updated sermon

This is the version of "Consumer Hedonism and the Formation of Morals" I just delivered at BUF (Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship) on August 7, 2016:

A Talk by Kim Cooper, delivered 8/7/2016

Reading: by Doug Muder
“The beginning of a productive liberal/conservative dialog is for both sides to acknowledge that we share a nightmare, a Dystopia:
·         Where all relationships are transient.
·         Where life is cheap.
·         Where winning is everything.
·         Where no one will sacrifice for the common good.
·         Where impulse satisfaction outweighs any consequences.
·         Where the innocent are not protected.
·         Where the old are cast aside and the next generation is left to raise itself.
·         Where profit is the ultimate argument, and money answers all questions.
·         Where no one is willing to stand on principle and truth doesn't matter.
“We both see that path and we both don't want to go there. In theory, we could work together to avoid it. But in practice we can't even talk about it in a civil tone. Why? Because we both forget what we've been struggling against, and instead imagine that we've been struggling with each other.”

It appears to me that the source of moral decay we are seeing in America today – the decline of honesty, the increase in violence and exploitation – that the Right blames on the Left and the Left blames on the Right – is really due to neither, but is due to some third group that no one sees because each thinks it’s part of its opposite.  Slowly, I’ve been seeing others come up with a similar theory that reassures me I am on the right track.  One  is a spectacular sermon by Doug Muder, who writes for UU World, my favorite magazine.  I was very tempted just to read it to you whole.  I will be quoting it extensively –It’s called Right and Left Together, and was delivered in the Quincy UU church in November, 2006. 
The other main concept I want to address today is that of internal and external consciences.(Are you an inny or an outy?)  Though I first ran across this concept in the early 70’s in a sociology class, I want today to credit Andrew Bard Schmookler and an essay of his called “Moral Endo Skeletons and Exoskeletons: a Perspective on America’s Cultural Divide and Current Crisis”.
There’s a quip going around that says “If you think the 60’s were good, you are probably a liberal, if you think the sixties were bad, you’re probably a conservative.” What were the values of the sixties?  Peace and Love, Fairness, Community, individual choice, spiritual growth, freedom, and yes, hedonism.  The sixties loosened sexual mores and made divorce more acceptable.  While the red states are the ones who decry this loosening most loudly, still it is also true that the red states also have the highest divorce rates, highest rates of unwed pregnancy, and the highest rates of domestic violence.  Schmookler says “The sleazy TV and movies the traditionalist and Christian Right denounce so energetically also tend to have their highest ratings in the same parts of the country most populated by such people.”
Liberals tend to jump to the conclusion that this is just plain old hypocrisy – deliberate dishonesty and posturing in public.  But, is it? 
These same conservatives look at liberals and assume that they must be living lives of sin and debauchery – because they can’t understand how liberals could possibly live well-ordered lives as hard-working and law-abiding citizens, as responsible and dedicated family people if liberals do not believe in their firm moral structures and absolute rules of moral conduct.  They think that if you do not have a firm and specific  moral structure, you must have none at all. 
What is happening here?  Why is everyone looking past each other?  These misunderstandings come from the two groups having different moral structures. 
A student of Schmookler’s came up with the terms he uses – she said she didn’t need society to give her a lot of rules because she’s got her moral beliefs firmly inside of her, a sort of moral endo-skeleton. But American traditionalists -- morality, for them, is a sort of exo-skeleton.  They rely on external moral structures like laws, punishments, and active disapproval to keep them within the moral confines in which they believe.  So traditionalists have felt the loss of a moral consensus far more than liberals.  Liberals have often failed to understand how genuinely threatening a loosening of  moral standards can be to an exo-skeleton person who deeply wants to toe the line but needs help doing it. 
Meanwhile, those of us with an endo-skeleton structure, who can live moral and orderly lives even if we live in an “anything goes” society, have our own blindnesses.  In the 60’s we simply tore down many of society’s moral structures and assumed all would be well.  Schmookler says “What many in our counter culture did, I believe, was to look at themselves – in their ‘liberated’ state --- and imagine that they saw human nature in its pristine state.  But in reality, most of the middle-class youth – brought up in the 1940s and 1950’s – who comprised the counterculture had already internalized a great many of the disciplines – moral and otherwise—of traditional American culture.”
He goes on to say…
“Our endo-skeletons made the social enforcement of norms and standards and morals unnecessary.
“For us, that is. Meanwhile, the rest of society was not identical to us endo-skeletons. And there, the costs of the cultural loosening have been more visible.”
It is as though a boat was tipped by the left, but it was the right that got wet.
I was really struck by that metaphor – we liberal boomers blithely “tipped the boat”, but, as young people do, we missed that we were causing other people real pain.
Schmookler doesn’t go into it, but we do know what is it that makes our children grow up with either a moral endoskeleton or exoskeleton.  In the book Don’t Think of an Elephant, linguist George Lakoff introduced two types of families, the Strict Father and the Nurturant Parent.
It’s the Strict Father, authoritarian, fear-based punishment-and-reward system that produces a moral exoskeleton, because, as psychology tells us, punishment and reward teaches that there is no intrinsic value to correct behavior.  On the other hand, remember Dr. Spock?  Yes, what he taught us in Baby and Child-Rearing is what produces an internal conscience.  Reinforcing good behavior, modeling good behavior, explaining good behavior, warm, caring parenting, with clear and consistent expectations.  Yes, what Lakoff called the Nurturant parent, produces an individual with an internalized conscience, whereas neither permissive nor authoritarian parenting does. 
So, somewhat ironically, it turns out, that both believing that children are basically evil and need fear and punishment to behave, and believing that children are basically good and need nurturant guidance to bring out their innate goodness – both of these are self-fulfilling prophesies.

But Schmookler does call for us to invent a new form of the external moral system, one that is less oppressive, because it is the very oppression that produces the darker tendencies that erupt when the restraints are loosened.  He goes on:
What is needed this time around is not a wanton rejection of the old structures, replacing them with nothing. We endo-skeletons must understand more fully the structures that hold us together. We must understand, that is, that the endo-skeleton is not nothing.
“And, more, we need to understand that the endo-skeleton does not come from nothing. It is the internalization of the order the growing creature encounters around him/her.
“And no skeleton at all is a recipe for falling apart.”
With the moral exoskeleton in tatters, Consumer Hedonism has rushed in to fill the gap. 
Doug Muder recounts a story, he says a “friend told me about his son, a young man not too far out of high school. The son works an unskilled job, and seems to have no plan for doing more with his life. Now, under other circumstances that lack of career ambition could be downright admirable -- if, say, it meant that he had rejected materialism and was putting his energy into doing good or making art or even just appreciating this beautiful world. But, as his father tells the story, it just reflects a lack of depth, a failure to grasp that something important is going on in life. If the son can keep gas in his car and occasionally buy something for his girl friend – well, what more is there?”
“Assuming that this young man really is the way I've imagined him, what religion does he belong to today? Because whatever it is, I think that's the religion that's winning.
“The superficial approach to life, the belief that you buy some things and satisfy some desires and that's all there is -- who teaches that?  This other religion, which is neither liberal nor conservative nor even moderate, is actually in control.”
This religion may not look like what we think of as a religion – after all there is no towering cathedral that calls itself the Church of Consumer Hedonism, (unless you consider the Big Box stores).  No temple where people get together to commit themselves to the superficial life and preach the Consumer Hedonism theology or sing Consumer Hedonism hymns, (unless it’s the malls).  So it’s tempting not to think of it as a religion.  Muder says Consumer Hedonism looks different from other religions because it is the dominant religion of our society.  You can’t see it because it’s like water to a fish.
Muder says:
“The fundamental questions a religion needs to answer aren't about God and the afterlife, they're about life here and now. What should we be trying to do? Where should we look for fulfillment? What is going to save us from misery? What really matters and why? Some religions may need a theory of God or the afterlife to make sense out of their answers, but Consumer Hedonism doesn't. That doesn't mean it's not a religion.

