Would Jesus respect the Qur’an?

Do unto others as you would have them do means acting as they believe, not as we do. Far too often Christians, consciously or not, act out from our own values, even though we would be disturbed should others treat us according to their beliefs. We never stop to consider that Jesus’ command means we should apply others’ values as the basis for our actions toward them.

How would we feel if someone burned our Bible? Many would be (and have been) outraged. When I was raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I sat through many sermons on Bible burning and religious persecution in the Middle East and the Soviet Bloc. Our family donated money to ministers to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. Yet, when Afghans express outrage over NATO’s accidental burning of the Qur’an, many Christians respond with indignation.

We assume no responsibility since we don’t accept the Qur’an as a holy book. This attitude suggests a major disconnect. The Qur’an may not be our scripture, but it is scripture for the Moslems—a scripture based very much on stories in our own Old Testament and written to inspire reverence for our God. Allah is the Jewish God as well, whether we want to deny it or not, and, by extension, the God Christians revere as well.

Moslems may view God in a different light than we do, but we view God in a different light than Jews. To say that Moslems appropriated our God to fashion their own worship is to overlook the fact that Christians appropriated the Jewish God.

Christians are people of faith, Jews are people of faith and Moslems are people of faith. We would be incensed—or should I say, many Christians are incensed—when people of other faiths don’t place our faith on equal (if not higher ground) than theirs. In other words, we demand respect for our beliefs and expect others to step aside when the exercise of our faith inconveniences, or even offends them.

This, then, is one of the implications of the golden rule. We should treat the beliefs of others with the same respect we ask them to treat ours. In fact, since Jesus also said we should go the extra mile, we should be more tolerant of other faiths than we ask them to be of our own.

We know the apostle Paul would not have eaten pork or non-kosher wine in the presence of Jews or Christians who practiced kosher law, even if he didn’t follow kosher practices. I think it is safe to assume he wouldn’t have served alcohol or pork to Moslems (had there been any at the time).

If US or NATO troops burn the scriptures of a country our troops occupy, even if we do so inadvertently, we owe more than an apology. The White House and State Department should be consulting with Imams and Islamic scholars as to the proper way to make restitution to the people of Afghanistan for the disregard we showed to scriptures placed under our care.

We shouldn’t protest that they have killed our troops in retaliation, and believe that gives us the moral high ground. That they did so is criminal and the offenders should be prosecuted under Afghani law. But these offenders aren’t our responsibility. Our responsibility is to make whatever amends Islamic culture would request of us.

If they choose not to accept those amends, we are, as Christians, still compelled to forgive them. Whether we want to forgive them or not.

The real meaning of Christmas

This past Christmas was a first for Carol and I. Carol’s parents left us enough money to fly the grandkids down for Christmas and splurge on presents. As you may have guessed, blogging isn’t profitable (in fact, we lose money every time I write) and Carol’s retirement isn’t close to what she made before the Republicans forced dozens of career state employees into retirement so they could create new executive positions with twice the pay the Democrats allowed.Bryan lives in Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of just about everybody, and where high school students dream of going to college to become greeters at Walmart. Bryan was disabled while serving in the marines (fortunately, just before the Iraq war or he might have had it much worse) and given a medical discharge, which means he can barely afford to raise Eilonwy and her sister Cora.1So we flew them down and spent everything Carol’s parents left us on cool stuff for Bryan and the kids. We got a HiDef 3D TV and Blu-ray player, stereo surround sound system, iPads, iPhones, an X-Box, a Wii, dolls, clothes and, my favorite, a remote controlled velociraptor. Bryan assured me that the girls would love it. On Christmas Eve we treated them to dinner at Hudsons on the Bend, and then, when we realized the girls didn’t really like the espresso-chocolate-chili rubbed smoked elk back strap topped with jumbo lump blue crab and a lime chipotle beer blanc, or the grapefruit and avocado salad on butter lettuce with a buttermilk poppy seed dressing sprinkled with fresh pomegranates, or even the desert of ginger cheese cake with a blood orange marmalade, we took them to McDonalds for chicken nuggets and they loved it.(After we finished our grapefruit avocado salads, elk and ginger cheese cake, of course.)We watched Elf and Miracle on 34th Street (although the girls slept through most of Miracle on 34th Street since it was in boring black and white) then shuffled the girls off to bed. Then we stayed up until one o’clock setting up the new TV set, stereo system, iPad and toys, even though we knew we would tear it all down, repack it and ship it to Michigan when Bryan and the girls returned.With the girls sound asleep and the rest of us bone tired, we fell into our beds to dream of sugar plum fairies and sugar-fueled hyperactive children filling the living room with pile after pile of shredded wrapping paper. Around four in the morning I heard a clatter on our lawn and rose from my bed to see what was the matter.I ran to the living room to see Santa Claus climbing out of our living room window, and, what is more, our living room was practically bare. I followed Santa through the window and found him packing a Ford SUV with everything you were taken.”What are you doing?” I demanded.Too be honest, I didn’t exactly say, “What are you doing?” However, I shouldn’t repeat what I actually said in a column meant for Christian edification. Should you really want to know, I will refer you to a certain scene in the movie A Christmas Story. You know which one I mean.”What does it look like I’m doing?” Santa said, although at the time I doubted highly that he was, indeed, Santa. “I’m taking presents to needy children.””It looks like you’re stealing presents from my grandchildren,” I accused him.”Not at all,” he assured me. “But you know as well as I do that the economy’s bad. BP and Halliburton bought up all the shares of the North Pole and laid off all the elves. This is the only way I can get toys for children who are really in need.”In fact,” he assured me, “as soon as I leave I will be delivering most of this stuff to the School for the Deaf.”By this time I was furious. “At four o’clock in the morning?” I asked with no small degree of skepticism (or sarcasm).”Did you want me to show up when the kids were awake?” he replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” I demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” Santa assured me.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” he said. “At least they can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”You might imagine that I had had enough by that time, and you would be right. To add to the excitement, our argument had roused Carol, Bryan, Eilonwy and Cora from their sleeps and they stood with us, albeit barefoot, on the lawn. It’s a good thing there is no white Christmas in Austin or we might have caught cold.Carol had her iPhone with her, as she always does, even in her sleep (in case a cat should need early morning rescue) and was about to dial the police when, lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before us in all her glory.None of us could agree as to what, exactly she looked like. In fact, Bryan didn’t even see the angel because he was trying to stop Cora from turning the hose on our neanderthal dog Chutney, which was something she seemed to find incredibly funny because Chutney would simply swell her chest to three times her size and then shake the water over all of us.I’m not even sure the angel was a she, but Carol, who didn’t see her either because she was trying to find a reception spot for her iPhone amidst all the trees in our yard, insists God would have never sent a male angel on a mission of such importance.Santa was trying to wrestle the TV into the back of the SUV. He might have seen her, but I didn’t ask.The girls, however, were delighted to hear that I saw a real live angel and insist they saw her too. Eilonwy, however, says she looked like Yvaine, from the movie Stardust, but with wings. Cora swears she looked like Dora the Explorer. With more wings.”Fear not,” the angel said, the night glowing bright around her. “It is better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.” And then the she disappeared and the night went dark.I took her appearance as a sign from God, and even though Carol thought I was crazy, I helped Santa load the rest of the presents into the SUV and I waved as he pulled out of the drive way.I explained to Eilonwy and Cora that they were very fortunate to be able live with their dad, and that many kids in state schools didn’t even get to go home for the holidays. Some deaf kids don’t even talk to their parents because their parents refuse to sign and it’s very hard to read lips or hear adults—even when they’re mad and yelling really, really loud.So instead of the Christmas we planned, we hauled out the old 27 inch TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on one of the many cable channels that re-runs old movies all day long. We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows and ate Carol’s homemade chocolate orange pound cake. During the commercials I explained that, when Carol and I were the girl’s age, a 27 inch TV was just about the biggest television you could get. And that we didn’t get color TV until we were much older and our parents made more money.We planned to do Christmas dinner at Threadgills and all was right in the world except that just as we were leaving for lunch a county deputy showed up. He told us they arrested the Santa burglar and wanted us to press charges against him. It seems the Santa burglar devoted his Christmas eves to burglarizing houses while dressed as Santa, and even drinking the milk and cookie children left out for the real one. This was the first time they caught him with the goods still in his SUV.The deputy didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. You see, this was the same deputy that tried to break up a protest when an out of state company wanted to build a gravel plant in our neighborhood. “I don’t care what your beef is,” he told us, “these are legitimate business men and they don’t deserve to be hassled by the likes of you.” Then he said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up and go home and be good citizens and stop behaving like riff raff.”I suggested he arrest us all and explain to the JP why they were having to conduct bail hearings on two hundred local residents. The rest of my neighbors decided that was a good idea and only after he radioed the sheriff to tell him he was arresting us all and listened to shouting we could hear several yards away did he let us lose.A couple of years later he pulled me over for a rolling stop at my street corner. I explained that I had stopped completely, but he said, “If you know what’s good for you you stop, and count to ten, and then slowly accelerate. Otherwise, if I catch you, it’s a ticket.”Sometimes I don’t think before I speak and when he handed me the ticket I said, “Next time I see you that’s exactly what I’ll do. I won’t even wait to see a stop sign, just in case.”He ran my license plate and discovered I had an outstanding parking ticket. I assured him that I had paid that ticket, and I had the receipt at home to prove it. He could follow me if he wanted. At that point, he had me pull my car off the road, arrested me and hauled me downtown to the Travis County jail for outstanding tickets and resisting arrest. The entire drive he told me that the problem with guys like me is that we never knew what was good for us.Carol brought the receipt proving that I had, indeed paid the ticket, but the deputy wouldn’t release me on bail for resisting arrest because she only had her debit card. She had to drive to the bank to get cash. Before they released me seven hours later, the deputy personally came to greet us and told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay the next ticket before I have to throw you in jail. I have no patience for riff raff like you.”The judge dismissed the case, but several times Carol reminded me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll just say ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ the next time he pulls you over.And now, four or five years later, he stood at my front door and, believe it or not, he was still just a deputy. I probably would have gone ahead and pressed charges, except that before I could get a word in, he told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let us put the riff raff away for good.”For some reason, when the deputy said those words, my entire history with him flashed through my mind. At the same time I pictured the angel telling me it was better to give for the right reasons than to not give for the wrong reasons. I knew what Jesus wanted me to do.I told him that I would not press charges. The so-called Santa burglar was delivering those presents for us to the kids at the School for the Deaf.”At four o’clock in the morning?” he asked with no small degree of skepticism.”Did you want him to show up when the kids were awake?” I replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” he demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” I assured him.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” I said. “They can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”The deputy was furious, but I sent him off with no charges to press. Besides, I doubted he would remember me next time we met.Carol, Bryan and the kids had the best Christmas ever. Bryan did a really good impression of the deputy, and soon the girls were doing it as well. We found a deck of cards and I taught them a wonderful game called “Bullshit,”2 which involves guessing who’s lying about the cards in their hands. We found White Christmas on another cable channel and the girls were bored to sleep which was fine with us.I don’t know what happened to the Santa burglar, but I hope they gave him a nice meal before they let him go. It was Christmas, after all. I also pray that at some future Christmas the Santa burglar will visit your house and allow you to relearn the meaning of Christmas as he did with us.And the next time someone asks you for a dollar to catch the bus home or change for coffee, don’t rationalize that they will just spend it on drugs. That’s not what Jesus ever did. It really is far better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.


