Our faith is a living faith,
and life requires growth.
Our faith is a growing faith,
and growth requires spiritual exploration.
Our faith tells us that
God hears our every question.
God accepts our every doubt.
Our faith is a loving faith.
We accept the exploration of others.
Every question we hear is a chance to listen.
Every doubt we feel is a chance to learn
from the still, small voice of the Lord within us.
Questions and doubts are part of spiritual growth.
Our feet, and hands, and hearts are guided.
And we are not afraid.
Introduction for Worship Anthem,
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
The most powerful conflicts in life
are the storms that rage in the human soul.
The times of anger or temptation,
when we can forget the hard core value of others,
or even the value of ourselves,
the untouchable value of every child of God.
When I feel those conflicts inside,
when I feel lost in the struggle within my soul,
I know that Jesus still walks with me,
and the spirit still whispers to me,
and God has His hand on my shoulder.
I will fear no evil,
not even the evil I find in me.
Because I am loved,
Introduction for Special Music at Worship Service,
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
Every child of God has an inner value
that cannot be touched,
not even by the evil that we do.
When we listen, respectfully, quietly,
to the hopes, and dreams, and doubts
of someone on a quest of the spirit,
we sometimes join in a healing of the soul.
John Newton made his living hunting
and buying Africans for a life in slavery.
And yet he became a Christian abolitionist.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
His hymn came from humility that
God's grace could save a life from such evil.
He was a soul in torment, and someone listened.
Introduction written for Special Music at Worship Service,
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
"It sure looks like Islamic terrorism," John Bolton educated Fox News viewers. After all "there is a substantial immigrant population from the Middle East in particular in Norway."
"Muslim extremists," agreed Laura Ingraham later that day.
The quick verdict from the Weekly Standard: "part of the jihadist hydra."
Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal explained in detail the motivations for the Muslim attacks. Norway "will forever remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy and every other freedom that still defines the West." At last, we knew not only what religion was at the base of the attack, but what the terrorists were thinking.
Later, when it turned out the attacker was a self-described Christian acting on a Crusade against non-Christian immigrants, the explanations from some of the same sources was a sort of ratchet logic. Collective guilt is always at work, it seems, but it only goes one way.
The Wall Street Journal explained their preemptive accusations by saying they were only partly wrong. "Coordinated terrorist attacks are an Al-Qaeda signature. But copycats with different agendas are surely capable of duplicating its methods." It was a theme picked up by other sources.
Oh sure, the attacks were not actually Muslim or Islamic. But that was simply detail. As Stephen Colbert put it satirically, they were “Muslish” and “Islam-esque.”
One reporter decided to actually dig out one or two facts. He subjected pro-Christian writings by the killer to a close analysis. He concluded that, although the Norwegian killer was inspired by various anti-Muslim American activists, his writing seemed mostly to have mimicked the manifesto of the Unabomber.
As details filtered in, it seemed the killer had acted alone. He had detonated a bomb that killed a few and injured others, then traveled to a youth celebration sponsored by a pro-tolerance political party. He walked around the site, an isolated island, killing anyone he could find.
The outrage in the United States was palpable. As reports came in, a sizable number of folks were furious. At. The. News. Reports. Themselves. How dare the news media report that the lone terrorist was a Christian! As Ann Coulter sputtered, as nearly as one can sputter in print, Christians simply don't do these things. To the madman, Coulter explained, "Christian" simply meant non-Muslim.
She concluded with a little joke. It's too bad the killer "wasn't a Muslim extremist open about his Jihadist views, because I hear the Army is looking for a new psychiatrist down at Fort Hood." Get it? I don't either.
The anger about the fellow's religious identity may seem a little obscure, but we can speculate. It is probably not purely defensive. There is not a sizable segment of public sentiment bent on smearing all Christians as terrorists. However, the fact that occasional Christians kill large numbers of people does tend to disrupt the narrative of those who would smear all Muslims using the same logic.
I am sympathetic to the view that the man who walked casually through a campground filled with happy young people, taking aim and killing kids, could not have been a meaningful follower of the Prince of Peace. And yet I am amazed at those who cannot bring themselves to behave just as reasonably toward sincere followers of other faiths.
In point of fact, Norwegian bigot and murderer Anders Behring Breivik is, in a very important way, a co-religionist with Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, and Scott Roeder, the killer of Dr. George Tillman. They all were idealists in the sense that some ideal was more important to each than actual human life. Real people became mere collateral damage, the necessary price to achieving a higher goal. The ideal became more important than the lives of others.
They did not worship together to be sure, but they all followed the same basic dogma. With each killing, each step on the way, each step following, they all were members of the same deadly denomination, united by the same intoxicating communion of blood and flesh. And Oklahoma City, New York, Washington, Oslo, and one Doctor in Kansas City encountered that most perfectly dangerous of all the Lord's creatures.
The one who knows that God is on his side.
You remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town, and that the all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me."
The waters rose up. A guy in a rowboat came along and he shouted, "Hey, hey you, you in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety." But the man shouted back, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me."
A helicopter was hovering overhead and a guy with a megaphone shouted, "Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety." But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety.
Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter he demanded an audience with God. "Lord," he said, "I'm a religious man, I pray, I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?"
God said, "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"
Fictional Father Thomas Cavanaugh, The West Wing
In a recent article, a friend makes a familiar accusation. "I have met many a liberal," he writes, "who's god was the state." In rebuttal, I have pointed out that I have met a good many liberals myself. In fact, I see one most mornings as I shave. I have never encountered one, not one, who worshiped the state. I have never found one who glorified the state. I have never found one who did not regard government in general or politicians specifically with some skepticism.