“So what are Consumer Hedonism's answers? Basically this: Only two things are really worth doing in life – satisfying your desires and projecting the right image. If you could do both, you'd be as fulfilled as it is possible to be. So how do you do it? You satisfy your desires by buying things and by manipulating people into giving you what you want. And you cast the right image by aligning yourself with the saints of Consumer Hedonism, the celebrities.
“No Sunday school teaches us how to worship the celebrities, but we all do it. Sometimes we imitate them. We wear their t-shirts and sunglasses. We repeat their famous lines, which we know by heart, as if we learned them from a catechism. Or we worship them from afar. We know their nicknames, their cars, their pets, and the convoluted mythology of who has been married to whom.
“If you fall out of step with the celebrities, no church council has to vote to shun you. It happens automatically. Conversations just pass you by. Everyone else laughs and you're there saying “What? What?”
“Some people hope in the Lord. Some people hope in the Lottery.
“Whatever your hope is, wherever you look for a better life, that's the religion that is real to you, the one you're counting on to save you from misery. And not until you become disillusioned with that religion will you have any deeper spiritual awakening.
“Liberals and conservatives alike reject the emptiness of Consumer Hedonism, and nurture values that transcend desire and image: Values like family and friends and community. Compassion for the stranger. A just society. Appreciating the wonder of creation. Building a personal relationship with Beauty and with Knowledge and with Understanding. When those values are part of your experience of every moment, when you have trained yourself to experience them as immediately as you experience your physical desires, you're there. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

When Right and Left accuse each other of lacking morals, Muder says
“Neither side has to lie to make its case, because Consumer Hedonism has in fact corrupted and subverted people on both sides. That's what it does, and it does it very well. You set out to make the world a better place, and you end up buying things and striking a pose. You try to take The Road Less Traveled, and you wind up at The Road Less Traveled Gift Shop. You try to walk the narrow path, and you wind up buying a t-shirt that says “I Walked the Narrow Path”. Whether you set out to the Left or to the Right, the gravity of Consumer Hedonism is always pulling you back.

“What if liberals and conservatives could realize how much they have in common? What if we all understood that traditional values and progressive values are allies against the real enemy, which is no values at all?”
So, where does Consumer Hedonism come from?  Well, Andy Schmookler says it’s a side effect of our affluence, but I’m not so sure that’s the whole answer.  James Dobson,  Right-wing Christian author and leader, complains about the immorality river sweeping away the children and he assigns it to liberals and makes it intentional – but it’s neither -- liberal nor intentional.
I think it’s a by-product.  Unitarian Universalist minister Bill Kennedy said about advertising: the product is us.  What TV sells is viewers and the advertisers buy it.  Sex and violence is just the delivery system, there to deliver consumers of the advertisers’ goods, not spiritual or moral beings.  Everything you see on TV and in movies and magazines and much of what’s on your computer is all in service of Consumer Hedonism.  How can you escape it? How can you escape it?
We escape it by cultivating a more spiritual, compassionate state of mind.  By modeling that for our children.  By working more consciously to resist the pull of Consumer Hedonism and focusing on the deeper aspects of life. 
I feel that the big question the Millennials have to answer for all of us is, “Which is more important – people or money?” And they will have to shape our culture according to their answer.  A hopeful sign is the tiny house movement, where young people are deliberately choosing to spend their money on experiences instead of things, and they are living more intimately with each other in their tiny spaces.  And, hopefully, what we are calling “the sharing economy”, as well as food co-ops, worker-owned businesses, the farm to table movement , and others I’m sure you can think of..
If you look, there are hopeful signs all around us – of people seeking community, and justice, and compassion 
Think about this, and if you want to test yourself, watch where you spend your time and your money – for those are the things that you value.

Here are the URLs of the main references:

http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=147     on moral skeletons

http://freeandresponsible.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.html    on Consumer Hedonism
An earlier version:

An Idea....

I posted this under a Keith Olberman comment about Bloomberg:  Nov. 18, 2011

Hey!  I have a crazy idea:  if we can't raise taxes on the uber-rich, how about we require a couple of years of service from them?  Make them man food kitchens and volunteer at food banks and work in hospitals and schools or do KP for the army or some such....

What Kind of Liberal are You?

<div style="padding:0px;margin;0px;border:1px solid rgb(133,143,174);background-color: rgb(250,241,218);width: 200px;"> <div style="padding:0px;margin;0px;background-color: rgb(12,12,132);overflow:auto"><div style="padding:0px;margin;0px;float:left;display:inline;width:50px;margin-right:5px;">     <a href="http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/bl-liberal-quiz.htm" style="padding:0px;margin;0px;"><img src="http://z.about.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/m/G/3/liberal-results-pic.jpg" alt="Quiz: What Kind of Liberal Are You?" width="50" height="50"  style="border:0px;padding:0px;margin;0px;" /></a></div> <h1 style="font-family: 'Georgia';font-size:16px;color:white;padding-top:3px;margin-top:3px; margin-left: 8px;margin-bottom:2px;">My Liberal Identity</h1></div> <div style="font-family: 'Georgia', 'Times New Roman',serif;padding:4px;padding-top: 0px;padding-bottom: 0px;margin:0px;font-size:12px;line-height:18px;color:black;"> <p>You are a  <em>  <strong>Working Class Warrior</strong></em>, also known as a blue-collar Democrat. You believe that the little guy is getting screwed by conservative greed-mongers and corporate criminals, and you’re not going to take it anymore.</p> </div> <div style="padding: 0px;background-color: white;"> <p style="font-family: 'Georgia', 'Times New Roman',serif; padding:4px;margin:0px;font-size:10px;color:black;">Take the quiz at <br /><a href="http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/bl-liberal-quiz.htm" style="color:blue;">About.com Political Humor</a></p></div></div>
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I wrote this to several of my favorite radio talkers:

No one seems to be putting these two things together:
1)Corporate America doesn't want to hire or keep employees who are over 50 years old.
2) there is much talk of raising the retirement age to 70. 

This sets up the question no one has been asking: if you can't get work after 50 and there is no anti-age discrimination law, and you can't collect Social Security until 70, how are we supposed to live from 50 to 70?