1His wife didn’t divorce him because he insisted on naming his eldest daughter after a character in a fantasy novel only fans have read, but most of us would consider it sufficient reason for filing. Sorry, Bryan, but a little constructive criticism….Well, what am I thinking? Kids never listen.back
2Some people call the game “I doubt it” around their kids but to me that’s like telling them there’s no Santa Claus. Childhood should be spent having fun, not learning to behave appropriately around adults who will judge them harshly no matter what they do.back

Put your money where your faith is

In 1972, the first year I could vote, I proudly wore my McGovern for President T-shirt every where, even to the Well in Austin and the Morningstar Coffeehouse in San Marcos, two coffee houses where the Christian kids would hang out and evangelize to the generation of love.

The elders who ran the Well had no problems with the shirt, or at least they never expressed their concerns to me. On the other hand they also dealt with an international community of students at the University of Texas, an international community that included Israeli and Palestinian students, students from the liberal east and west (or so the mythology went) coasts, hippies, homeless veterans, hard core drug dealers and bikers.

The elders at Morningstar coffeehouse constantly suggested I leave the shirt at home because Christians don’t engage in politics. The college community they dealt with, I might add, consisted of primarily central and west Texas kids who grew up in farm communities and hippies rebelling against the farm communities they grew up in. In those days San Marcos was as much a farm community as a college community.

I would ask these elders if they intended to vote for Nixon. Not surprisingly, they were. I reminded them that voting was getting involved in politics too. They would laugh and tell me that voting wasn’t politics.

During the next forty years conservative Christians (and many of the charismatic students they embraced) evolved into the Moral Majority and then the Christian right. They no longer believed Christians didn’t get involved in politics. They now believe Christians have a responsibility to promote Christian values in the pursuit of governance.

Strangely, however, this agenda includes a number of platforms I find absent in the Gospels and New Testament. They want to eliminate taxation, even though Jesus clearly commanded us render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e., pay taxes). They want mandatory public prayer in schools, even though Jesus said the faithful shouldn’t pray in public make a display of piety. They want statues of the Ten Commandments in public places, even though Jesus spoke out against idolitry.

They want to teach creationism as a legitimate science even though Jesus showed no concern whatever for public education. They want to ban abortion even though the Bible explicitly forbids the sacrifice of living children but never mentions the rights of the unborn. They want to stop medical research and deny health insurance and health care to the poor even though Jesus made it clear that one of the missions of Christians is to heal the sick.1

They do, however, make the case that it isn’t government’s responsibility to provide for the poor. The responsibility falls to private citizens and the faithful. And I accept that principle. It isn’t government’s responsibility as a matter of pure principle. But when the government represents the people, and twenty percent of the people live in poverty (and many more close to it), that government has a responsibility to everyone’s welfare.

If we accept the belief that private citizens are responsible to the poor, needy and sick, we must also recognize that Jesus taught his followers they were the private citizens responsible for the poor, needy and sick. We can rightly expect the religious right to step up to the plate and provide those services out of their own pockets. If, in fact, they want to do as Jesus did.