I wrote a few years ago about a compelling philosopher, the late John Rawls. He suggested a thought experiment. Imagine that every social role is suddenly to be reassigned at random. Beginning this afternoon, you will be in a different place, with no memory of your current life. You do not know in advance what role you will be assigned or even where you will be.
- You may be gay or you may be straight.
- You may be a woman, you may be a man.
- You may be of any race or ethnicity.
- You may be raised in Islam, or in Christianity, or in Judaism, or Hinduism, or in no faith at all.
- You may be born into wealth or into poverty or somewhere in between.
- You may be graced with brilliant intelligence, or great strength, or musical skill, or some unimaginable talent.
- Or not.
- You may be disabled.
- Not to be too horrifying, you may even be a Republican.
Now design a tax and social policy, knowing that you, personally, will live with the consequences for the rest of your life, whatever randomly assigned form that life might be.
John F. Kennedy adopted a similar sounding reasoning when he talked of federal intervention in racial discrimination as a question of morality:
If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?
One difficulty with the Rawls experiment, of course, is in putting aside our immediate self-interest. Even more difficult is putting aside our own perspective, the way of looking at the universe as taught by a lifetime of relative privilege. A wealthy stock manipulator a few years ago pleaded that he was all too familiar with middle class financial anxiety because he and his wife had to cut back on restaurant visits to have his children attend exclusive private schools.
The insistence that rules, even divine rules, favor us in our current circumstances is a temptation. The harsh words of Jesus about those of wealth are usually ignored. The comfortable are further comforted. The afflicted are further afflicted.
My conservative friend felt compelled to modify definitions a bit to maintain his accusation against the "many a liberal" he had met. He didn't actually mean that liberals held worship services or actively worshiped government. He only made the accusation figuratively. He contrasted the attitudes.
In times of despair or trouble, I turn to my loved ones and the Lord for comfort. In times of despair or trouble for my friends, they ask what Lord Obama will do to help them. My God is Jesus Christ; some of my liberal friends’ god is indeed the state.
There is indeed a contrast. Liberals take to heart the common sense observation of President Kennedy that "here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." One noted liberal started one of the largest, most active, private groups ever, called the Clinton Foundation. We will, upon spotting the man on the roof, row our boats toward him. We will also demand government helicopters if needed.
In Father Cavanaugh's formulation, it is the drowning man who refuses help. In my friend's world, it is conservatives who insist that liberals who want to save Katrina victims stop bothering the government about helicopters, slow down their frantic efforts, and send a prayer instead. Bothering the wealthiest for taxes needed to fuel those helicopters would be worshiping government. Downright pagan, if you think about it.
My father always told me there is nothing on earth more arrogant than this:
A Christian holding four aces.
The preacher had traveled to this foreign land as a missionary, and he was facing a new kind of audience, with a new kind of skepticism. It was not a hostile group. In fact, novel arguments were welcomed. People came from all over town just to watch, listen to, and consider strange ideas. The stranger an idea the better. Most of all they came for entertainment. And, from their polytheistic perspective, Christian faith was as entertaining as anything.
No, this was not a hostile crowd. This was worse. They were skeptics at best. They did not come to disagree. They came to jeer.
He looked to the crowd as they settled in. When they had quieted, he began. He started with a compliment. He appreciated their devotion to their faith. He had never seen such a lavish devotion to so many temples. This was to be respected, and he let them know he respected them. One temple was even built to honor an unknown god, just in case they missed any.
He focused on that temple. Let me tell you a little about your unknown god, he said. And he began to talk about the God that Jesus had taught.
I thought about that preacher this week as I read a note from a respected writer. Would this correspondent disapprove of such respect toward other beliefs? He certainly responded with disapproval about a message I had sent to him last Saturday.
I had composed a short introduction for a solo to be sung at worship, and copied it to a few other writers. The pastor was to speak about the Christian attitude toward other faiths. A wonderful young woman sang a song about a song. The refrain was that we could all be part of the most important story ever told. When she spoke, she spoke the words I had written, but she made the introduction her own:
Every life, and every faith, can be a song from God.
We don’t judge the song,
we don’t judge the faith,
that God places into each human heart.
We listen and
sometimes we can even join in harmony,
because we appreciate the beauty
of every voice, and every life,
that is true to a song that comes from God.
I want to sing each note of MY song
the way I find it in my heart and soul.
I want to live my life
the way God has given it to me.
Ned Williams writes well, when he occasionally writes for Wisdom Is Vindicated. I use his name with his permission. He responds in vigorous disagreement, fearing that the words are "awfully close to relativism".
...I can’t see ANYwhere in Scripture where God was tolerant and non-judgmental, much less appreciative, about “faiths” in other gods. I certainly understand the desire by some to seek peace or unity with other persons at almost any cost, but other than it being a preference, do you see any basis for it in God’s character or His Scripture?
Our pastor's message last week was a contemplative analysis of different approaches Christians have taken through history toward other faiths. He relayed a story told by Reverend Rob Bell. Bell attended a Christian art show that included a piece quoting Mohandas Gandhi. Someone had attached a handwritten note: "Reality check. He's in Hell."
It occurs to me that a truly literalist reading of the book of John's Revelation might lead one to believe that the universal resurrection awaits a future moment in which God's people define themselves by answering his call.
There are other interpretations, to be sure. The long standing war of words between Jesus and the religious literalists of those days produced his answer to a questioner about the most important commandments. Literalists did not believe in such "relativism." There could be no priority. All commandments were of the highest importance. Jesus disagreed and pointed to two. Love God, he said, and love your neighbor.
The Apostle Paul was explicit. All spiritual law is fulfilled by love. Period.
Christians pretty much agree that all paths to God lead through Jesus. This is why many of us believe that all spiritual wisdom, however it reaches us, comes in one form or another from God. The Holy Spirit is a powerful force, reaching and sometimes speaking through even those who might regard it with skepticism. Jesus is manifest in many ways.
