Monday, January 4, 2010

What the Talking Heads Won't Talk About

By Frank Schaeffer

Welcome to 2010. I keep waiting for someone to speak truth to power. No, I'm not talking about speaking our minds to those we elected or to those they appointed. There's plenty of that going around. Rather I'm talking about speaking truth to the real power in America: We the American People. That would be you and me.

When it comes to us we like being stroked. So here's what few (if any) political leaders, or commentators will say. (Can I "prove" I'm right about any of this? Of course not.) But I do know that there is too much not being said by too many people. And so do you, even if your list of what's not being said and/or how to fix it disagrees with mine.

Some of our real problems...

.... in no particular order. And I know some of this list is wrong. It must be because we all get a lot wrong. But if half of this makes some sense to you and starts a conversation on what truly ails us that can't all be blamed on others -- so much the better. (Sorry if your particular "ox" gets gored. Maybe it's time it was.)

  • We're a trivialized entertainment-orientated culture making ourselves too dumb and distracted to function

  • Most behavioral medication for children is a parental/educator cop out -- a pharmaceutical industry/psychologist industry abusive bonanza

  • Kids raised watching TV/laptop/game screens have short attention spans (where do you think all these new learning/behavior disabilities are coming from?)

  • The profit motive - say that Amtrak must turn a "profit" - destroys the idea of public space and public institutions - say a good rail system like that of all European countries - so our infrastructure has slowly eroded and been destroyed

  • The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and this is the "American way"

  • Our schools look like prisons

  • The teacher's union protects teachers not students and the Democratic Party has sold out to them

  • Big time American religion breeds hate and is tax-deductible and the Republican Party has sold out to the churches

  • Progressives spend inordinate amounts of time trying to prove that internet porn is okay when - much as we all are enjoying it - we all also know that something weird and maybe destructive to childhood development has happened through the marriage of the internet and porn. No-- this isn't about censorship! This is about where and how porn is delivered and to whom

  • Right Wing ideologues are anti-gay bigots, racist, misogynist and are given access to vast audiences through radio, TV and Fox (and other) far Right outlets

  • Right wing bigots - say the anti-Obama evangelical and Roman Catholic leadership comparing him to Hitler because he's for stem-cell research -- are in effect trawling for assassins

  • Our "all volunteer" military is becoming an all mercenary force working with an actual mercenary force since our military's dirty little secret is that without "outsourcing" it can't function because it's so stretched

  • We don't care about children because if we did religious loons would not be allowed to home school and indoctrinate their helpless offspring

  • If we wanted to really embrace new green technologies we'd have a 2 dollar a gallon gas tax

  • If we wanted educated balanced happy children allowing a child to watch TV before age 5 would be classified as child abuse (and I'm not talking about "bad" or "good" programs, I'm talking about cognitive development since a child needs to connect with the real world before "connecting" with the filtered fast cut TV "world" , be that Sesame Street or other "childrens'" programming)

  • If we wanted happy families we'd have mandatory fully paid leave for new mothers and fathers for 1 year after the birth of any child

  • If we cared about the life of our towns we'd have density and urban mixed-use zoning everywhere and residential sprawl "development" would be illegal

  • If we cared about child development, how boys learn to treat women, and sexual satisfaction throughout life -- we'd balance free speech against children being exposed to commercials, and limit access of advertisers to TV, public spaces like billboards and get porn off the internet and back in stores and theaters where owners can discriminate related to a potential client's age-appropriate status, just as they do when selling cigarettes and alcohol

  • If we cared about education no universities and colleges would have sports teams

  • If we cared about education we'd ban personal computers and cell phones, i Pods etc., (i.e., personal entertainment centers) from all schools K through 12

  • If we cared about education we'd teach art, music, drama, dance, creative writing, history and geography as well as at least two "foreign" languages from kindergarten up

  • If we cared about teens we'd offer sex education from age 6 and up and contraceptives from age 12 and up along with moral instruction -- not to be confused with "abstinence only" religious moralist sermons -- but rather real and sane life lessons about what sex is, why it's great when loving and committed, and what lies the fashion industry, the cosmetic industry and the media industry portray in terms of intimacy, love and friendship and self-image

  • If progressives wanted to be taken seriously our websites would not be increasingly dominated by entertainment/celebrity "news"