So we should also expect that, instead of pouring millions into political campaigns to unseat the Democrats, members of the religious right would be inviting the homeless into their homes, feeding them and paying their medical bills. If not that, they should be spending those millions on homeless shelters, food lines and free health clinics.

For some reason that isn’t happening. Where are the Palin sponsored homeless shelters? Where are the Salvation Army centers funded by Rick Perry’s wealth? Where is Michelle Bachman’s campaign to raise funds for medical care or to build free clinics? Why is it that the only Republican to show any desire to provide for health care for the poor is Mormon?2

When I was still a member of the church that founded the Morningstar coffeehouse, they sponsored a revival a few weeks after a flood that ruined the homes of several of the poorer members. During the revival they asked for clothes and food for those displaced by the flood. But they also collected thousands to help the visiting evangelist buy a private jet.

Several of the elders made sure to let members know how much they raised for that jet, but never mentioned the clothes and food. I even asked why they couldn’t have taken ten percent of the money raised for the jet and given it to the displaced families. I was assured that God would take care of the needy; the evangelist couldn’t spread the gospel without that jet.

Jesus walked on foot to spread the gospel, and collected money and food for the poor and starving. In 1972 (and now) I think he would have at least settled for driving to make sure those in need were clothed, housed and fed. And whether or not he would have voted for Rick Perry, Jesus would have told Perry and Palin and Bachman and Romney to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.


1Yes, I know I’m playing verbal sleight of hand here, since Jesus didn’t use doctors to heal the sick. But we could assume that it is not in the spirit of Christianity to deny treatment to those in need in order to make a political statement.back

2Sure, the Religious Right turns down the anti-Mormon rhetoric now that they’re all political bedfellows. But, trust me, deep down inside they believe Mormons are more like that weird spin-off program adopted by the SyFy channel than the official broadcast network variety of the faith.back


Is being mean becoming the social mean?

I know I’ve written about this before, but it just seems like American and Christian culture embrace an essential meanness I can’t recall experiencing previously in my lifetime.

This could be old fogey syndrome. I remember laughing at my father and grandfather when they complained how things were better when they were younger. But it seems that for all the members of the radical left who advocated violent action when I was young, there were as many, if not more of us who preferred peaceful resistance and fighting gun barrels with flowers.1

I also doubt that times are as contentious as the decades preceding the civil war when Congressman Preston Brooks beat Congressman Charles Sumner to the floor with his cane. Admittedly, Sumner compared one of Brook’s relatives to a pimp during a speech in the House, which was mean spirited in itself, but the caning may have been over the top.

Still, it seems to have been a week filled with incivility. The Florida courts decided that Casey Anthony should pony up court costs even though she was found not guilty of murder and served her sentence for obstruction of justice. These added penalties may make people feel good and that she got what she deserved, but it also seems like double jeopardy.

This is an interesting precedent in meanness. We don’t like the original verdict so we’ll make you pay for the cost of the trial. It kind of reminds me of schoolyard fights where the small kid nobody liked won, so everyone ganged up on him afterward.

An even meaner gesture may have been Lakewood, New Jersey’s lawsuit against members of a homeless camp because they “irreparably” ruined public property. The city claims they would never remove them until they have somewhere to go, but the homeless haven’t vacated the property until now precisely because they have nowhere to go.

In addition, homeless advocacy groups have already been working to find alternative shelter. But that isn’t good enough for Lakewood. In addition, they want to sue for court costs and attorney’s fees (as if they could collect).

Property damage is never irreparable. Trees grow back and lawns can be resurfaced. And if the homeless aren’t allowed on private property, where else can they go but public property? For Lakewood to say that they want the homeless to find shelter but that they’ll be suing them in the meantime reminds me of the passage in James: “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (2:16 NIV)

But lately the pretense of civility seems to mask hostility. Lakewood is no longer saying to the homeless, “we’re sorry but we wish you luck,” they’re saying, “you’re destructive and we don’t want you.”

It’s tempting to say these two anecdotes are hardly indicative of an overall mean-spiritedness, except that I’m not the only one commenting. Incivility seems to be a constant theme on the news, with good reason. Nor am I speaking of ordinary Americans who risked their own lives to save a motorcyclist from a burning car, but of our leaders—many of whom profess to be Christians.

After promising to be more conciliatory and bi-partisan in the wake of the debt ceiling fiasco, Republican leaders have drawn the same lines in the sand, “No new taxes, keep the military, cut the programs your voters like.” Only now the President for the first time has removed his own olive branch and decided he won’t compromise on Medicare and Social Security.

Things could get a whole lot worse before they fall completely apart.

Although I wouldn’t be the first to predict such gloom. Both Yeats and Sontag feared that “the center wouldn’t hold” and predicted that the great beast was slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Even though both are writers I love, the center still holds (shaky, yes, but it holds). So I’m not ready for the apocalypse yet.

But when Christians embrace this meanness of spirit, I find it deeply disconcerting. The most recent example of meanness of spirit is Pat Robertson, who claimed that Alzheimers patients are spiritually dead and therefore it would be not only Christian, but Biblical to divorce them. (Jesus only allowed marriages to end due to death or adultery.)

What disturbs me the most is not that he feels this way. His comrade in arms Newt Gingrich famously abandoned one wife as she was dying of cancer (which would be acceptably Christian since she was on her way out anyway). What disturbs me is that once again Christians who claim they accept only a literal reading of the Bible are perfectly content to create metaphors that contradict the literal meaning of scripture.

Jesus did not use “death” in the case of marriage as a metaphor for “mentally dead.” He used a good many metaphors and parables, but in this case dead meant dead. If anything, he would consider abandoning a sick spouse to be the worst kind of betrayal. As would the early church, who felt it their duty to take care of the needs of widows who couldn’t support themselves.

We do not abandon the living when they need us the most. To do so by claiming that you speak for Jesus is the worst kind of hypocrisy. It is also mean-spirited in the first order, the exact opposite of what Jesus would do by any reading of the Gospels.

The good news is that many of my friends who lived at the radical fringe in the sixties (including me) became swept up in the outpouring of love called the Jesus movement in the seventies.

The bad news is that the Jesus movement gave way to the Moral Majority who (in the gilded and nostalgic light of memory at least) look kind in comparison to today’s religious right.

I can only pray and have faith that we will experience another revival like the Jesus movement to correct the scales again, if only for a decade or two, to inspire a generation of hope and not another generation of spite.


1In fact, this statement is little more than a literary device. In the spirit of honesty, the more I think about it the more I can recall how mean spirited people—including Christians—have been all my life. They made fun of people they didn’t like or understand, and condemned them to hell from the pulpit. Christians loved calling boys with beards and a long hair “girls,” and even refused service to “dirty hippies” (not to mention Blacks and Hispanics). I even remember a particularly vitriolic sermon condemning rock and roll and the youth who listened (i.e., me) as communists and corrupt to the core.
The only redeeming comment in the sermon was the remark that we need more Christian and patriotic songs like Oklahoma Hills, which was written by socialist and labor organizer Woodie Guthrie. The song, by the way, has since become a personal favorite.
Literary devices aside, however, even though I feel the world is less hostile to me now, it certainly feels as though this country is experiencing an overt and sanctioned mean-spiritedness. Hate radio is no longer hate radio, it seems to be mainstream programming. The hate speech once relegated to fringe publications is now available to anyone on the internet. Nor does it matter, really, whether or not incivility is more common now than earlier so much as the fact that Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek and welcome their enemies with love regardless of the culture around us.back


WWS&RD?