Please raise this question on the air, as there are even some on the left who are thinking raising the retirement age is a good idea.  I think we should lower it -- to whatever age age discrimination starts. 
--Kim Cooper
San Mateo, CA

On Obama

In a recent discussion on whether or not Obama is the leader we had hoped he was, I came out with this rant, which I thought you might want to see:

Stop-- You're all right!  :-) 
As I see it, I think what is going on is that
a)  a President is not a dictator -- he doesn't have that much power.  and Obama, being a constitutional scholar, didn't want to overstep his bounds too much.... (besides, "they" may be threatening him?)
b) He is taking the long view, which most Americans can't even see.  He passed a watered-down health care because watered down was all they would let him do, but pass it he did, and it is very possible to improve it over the years if we can just maintain enough power to do so. 
c) Obama can't do more than he is doing because we elected him many years too late:  the takeover by the right/corporations started in 1964 and no one even noticed it happening til 20 years later: it is done, they have taken over.  It's not totally complete, but it's 'way past where it would be easy to undo.
d) the main element in their power is the media.  They have pretty much taken over the media.  They are preventing liberal radio from being anything but a tiny voice in the wilderness, they have taken over TV, even PBS has shifted a long way to the right.  Rupert Murdoch is The Anti-Christ!
e) They are working on taking over education: they are endowing conservative chairs in many universities, they are controlling content in textbooks, they are defunding public education. 
f) they are killing us off: health care is down so far that we are 49th in the world in life expectancy....
g) They are leading us to fight each other over scraps:  they have destroyed the whole concept of "a living wage" and then induced people to viciously tear down the few people who still make a reasonable amount of money for a middle-class or working class job.  Rather than saying, "Why aren't we making that much? Let's strike!" we are saying,"Why is he making that much? Make him take less!"
h) They have reduced our world to fear, so that we are less likely to feel for each other.  The fear induces us to just look out for ourselves and not cultivate a "we're all in this together" attitude.  OK, so it isn't working on you, 'cuz you're a hard core liberal, but what about all of those people out there it is working on?
ok, enough ranting....
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And here is more of it:



Christians in the Hand of an Angry God (part 4)

[Dec. 5th, 2004|01:09 am]

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H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society - "Awake Ye Scary Great Olde Ones" - A Very Scary Solstice


Now, where were we before I had my "little" job-related problem? Oh, yes. We'd established that the true gospel of Jesus Christ, as actually taught in the Bible, is completely incompatible with Republican party values. We've established that the false gospel replaced the true gospel when, a generation ago, the leaders of the evangelical Christian movements and the leaders of the Catholic church simultaneously agreed to substitute a false gospel, one compatible with Republican values, for the true gospel, for fear that only the Republicans could save the church from extinction under a global communist regime. And as my first vivid example, I contrasted what the gospel has to say about homosexuality (and what a trivial issue it is in context of the message of Jesus Christ that human beings are no longer permitted to enforce the Old Testament "holiness code" on God's behalf) with the obsessive attention the ministers of the false gospel give to their anti-Biblical preaching and politicking on the subject -- all to make the Republicans look good by teaching a reactionary culture made uncomfortable by the prominence of gays in post-Stonewall AIDS-aware America that God endorsed their disgust. (See "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God" parts 1, 2, and 3.) So let's hit another example where the contrast between what the Bible says and what the ministers of the false gospel preach is such an unbridgeable gap: abortion.

So what does the Bible say about the intentional termination of a pregnancy? Nothing. That's right, nothing. It never comes up. Even in the holiness code, which takes time out to preach about the evils of mildew, there isn't a single thing about the intentional termination of a pregnancy. Lest you think this is because abortion didn't exist back then, suffice it to say that there's at least some evidence that human beings have known which plants were abortificants since, well, since before there were human beings. Cultures much older than the post-captivity Jews knew how to induce an abortion at will; one must assume that there were Jews who used that knowledge. And yet somehow the Bible never gets around to saying even word one against the practice.

So when the ministers of the false gospel set out to find some way to preach against abortion, they had to go digging. Now, one of the basic fundamental rules of legitimate Biblical exegesis that they teach you in seminary (or even competent pre-seminary religion classes) is that you should be very, very wary of the classic errors of exegesis, traps that Satan will use to lead you astray. Beware of quoting a passage out of context; beware of quoting a passage as saying something other than what it actually says, and don't go looking for tiny little passages that "prove" your point when there are much longer, clearer passages that contradict what you're trying to prove. But the leaders of the fundamentalist and Catholic seminaries threw these principles over the side of the boat so that they could prove the following malformed syllogism: (1) The Bible firmly opposes murder of human beings. (2) The fetus is a human being. Therefore (3) the Bible firmly opposes the murder of a fetus. May I assume that for the moment we all agree, subject to fine tuning and nagging caveats, that point 1 is a given? Fine.

So what slender thread of evidence do they use to prove their point that the fetus in the womb is a human being with a soul? Typically, they quote Psalms 22:9-10, Isaiah 46:3-4, and Jeremiah 1:4-5 in which God says to David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah (in that order) that He knew them while they were still in their mother's womb. Now, let me invite you to take a minute to read those three chapters, and let me ask you two questions about them. First of all, who are we talking about in those chapters: God, or the author? Is the point of the passage how old the author of the chapter is, when his life began, or is God talking about His fore-knowledge? And that leads to the second question: if God is all knowing, was there ever a time from the creation of the world to the present when the Bible says that God didn't know you? And since God knew you from the beginning of all time, why pick the moment when sperm and egg to unite to say when life begins? Maybe the old cynical joke about what Baptists believe is true, if your interpretation is the one to trust; maybe life does begin when the woman's bra is unhooked.

But if you're going to make that argument, you're going to have to explain how it's compatible with what the Bible does say, albeit in the holiness code that Jesus set aside human enforcement of in John 8:1-11. The only time the Bible actually explicitly talks about the termination of a pregnancy is as a complication in a criminal assault case. "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." (Exodus 21:22) In plain English (and equally plain Hebrew, I'm told), the Bible says that even in cases where the pregnancy is terminated against the woman's will in a criminal assault, it's treated as a property crime, with the penalty being nothing more than a monetary fine negotiated between the assailants and the woman's husband. Compare and contrast that with the penalty for murder (death), and then tell me that the Bible would treat the death of even, to use an unspeakably tired current example, "Connor" Peterson as a murder. If God thinks that killing a fetus is murder, why make the penalty so light and trivial?

Answer: because the Bible says when human life begins, when a person first obtains a soul, when that person has rights that must be respected. It doesn't say this out-right, but the implication is pretty plain, and it's the only interpretation that's compatible with the rest of the Biblical legal code. Consider the creation of mankind in Genesis chapter 2, and let me specifically call your attention to Genesis chapter 2, verse 7: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Pay attention to the sequence there. When God made Adam from the dust of the ground, Adam was no six-week fetus. He wasn't even a newborn. Adam was a full-grown adult human being, and yet he had no soul until he drew his first breath. And that is why, until abortion became a political issue again around a hundred years ago and people went digging in the scriptures to try to find a reason to hate it, it was an assumed fact of religious law that the soul enters the body at birth. Indeed, it was long assumed on this same Biblical basis that the "death rattle," the rattling sound in the throat of many dying people as they exhale for the last time, was the sound of the soul leaving the body, and it was for this very reason that many Christian theologians were deeply disturbed when mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was invented.

So when the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade conferred some limited rights on the fetus six months before birth, and grants it almost any right other than the right to kill the mother starting at approximately earliest possible viability outside the womb around three months before birth, Roe v Wade grants the fetus more rights and more recognition as a person than the Bible does.