On Sunday, our pastor suggested that one approach we should all agree on was suggested by Peter in his first Letter: Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. I sometimes feel there is a spiritual unity among those who answer a call to the pulpit. I wonder if the respectful preacher, the missionary to a foreign land, was also thinking of Peter's advice as he spoke to that skeptical crowd.
One of our songs in contemporary worship is Mighty To Save. If my brother-in-Christ Ned is disturbed by the message I sent him. He might have an issue with another introduction.
God’s compassion is not limited by borders.
God’s mercy is not confined by dogma.
God’s grace is not defined by human imagination.
God’s love is more powerful than any human division.
No obstruction can stand against.
No separation can rise in opposition.
All hatreds and passions will be swept away
by the power and majesty of God’s love.
This is our witness. This is our faith.
Any who would like to know more about the preacher who faced a skeptical audience, and the respect he showed toward other faiths, can read about that early Christian, the Apostle Paul, in the book of Acts.
In response to Burr Deming's Apathy, Passion, and Opposition
It is possible that Mr. Paine has, against all mathematical odds, found himself amid a class of leftists that are, through some phenomenal cosmic lottery, entirely foreign to this liberal. Not likely, but not beyond the power of a very humorous God. It is also possible that, because of my own naive sense of trust combined with a lack of knowledge of some secret handshake, that I not only missed the Government worship services, but was entirely unaware of them. Sneaky bunch, this large group of Government worshiping liberals, many of which have been completely open with the talented Mr. Paine.
- - Burr Deming, July 14, 2011
Burr, I quite enjoyed this piece. I even found myself nodding in agreement on several points. On a few others, I did not. On the remaining points, I think some clarification is in order, my friend.
First, I am not one of those right-wing anarchists that would like to abolish all government, not that you implied this was so. Indeed government has some very vital functions that it must execute faithfully. My wish is simply that in regards to our federal government that it would govern from a frame-work of doing only what is specifically authorized in our inspired United States Constitution. All other powers should be retained by the states or the people. It seems that I have read that before somewhere. I seriously doubt that a majority of the 535 members of our legislative branch, let alone executive branch, have read that evidently.
What I find pernicious and egregious in the extreme is when members of both parties seek to govern beyond the scope granted them in our Constitution. Yes, I tend to see the greatest transgressions of this occurring from members on the left side of the political spectrum. When legislation is even contemplated, let alone signed into law, that restricts my liberties to be as foolish as I see fit in the ingestion of trans-fats and sodium, or how many gallons of water my toilet uses per flush, or whether I should have to buy health insurance, or whether I am allowed to exercise my second amendment constitutional right to carry a firearm, then that government has become too big and has violated the law of the land. Indeed as Thomas Jefferson warned us, “Most bad government has grown out of too much government”. Mr. Jefferson further warned us all of the consequences of wanting and building such a big government. “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”
Next, I must clarify that I have not ever encountered a liberal who specifically said to me, “ I worship the state as my God”. As you well know, my statement regarding that was more figurative than literal, although barely so in some cases. Indeed, what are meetings of the SEIU, the DNC, and nearly any Hollywood celebrity dinner party if not a congregation of those who look to the state as their Supreme Authority?
When deeply troubled on a matter, I will often turn to God in prayer. When I slow down and take count of all the blessings in my life, I turn to God in thanksgiving.
I have seen many a liberal and atheist friend or acquaintance that when greatly troubled on a matter wonders why their city council, or state senator, or U.S. congressman has not done something about the problem. Often I have observed some folks instead of relying upon themselves immediately turn and ask why “somebody” hasn’t addressed the problem. Almost invariably that somebody is the government in their minds.
I find the source of my comfort and blessings, including our greatest nation on earth, to be graces that the Lord has bestowed upon me. My aforementioned liberal friends find what blessings they have to be the result of government entitlements, largesse, or legislation. In times of despair or trouble, I turn to my loved ones and the Lord for comfort. In times of despair or trouble for my friends, they ask what Lord Obama will do to help them. My God is Jesus Christ; some of my liberal friends’ god is indeed the state.
Among America's blessings is T. Paine's internet blog, at which he teaches the virtues of conservatism.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
Mr. Myste, you are shameless, my friend!
Most of your silliness is not even worth rebuttal.
That said, I will point out that my comments regarding President Obama's skin color were, once again, NOT something that I had brought up in our sparring. I brought it up in counter-point to your accusations, as you seem to imply that conservatives disapprove of him merely because of his skin color. While no doubt there are such racists out there, they are an infinitesimally small minority.
As for Obama's Christianity, well he is free to ascribe whatever faith he chooses to his own life; however, his belief in collective salvation is an anathema to the Christianity as taught by our Lord. Indeed, it is not unlike our brother and sister Mormon's who claim to have founded the "restored church" of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on this earth, despite the fact that their own founder's writings in the Book of Mormon is often irrevocably at odds with nearly 1850 years of previous Christian teaching, doctrine, and scripture.
So Obama can indeed claim to be a Christian, but that has about as much credibility to those who truly understand as would be a self-avowed claim by him to being fiscally conservative.
- - T. Paine, July 8, 2011
As for most of the comment being unworthy of rebuttal, as a very wise man once said, “I will accept your concession in the manner in which it was offered.”
As for Barack Hussein Obama’s faith as un-Christian as that of a Mormon, I will accept your un-acceptance of other Christians in the manner in which it was offered.
As for my insinuation that you are a racist, I was surprised to learn of it I do sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding.