  • Even "serious" progressive websites are so saturated with society gossip and commercialism -- another article on the "new" rage in anal sex, weight loss, nipple piercing, or a day-in-the-life-of-a-porn-star anyone? -- that it's difficult to take anything therein seriously

  • If right wing sites wanted to speak to anyone but dumb white bigots they'd tell inconvenient truths, say about the massive failure of conservative evangelical religion to do more than cheer for hate and mindless consumerism

  • If religion wanted to be taken seriously it would stop trying to direct the political debate from the point of view of this or that faith and ask that elected officials be loyal to the Constitution first and to their religion second

  • If atheists wanted to be taken seriously they'd admit that so far atheism has not got a very good track record when it comes to human rights -- from Stalin and Pol Pot et al, to the 1920s eugenics movement

If America wanted to prosper and compete instead of waiting for Obama to walk on water and fix everything, we would:

  • Turn off the TV

  • Turn off the entertainment functions of our laptops, phones and what have you and read a book

  • Save not spend

  • Health care would be universal, and single payer... now

  • Elections would be paid for from public funds and political fund raising and paid lobbying made illegal

  • Elections would be limited to 6 weeks

  • We'd build great new infrastructure

  • Fire bad teachers

  • Use public transport

  • Stop buying crap from Wal Mart made in China

  • Use locally grown food and pay more for it

  • Ban all but actual hunting rifle and shotgun ownership and strictly issue licenses for those weapons that would be updated and reissued (or not) every five years just like a driver's license

  • Cut the size of our defense establishment in half

  • Open our borders to any immigrant with a higher education degree in any science

  • We'd impose a 90% wealth tax on all earnings (say over 250.000 dollars per family) until our national deficit was paid down and fund health care and a total infrastructure revamp and rebuild our schools with the money left over

  • We'd no longer hire teachers trained by teaching colleges (the demonstrably second rate and failed training schools) but hire the best, brightest, most innovative and creative people we could find from all walks of life (as do the top private high schools that feed the elite colleges)

  • We'd ban the use of "contractors" by the US military and live within the means of our all volunteer force and/or have a draft

  • If we didn't have the political will for a draft we'd no longer fight wars that didn't have the support of the American people

  • Gerrymandering would be stopped

  • Child molesters and rapists would be locked up for life without parole

  • Marijuana would be legalized

  • Rehab would be our only "war" on drug users

What do you think are the real issues confronting us?

Do you agree that our political leadership - across the board - and our talking heads - Left and Right, let alone the mainstream media, are mostly too jaded and/or cowardly to actually speak truth? If so add to this list. Argue with me and/or refute me. But let's put non-ideologically-driven, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may reality on the front burner in 2010.


Kathy Holmes said...

You say so many things we say at home. Big fan of yours for some time.

theonlythingicanthinkof said...

Excellent work, sir. More people should speak the hard truths, left and right. We've become a shadow of the great society we once were.

qednn said...

My 92-year-old eyes read CRAZY FOR GOD since Xmas. Such speed indicates no quibbles from me would be credible, although I have several. Old fogey, y'know. One on your site would be the laundry list of things you somewhat advocate. They would be more impressive if you organized them and indicated what route you recommend for correction. Don't be simplistic!

mom23 said...

"If atheists wanted to be taken seriously they'd admit that so far atheism has not got a very good track record when it comes to human rights -- from Stalin and Pol Pot et al, to the 1920s eugenics movement"

Aargh! Atheism is not a religion or a dogma. It is the absence of belief in theism, for Pete's sake! When I do things in my life I don't do them in the name of my lack of belief in god any more than I do them in name of my lack of belief in fairies.

To continually posit that Stalin and Pol Pot's political actions were driven by their atheism and not their lust for power is disingenuous.

Devans00 said...

Thought provoking post as usual Mr. Schaeffer. I'd add a few to the list.

- provide free or highly subsidized college educations on par with other industrialized nations. By doing this, the US will finally back up all the "children aer the future" talk.

- provide assessible health care on par with other industrialized nations. As long as small business have to cover health care and salaries, outsourcing looks more and more appealing.

- to really succeed on the global stage, we should do whatever we can to make the maximum number of Americans productive.

Gillian said...

As a lifelong lover of the arts - I studied music performance from 4th grade until my second year of college, and I just finished my BA in English literature this semester - I completely agree that creativity needs to be emphasized in education. Not every student is a brilliant musician or painter or poet, but you don't have to be to learn to love these things.