So if that's the case, why would the ministers of the false gospel lie about it? Because the abortion debate was never about the fetus. It's about sex. In particular, it's about a school of thought that says that illicit sex must have horrifying consequences if it is to be prevented. As the famous limerick says:

A modest young maiden called Wilde
Sought to keep herself undefiled
   By thinking of Jesus
   Contagious diseases,
And the bother of having a child.

And that's why the abortion debate was a matter of argument long, long before abortion was legalized. You see ... or perhaps some of you don't see, so let me explain ... Roe v Wade doesn't exist in a Constitutional vacuum. Roe rests on the foundation of Griswold v Connecticut. Roe can't be overturned without overturning Griswold. And nothing would make the Pharisees, the false ministers who chose to teach the Satanic gospel of the Republican party over the simple words of Christ, happier than to see Griswold overturned. What's Griswold? It's the Supreme Court case that legalized contraceptive use by married people, overturning the Comstock Act. From 1873 to 1965 it was not only illegal in America to manufacture or sell contraceptives, but even to talk or write about them in print, and not only legally "obscene" to discuss them, but a crime for even married people to use them during sex.

Why? Well, for a significant percentage of the population, sex is supposed to be scary, supposed to involve risk of unwanted consequences; that's how they want to scare people into as having as little of it as possible, so they channel their energy into more "productive" activities, like economics or militarism. (Think I'm making this up? For more on the link between militarist dictatorship and sexual repression even within marriage, see Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism and if you don't want to trust Reich then the single most famous expert on fascist movements in history, Eric Hoffer, in his book The True Believer.)

But Comstockery became the law when fascism wasn't even a glimmer in anybody's eye. No, as much as anything Comstockery was just another Republican "return to normalcy" campaign. To a significant percentage of the American population in the 1870s, this rush to the cities to work in the (Republicans') factories was a terrible threat to the social controls implicit in small-town village life, a threat of immanent rampaging immorality on the order of what happened in Bohemian Paris. (Seigel's book is very good. Bruce Sterling's classic review of it is even better.) And the before they even thought to subvert organized Christianity, the Republicans were portraying anything that made sex less scary as a threat to public order. Democrats, being comfortable in the cities and knowing full well that Americans who live in cities are no scarier than Americans who live anywhere else, never bought into this. So when the ministers of the false gospel went looking for a way to make it seem that Jesus was endorsing their evil anti-Christian masters in the anti-communist crusade, they eagerly turned to demonically false exegesis to find anything they could to make contraception, birth control, abortion, public health campaigns against sexually transmitted diseases, or any other thing that might make romantic sex safer or healthier, seem to be antithetical to God's word, even though they clearly aren't.

They clearly all need to be reminded of the very passage in the Christian Bible, this from Revelations 22, verses 11-21 (emphasis added):

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

So I ask you, if you claim to believe the Bible and yet you support the political party that lays heavy burdens on the poor and lifts not a finger to help them (Matt 23:1-4), what if you're right and the Bible is not just any book but the word of actual God? When the Son of Man comes in His glory, how shall you escape His judgment for the sin of adding to the words of the Bible, for the sin of creating obstacles to Christ for those who don't meet your personal un-Biblical moral code, for the gravest of sins of lying about what the gospel actually says about how the saved shall be divided from the damned? If you're right (and I, as a non-Christian, am wrong), how shall you escape being cast into the fiery pit of Hell, where the flame burns forever and quenches not?

(Next, the conclusion: if I don't believe these things, why am I personally so angry about the lie?)



Christians in the Hand of an Angry God (part 5, conclusion)

[Dec. 6th, 2004|05:10 am]

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OK, let's recap, just in case somebody joins this discussion at the end. In part 1, I proved that nearly every Christian evangelical, fundamentalist, and/or Biblical literalist church and ministry in America is teaching a false gospel. They teach that a magical ritualistic prayer will guarantee your admission into Heaven after death, whether or not it changes your behavior; Jesus, the judge of all the dead, specifically contradicted that message in his description of Judgment Day in Matthew 25:31-46. And what's fascinating about that point is that what He says He will use to measure whether or not you really meant your repentant prayer was how you treated the poor, sick, unfortunate, and oppressed, whether they deserve it or not. In part 2, I made a big deal out of the fact that charity whether the object "deserves it" or not is, of course, completely antithetical to traditional Republican policies, which are more consistent with Satanism than with Christianity. And I demonstrated that, based on an eyewitness account by someone who was in the room when the decision was made, the leaders of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches and seminaries decided to preach Satanism under the guise of Christianity if that was what it took to win elections for what they thought was the more reliably anti-communist political party. And in parts 3 and 4 I demonstrated two of the specifically Republican anti-Christian gospel messages that are taught from almost every evangelical or fundamentalist pulpit in America, specifically to persuade people that God endorses only Republicans: the lie that the Bible prohibits rights and protections for homosexuals (part 3), and the lie that the Bible prohibits abortion (part 4).

I do feel some temptation to make a big deal out of another evangelical and fundamentalist crusade that's blatantly anti-Biblical as well: public prayer. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that government-sanctioned public prayer involving captive audiences was coercive and an impermissible establishment of religion, so many churches have been fighting tooth and nail to get that little perq back. Perhaps they should have consulted Jesus first? As quoted in Matthew 6:5-6, He said, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." In fact, all of Matthew 6 is worth reading to get a broad understanding of this point: if you're practicing your religion in front of others to be seen, heard, or whatever by them then God isn't having any of it. But I won't make a big deal out of this now, because truthfully it doesn't fit the grand narrative of this piece, namely the Republican takeover of the churches. No, this was more an example of the Republicans seeing a parade go by and rushing to get out in front of it. It may actually be the only thing the Republican party has changed their opinions to go along with the fundamentalists on. Too bad for them both, come Judgment Day, that the thing they agreed stands in direct contradiction to what Jesus said.

Now that I've had my say, there are two obvious questions about this sermon series, this lengthy rant, this extended diatribe that are entirely fair to ask, that I know that most of you want to ask, that I anticipated from the start. First of all, why should I care, why do I care? And secondly, what should you, or I, or anyone do about this?

It's a fact of my biography that if it weren't for a fundamentalist high school that I attended from September 1974 to May 1978, the aforementioned Dr. Stormer's private school Faith Christian Academy, I probably never would have amounted to anything in life. While I was in the public schools, I was coasting ... and still blowing the curve. The Hazelwood School District's schools, teachers, families, and students lived in a culture of deep antipathy towards all-out effort at anything other than (a) team sports and (b) making and wasting money -- in that order of descending importance. When I got to Faith Christian Academy, it wasn't the faculty or the staff that knocked me out of that mindset. It was my fellow students. Can you believe that? It goes beyond that. The first two fellow students to ask me, with obvious emotional concern, why I wasn't trying to do my best were a basketball star and a cheerleader. At Faith Academy, because of how they were almost all raised, because of the cultural norms of people who put their kids into private schools (even tiny little low-prestige ones like Faith), even the kids knew that trying to learn all you could and excelling in scholastics to the best of your ability was something any sane, healthy person would want to do.