In your comments, you said this: “As for me, I voted for a man of color for president many years before I ever even knew the name Barack Hussein Obama.” In case you forgot, the comment is here: http://fairandunbalanced.com/blog1.php/2011/07/05/the-make-believe-world-of-leftist-media#comments
That inspired two thoughts: 1. Now that I think of it, though I voted for Obama, I also once voted for a white man. I think I better point that out. I don’t want people thinking I didn’t vote for McCain because he was white. I am not a racist. 2. We often use Obama’s middle name, which is not standard. Some people may try to put a negative spin on that. People may think we do it because Hussein is an Arab name and we hate Arabs, and we assume everyone else does too, at least if they are Christians that are as good as us, so let’s make Obama an Arab. It is easy to cast him as a Muslim, since we already reject his form of worship of Christ as substandard. In reality, we love Arabs, so I need to make sure people don’t pounce on this. We use Obama’s middle name for some mysterious reason we are not at liberty to discuss.
As for “his belief in collective salvation is an anathema to the Christianity as taught by our Lord.” Do you mean Billy Graham? I am not sure to which Lord you are refereeing. He worships Jesus, which I find kind of silly, but I also tolerate it.
“So Obama can indeed claim to be a Christian.” That is very generous of you. Lots of those who have accepted Jesus in their hearts and try to please Him are making such claims, even when they do not think exactly like T. Paine. They are probably mostly Muslims. I am not sure what the middle names of the other infidels who worship Jesus without consulting you are.
My father came home one day from seminary with an account of classroom dialogue. A classmate had a small child who was just getting to the age of hard questions. If God created everything, how did God begin? Would people who never heard of Jesus go to heaven? And hardest of all, why do so many bad things happen in the world? Why do so many people get hurt and die for no good reason? Why?
The student asked how he could answer his small child.
After a brief silence, another student gave his answer.
"Why don't you just tell him the truth?"
Oh, well then.
That child's hardest question has clouded worship since the beginning of monotheism. How can a just God, a loving God, inflict pain and suffering on innocent people? Ironically, it is more often witnesses to tragedy, not its victims, that are tormented by the question. More often, but not exclusively. Every once in a while it is a victim who shakes a fist at the Creator of all. But more commonly it is the victim who seeks out the comfort of belief.
Believers through the ages have come up with varying explanations. The universal craving for a just world, where good is appreciated and evil has an evil reward, sometimes produces wishful thinking. He must have had it coming. What goes around comes around. Karma. The Book of Job.
In ancient times, when evil coming down on the heads of innocents was a daily occurrence, when infant death was an everyday reality, a common theory was that the sins of the parents are visited upon their descendants. And why not? Collective guilt was part of civilized mindset in most parts of the world. When the walls of Jericho fell, Joshua ordered that every inhabitant, even livestock and pets, be killed. Nothing and no one was to be left alive, except one woman who had helped some of Joshua's spies before the walls fell. It was the harsh judgment of a hard world. If your city fell, your children died.
So it is not surprising that the disciples of Jesus asked him about a blind man they had encountered. Who sinned, they asked him, who sinned, "this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" It was a common question, but Jesus gave them an uncommon answer. "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." He mentioned that they must work quickly, for the Sabbath was approaching. And then he healed him.
When multiple tornadoes hit Missouri, devastating swathes of St. Louis County and demolishing entire sections of Joplin, the long long stream of stories, accounts of death and pain, were torment to many of us here. We heard the cries of parents, like the Biblical Rachel, "weeping for her children." There is some discussion of how a rise of only a few degrees in ocean temperatures may account for the astonishing rise in the number of incidents of destructive weather, even this far inland. But, for most of us, the time for speculation was down the road.
We saw many who heeded the call of Jesus that we work fast, getting on with the business of healing help. Countless small fundraisers were held in Houses of Worship, in clubs, in Shopping Malls. We must work quickly.
The urge for a just world is not to be met, not just yet. There is no easy answer to the timeless question of why it all could happen, the death mingled with hardship for the living.
At least there is no easy answer for most.
Lou Engle is a conservative Christian leader. He spends a considerable portion of his time here in Missouri, setting up worship centers he calls the International House of Prayer. IHOP. The larger IHOP, the International House of Pancakes goes to court occasionally to try to get the trademark infringement stopped. FairAndUNbalanced.com is probably not the best judge when it comes to adopting a name that is a play on words. Engle does not serve pancakes. His international houses combine prayer with instruction for the faithful in the proper way to believe. And he does have easy answers to difficult questions.
You can hear his answer as, hips pumping frantically in ecstatic fervor, Lou Engle meets the craving for a fair world, and does it simply. The Lord has a reason for the devastation. America's abortion laws are simply too lax when it comes to reproductive rights, and the men, women, and children lost in Missouri are the punishment God has administered. This is the wisdom of the Lord, as given unto us by Lou Engle.
Weep not for the little ones of Joplin, America. They died for your sins. God's love for unborn children is shown in the taking of life from born children. Jesus was wrong.
In response to Burr Deming's Media Bias
I hate to always be the one who seems to libel our God. However, in this case, you reminded me of something when you spoke of dashing children against the rocks:
Everyone who is found will be thrust through,
And everyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
16 Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished.
17 “ Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not regard silver;
And as for gold, they will not delight in it.
18 Also their bows will dash the young men to pieces,
And they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb;
Their eye will not spare children.
Sometimes “dashing children” is good and sometimes it is bad. No offense to God. I am just learning as I go.
As for the media bias, I think Mr. Paine will now show bias against Republicans. Once this is done, the mutual composition fallacy will be complete. Bias exists on both sides and it is easy to recognize when you are the victim and difficult to recognize when you or your friends and heroes are the culprit.
Liberal media bias is real and palpable, as is conservative media bias. Showing examples of media bias is pointless. They are all over the place, regardless of which position you see to prove. As a unit, the media cannot be biased. It is not a unit.