The recent decision by the State of Texas to make rape victims pay for their own rape kits is one of the most cynical and the least Christian moves I can think of. The decision was prompted by the State’s refusal to accept Federal funding in areas such as education, health and law enforcement, leaving the state without money to aid victims of rape. Or at least that’s the Attorney General’s spin.

Basically, the decision means that taxes Texans pay to the federal government get spent on other states instead. In essence, they’re giving our taxes to someone else to make a political point. But the rape kits have to be the kicker.

What’s next? Making homicide victims pay for the crime lab work and clean up? Making burglary victims pay for the finger print kits? Wealthier families will have no problem paying for the lab work, but this leaves the poor with no real recourse to justice since they won’t be able to pay for the investigations.

Screen shot of Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign poster. He has offered it to the Republican party for their other campaigns and they may adopt it.

screen shot of Perry's campaign poster

This callous and cynical, and decidedly unChristian kind of thinking made me realize we need a second ethical guideline as a yardstick for decision making. We have the positive example, WWJD (or, more specifically, What Would Jesus Really Do), but we need a negative yardstick as well: WWS&RD.

This is not aimed at all Republicans, I admire many of them. Unfortunately they cower in the shadow of the religious right and the Tea Party every bit as much as Democrats.

Republicans and Tea Party members will no doubt be upset that I pair them with Satan, but they’ve pointed the Satan finger so unjustly and so successfully for so long that I’ve decided it’s time to call them on it. After all, the Inquisition may well have been one of the most powerful tools in Satan’s arsenal. Why shouldn’t he continue the tactic?

Let me segue for a few paragraphs to explain where I’m coming from.

You don’t have to be an idiot to have idiotic ideas

Liberal Christians (LCs) make the same mistake about Fundamentalist beliefs that secular liberals make about theirs. They assume that because fundamentalists and evangelicals (FECs) cling to a few ideas they perceive to be idiotic, then the entire fundamentalist belief structure must be wrong. As a consequence, many LCs reject wholeheartedly any notion that Jesus was more divine than any other man or that there might be a resurrection of the dead.

Both sides ignore the fact that all of these issues were heavily debated in the early Christian community1 and, it could be argued, orthodoxy only became standardized with the enforcement of empire.

But we may also have to acknowledge that many fundamentalist ideas are held to be idiotic because in some ways they border on the idiotic.

Of course, the problem is that to true believers idiotic never seems idiotic. It makes perfect sense because, by God, that’s what someone important told them. This is why Bill Maher’s Donner Party is doomed from the outset, as much as I pitch my hat to them. Most Donner Party followers will join only with a sense of irony, and idiots have no irony. In the end, faux idiots like those of us in the Donner Party, will always cave to the force of sheer idiocy.

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I was taught that the Bible was literally true. Every word of it. In fact, when I discussed the Bible with family members, they seemed to believe that God literally seized the writing hands of the Prophets and Apostles and everything in the Bible was merely a matter of automatic writing (or, since that has overtones of magic, taking dictation).2

Even casual observation and reading made it clear this couldn’t possibly be true. For one thing, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he isn’t writing from God but as a fool. But since it appears in the Bible we are left with something even worse than the “this sentence is false” dilemma. Paul says the passage isn’t the literal word of God, but merely the words of a fool.

But if the entire Bible is the literal word of God, it is the literal word of God (and Paul should have known it) and, even worse, the literal words of God are the words of a fool.

Of course, even Fundamentalists balked at scriptures that completely challenge their faith. For instance, the Bible says the eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. And that when a couple are married they become one flesh. Catholics, God bless them, don’t back down on these beliefs.

According to the Baptists, however, marriage and communion were symbolic sacraments (as opposed to baptism which was a bona fide sacrament). Now in my book, “symbolic” means “not literal.” In fact, in the Baptist book it means not literal too unless we’re talking about scripture. In the context of scripture, symbolic means literal, just not literally literal.

The Song of Songs presents a similar problem. If we interpret it literally, the Song of Songs celebrates the joys of physical sex. Let’s be honest. It’s about the joy of fucking.3 If we want to talk literal, I don’t see how we can get more literal than that.

The Song of Song even says it’s okay for a man to want to enjoy a woman’s breasts while they get it on (and, we can infer, for a woman to enjoy a man dawdling around her breasts as well). I learned more about sex from the Song of Songs than I did from National Geographic (the only other publication with breasts I was allowed to see).

But here’s the thing. If you’re FEC, The Song of Songs isn’t really about sex, it’s about Jesus. (In fact, even many LCs blush over that one and prefer the “spiritual interpretation.”) This means that—not only is there an entire book of the Tanakh that we can’t discuss literally—all those good people who read the Song of Songs before the birth of Christ were left totally clueless. It’s amazing they were smart enough to put it in the Bible.

Here are some other bizarre problems with literalism. The parables couldn’t be stories, they must have actually happened. Paul really experienced childbirth as did the other apostles. Jesus is not only a person, he’s a lamb and the holy spirit is a real dove. And the Bible never claims to be the literal word of God (except for the Ten Commandments and the Laws, many of which fundamentalists ignore—for instance, the verses about making women stay outside of town during their monthly periods).

This leads me to the most perplexing problem. In this literalist interpretation of the Bible, God is incapable of using metaphors, simile and allegory. People can do it, but God can’t because every word he utters (in English) is literal. But even if God can use metaphors, once his words are written down in the Bible, every one of those metaphors ceases to be a metaphor and becomes literally true.

And God doesn’t really get to speak to us with any authority any more because everything important he said was already written.

All of this just to preserve Mary’s virginity, keep the world seven thousand years old and make the dinosaurs go away.

Sure, I get it. If every word of the Bible isn’t literally true, we have to justify our faith in the resurrection with more than “the Bible.” The problem is, nobody believes the Bible but us, so it isn’t very useful for proof anyway.

I understand the impulse to defend the literalism of the scriptures. We don’t want to reduce them to fables and fairy tales either. But I’m hard pressed to find either position particularly intelligible. Or scriptural.

This qualifies as an idiotic belief no matter how profoundly we cling to it. I didn’t used to feel so strongly but I finally had to face the facts. Nobody, and I mean nobody, interprets every sentence of the Bible as a literal expression of truth. Everyone I’ve ever discussed the Bible with has found some reason to explain away the literal meaning of passages they don’t like, even when the example under discussion is really intended to be taken literally (e.g., love your neighbor as yourself).

So to claim that you do is to lie to yourself so loudly and so well that you literally believe the lie you live no matter how thoroughly you fail to actually practice isn’t even simple ignorance. It’s shortsighted, and possibly even dangerous.

But let’s take the example of a man often held up as an example for his defense of fundamentalism and the literal truth of the Bible, William Jennings Bryan. A man I consider one of my personal heroes even though he could be shortsighted. Bryan was a two-time candidate for President who would have been horrified at modern fundamentalism’s right wing politics. Ridiculed for his belief in creation, people forget that his concern was as much about the consequences of evolutionary theory on political and social engineering as he was about the veracity of scripture.