And it was in that environment that I first encountered fundamentalist theology. It was hardly my first encounter with Christianity. My first encounter with Christianity came at a United Churches of Christ neighborhood Sunday School at the age of 4, where they were trying to teach us to recite and memorize the Apostle's Creed. I refused to memorize it until it was explained to me. The Sunday School teacher thought that was inappropriate. I'm not sure, truthfully, that she understood it herself. To her it had become just what Jesus decried in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, "vain repetition" of "much speaking" to be heard of men. I hated it. I refused to have any part of it. I stood by my guns and insisted that my parents remove me from that Sunday School, and I got my way. I never darkened the doors of another church for any reason until age 14. But theology, especially theology that takes the written Scriptures seriously ... that's something altogether different. That's a thing of beauty, a thing of elegance, perhaps the most beautiful game of verbal logic ever invented, a system of knowledge with its own rules and procedures as simple to lay out and as delightfully complex in operation as any fractal. I'll still debate Christian theology at the drop of a hat, I still love it, even though (as I've said in part elsewhere) I consider monotheism itself to be toxic to human freedom and many of the distinctive doctrines that separate Christianity from other religions to be potentially toxic to decency and sanity. To me, it's a game. And when I'm playing a game, it really pisses me off to see other people cheat. And it pisses me off even more to lose to a cheater, let alone an army of cheaters.

And that's what this is really about, as you might have guessed. It took the Republicans and their faux-Christian Satanic puppets in the evangelical and fundamentalist ministries forty years to sell their lies to people, to tell their lies so often and to suppress dissent so broadly that hardly anybody left alive remembers the true Gospel. They did it to remove any hint of true Christian feeling from the American electorate if that Christian feeling would be an obstacle to a Republican majority; that's not a theory, that's a reported fact by an eyewitness and participant. But as we saw in the exit polls last month, they finally succeeded. The real reason that George Bush won that election is that for the first time since the Civil War, the Republicans are the majority party. OK, technically, they're a plurality; roughly one third of the electorate does not identify with either political party. But of the people who showed up to vote on national election day in 2004, a measurably greater number of them self-identified as Republicans than as Democrats.

Now, the Democrats have done their own damage to themselves, shot themselves in the foot with the electorate in their own ways, and eventually I'll get around to going off on my party for (to preview the topic) the way in which they made themselves a party specifically for losers. But if that were all there were to this, I wouldn't be quite so angry, quite so worked up. Because if all that was going on here was that the Democrats and the Republicans had a nationwide, multi-generational debate over values, over policies, over who can be trusted and the Republicans won fair and square, then that would be that. As H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." Vox populi, vox Dei. But that's not what happened. The Republicans played a trump card that moved the debate out of the marketplace of ideas. They got their boot-licking lackeys in the pulpits to lie, and lie, and lie so often and so long that almost nobody remembered the truth. They added a new 11th Commandment to the supposedly inalterable word of God: "Thou shalt not vote for a liberal." They managed to persuade enough voters, not a majority but enough, that no matter what their best interests were, no matter what they thought was best for the country, no matter what they themselves thought was morally right, if they voted against the Republican candidate then they were an enemy of God Himself. And with the majority of the Bible-preaching pulpits in America suborned to that Satanic lie, how were those people to know any different?

(If they internalize Republican values and go on to practice contempt for the poor and unfortunate, not that all of them will but those that do, then if the Bible is true their ignorance won't save them on Judgment Day, and they ... you ... will still burn. It was all right there in the Book in plain unmistakable language to read.)

And you know what? I'm not the only person who knows this. Yes, there are wishy-washy liberal so-called-Christian theologians who earn the public's contempt by running away from the Bible, by embracing every spiritual fad that comes down the pike, by treating all paths to holiness as equal. They preach this in front of a public that still believes the Bible, and are stunned to find themselves treated like pariahs; how dumb can they be? Nonetheless, you don't see the earlier-mentioned Donald Miller running away from the Bible. He's willing to be a pariah in the false churches (and yet sell 100,000 copies of each book) by standing up and preaching and writing the true gospel. Nobody ever accused retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong of running away from the Bible; he preaches to the condemnation of the Pharisees and the hope of renewal of Jesus' own faith every week, and he does it solidly from the Bible. But for every published voice, I wonder how many people there are like this woman:

"My pastor kept asking us to pray for George Bush to win," a Georgia woman told me last week, "and most folks seemed to go along with it. So I just kept quiet and secretly prayed for the other side."

I saw that quote in an article at FirstAmendmentCenter.org that was forwarded to me over the news wires, I think probably through Google News, right after the election, and that anonymous woman's dilemma pierced me to heart. And the title of that article by FirstAmendmentCenter.com's Charles C. Haynes? "Christian-Republican alliance: Faustian bargain?" And that was the crack that opened up the whole dam. Because I realized, in the context of what he was saying, that what Dr. John Stormer had described to me about the 1964 Republican National Convention's anti-communist caucus meeting really meant that "Faustian bargain" wasn't merely an allegory this time. The leaders of Bible-based Christianity, by throwing out or obfuscating the plain words of the Jesus Christ in the Bible and substituting politically inspired doctrines antithetical to the gospel, had done just that: to save their lives, they made a literal deal with the Devil. And because they sold that poor woman's church out from her, quite possibly even before she was even born, she sits in her pew where she wants to be, in a Church that promises to teach the Christian scriptures. She hears her pastor preach enmity towards Christ's teachings. But maybe she thinks she's the only one who thinks so. Or else she doesn't want to make a fuss. Or else she lacks courage. Or more likely, she values whatever vestige of true spirituality and pure religion she can find in that church, and doesn't want to lose it by making an enemy out of the converts to the false gospel, by opening her mouth and giving them a reason to hate her. She is the real reason why I wrote this, and I'll probably never even know her name.

What is there to do about it? I wish I knew. It won't be we secularists or Pagans who lead false Christians back to Christ. We've no credibility, and too obvious a self-interest. Still, if you make these arguments (or deliver them) to people who claim to think for themselves, who read the Christian scriptures for themselves, and ask that person if they or their pastor can find anything in the scriptures to disprove what I've written, perhaps you can wean them back to a true Gospel. Maybe they'll even thank you for it ... until they find out what happens to the pink monkey in a cage full of brown monkeys. As I think it was Spider Robinson who said, "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is in for a hell of a ride."

But you know, I already knew a lot of these arguments when I was a fundamentalist myself. Knowing didn't help me. Even hearing them from the horses' mouths, from Dr. Stormer and from graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary, I knew that the fundamentalist arguments about birth control, abortion, prophylaxis, gay rights, and especially rock and roll were specious arguments, mere personal opinions not binding on anybody else who had freedom of conscience. I found a pastor who toed the public line to the minimum and who had a support structure of elders and volunteers in his church determined to keep it a true Christian church. (The pastor was one of the two most spiritually enlightened men I have ever met in my life, Richard "Rick" Bovey. It was a true privilege to meet him and study under him.) What happened to us? The "conservatives," the Republico-Christians, suspected us from the get-go. They organized conspiracies of silence to freeze as many of us out as they could. They then engineered a coup d'etat within the church, rammed through a slate of pseudo-Christian right-wing elders who ousted the pastor himself. No dissent from the Republican party line was to be tolerated ... not even private, secret, suspected dissent. It was not enough for them to control what was taught, it was their clear agenda to police thought crime as well. Those of us who quietly took stands for the true gospel tried to do so in a way compatible with Biblical guidelines, like the ones in Galatians 6:1 and in Matthew 18:15-17. I can't say that it won't work for you; but I do know that when we tried it back in the early 1980s, all it did was make us easier to marginalize. Against such stresses, is it terribly surprising that Christ-preaching Christians are threatening schism, even sometimes following through with it as happened with the Baptist General Convention of Texas' break-away from the Southern Baptists? All I know is that if the true words of the Bible are to be heard over the din of the false gospel, somebody is going to have to be called to preach them.