In 1891, a magazine called Youth's Companion hired Francis Bellamy to help with a promotion aimed at selling American Flags to public schools. The Civil War was still a vivid memory and the idea went beyond a business scheme.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
It seems clear the pledge was a reference to national unity and the defeat of state secession. A few months later, Bellamy added another "to" to the pledge for the sake of grammar and clarity, I suppose.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The pledge was to be spoken with a straight arm salute and it quickly became popular. Bellamy later wrote that he considered adopting the slogan of the French revolution into the pledge: Liberty, equality, fraternity which, he said, "meant so much to Jefferson and his friends." He rejected it as too lofty, too far off to realize for thousands of years. So he settled on "liberty and justice for all."
During World War II, Americans didn't much like the way the straight arm resembled Hitler's Nazi salute. So it was replaced by the hand over heart salute we use now.
In 1954, Congress added "under God" to the pledge. It took some adults a while to get used to the change. I remember growing up with a sort of informal transition as those leading the pledge kept screwing it up, leaving out the "under God" part. Sometimes, more than 50 years later, some still manage to mangle it. A conservative acquaintance once wrote in a chat room about how unpatriotic we liberals are. We don't even respect the Pledge of the Legions.
Most mistakes aren't quite that basic. Occasionally someone leaves out the under God. That's about it, and even that's rare. This recently happened on national television during a montage presentation of the pledge at the beginning of an important golf tournament.
"We began our coverage of this final round just about three hours ago, and when we did it was our intent to begin the coverage of this U.S. Open championship with a feature that captured the patriotism of our national championship being held in our nation's capital for the third time," announcer Dan Hicks told viewers. "Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that feature was edited out. It was not done to upset anyone, and we'd like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it."
Here in Missouri the leading Republican candidate for the Senate, Congressman Todd Akin, attacked NBC and liberals in general.
Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country.
One of the temptations that seems occasionally to afflict conservatives is the exaggeration of patriotism into hyper-jingoism and the denigration of non-conservatives as unpatriotic.
Something similar can come into our faith. Every once in a while we witness a conservative Christian reading others out because of insufficient conservatism. Jesus loves you and joins in your hatred of Obama and gay people. I don't encounter it much among even my most conservative brethren, but it does happen. And we see it pretty much all the time on television.
Congressman Akin does seem to succumb to both temptations in a single statement. It is an unfortunate habit. The main danger is not that conservatives who join us in faith believe Akin and are encouraged to newer, higher levels of intolerance. It is that some young folks may believe the good Congressman. Being of good will, having compassion toward others, these are the very people who might be most sympathetic if they could hear the words of Jesus undiluted by ideological passion.
We might start with the truth about the writer of the same Pledge that Representative Akin ostentatiously defends. Francis Bellamy was an ordained minister who regarded himself as a Christian Socialist. That's what they called liberals back in the 1800s. Francis Bellamy was a liberal.
You know ... one of us possessed with "a hatred for God", a Baptist minister with a "long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country."
Not at all like Mr. Akin.
It is certainly not impossible for a fundamentalist Christian organization to violate the Ten Commandments. Examples are easy to find. We don't even need to go back to Jim Bakker's PTL club, although our search can end there. It can be argued that the sex scandal was not organizational, being the downfall only of individuals. But the organizational defrauding of loyal contributors would seem to be a violation of the prohibition against stealing.
In some interpretations of the Talmud, this is actually a commandment against kidnapping, not against the taking of anything material. This might leave some evangelic organizations in the clear, except for more earthly authority, like Chuck Grassley (R-IA) or the the IRS (Pitbull from Hell).
Lesser offenses like false witness are more common. They just carry fewer civil penalties when directed against public figures. When President Obama was still candidate Obama, he was accused by angry evangelicals of distorting the beliefs of conservative professional Christian James Dobson. Obama had suggested that Christians of good will could have differing interpretations of scripture. Here was the Obama libel:
And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount -- a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our Bibles now. Folks haven't been reading their Bibles.
It was the only reference Obama made to Dobson in the disputed speech. To be fair, those false-witness conservatives were not speaking for Dobson's organization. And it should not be surprising that conservatives can be inflamed by political passion into distortions that occasionally cross the line into falsehood. But Dobson himself accused Obama of ... well ... having an incorrect interpretation of the Bible. Okay, actually, Dobson went a little farther. Obama had deliberately distorted Biblical teachings. Well, this could be defended as an innocent misinterpretation by a rigid old man. Or it could be dismissed as a violation of the 9th Commandment by an individual, rather than an organization.
What about when an organization lies about policy debate? Would that count as false witness?
Dobson's organization, the Family Research Council, recently did a Breitbart style editing job on a document issued by the Congressional Budget Office. They put ellipses to clip out part of the document in order to change the meaning. They were attempting to reinforce their position on morality, that work on reducing debt must never ever reduce tax breaks for the extremely wealthy. The part they edited out is highlighted:
To restore investors' confidence, policymakers would probably need to enact spending cuts or tax increases more drastic and painful than those that would have been necessary had the adjustments come sooner.
They then omitted completely the words immediately following:
To keep deficits and debt from climbing to unsustainable levels, policymakers will need to increase revenues substantially as a percentage of GDP, decrease spending significantly from projected levels, or adopt some combination of those two approaches.
The CBO then cautioned against acting too quickly while the economy is still in recovery. This was also left out by the Dobson organization.
Making such changes while economic activity and employment remain well below their potential levels would probably slow the economic recovery.
Here is the CBO document. And here are the Dobson organization claims. The altered bit that was left in was placed within a series of quotes from prominent Republicans so that it seemed to validate their veracity.