We would be so much happier as a country if we learned about things that are simply beautiful and powerful, and valued the time and energy that goes into creating those beautiful things.

GK said...

Here are some comments that greatly disturb me.

The teacher's union protects teachers not students and the Democratic Party has sold out to them

Fire bad teachers.

I'm sorry to say that I once had great hope for you and this blog but now I see that you have accepted some of the same shallow nonsense widely reported in our now nearly defunct newspapers and other billionaire owned media. Who are these "bad" teachers you are so eager to fire? And who with a word is willing to dismiss them? Have you ever stood in front of a junior high school class Frank? Do you think if you were really that BAD , you'd be able to last in that job for years? In my twenty five years in teaching, I have never seen until recently such an assault on hard working, decent professionals, who are continuously being judged by parents, inexperienced supervisors, and yes even the children whose immature rants are now taken seriously. For years our battle in the classroom was our greatest challenge. Now people in our profession have to face these new humiliations encouraged by the likes of people like ...well,you Frank. For someone so determined to fight rightly against the forces of hatred and intolerance in this country, you seem unaware but maybe even more unwilling to ignore the assault on unionized, working people in America and join in on the attack against them. From the high perch of your blog and published writings, it would be wise for maybe just a moment to imagine yourself a struggling, American worker, maybe even a teacher who is facing obstacles and judgments that you could never yourself bear. The specks in their eyes remain Frank, but what about the log in your own?

Bakari said...

Frank, I feel like the list sounds disingenous. It's a litney of complaints that you can repost for years to come. Perhaps a better approach is to focus on a few issues and organize around it.

Luke Gillespie said...

Many good points, Frank.

As a professional musician, I would emphasize the entry: "If we cared about education we'd teach art, music, drama, dance, creative writing, history and geography as well as at least two "foreign" languages from kindergarten up."

If we taught these things in schools and at home, I'm convinced that half of our prisons would be empty! I'm the first to support the athletic programs in schools (for every self-centered athlete that emerges from a given athletic experience, there are hundreds and thousands of athletes, whether they turn pro or not, that have learned the meaning of teamwork, humility, perseverence, confidence and care for others), but if we devoted a fraction of the athletic funds and time to all the art programs in schools from kindergarten on, we would surely have more caring, creative, and crime-diminished communities. It's a shame that the arts are considered peripheral to a child's education and are often the first thing to get slashed from educational budgets and goals.

I enjoy driving and taking road trips, but I'm the first to say how much we would all benefit from having a mass transit system that includes rail service. Growing up in Japan and visiting Europe where the rail service is great convinces me of this.

As a professor, I have mixed feelings about the "Fire bad teachers" and the "teacher's union" points. I sympathize with both Frank and GK above. There are undoubtedly a lot of bad teachers out there, but I've seen too many "inexperienced supervisors," as GK says, and many more uneducated and selfish parents setting terrible examples for their children. Teacher's unions are not perfect, but I've seen positive things emerge from them.

That said, I still appreciate Frank speaking out and provoking discussion. Rarely will we all agree on every fine point, and I don't think Frank would want total agreement. He even states that "some of this list is wrong," and asks us to engage in coversation if "half of this makes some sense" to us. So his list, to me, is simply a point of departure. I may disagree with or have a different take on some points, but many of them make plenty of sense to me.

Luke Gillespie said...

...may I add another comment?

For those who share similar feelings about Frank's following points: "Turn off the TV" and "We're a trivialized entertainment-orientated culture making ourselves too dumb and distracted to function," I highly recommend two books by Neil Postman, AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH: PUBLIC DISCOURSE IN THE AGE OF SHOW BUSINESS, and TECHNOPOLY: THE SURRENDER OF CULTURE TO TECHNOLOGY.

Years ago, an English professor colleague told me that no one watched more TV than he did when he was a child (he is an authority on the Andy Griffith show), but he added that no one read more than he did, either. In any case, Frank's point to "read a book" should be, along with physical exercise, part of everyone's weekly diet, regardless of how much or how little they watch TV.

news said...

But if PCs were banned, how would I read this blog? :)

blakeslee said...