(no subject)

Here is more of Christians In the Hands of an Angry God by Brad Hicks:

Christians in the Hand of an Angry God (part 2)

[Nov. 29th, 2004|03:34 am]

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If all you ever saw of the World Science Ficton Convention was the opening ceremonies, the masquerade, the Guest of Honor Speech, the Hugo Awards presentation, and closing ceremonies, and you only saw that on television, and you missed half of what you saw because TV news anchors were talking over it, would you have any real feel for what it's actually like to be at a large science fiction convention? No. You'd only be seeing the scripted parts, the big showy parts. The real meat and potatoes of a science fiction convention, the real experience, is to be found out in the halls, in chance meetings. It's in panel discussions, where you may actually learn something from or about the science fiction industry. And even more than that, it's in the hospitality suites, both official and unofficial, because that's where people actually meet, socialize, try overtly to hype their own reputations, and try gently to persuade each other to each others' pet projects. So should it surprise you to know that political party conventions aren't any different? State political party conventions run a lot like regional SF conventions. The big national political party conventions that happen every four years are more like Worldcon than you might otherwise know. Oh, the standards in funny costuming are different, but no weirder. One difference: the sexily dressed women are paid professionals at the national political conventions, and generally kept more out of sight. But otherwise, there are more similarities than differences. Sometimes it's even the same people; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was a science fiction fan before he was a successful politician. (Does this surprise you in the least? I thought not.)

I tell you this so that you'll be better able to imagine one important part of any political party convention, whether state or national: caucus meetings. The definition of the word "caucus" is not widely taught these days, mostly because caucusing has gone out of style, and so it is widely misunderstood. A caucus is nothing more (or less) than a group of people who've agreed upon a single goal. To that end, they all pledge before any votes are taken that whether they win or lose any vote within the caucus, when they leave the caucus room and go their separate ways, they will support the decision of the caucus as enthusiastically as if it had been what they personally had wanted to do, all along. Almost the entire political party process takes place in caucuses of one kind or another. If you aren't willing to caucus, you aren't really a player; you're not really in the game.

During the 1964 Republican Party National Convention there was yet another meeting of the Republican anti-communist caucus. But this one broke new ground. Now, I was 4 at the time, so how can I know? Well, I heard a great deal about it from one of the caucus members. Dr. John A. Stormer was the author of the 1964 best-selling anti-communist conspiracy theory exposé None Dare Call it Treason. In it, he "proved" that the US State Department and the US Department of Education had both been completely subverted and taken over from within by Russian-backed Communist Party cells. (Oddly enough, when the KGB archives were opened in 1989, he turned out to have been right about the State Department. It's not terribly surprising, really; Foggy Bottom has long been manned by people who identified more with foreigners than with their own countrymen, and has a long history of forgetting which country pays its salaries.)

Dr. Stormer was also a state delegate from Missouri for Barry Goldwater, and as so was obviously at the 1964 Republican National Convention. And given his then-new celebrity in the anti-communist movement, it is no shock that he was a member of the anti-communist caucus, and had been for years. 12 years later, in 1976, he was a private high school administrator at Faith Christian Academy, where I was attending classes. I was taking his (mandatory) class in "Principles of Spiritual Growth" during the 1976 election season. One day we were far enough ahead of the lesson plan that he declared an open question and answer period. Since he (and the rest of the school) had been drumming into us how essential it was to return the nation to Christian rule, and since I knew he hated the "Rockefeller" (internationalist) side of his own party, I asked him why he was backing secularist left-wing Rockefeller-supporting Republican Gerald Ford over born-again evangelical fundamentalist Christian Democrat Jimmy Carter? In order to explain that decision to us, he told us the story of that 1964 meeting in San Francisco, and how he felt bound by those caucus results to back the party no matter who they nominated, and why. I was young when he told it. I'm fuzzy on some of the details. After 12 years, he may have been fuzzy on some of the details himself, and Lord knows, he was one of those hard-to-listen-to people who constantly says "umm" and chews on his glasses, even in the middle of a sentence. But I remember the gist of it, and as history has unfolded (and as I have learned more and more about politics myself), I've come to understand more and more of what he told me. And in light of the last 25 years of history, in particular, what he said about that 40-year-ago meeting chills my blood.

Put simply: The Republican anti-communist caucus was made up of people who shared two beliefs. First of all, to be a member of that caucus, you had to believe that the still-expanding worldwide spread of communism was the single greatest threat in the world; not just to them personally, but to the US, and not just to the US, but to the future of the whole human race. For the wealthy people who had long made up the base of the Republican party, this was an easy idea to sell. They knew perfectly well what would happen to their wealth after a communist takeover of the United States. But what may not be clear to you yet is just how equally obvious this fact was to any Christian with any knowledge of, or connections within, the field of missionary work in Asia. When the communists took over Russia, they expelled all foreign missionaries, and nearly all Christian ministers were internally exiled to slave labor death camps in Siberia. When the communists took over China, they were even less subtle: all missionaries and Christian clergy who didn't escape the country were simply murdered in cold blood. When the communists took over North Korea, they made the Chinese look gentle and friendly: missionaries, ministers, Christians who refused to renounce their faith, and their children were brutally tortured to death. Anyway, the second thing that you had to believe to be a member of the Republican anti-communist caucus was that only the Republican party could be trusted to be sufficiently militant and vigilant against communism. Caucus members agreed that while there might be some staunch anti-communist Democrats, that party was also home to a great many socialists who would secretly welcome a communist takeover of the United States. It was a well known documented fact that Soviet agents had been trying to infiltrate and take over various local Democratic parties; Republican anti-communists believed that some unknown number of them must have succeeded. Democratic Presidents had lost Russia, China, and Cuba to communism, had failed to expel the communists from North Korea, and were holding back from declaring all-out war against the communists in Vietnam. And, of course, the Republicans blamed the Democrats for the perceived failures of the Army-McCarthy hearings and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

However, if you're living in 1964 and you think that the Republicans in the US are the only hope that the world has of resisting and overthrowing global communism, you've got a really big problem: you're on the losing side of American politics. Democrats had controlled the city governments of every major city in the United States for decades, with no end in sight. They controlled both houses of Congress. They had the majority of the governors' offices, and controlled one or both houses of almost every state legislature. The only Republican to win the Presidency in over 30 years was war hero Dwight Eisenhower. If you really actually wanted to win an election to public office in the US in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, or even 70s you ran in the Democratic primary, either as a machine candidate or a reform candidate. The Republicans were seen as the wealthy person's party (which they were), the party that had brought about the Great Depression; the Democrats were seen as the party of the poor and the middle class, the party that had ended the Great Depression ... and not coincidentally won both World Wars. So it was at the 1964 Republican anti-communist caucus that somebody, and I think Dr. Stormer said it was George Will, laid down the law, and hit all the delegates present with a big whopping clue-by-four: if communism was to be defeated, then the Republicans were going to have to become a majority party. Seems obvious in hindsight, doesn't it?