At the time, evolution was frequently tied into a social and political theory called eugenics. Its proponents believed in another idiotic idea—that evolution justified engineering a superior race and citizen (with the implication that the poor and non-white peoples were genetically inferior to wealthy white people).

Bryan was a defender of famers’ and labor movements, and wanted to detach US currency from the gold standard to create more money and improve the lives of the poor and the middle class. He rejected evolution because he didn’t like its use in justifying a war on the poor and less fortunate.

The phrase “eugenics” has passed from the lexicon (except for Star Trek fans) but the social engineering Bryan feared remains firmly entrenched in the hands of Republicans like Rick Perry. Based on his Presidential announcement and his decisions in the past week, this is Perry’s platform:

  • Tax the poor.4
  • Deny justice to poor people when the wealthy rob them of their lives and livelihood.5
  • Make rape victims pay for their own investigation.
  • Take insurance away from the poorest Americans.6

As with eugenics, this is an all out assault on the poor and underprivileged to funnel what little wealth and dignity they have to the deserving rich. Perry and the Republican vanguard (and make no mistake about it, this new virulent strain of the religious right now controls the party) want to make sure that not only can we never dine at the table, the rich don’t even have to throw us their scraps.

And if that doesn’t remind you of one of Jesus’ parables, it doesn’t matter if the Bible is the literal word of God or not. You haven’t been reading it.

So, yes, I propose a new measure, the anti-WWJD. What Would Satan & Republicans Do (WWS&RD)? For far too long Perry and his ilk have accused those who would follow the example of Christ of being enemies of Christ. And this is definitely a move we would expect from the angel of light.


1Readers who believe the early Christians held a monolithic interpretation of the faith haven’t really been reading their Bibles. Early Christians argued like Baptists over who had the “true” message. They argued about whether gentiles could be converted, and once they let the gentiles in the argued about whether they needed to be circumcised. They argued about whether one church should support the work of another church. They argued about the spiritual status of sacrificial meat. They argued whether or not Christians could also serve the Roman empire.
They even argued over the resurrection of the dead. If you doubt it, check out Paul’s defense of the resurrection, which is addressed to believers. (1 Corinth 15) If the resurrection of the dead was a universally accepted belief among early Christians, we have to question why he would feel the need to argue so passionately that none of the faith is meaningful without the hope of resurrection.back

2Ironically this is an Islamic and not a Christian belief. The idea that God literally dictated his precepts to the writers of scripture appears nowhere in scripture. He inspires prophets, he speaks to them, but they remain free agents in the transmission process. Mohammed, however, did describe the Koran as a literal message from God which he wrote down word for word.
So it could be argued that people who believe God took control of the people who wrote the Bible and forced the words through their hands are actually Islamists.back

3Before you go getting all weird about my saying “fucking” in a Christian column, let me assure you I debated whether or not to use the word for fifteen minutes (which is a long time for me to debate myself; in fact it shows exceptional restraint and reflection on my part, as Carol and the rest of my family will attest). But I finally decided that if we’re going to talk about the consequences of literal interpretations, there’s nothing more literal than that.
When I was in Nashville as a teenager I ran across a protestor outside the publisher of the Living Bible. Now I’m not a fan of paraphrased Bibles because they aren’t even translations so much as “the Bible as I would say it” (which should cause even more problems for Baptists who believe the Bible is the literal word of God and who also read the Living Bible). He was upset because the paraphraser used the words “crap,” “piss” and “bitch.” I asked him if those weren’t the real words in Hebrew and Greek. He admitted that, yes, they were but the writer still could have used words that were better suited to Christians. Sometimes you just have to call something what it is.back

4What else are we to make of his pronouncement, “half of Americans” don’t pay taxes? Let’s put aside the fact that the number seems highly exaggerated. The Americans he refers to don’t make enough to pay taxes. And most of them do give the money to the government only to have it returned at the end of the tax year. This allows the government to at least earn interest on the money in the meantime, helping generate the revenue to build roads and pay for bullets for our soldiers in Afghanistan. back

5Aka “tort reform”back

6Aka “repeal the Health Care Act.”back


Give us this day

Our father who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, because the Tea Party is having none of either.

I planned on not writing about the debt crisis, but the issue doesn’t seem to go away and we can lay the blame on the modern day pharisees and saducees , the House Republicans and the Tea Party (the Republican zealot wing). And make no mistake about it, holding the nation hostage to a political agenda and then claiming they are just trying to stop Obama from capitalizing on an election issue, is not WJWD.

Jesus was not, contrary to current belief, committed to extreme positions. If anything, he would always listen to those in need and find a way to help them. When a non-Jewish woman asked him to cast out demons and he said the law forbid it, she reminded him of the responsibility to at least feed scraps, and he gave her everything.

When the Centurion asked him to turn his attention from the needs of his own people to heal his own sick, non-Jewish daughter, Jesus did it. When the family of a sick man interrupted him by lowering a sick man through the roof, he didn’t get indignant or refuse. He healed him.

When he was accused of breaking the law to heal the sick on the sabbath, Jesus basically said, sometimes we have to ignore the law to serve those in need. He reminded us that the meek were blessed, and we should turn the other cheek when someone asked us to carry what we perceived to be an unfair burden.

The one time he truly lost it was when he discovered that the temple had been turned over to the service of greed (read K Street and wealthy lobbyists).

Jesus had two positions, treat others with love and your faith will make you whole. I’m no longer sure our faith in the political system will make us whole.

Jesus never ever held anyone hostage to his ideology. I would ask that House Republicans do the same.

One last request

And I would also suggest that Obama simply lift the debt ceiling with an executive order and kick it back to the Congress to overturn it.

Congress can overturn executive orders by passing legislation replacing the debt ceiling at its current levels, or by refusing to authorize money for payment to debts in excess of the ceiling. But of course, that would require House Republicans to actually agree on something, which they no longer seem to be able to do.

Render unto God and to US

For a nation of Christians, we sure are cheapskates.

I’m not going to get into the details of how we thirty years of politics have pushed us the debt ceiling crisis because nobody cares anyway. They’ve drawn their lines in the sand and they only care about today’s posture.

The Democrats will give up some aspects of entitlements, but not the programs themselves. They will settle for tax loophole reform if they can’t get tax increases, but they want to bring more money in. They’ve retreated to their line. In fact they’ve retreated past their original line and drawn this new one and I’m not sure they’re willing to go much further.

The Tea Party Republican line is total capitulation by the Democrats. They haven’t budged, and I can’t imagine they will.

More moderate Republicans are trying to resolve the crisis by removing the vote from Congress altogether and leaving it to the President (who will, of course, raise the debt ceiling). Then they can pretend they had nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling.

This is like those arguments where my wife or I say to the other, “Okay, you make the decision, but it’s your fault when it backfires.” Well, no, it’s my fault too because by allowing her to make the decision, I made the decision with her.

But the Tea Party members claim to be Jesus’ representative in politics, so I get to address this question to them. Why isn’t anyone asking WWJD?

In this entire debate I haven’t heard anyone ask WWJD? We can’t blame the Democrats for this because we all know they’re godless atheists, Moslem sympathizers and eagerly wait the second coming of Karl Marx. But how about those Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans who only want what Jesus wants? Why haven’t we heard WWJDATDC on Fox News, when Republicans appear on CNN and MSNBC to explain their position?