I'd like to piggy back on the comments of GK and Luke Gillespie. This constant diatribe against teachers union continues to dumbfound me. As someone who works for a teachers union - let me provide a little inside information. One, unions do not higher teachers, the school districts do that. Two, unions do not higher the administrators who are responsible for providing students with an appropriate school atmosphere for learning. Third, I can't tell you how many times we have fought for things that have been for the "good" of the student as much as for the teacher. Bargaining class size language to keep children in smaller classrooms with more individual attention. Bargaining professional learning language to ensure that teachers are working collaboratively to provide children the best education possible.

And yes, bargaining salaries. You mention that schools should hire the best and the brighest from all walks of life. Well, I doubt many of them of them are willing to work for free.

It is my opinion that the union often ends up fighting for what is best for children when districts starting looking at only the bottom line.

Teaching has become harder. Therefore it is important that we treat teachers as the professionals they are, pay them at a level that reflects the importance of their work (instead of the old "well they teach because they love the kids, not for the money"), and fund public education in a way the shows we mean it when we say that every child deserves a free and quality public education.

annwilliams said...

I agree with much on your list. Have you heard of the Canadian "Work Less Party" (working for a 32 hour work week, slogan: Work less, consume less, live more)- specifics of its principals are right in line with your list. Conrad Schmidt their founder, has written two books, which can be looked at at
And I'm looking forward to reading your book, Crazy for God - the excerpts sound excellent. Thanks for being a sane voice.

Robert Coss said...

Thank you for the work you do.

First, I appreciate you pointing out where the real power in America is. It is in us and that means we have responsibilities that we are not accustom to.

I also appreciate your list. Everyone should have one. Although I do not agree with every single point on yours I do agree in spirit. If you examine the Declaration of Independence I think you will find over 30 specific offenses mentioned. Surely not everyone agreed on all of these, but this same document started off by rallying people around that which was self-evident, that which didn’t require debate, proof, or divine illumination. Was it adequate to stop evil? It united enough of the country to stop a World Empire that knew no bounds. So, this is my commitment to you after reading your list, to go through it and cross off that which I disagree with and circle that which I agree with in order to fight what evil we find there. As the encroachment on our liberty mounts, all superficial items will drop to the side and we will find ourselves fighting for the same things at the top and in the end. The issue, as I believe you are making is who will join our fight. I don’t expect all, but I do expect some and I want you to know that I will join you and speak to power although you may never hear my voice.

Robert Coss said...

May I add what God has used besides you to sober me up? I have just finished reading Isaiah chapters 1-6 30 times in about as many days. The parallels are strikingly familiar to our day. We live in a country of people who claim to be God’s people. The truth of the matter is they are not. Isaiah was sent to tell them that. He told them their religion made God sick and that instead of being righteous and just they were indeed murderers. How they had been murderers Isaiah does not say, but by living in America today I have a good idea. Isaiah goes on to confront the sin found in their speech, action, tyranny, and pride. He condemns their money system and materialism. There is so much in just these 6 chapters that speak truth to our day it is alarming. I am left with asking myself one questions, “am I saved?”

What does God do in times such as ours where there is silence in the midst of so many atrocities? I think of Jerusalem just prior to the time of Christ, just 60-70 years prior to that nation’s catastrophic fall. Could people of that day see what was coming on the horizon as we see ours? It was a time of thick darkness. In John 1 we note what God does; He sends light into the world and not just that, but another who will point to that light. He turns on the light and turns up the volume. That I believe is what we are to do; it is what we can do.

And what does this light look like and how does it sound? Of course it looks like Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, but I think it also looks like John the Baptist. I mention him because I think he is so pertinent to your post. In the fashion of Isaiah, John went everywhere speaking truth to everyone, to lift up the lowly and to cast down the prideful. But he ventured beyond that and maybe this is where we in the church error and why all nations remain in such darkness. Luke points it out best in his commentary on John. In Luke chapter 3 tax gathers and soldiers come to John asking him what they are to do. These are “institutions” of their day. John had an answer for them. He said, “collect no more than you have been authorized to collect and do not take money from anyone by force”. There was a moral standard inherent in these institutions that they had to live up to (a theme dominant in Isaiah). And how did Luke see this speech to such institutions? Luke said, “and with many other exhortations he preached the Gospel...” It was Gospel preaching, something today’s church has learned very well not to do. Hence, the silence among us.

Luther fought battles we know so little about. His voice should join yours and John the Baptist’s and Isaiah’s when he says, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. "Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point."

May I not be a disgrace in this hour of need.

John Kennell said...