But there's a catch. There's always a catch. In this case, the catch must have been this. The traditional Republican party is the party of Satan himself, and thereby unpalatable to nearly all of the 90% or more of the US public that self-identified as Christian. I am not exaggerating here, not one tiny little bit. (Nor am I alone in this. Remember, I've met and done volunteer work alongside Dr. Michael Aquino, the founder of the largest Satanic church in the world, and you have never met a more staunch Republican in your life. Nor did he make any bones about why: he is a Republican Party loyalist because the Republican Party stands in total opposition to the Christian scriptures.) Throughout the gospels, take everything that Jesus said. Now reverse each and every statement. Each and every one of those reversals is a traditional plank of the Republican party platform. Republicans urge people to work hard, earn as much money as possible, and save it. Jesus said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) Republicans are the party of the arms manufacturers. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 5:9) Republicans believe that how much money a person earns or has is a good measure of that person's worth. Jesus said, "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16:13) If a rich person comes to the Republicans and asks "what shall I do with my life?" they tell him to save his wealth, invest it in his own business and in the businesses of other wealthy people, keep his costs (including labor) as low as possible, in order to sell as many goods at as low a price as possible, and thereby enrich the world. When a rich person came to Jesus and asked him what he should do with is life, here's what actually happened (Luke 18:18-25):

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And, of course, there's the "little problem" that I discussed yesterday. The Republicans have long been the party that believes that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. They believe, and teach, write, and legislate, and mandate that the textbooks say that if any American is poor, it is his own fault for not doing what it takes to become rich. As I've written before, Ronald Reagan elevated the hating of poor people to an artform: Ronald Reagan taught an entire generation of Americans that it is morally acceptable to hate the poor. And as I showed you from the Christian scriptures themselves yesterday, then if the Bible is any guide, anybody who has learned that lesson, and acted on that belief, and has since died ... for them it is too late. On Judgement Day, they will be cast into the fires of Hell by an angry God, and in those fires they will burn for all eternity.

How did the gospel stop being an obstacle to a Republican majority? Well, among the people in that fateful room in 1964 was a high official, I think Dr. Stormer said it was the dean himself, of Dallas Theological Seminary. And what you have to understand about Dallas Theological Seminary is that this is the top school for fundamentalist intelligentsia. When three or more people argue a point of doctrine in a fundamentalist setting, when the DTS graduate speaks, everybody else shuts up and listens. And what has finally dawned on me is that Dr. Stormer really did mean what he was implying: in 1964, the leading intellectual and spiritual figures of the fundamentalist community decided to stop teaching the actual gospel as it was written. They have to have decided to under-emphasize and explain away anything in the actual teachings of Jesus Christ that would stand in the way of people voting Republican. They conformed their doctrine and teachings to the doctrines of God's own enemy. To save their lives from the threat of communism, whether they realized it or not (and they probably didn't, for the power of the human mind to rationalize decisions made out of fear is nearly infinite), they sold their very souls and the souls of tens of millions of their followers into the service of Satan.

And to increase their popularity during a time of social turmoil, and to further distract the masses, for the teachings of Jesus Christ and His own disciples and apostles, they made a straight-forward substitution for the teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead, they took up the teachings, and ways, and doctrines of Jesus's worst enemies, the Jewish sect that most earnestly sought and ultimately obtained his death: the Pharisees. But that can wait for tomorrow.



Christians in the Hand of an Angry God (part 3)

[Nov. 30th, 2004|03:09 am]

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So now that I've established that in hopes of making the Republicans look more like Christians so that people would vote Republican and thereby hopefully avert a communist takeover of the USA, the former ministers of the gospel of Christ conspired to stop the teaching of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and turned to a false, Republican gospel. How did they decide what that Republican gospel was going to be? What could they preach to make people think that Republicans were good Christians, and that all you had to do to be a good Christian was mouth an empty prayer and then support Republican party values?

From the very earliest days of the Republican party, it was the party of the wealthy. But starting with the 1950s, it became something else as well: the party of social reaction, the party of the "return to normalcy." You see, in the late 1940s, the entire population of the USA had a small problem: they had no idea how they were "supposed" to live. They knew what they thought of as a "normal American," namely the rural farmers and small-town shopkeepers that made up the bulk of the (white, northern) population from the 1700s to the 1870s. But then came oil, and steam, and industrialization, and with that came rail, and factories, and with that came the beginning of the rush from the rural countryside to the (perceived) corruption of the Big Cities. Society was still reeling from that generational shock when the automobile came along, wreaking its own havoc on geographic ties and doing more to empower illicit sex than any invention since the condom ... and not coincidentally, technology made condoms a heck of a lot more reliable and comfortable around the same time. Society was still being knocked loopy by those social changes when America got dragged into World War I, and for the first time in American history huge numbers of American men were intimately exposed to European ways, and (as the song went), how are you going to keep him down on the farm after he's seen Paris? Those shell-shocked and culturally broadened soldiers hadn't yet been integrated back into society when Prohibition came along, and plunged America into a gangster war and an era of corrupt politics that took two generations to overturn. Prohibition no sooner began than the economy collapsed on a scale never before seen in America, destroying whole families, communities, and almost the whole states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. That period was barely being struggled out from under when World War II erupted, and yet again whole families were torn apart as nearly all of the young adult men in America were dragged into wartime service, mostly abroad. So with one thing and another, nobody in America reckoned that society had had a breath of "normal life" in at least 80 years, longer than almost anybody was alive. So when relative prosperity came along, the American people had a chance to re-imagine what "normal life" would be like in an industrial society, and they agreed upon (and were aggressively recruited by advertising into) setting their ideals by the TV fantasy of Father Knows Best.

But no sooner did Republicans begin to sell this upper-middle class white suburban fantasy than it began to slip away from them. Those who saw that such a world had no place for them now had tools that they might never have had before: cheap printing presses and mimeographs, networks of telephones, and above all cheap inter-city travel, and so there arose subcultures of dissent, most famously Civil Rights, feminism, the rock-and-roll counter-culture, and the struggle for legal life for homosexuals. As the lead purveyors of the consumerist conformist fantasy of the Return to Normalcy, wealthy Republicans were the perfect party to endorse the discomfort that many Americans had with these movements. And so the purveyors of the false gospel found their calling, their contribution towards making the Republicans look respectable and Christian: to convince the public that God Himself hated uppity Negros, feminists, rock-and-roll, and above all homosexuals, and anything else that might make a white conformist upper middle class family uncomfortable.

Now, the rock-and-roll argument is almost a straw man. If you've never been inside fundamentalist culture, this must seem as funny as heck to you, but take my word for it: from the earliest days of rock-and-roll up through at least the mid 1980s, and in some places up until the present time, it is/was an article of faith and frequently preached in sermons that any music that's danceable, any music with a back-beat, any jazz or rock-and-roll, is Satanic, directly opposed to God, and something that all true Christians should abhor and avoid. The logic that is used to supposedly "prove" this from a Biblical literalist perspective is so tortuous, circular, irrational, specious, and down-right silly that for me to pick on it would be like setting up a straw man to knock down. Suffice it to say that nobody with any intellectual honesty would look at any of those arguments and conclude that they were reached through an honest investigation of the Scripture. No, they were reached because someone, or more precisely several someones, were looking for an excuse to preach pro-Republican sermons. The false gospel attack on feminism has concentrated on three arguments, one of which the fundamentalists lost so badly that even Tim and Beverly LaHaye only barely whisper the first one: that women should be subservient to men. The other two, opposition to birth control and abortion, is a fascinating topic but one I have no patience for tonight, I'm too tired. If I still have the energy to extend this topic tomorrow or soon, I will.