Probably because Jesus would answer, “Give God his due, and give the government theirs.” Oh, wait, he did say it. It’s Matthew 22. And readers who know the historical context know that the question was posed to get Jesus to come down one one side of the other on the issue of tax resistance. In other words, they were asking him if he supported the Jewish equivalent of the Tea Party.

Here’s the amazing part about how this verse applies in America. In America, we are the government. The US is us. When we give to the government, we give to ourselves.

Modern Republicanism, at it’s heart, is based on a modern spin of Adam Smith capitalism. It’s called “the profit motive.” It argues that people should be allowed to pursue wealth as their primary objective, and the most important role of government is to protect the pursuit of wealth.

And why should we not pay taxes? Because taxes interfere with the pursuit of wealth. And the subtext for less wealthy Republicans is “taxes make you poor.” Somehow, if you didn’t contribute a small portion of your check to defense, schools, roads, police and education, you would suddenly be as rich as Donald Trump.

Jesus made it clear that the pursuit of wealth was a destructive distraction from the pursuit of God’s realm. The writer of Timothy says, without equivocation, “the love of money is the root of evil.”

When we pay taxes we are paying for the country’s (our) defense, our education, our roads which we need to get to work and (more importantly in America) shopping, the police who keep us safe from the increasing numbers of the poor who will be stealing from us now that we’ve taken their welfare away.

To say, “I will pay no taxes,” is not only to slap Jesus in the face, but to steal from yourself. Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” or, in essence, pay your taxes. He doesn’t equivocate. If you’re a Christian, you should pay your taxes.

But you’re also stealing from yourself. Let’s face it, you cannot afford to install roads and utilities to support your home. Not even if you’re rich. You may be able to afford to install the wiring, plumbing and driveway, but you can’t afford to build the road to work, the road to church and the road to school. You can’t afford to sink a well, purify the water and dispose of it. You can’t afford to raise an army to defend your home against terrorists.

Not if you want to maintain your standard of living.

Right now in the Oak Hill to Dripping Springs area new subdivisions are advertising themselves as free from county water taxes. This sounds like a good thing to Tea Party members. But people who move into those subdivisions will have to get their water from somewhere.

Where will they get their water? From private contractors who charge upwards of $200 a month. We pay county taxes and our water bill is far less, closer to $30 a month (a bargain even with the $75 annual tax added on). If the Tea Party managed to eliminate county water taxes we would be paying a lot more, and so would our tenants, who already have a hard enough time feeding their four kids.

So we help each other by paying taxes to do collectively the things we can’t do by ourselves. Now this may sound unAmerican and unChristian, but it’s not. Our founders didn’t fight the revolution to end taxes, but taxes “without representation.” In other words, taxes imposed by representatives we didn’t elect. They were never stupid enough to believe that governance, even self-governance, is free.

Early Christians turned over everything they owned to their local church to make sure every one was fed. Read the book of Acts. They even sent money to other churches where it couldn’t possibly be used to benefit them. They turned over their money to take care of widows (read social security) and the poor.

Here’s the WWJD wrinkle. Jesus would not only have us give, he would have us give gladly. This lies at the heart of the faith. Christians should want to support those less fortunate. To give to the poor is to give to the angels. We should not only give to Caesar (or in our case US), we should rejoice that God has given us a means of supporting the best government on earth-ourselves.

But Americans are so cheap we don’t even want to give to ourselves. We want to hold onto every penny even if it starves us. Jesus taught us to be of service to others. Americans want to give to themselves, not ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

The truth is, if we stopped paying taxes altogether we wouldn’t be rich, we would just be less poor.

Or would we even be that? If we got rid of taxes, got rid of government, would we even have the standard of living we have today?

Imagine the country with no government at all, or one devoted only to allowing businesses to pursue profit without restraint. Do we really believe companies would start hiring more Americans? At least before we agreed to work for the same wages as laborers in the Philippines? (The same companies who are now shipping jobs from India to even cheaper labor in Indonesia?)

Do we believe the corporations would build roads for everybody, and provide the same policing for everybody? Do we believe the large corporations would encourage small businesses with potentially competitive products and services?

Many Americans and Christians don’t know that before the US government, at the request of the voters, established reforms and legalized labor unions, companies often forced their employees to live in company towns, buy from company stores and pay company doctors. After working twelve hours a day, six days a week (and sometimes six hours on Sunday) workers ended up in debt to their own employers.

I’m all for reducing the deficit, but to me reducing the deficit means paying our bills. And if you asked Jesus WWYD, he would also say, “pay your bills.” Oh, wait, he pretty much already did. It’s easy to say, we can’t incur any more debt, but we still have to pay the debt we owe. And don’t blame the politicians either because we elected them.

But you see, we’re cheapskates. We don’t want to pay. We don’t want to give to God, or US, just clutch on to every penny until it buys us nothing. And there’s nothing Christian about that.

Graduation prayer: learning the wrong lessons

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) means being raised with a set of stories all Baptists share. Each of these stories illustrates an important principle of faith that we must hold close to our heart. We never question these stories because they are written into scripture and therefore they usher forth directly from the mouth of God.

Famous bible stories

One of those stories came from the book of Daniel1, the story of Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה). Most Baptists won’t recognize these three because Baptists call them by their Chaldean slave names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Gustave Dore’s rendition of the triumphal salvation of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Most Baptists won’t recognize those names even though we learned about them in countless Sunday Schools.

I find this ironic because the story is about cultural oppression and forcing people to submit to the cultural expectations of society at large. Somehow we overlook this and still refer to these Hebrew heroes by their slave names.

In the story, our three heroes are ordered to follow the religious practices and cultural customs of the empire. But they don’t. They don’t eat spiced meat (aka steak with salt and pepper or A1 sauce) or drink spiced wine. But the worst atrocity was forcing our heroes to pray to the Chaldean Gods.

These guys could have done the safe thing and simply bowed their heads when the Chaldeans prayed, and pretended to go along with the show. But real Hebrews didn’t do that, and they chose to be burned to death rather than appearing to pray to Babylonian gods. The Hebrew God saves them, of course, but that isn’t the point of the story.

And the moral to the story is….

The point of the story is that the faithful are willing to die rather than bow their heads in prayer to a God (or god) they don’t worship. And sorry, Christians, but I have to include Jews as the faithful because the story was about them and not us. We’re just an afterthought to scripture.2

Baptists always took a second, subtextual lesson from the story. In a Christian society (i.e., America) we shouldn’t be forced to pray to other gods.

But I think we should see an additional, parallel lesson. Imagine how American Christians would feel if we were forced to participate in meetings where the speakers led us in prayers to Allah. We would be furious, and rightly so.

How dare they?

American Christians would be equally distressed if we were asked to bow our heads and experience the wonder of a universe without a god, but driven by natural forces and laws. We would blow our stacks if the speaker lead the audience in thanking the randomness of nature for the probabilities that came to pass that allowed us all to gather in this place in this time.

I know this because as an arts and political activist I’ve had to work with groups who expected me to participate in shamanistic prayer and drum ceremonies, visualize the spirit of Gaia working on the world around us, thank the goddess for her feminine blessings and allowing us to reject our masculine nature, or channel whatever spiritual being was in vogue that year.

Once I even had to sit through a session where the facilitators consulted the I Ching to resolve a disagreement. Ironically, the I Ching said we should do what I had been saying all along. But now it was a message from the universe itself and not just my opinion. So I got no credit at all.