Certainly this is is an example of false witness. But is false witness always against God's word? The commandment, in most translations, reads "Do not bear false witness against your neighbor." This would seem to exclude lying that is not against someone. The classic hypothetical case involves lying to Nazi authorities looking for hidden Jews.
And truth telling is not always right, Wikileaks notwithstanding. When Tom Foley (R-FL) was outed for making sexual advances to young boys serving as Senate Pages, angry conservatives published the youngsters' home addresses in retaliation for tattling. When two seriously ill children, siblings, survived with the help of a government program, they served as examples of why the program needed expanded funding. Fox contributor Michelle Malkin defended the publishing of their address and driving directions to their home. Both times, conservatives were completely truthful. In both cases, the conservative ethic was reprehensible.
Some translations of the Ten Commandments show the prohibition against false witness as applying only to formal testimony in a legal forum. This interpretation would liberate even Andrew Breitbart clones. Lying is okay, even smearing innocent people. God does draw the line at perjury.
It could be that religious conservatives violate none of the Ten Commandments when they lie, smear, or publish the home addresses of children. There may indeed be divine loopholes. Besides, they believe themselves to be untruthful in the service of the Lord.
But the case they are making, and conservatism itself, may be seen more skeptically if they do not have enough confidence in their beliefs or themselves to defend that case honestly.
When Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) holds a prayer event in a couple of months, non-Christians apparently will not be excluded. They will, in fact be explicitly invited. News reports say people of all faiths “who will feel the love, grace and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall,” should come. Presumably that is a hope rather than a commitment.
The reasonable interpretation, the one offered by some reports, is that the invitation to others is evangelical. Come and we will convert you. The image that comes is a cartoon visit to a church. As the non-Christians leave, the cry begins and is picked up by the extremely friendly congregation: "The heathens are getting away!" My experiences in churches were quite different, before I became a Christian, but that is the image portrayed by popular media.
It is an exaggeration of a lessor tendency. The premise of some encounters is that they should be a one-sided conversation. Why listen to other views, or even to questions, if you have the one-size-fits-all answer? It is the sort of encounter that many will tend to greet with all the enthusiasm most of us would show at a visit to a beehive. That other faiths, or those with no faith at all, might be regarded with respect is a foreign idea to some.
That is not always the approach. A large church in the Kansas City area sells in their bookstore works by noted atheists on the order of Richard Dawkins. Their invitations to those who do not believe in God have been for the purpose of dialogue. Their own predisposition is apparent, but they do not require it of their guests. Most striking is their willingness to listen and consider, if not accept. They have grown from a church to a mega-Church.
The Rick Perry approach is opposed by some as a matter of principle. People for the American Way have been among the critics:
Gov. Perry has every right to practice his own faith, but he has no right to use his official position to try to convert others.
I don't think the Governor crosses that line. Public officials are also private citizens. They should not only be free to practice faith, but to proclaim it as well. People for the American Way have a second observation that does concern me, although my concern may come from a different direction. Perry has intimately involved noted firebrand Bryan Fischer in his project.
Fischer’s unabashed bigotry is on full display throughout his writings and on-air rants. His entire career is based on leveling venomous attacks against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans, progressives and other individuals and groups he detests. He wants to redefine the Constitution to protect only Christians, persecute and deport all American Muslims, prohibit gays and non-Christians from holding public office and impose a system of biblical law.
While Fischer’s views are undeniably shocking, what is most disturbing is his growing influence within not only the Religious Right but also the Republican Party.
They have a point. Fischer does not disguise his various hatreds. And he does indeed want to redefine the Constitution.
Certainly, we should work to protect basic American freedoms as the GOP lurches out of the mainstream. But I am comforted by the larger trend. The end result for our nation may well be improved as the Republican party, cloaked in the comforting cocoon of FoxNews and right wing radio, marches itself off the electoral cliff.
But what strikes me as more damaging is that Fischer, and those of similar mind, want to redefine our faith to incorporate their deepest hatreds. Those who should be most attracted to the radical message of love from the Prince of Peace are the very ones most likely to be repulsed as it is distorted into a message of hate.
Popular media join in an unwitting ad hoc alliance, generated by a lust for ratings, as they push forward those who hate as representatives of the faith. Governor Perry strikes me as joining the alliance in a more calculated way.
His lust is for conservative votes.
It was in a chat room a few years ago. A pompous, judgmental personality was busily condemning those who were not professed Christians. Of those who were Christians, many were condemned for not holding the right hatreds. "Apostasy" was a favored word.
Chat rooms are often dens of overstatement and bravado. Anonymity allows a level of daring that polite company might otherwise inhibit. His boasts were, at least in part, an attempt to goad his opponents into anger. For him, an insufferable persona was a weapon.
So I began posting. I asked him if he took full credit for his evident moral superiority. No, he responded, he was much too humble to accept full credit. I speculated how grateful he must be.
BurrLand: You must offer prayers of gratitude fairly often.
Mr. Z: I am grateful that I can pray in humility.
BurrLand: Not like others of inferior morality.
Mr. Z: yes, the inferior do resent my greatness.
And so I posted an obvious scripture from the Gospel of Luke:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
What held my interest was Mr. Z's furious answer. It was as if my screen was about to be flecked from the inside with angry spittle. As a Christian, I had no right, no right at all, to use scripture for the unholy purpose of rebuking a fellow Christian.
I am reminded of that indignant reaction of years ago by a couple of appearances, both on television, by self-proclaimed Christian historian David Barton. Barton famously holds to the discredited belief that the founding fathers intended the United States to be an explicitly Christian nation. One famous tactic by the relentless Mr. Barton is the partial quote. He often quotes a passage written by John Adams which proves that Adams wanted Church and State to be intimately involved.