Instead, let me tackle one of the clubs that the ministers of the false gospel use to persuade people that to be a good Christian is to vote Republican: homosexuality. The ministers of the false gospel, the gospel of Satan, tell you that the Bible is clear and unambiguous: "God hates fags." Does He? Or is this a false gospel, one cooked up to please the false ministers' masters in the Republican party? Let's look.

Does the Old Testament condemn homosexuality? Yes, clearly and unambiguously, at least if we're talking about MSM (men having sex with men): "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13) On the other hand, that same general part of the Old Testament also prescribes the death penalty for working on the weekend (Exodus 35:1-2) and for cursing (Leviticus 24:13-16). It also requires that houses with mildew on the shower wall be torn down if the priest doesn't like its color (Leviticus 14:33-53). It also equally fiercely condemns cotton/wool blend suits (Leviticus 19:19), playing football (Leviticus 11:7-8, and boy, tell that to a Southern Baptist from Texas), and most famously, eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12). That's right, folks, God Hates Shrimp. What should all of those rules mean to a contemporary Christian? Remarkably little. How can I say that? Simple: I've read the book of the Bible called Acts, short for "The Acts of the Apostles." It tells the story of how Christianity first spread from a relatively tiny persecuted sect of Jews in Jerusalem to a world-wide religion with more gentile than Jewish believers. And all the way through the first half of the book, the apostles wrestle with the question of just how much of the holiness code, the law of Moses, do the gentiles need to adopt? And when all was said and done, when God had finally gotten His point through their thick skulls, the answer was this: no meat offered to idols. In the opinion of the apostles, and of nearly every Christian scholar from that time until the Republican party takeover of the Church starting in the 1960s, the vast majority of the holiness code, all of the weird little nitpicky details, was not a set of universal laws for all people for all time but a very specific set of laws for a very specific group of people (Jews) in a very specific place (Palestine) during a very specific time (the transition from nomadic tribes to agricultural kingdom). Of all of those details, the only one that the apostles felt worth preserving was a rule requiring that Christians abstain from sharing the food offered at the ceremonial meal at pagan religious ceremonies. That's it. Other than that? Do what Jesus said.

You remember Jesus, right? The guy who stood up against everything the Republicans stand for? Supposedly your savior if you call yourself a Christian? That guy. And oh yeah, he never mentioned anything about homosexuality, or, for that matter, much about any kind of sin other than robbing the poor. In fact, the only time that anybody forced the issue on him, it was a trap by the Pharisees, who hated Jesus with a fiery passion. You see, the Pharisees were exactly like modern Republicans. The Pharisees were a sect who believed that the Roman occupation of Israel was God's punishment on the Jews for not being holy enough, not being pure enough. So the Pharisees taught a regimen of rules about sex, hygiene, and diet that went even farther than God Himself did in the original holiness code. So when they caught Jesus traveling on the Sabbath, or gleaning stray grains from the fields he walked through on the Sabbath, they were all over Him like flies on excrement. They also hated him for associating with people and ethnic groups that the Pharisees didn't like, and they were constantly smearing Him as a drunkard. And when a group of Pharisees caught an adulterous couple, they figured they had the perfect trap for Jesus. You see, the holiness code very specifically prescribes the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10). However, Roman law said that only the Roman governor could prescribe the death penalty. So by bringing him the woman caught in adultery, they figured that they could force him to choose between offending the Jews (and losing his followers) or offending the Romans (and being put to death). Instead of answering, Jesus just crouched down and wrote on the ground with His finger for a while, then stood up and said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The Pharisees slunk away in cowardice and shame, which raises the interesting unanswerable question, what the heck was Jesus writing? My theology professors' favorite speculation was that it was a list of other death penalty offenses that the Pharisees might reasonably suspect Jesus of somehow knowing they were guilty of, daring them to start a stone-throwing festival that would have left the hypocrites as dead as the adulteress. Nonetheless, as fun as this story is, let's not miss part of the point here. Jesus was specifically asked whether or not we as human beings should continue to enforce the holiness code in the Law of Moses, and Jesus very specifically said no. (John 8:1-11)

Paul, on the other hand, we're told from the pulpit that he had a few divinely inspired things to say about homosexuality, right? And since that moves the prohibition on homosexuality into New Testament times, into the mouth of an apostle, surely that means that even if the kosher laws no longer apply and it's legal to play football, it's obviously still wrong to have sex with someone of the same gender. Right? Right? Well, you tell me -- where does Paul supposedly say this? Oh, yeah, it's right here: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1st Corinthians 6:9-10)

But you see, there's a problem with that passage. That phrase "abusers of themselves with mankind" is a translation of one word in the original Greek: arsenokoites, and that word does not mean homosexual. Now, how can I possibly know that, when scholars of Greek don't even agree on what the word means? Simple, I know this by process of elimination: ancient Greek doesn't have a word that means "homosexual." Why? Because neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals existed in that culture. History does not record a single example of a man who was only attracted to men or to women, nor a clear and unambiguous example of a woman who's only attracted to men or to women. Normal life as it was lived was for romantic relationships to be with either gender older/younger members of the same sex; same age members of the opposite sex. One married the opposite gender, in an arranged and generally loveless marriage, for the purpose of producing children to take care of you in old age in exchange for an inheritance. In fact, in Plato's famous book The Symposium, there's a long and involved argument that only sex between older men and younger boys qualifies as spiritually pure romantic sexual love; all other forms of sex or love are based in some way or another on narcissism or selfishness. Does a culture that thinks this have a word, let alone an insult, for men who love men? But anyway, if Paul had meant to say that God condemned men having sex with men, or women having sex with women, he could have done so. As one of the most famous students of the Mosaic Law of his time, he could have effortlessly done so by quoting the Septuagint, the widely respected translation of those books from Hebrew into Greek. He could have said "nor men who lie with men as with women ... shall inherit the kingdom of God." You can say that in Greek. But he didn't. Instead he used a word specific to the Corinthian dialect, one not written down in any other source that survived into modern times. So whatever sin he's condemning there, it's not homosexuality. (The leading contender among scholars is "temple prostitutes," and that would make sense: Corinth was the capital of the biggest cult of temple prostitution in the entire Greek-speaking world, the famous Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.)

So why would so many Bible scholars say otherwise? Why the lie? Why substitute this "Bible full of holes" for their so-called-beloved whole Bible? I'll tell you why they do it. Because by so doing, they take the clash of cultures between Republican reactionaries and Democratic idealists and make it look like God Himself demands that you vote for the reactionaries. And so by this and similar lies they distract people from voting the party that stands up for Christ's principles, and lure them instead to vote for the party that most closely resembles the competing religious sect that most loudly and fervently demanded Jesus' death, the Pharisees.

(P.S. Because somebody else is bound to point it out if I don't, there's a famous bit of satire that deals with some of these themes, and yes, I'm somewhat indebted to it: James Kauffman's famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger.)