1,000,000 people have been left homeless. The United States, the United Nations, and much of the world has responded with great generosity and compassion and a large amount of aid has been directed towards Myanmar.

The aid is being blocked and what precious little has gotten into the country has been seized by the government of Myanmar.

Things, of course, are going to get worse. Hunger and disease are on the horizon and aid is being blocked.

Deliver us from evil....

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Some Almost Post Primary Observations

I write this as someone who really admires Hillary Clinton and believes that she would have made a very fine President. It is looking like she is not going to be the nominee for the Democrats----but one never knows what will happen between now and November. As a result, I'm writing this from the perspective that it's hitting the two minute warning, she does not have the ball, does not have any time outs, and is behind by two scores. Lest someone say I'm premature, that's my starting point.

I think that she ran into some things that she might have not been expecting.

First, in an ironic twist of fate, George W. Bush helped pull her down. Bush has an incredibly low approval rating and the nation's perspective is that we are heading in the wrong direction----rapidly. It is always impossible to say at the time, but I deeply suspect that this administration will rank very low on effective Presidencies.

What happened to her was that there is a strong sense of anti-incumbency and anti-Bush. She might not be the incumbent President, but she was, as First Lady, there before, and people just want to clean the house out, lock, stock, and barrel. Oddly enough, the dislike of the current President has worn off on her.

Secondly there is the war. Tapes of speeches that Hillary Clinton made previous to the invasion of Iraq demonstrated that she had plenty to drink at the Bush Kool-Aid stand. Many of the words she used were his exact words. The fact that she pronounced them correctly and used them in proper grammatical order made her a bit different from Bush, but not much. He long, convoluted explanations on this did not help her. A simply "I believed him, I voted for the war, and I believed his lies," would have been enough. They weren't.

Thirdly, the gas tax proposal at the last minute looked like a cheap political stunt and it looked so cheaply political that people didn't seem to buy into it very much.

Fourthly, Hillary gets 'cute' with her answers some times. When asked, some time back, if Obama was Muslim, her answer was, "From what I have heard, I don't believe that he might be." It was something along that line when 'no' would have been a more direct answer. You can't milk political advantage out of EVERY question.

Lastly, Obama ran a better campaign. She did not foresee the importance of the caucuses, she did not have an effective fund-raising mechanism, she ignored smaller states, and she had no Post-Super-Tuesday strategy. Hillary's negativity tended towards personal, and Obama's negativity tended towards policy. John Yarmuth beat Ann Northup the same way.

This was an amazing and historic primary process. We'll see how that translates in November.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hillary Clinton in New Albany

I have not seen anything posted by anyone, but Senator Hillary Clinton is speaking in New Albany tonight at the firehouse on E. Spring Street, right next to the St. Marks parking lot on 3rd Street. There doesn't seem to be much publicity, but I thought I'd share this for anyone interested.

Join Hillary Clinton for a “Standing Up For Jobs” Rally in New Albany


Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM


New Albany Fire Department
316 East Spring Street
New Albany, IN 47150
General Area:


Join Hillary as she shares with Hoosier voters her plans to jumpstart the economy, create new, high wage jobs and strengthen the middle class.


Indiana For Hillary

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cheap Gestures or Substance

I feel something like a grinch writing this and I certainly love receiving checks in the mail and paying lower prices, but I've been wondering.

We are soon going to be getting our checks from the government to help boost the economy. Two of the Presidential Candidates are proposing eliminating the federal sales tax off of gasoline for the summer to lower prices on gas for people to travel.

Again, it's not that I don't love getting money and paying lower prices, but I'm troubled that these just might be cheap gestures and have no real substance to them.

And why do people seem to delight in what I perceive to be cheap gestures?