The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. ... There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.
Well, there you have it. Adams really objected to any separation of Church and State! Right?
Except for one little detail. Adams was summarizing a view to which he was opposed. In fact he thought it was kind of silly. Two sentence Mr. Barton likes to leave out immediately follow the misleading passage he likes to quote. Adams laments that weak and ignorant people believe the view he just summarized, the view Mr. Barton says Adams believed. The weak minded, says Adams, believe it so much they would be willing to face the executioner's ax or be burned at the stake for what he regards as a silly artifact.
Although this is all artifice and cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lie down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagot for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe human nature.
Mr. Barton does to the historical record what Andrew Breitbart does to video tapes of innocent people. The fellow, not to put too fine a point on it, falls short of the truth. On television, interviewed by Jon Stewart, he protested that he could not possibly be misleading anyone, because the original letter can be found on his website by anyone who looks enough to drill down to it. The interview was exceptional. For the most part, no mention of the inconvenient sentences are to be discovered in his public pronouncements.
But now he comes up with another tale. The founding fathers, he insists, rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. Oh my. It is true that some form of the idea of natural selection goes back to Aristotle, but it was not accepted or even widely discussed in scientific circles until the second half of the 1800's. That is because, until Darwin, scientific evidence simply hadn't been gathered. Mr. Barton insists a full Evolution vs Creation Science debate took place during original Constitutional deliberations.
Many of us oppose mixing up religion with government support for a simple reason that goes beyond Mr. Barton's parsing of words. It is simply unfair to use government to support religion. Religion should be voluntary. Period.
But the tolerance of some Christians for demonstrable falsehood is still jarring. The ethic seems to be that of my chat room buddy, Mr. Z. Christians should never call other Christians on the carpet when a lie is told in the service of the Lord.
In response to T. Paine's Bats vs. Nukes - A Fair Fight
Are you sure it was the Unarmed Man that defeated the Roman Empire? I seem to remember something about Goths and Vandals.
As for Mr. Deming's provocative methods, it's OK, because you were and I were intellectual rivals long before you were a twinkle in Mr. Deming's eye.
As for your bat and its use, I am impressed. It would have worked if I had nuke. It turns out I had nukes and your whole supply of bats is now part of a cloud of debris.
I am pleased as more Christians join the scientific debate and try to support their faith with scientific arguments. Their arguments are huge targets that they are ill-equipped to defend. To speak in terms of Mixed Martial Arts, it is like a boxer who has never heard of Jujitsu trying to out fight a well-rounded mixed martial artist. He lasts a few seconds. He would have a chance if the mixed martial artist would stand and box. The boxer hears of jujitsu, looks up a kimura. It is very technical and the theist cannot execute it, but he tries. The jujitsu artist is delighted as he tells the vanquished boxer that he should have stuck with boxing.
I know I have said this before, but Paul’s vision was a religion based on brotherly cultish love and faith. You cannot challenge it with reason, so it is indestructible. When we deviate from that plan, we run the risk of derailing a religion that has stood for a few thousand years. You cannot convert a successful faith into a successful science; moreover, you should not want to.
In response to Burr Deming's Jesus Catching the Wave
Ah Burr, you are exceedingly clever, sir! Mr. Myste, you of course realize what Mr. Deming is doing with his excellent and yet goading article towards us here, don't you?
Burr, let me start by saying that, like you, I am horrified at the thought of Christ "walking on driftwood" or other such nonsense to explain the miracle of him walking on water. If one accepts the premise that Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity and therefore God, how small one's understanding must be of our Lord to think that the God that created all things and is beyond and outside of time could not possibly walk upon the Sea of Galilee simply by choosing to do so.
That said, there are absolutely mysteries of our universe that are becoming more and more understandable to our limited human minds where science does indeed explain what faith teaches us in the creation of all that is. Myste is correct that I have indeed argued that science and God are absolutely compatible and indeed one helps to explain the other often times. If I may be so boorish, here is a link to my blog on just such a topic: http://savingcommonsense.blogspot.com/2011/02/duality-of-god-and-science-in-creation.html Somehow, I was still unable to convince JMyste of the existence of a Divine Creator though.
As for that whole "love thing" that Christ teaches, well that was the very purpose of his coming to be with us on earth as fully man and fully God. He spoke of and taught us that we should indeed love our neighbor regardless of whether he is a Jew or Gentile, and I would submit that this absolutely applies to Muslims and gays as well. Indeed, are we not all creatures of God that are endowed with His divine spark, whether we each choose to acknowledge it or not?
Now, John Myste, I find myself chuckling at your analogy of a debate between Atheism and Christianity as being akin to one side having nuclear weapons and the other having a baseball bat. The thing is though, that if one takes that baseball bat and smashes the trigger mechanism of the nuke weapon, then Atheism is required to sit there and marvel at its magnificent piece of impotent hardware that might as well now be a coffee table while they are pummeled repeatedly by that bat of love about their head and shoulders.
I would submit to you that to the secular mind, one might initially find the sides of the debate to be even more unbalanced than nukes against bats though. You see one can have the most horrific weapon of mass destruction of all in one's possession and yet still be defeated by an unarmed man. Indeed, the most powerful force on earth at the time, the Roman Empire, was ultimately defeated along with sin and death, by the love of one unarmed man that gave his human life for us all. But of course, this is just my axiom and therefore not one to which you are subjected, my friend, despite the fact that is the God honest truth. :-)
I wish I could recall the scholarly work from sometime in the last century. The poor fellow had devoted his entire professional life to proving the scientific possibility of each miracle in the Bible. He hoped to demonstrate to an increasingly skeptical world that Christianity was a sound belief system.