Each time I thought: This is bull shit. This meeting isn’t about spreading the universal consciousness, it’s about arts funding or organizing an action against the city council or developers. Still, I did it out of respect, not for the vision of the month club, but for the work we needed to do and my partners in the work.

After all, I was raised BPK and remembered how many times Christians made people sit through prayers at civic meetings, or my family expected Jewish friends to say the blessing at dinner.

Had my school, or university, or the City of Detroit or Austin made the participants rise and chant to Seth, however, I would have been the first to say, “Excuse me, but this has no place in a government sponsored forum.”

I’m not talking about a school sponsored seminar on New Age religions or a city sponsored round table of religious leaders concerned about policy. This is America and everyone has the right to say, “I’m Christian and I believe evolution is wrong,” and every one else has the right to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Did God ask you to cut out the left side of your brain while you were thinking about it?”

I’m referring to a speaker asking everyone in the audience at a graduation ceremony to stand up and join in a prayer to Allah, or the Divine Spirit, or the random and godless universe. Who would be the first to piss and moan and call out the lawyers and Republican legislators before the diplomas were even handed out?

Christians. And Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

So why is it that when a Texas court says Christians can openly avow their faith, but they can’t tell an audience to participate in the rituals of our faith, those same Christians and Texas politicians are the first to howl at the moon as though we had all been publicly circumcised without anesthetic?

The prayer wars erupt in Texas

This week a San Antonio court ruled that valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand couldn’t lead the audience in a prayer during her graduation speech. Now, in Angela’s defense, she claims she just wanted to pray while delivering her speech, but that means we all pray with her.

I somehow doubt Angela wanted to say, “As Christians we pray things like, ‘Dear God help us be all the Christian we can be.'” She wanted to pray a real prayer, not an example prayer, and Christian protocol dictates that when one of us prays publicly we all pray publicly.

By Thursday evening the Austin local news was reporting that Angela was even receiving death threats for her virtuous stand. I’ll confess that it’s possible someone called and said, “I hope you die, bitch,” but I couldn’t find any record of these death threats in the reporting online (and our local newscasters are often given to exaggeration and hyperbole).

According to Reuters, even though the court ruled that affirmative religious statements were permissible, Gregg Abbott retaliated with the following: “This is part of an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting, while at the same time demanding from the court increased yielding to all things agnostic and atheistic….”

The article reported that Abbott believed the “ruling would allow a student to ‘bend over in honor of Mecca,’ but not lead a prayer to the Christian God.” Sorry, Gregg, but the judge said nothing about Mecca, and the ruling covered all state-sanctioned religion, including Islam.

Forget the courts, WWJS?

So let’s review three emphatic teachings of Jesus that may shed light on the situation:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Don’t pray in public. Pray in private where only God can hear you.3
  • Don’t judge others or God will judge you as harshly.

I take this to mean the following:

  • If you don’t want to be asked to publicly to pray to gods you don’t accept, don’t lead audiences at civic forums (whose members might not be Christian) in public prayer to Jesus. That’s what church is for.
  • You shouldn’t be praying in public anyway. That’s just showing off your piety, which, ironically, isn’t piety when you’re showing off.
  • Don’t judge others for not wanting to participate in your public prayers, especially since you would be offended if they expected you to participate publicly in theirs.

Angela, God bless you. If your faith is part of your life you should be proud to say so in your speech. But if you think you have the right to tell me I should be Christian and expect me to pray just because I came to see my nephew graduate, then ask yourself what you would do if I asked you to bend over toward Mecca in my valedictory speech.

Or used my valedictory speech to tell you that Christians who don’t believe in evolution aren’t Christians, they’re morons. Or told my audience why Episcopalians are better Christians than Baptists or Catholics.4

Are you beginning to see how Corwin Schultz might feel when he has to listen to you telling him what a loser he is for being agnostic? Especially when he has to listen before he can get his diploma? With the school’s sanction no less, which in essence is the local government saying “We endorse Angela’s message that you’re an agnostic loser who doesn’t deserve to get his diploma without being reminded of that?”

Personally, I’m immune. I heard that stuff all my life. I get it, my Jesus isn’t as good as your Jesus. I’ve got it all wrong and I’m going to suffer for it, and they only tell me this because they love me and it’s for my own good.

And, fortunately, I’m an adult so I don’t have to sit and listen to it anymore. I get to choose who I respect enough to be expose myself again—whether they be Christians, Wiccans or Bill Maher. Or my Baptist Preacher’s Family.

It may not be over

It’s my understanding that the higher court merely lifted the injunction against prayer at the graduation ceremony, they didn’t dismiss the suit. So it’s quite possible that the Schultz family will win the suit and this furor will start all over again.

Jesus never forced anyone to pray, nor did he demand it or even expect it. He preached from hillsides, and people were free to leave at any time. He never spoke during a state sponsored assembly where audiences were compelled to listen. And if his audiences didn’t want to listen, he just moved on to another town.

He knew there would always be someone who wanted the good news. There was no need to force it on those who didn’t.


1A designation that probably proves I have lapsed beyond redemption (although technically that can never happen to Baptists). A true member of the Baptist faithful would never type book of Daniel even as a typo. It’s Book of Daniel.back

2This thought may upset a few Christians even more, but New Testament writers did not consider their writing scripture. And Jesus certainly didn’t. To them our guide was the Law and the prophets. Nowhere did they invoke the new believers to study “our writing” or give their correspondence any special status.back

3I’m not going to cite chapter and verse. You know damn well he said it.back

2We aren’t, I just can’t help but thinking that being Episcopalian is like eating at a four star restaurant instead of MacDonalds. Or reading War and Peace instead of the Cliff Notes. Or drinking a fine Shiraz instead of Annie Green Springs. Or watching Doctor Zhivago instead of Dumb and Dumber.
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Thank you, Bill Maher,

For making a case Christians couldn’t make

Ever since the death of Osama Bin Laden, Christians who haven’t felt comfortable with the celebration have had to duck and cover. We have been made to feel that reservations about celebrating the summary execution of a man without trial or due process was not only unAmerican, it was unChristian.

Poor Katy Perry tried and only got ridiculed for being an airhead. Which, without a doubt she is. Her career isn’t built on rocket science, or even a grasp of elementary science. It’s about puff and fluff and increasingly outrageous costumes. Let’s face it, her career hasn’t prepared her to be a theologian either. And criticism from her mother about how bad a Christian she is probably isn’t helping.

But the truth is, whether or not Bin Laden deserved his fate, rejoicing in his death isn’t Christian and it took Bill Maher to say it. (And Katy Perry, but who really listens to her beside Russell?) Maher did so in his New Rules on Friday night’s broadcast. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube so Christians can actually hear it.

I find it ironic that a man who is so totally intolerant of faith understands Christianity better than most Christians do. And I have to admit, when he describes what Christians are supposed to believe, he’s usually right.

I’ve long believed that God speaks through unbelievers when Christians refuse to listen. There is Biblical precedent. When the prophet Balaam refused to listen to God, God had to speak through an ass. And Bill Maher is definitely an ass when it comes to religion. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen for the times he has something correct to say.

Judgment belongs to God, not to us. John of Patmos stresses this in the book of Revelation. Celebrating the downfall of our enemies is Old Testament thinking.

Back in the Bush administration I wanted to put out a bumper sticker that said “Jesus love George and Osama.” But with the little heart instead of the word “love.” Carol talked me out of it, and she was probably right to do so. It would have inspired more hatred than it would have encouraged clearer thinking. But the principle is, I believe, fundamentally Christian.

This is what bothers me about advocates of the Rapture. They seem to take too much joy in the prospect of God kicking the asses of everybody who they think slighted them and sending them to burn in hell.

This is my last preview before Righteous Indigestion officially launches on May 21, the official day of the Rapture. And this is the thought I want to leave you with. If you can’t wait for God to crush and destroy people who seek a path of righteousness that isn’t the same as yours—be it the righteousness of charity or the righteousness of enlightenment or the righteousness of social justice—how sure can you be that you want be left behind?

Righteous Indigestion launches May 21

In case you don’t know, the world will end on May 21. This is a fact. It is even reported by reliable news sources like MSNBC.1

I know this is true because it says so on a billboard about a mile from my house.

Okay, not the end of the world, but the genuine, honest to God, rapture. Evidently, the final end of the world is on October 31 when God comes for everybody else. This would mean God would have to move up his timetable because, as I recall, in the good old days of Hal Lindsay everybody would have to suffer a lot longer before God gave them what they really deserve. But since we have such a much shorter attention span than we did in the seventies (which is the last time I took Hal Lindsay seriously because he hadn’t changed the signs of the apocalypse so many times), six months is probably appropriate.

The new timing is also very good for God because that allows him to beat the Mayans (and Satan) to the punch. The godless, idol worshiping Mayans have declared that the world will end in December 2012 (precise date and time may vary), so this gives the Righteous more than a year to make sure there’s no more world to end in when the planetary alignment and solar flares show up.

So there you have it. May 21 is the rapture and that’s the day I will officially launch the blog Righteous Indigestion. I figure that since most of the Tea Party intends to go on that day,2 that will give us a good six months to finally get something useful accomplished.

You see, people who believe in the rapture believe that Jesus will take Christians up into the air so he can punish the rest of the world. By “Christians” they don’t mean Episcopalians or old school Catholics or Presbyterians, half of the Methodists and anyone who voted for Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton or other posers who only pretend to be Christians.

Especially not those of us who voted for Obama who will single handedly usher in the end of the world after the 2012 elections. Or would have had God not beaten him to the punch on May 21.

In fact, you have to wonder why the Tea Party cares about slashing the funding to NPR and Planned Parenthood, or wants to decimate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security when Jesus is going to rapture them anyway?

And now that Obama has made it clear that some of the deficit reduction has to come from raising taxes, they will be up in arms even though it won’t be their taxes he’s raising. After all, they won’t be here.

But it strikes me, after listening to the religious right’s spin machine for more years than I can count, that these Christians are the stingiest people I have ever met. And so willing to rush to judgment. It’s almost as though they took the New Testament and the Jefferson version (which they hate) and then cut out all the passages Jefferson kept and clutched what was left to their breasts as though these were the real words of Jesus without the liberal Democratic bullshit that got added by the liberal Democrats over the past two thousand years.

For instance, that verse, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” was liberal crap spliced in after the fact. And remember, this was supposed to be a summary of the most important commandments anyway. So here are the real commandments the liberals so completely rewrote with the “golden rule.”

  • Expect the government to give you everything you want without paying taxes in return.
  • If you don’t think it’s important, nobody else should get it from the government either
  • The poor don’t deserve shit and they’re using the government to steal from you.3
  • Keep everything you earned for yourself because, by God, you earned it.
  • Resist tax increases for the rich because Jesus wants you to be one of them one day.
  • If anyone disagrees with you, they’re wrong, unChristian and totally unAmerican.

Nor should we forget that when Jesus said “render unto Caesar” and Paul said that God gave us government to serve our best interests, they were just kidding. Especially in America where we actually are Caesar and the government. This means our support ultimately is support we’re giving to ourselves.

Now I’m not going to quote chapter and verse to you because being raised a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), I’ve heard chapter and verse cited by advocates of both sides of any argument (sometimes the same chapter and same verse by both sides of an argument) only to be used to support why those same people changed their minds a few years later (all the while insisting they would never have believed something as stupid as what they used to believe).

But here’s the Gospel I always read. God cares about what’s in our hearts, and giving (willing and glad giving I might add) shows your heart’s in the right place. Even if you don’t personally benefit.

In fact, it’s better if you don’t benefit because gracious giving with no hope of material reward adds to eternal reward.

It bothers me most when Christians say they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support education, Social Security or health care because they aren’t paying for their own health care. Jesus taught me that (yes, me personally) that it doesn’t matter if my taxes don’t pay for my son’s education because someone else’s taxes did.

My taxes did pay for my niece’s educations since they went to school in our district. Joy ended up becoming a counselor and Kelly (who’s Catholic) a law student at Baptist Baylor. My nephews got great educations and graduated from A&M. Thanks to taxes. One’s a physicist and another a software engineer. So I’m grateful to the people who paid for their educations and am perfectly willing to pay for someone else’s education in return.

And even though I’m a pacifist (because I’m a Christian) I don’t mind paying taxes to support a military because those taxes helped pay for my son’s years in the Marines and continue to pay for the benefits from disabilities he suffered.

Do I want to pay for fighter planes that never fly, troops in every country and three wars I don’t support? No, I don’t. But I also know that when you give, you immediately lose control over how that money is spent. It’s part of giving. If you give with the expectation that the money will be spent exactly the way you spend it, it’s no longer a gift but a purchase. And that requires a contract.

Whenever the person you give to becomes obligated, it ceases to be a gift.4

Jesus made this pretty clear when Mary took money that had been given to support his ministry and the poor and spent it on oils to pamper him.

So, guess what? It isn’t just Obama who’s telling me to give tax money to help get America out of debt without dismantling Social Security, Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and NPR. It’s Jesus, and he’s telling me to give willingly and gladly.

And I will continue to do so even after May 21.


Key topics

It seems the search engine bots aren’t that smart. They look for exact matches to key words in the text. If you look for words that would direct you to the topic but aren’t actually included in the text (because the actual keywords don’t really fit the text being written), the bots kick you out of the search and refuse to list your page. I know this because I used to write for web sites and had to skew the text by including every possible variation of the key words, even when adding them created bizarre, banal or just plain bad prose. So I’m including them here. If you feel I’ve misrepresented the post with these key words, please complain to WordPress, Google and Bing.

Tea Party, rapture, May 21, taxes, Obama, Barach Obama,Social Security, Planned Parenthood, NPR, National Public Radio, Medicare, Obamacare, religious right, golden rule, search engine bots, generosity, giving


1If it was Fox, you might have cause to doubt it, at least according to the liberal elite. But this comes straight from the liberal press itself.back
2It is a proven fact, proven by the same sources that Rush and Glenn Beck use to fuel their fantasies, that Tea Party members are the primary readers of the Left Behind series. back
2 …even though you’re probably one of them, or will be if the Republicans have their way. Okay, I added that part.back
2Derrida wrote an entire book on the subject, but since he’s French, which means not a Christian by definition, I’m going to bury this fact in the footnotes where only people who would read writers like Derrida would be looking anyway.back

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