As a youth, I talked with my father about the man. We wondered if he had ever realized that he was working at cross purposes with faith. One theory the fellow had proposed was intended to make plausible the image of Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee toward the boat of disciples. There could have been a lot of driftwood, the scholar had speculated. Jesus could have made his way by carefully choosing his steps. My dad told me of a comment from a friend that summarized the entire approach. He had closed his eyes, visualized the argument, and saw Jesus on a surfboard.
I greet the apparent conclusion of the long standing religious debate on this site with some regret. The exchange between T. Paine, the devout defender of faith, and John Myste, the confirmed agnostic, elevated and educated. It contributed to two long standing hopes I have held for years.
One is that we who are Christians will find, or perhaps confirm, a clarity that is often missing from religious debate. Sometimes we grasp at the most shallow of interpretations, failing to recognize profound insights. Too often the shallow extends to an embrace of raw bigotry.
Another hope is that this same clarity will clear away some of the failures of pop-Christian leaders promoted by a sometimes hostile or lazy media. When bigots are offered as representative of faith, faith is very properly rejected by those very people who might be most attracted to the real message of Jesus.
The requirements of bigotry vary from age to age. Today we must disbelieve evolution. We must hate gay people. We must hate Muslims. In other times we were required to torture Jews or endorse slavery.
I generally try to avoid defining social policy requirements for spiritual law. I confess to a certain smug satisfaction in watching a committed Christian chasing down Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican who transforms the Oppenheimer quote. "Now I am become death, destroyer of Medicare." The young Christian running after Ryan demanded to know why Ryan based his political philosophy on the atheistic Ayn Rand rather than the Jesus we learn about from the Gospel of Luke. (See below)
If I have one religious difference with T. Paine, it is that he speaks pretty much exclusively from a Catholic perspective. "Peter is thus realized by Catholics as the first leader of Christ's church on earth; the first pope." When you think about it, this is an understandable tendency. Most Protestants might take exception. But he does a more than reasonably good job of explaining God's love for all humanity. Complain as we might about some religious standards, abortion rights, marriage equality, or other church positions, they have this love thing nailed.
And the love thing is what Jesus implicitly and Paul directly say spiritual law is all about. T. Paine, conservative as he is, does seem to enjoy a unique ability to show us a rejection of the media definition of Christian theology: that Jesus loves you and joins in your hatred of Muslims, gays, Obama, and liberals.
Our friend, the ever witty and enlightening Mr. Myste, tends to blur the distinctions between literalists and non-literalists. That is understandable. He sees both as specifically ignoring, rejecting, or explaining away scripture that happens to be inconvenient. His view instructs the true believer. This is indeed one great danger to a thinking Christian. Prayer, meditation, and study are required, and we still will get a lot of it wrong. God, as Paul points out, is beyond our ability even to imagine. More generally, in my friend's view, Christians of all stripes share the twin flaws of editing scripture and accepting what to a clear thinker is an unacceptable faith.
It is mostly on this last that John and I part. Too much a gentleman to say so directly, he seems to hold, although regretfully, the philosophical ethic that it is sad or intellectually dishonest or possibly even immoral to believe what cannot be supported by evidence. I plead guilty to the offense and challenge the judgment.
The debate, while it lasted, never degenerated into the surfing-Christ level. Both debaters evidence a mutual respect and enjoyment of jabs from the other. Now that the debate has died, hope still lives.
Resurrection is possible. Our faith teaches that.
In response to T.Paine's Crooked Rivers, Crooked Men
T. Paine: “That said, until Martin Luther came around some 1500 years after Christ, the ONLY Christian church was the one founded by Jesus Christ himself.”
Correction. Christ was Jewish. If He were alive today, he would not belong to the Catholic Church or any of the other heretical cults that followed.
T. Paine: “It is why Christ often spoke in parables to teach lessons in the New Testament.”
Correction. He probably did that because parables are more slippery, more open to interpretation and safer. He implied that this was the reason in the New Testament. I think you missed it His point, because He said it with a parable. I am sorry I don’t have time to look up the passage right now. With parables, He gets crucified later in time, assuming the Father does not forsake Him. Wouldn’t that be horrible? He would be baffled if that happened. We would certainly hear about that.
T. Paine: “That in no way eradicates my points made, but simply points to the truth that my lack of imagination in coming up with a better analogy was lacking.”
Your imagine was good. I was impressed. I love analogy. The point was as valid as any other Christian point. I targeted it to entertain myself. I made no real attempt at a logical rebuttal, though I am happy if one found its way in.
I know I am going around in circles, but the non literalists have decided that the words of the father are not the words of God (unless they want them to be). They kept the good part and discarded the bad part. They repeat some of the words, but attach meaning to them that God would have never endorsed. They reject the words that are not flexible enough to contort into something sane. They love the Father in concept, but they forsake the angry lunatic the “inspired” authors of the Old Testament tell us He is. They teach us how the “inspired ones” were inspired to completely misrepresent God, to defame His character, and to propagate ancient lies that even endure into the modern world.
Though their reasoning is pitiful, I still find myself saying: “God bless the non literalists.” Without them the Father’s inquisition mentality would survive today. We can and should use any wisdom we find in the Old Testament where needed. We should not be bound to the tyrannical philosophy of its authors. The words we cull from the Bible become our own, not the Father’s. We humbly deny ourselves proper attribution. The Father inspired the Old Testament authors and He inspires us. We get to decide what it all means, unless of course, Jesus said it, in which case we cannot disregard it, because the word of God is final. The Father, however, was not so articulate.
As the Great non literalist T. Paine once said:
"There is a God, and He thinks just like me!"
Logic: If people can lose their jobs for vile language against gays and women, people should be put in prison for offending the Lord.
Question: Can T.Paine and Burr Deming get JMyste rehabilitated in time?