"atheism has not got a very good track record" Damn it, Frank, we've covered this. You know this is bullshit. Stop pandering to this easy form of 'vilification of the other' and get a clue. Hitler was Catholic and Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot et al, removed all other gods from their areas of control and turned themselves into gods. Simple as that. The atheism of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens (and myself) has nothing to do with these evil people any more than the Christianity of child rape has to do with you. Or does it? I'll cop to one if you'll cop to the other. Because from my point of view religion has a far longer and more distinguished record in the arena of murder, rape, genocide, nonsense, brainwashing, racism, child molestation, torture, intolerance, political opportunism, gay bashing, witch burning, lying... to mention only a few. So how about it? We can play this stupid tit for tat game forever, or you can figure it out.

Luke Gillespie said...

I see that your “What the Talking Heads” blog touched off some more response, including the critical comment above from Mr. Kennell. When he says, "religion has a far longer and more distinguished record in the arena of murder, rape, genocide, nonsense," and so on, I would agree, but offer another angle and say that these things have been done "in the name of religion" rather than by a given faith itself, and I believe this is more than just a semantic game. My study of history leads me to believe that it is quite misleading at best, and a cop-out at worst, to simply blame "religion" for the ills and evils Mr. Kennell lists.

Most “religious” evil is a result of religion or religious jargon being hijacked by various individuals, organizations, leaders, and rulers to control and rally people behind a political cause or agenda (and not really around the tenets of a given faith). Using religious jargon like this helps to falsely support and align one’s political and social agenda to the divine itself. What better way to get people on one’s side than to make them feel like they’re going against God if they don’t agree with a particular political stance! For example, the religious right makes us feel like we’re “un-christian” if we don’t agree with all of their political and social agenda, and falsely accuses us of being anti-God or “secular humanists” (an unfortunate term) if we support a more liberal left-wing political agenda. How convenient for any leader, king, queen, cleric, or ruler in the history of human civilization to invoke God or some kind of supernatural entity to tell his or her nation's or empire's "citizens" or "constituents" that going against the establishment (church, state, or any ruling organization) was tantamount to going against God. Once God or "religion" has been invoked, a ruler or organization can rationalize almost any activity, including all the ones Mr. Kennell lists, with impunity.

I believe that religious language is about things that deal with one's “ultimate concern” (a term coined by the theologian Paul Tillich years ago), so even if Mr. Hitchens is right to an extent in his diatribe against religion, it’s not really religion that he should be criticizing, but the misuse and hijacking of religion for agendas and causes that have nothing to do with the faith and love taught and preached from religious traditions. Now, if we simply don’t like religious jargon and supernatural language, we are deceiving ourselves if we think that humans will not fight and kill for this or that cause if we eliminated religion from the face of the earth. Humans would still fight and kill. And one could argue that being human, by definition, will always involve what we think is worthy to believe in and fight for (our "ultimate concerns"), whether it is cloaked in religious language or not. So, humans have appealed to some divine revelation to rally support for their own personal or political agendas or causes. If the debate turns to human nature, perhaps even Mr. Hitchens might concede that Romans 3:23 (even if we replace the word "God" with another substitute: "ultimate concern") isn’t so far off the mark.

Luke Gillespie said...

May I add to the previous discussion and some of the themes that Frank has addressed...

The question about political ideologies is often about how big or small government is supposed to be, but people often fail to see that the size of government alone doesn’t address or solve anything. It’s really about corruption. If everyone was honest, government size wouldn’t matter so much. I’ve asked some of my right-wing friends: Do you want a corrupt government that can be monitored somewhat, or corrupt corporations that answer to no one and can shaft anyone they like with impunity? It seems to me that we need a combination of the public and private, to keep too much power from being in the hands of too few, to maintain freedom of the press and religion. The far right (if that represents too little government) or the far left (if that represents too much) would amplify the chances of corruption or make it difficult for folks to have a voice against corruption. Of course, the irony is that both extremes want government control to legislate morality or behavior in one way or another, so that is already a misleading dichotomy.

I still think it’s possible to use the language of evangelicalism in ways that are not na├»ve, insensitive, or myopic. No matter what one believes, there is always an element of intrinsic inclusiveness and exclusiveness. A paradox for sure. The right-wing is intolerant, yet the left-wing is equally intolerant (they are intolerant of those who are not equally tolerant). Yet, too many run the risk of fighting to see who is the most tolerant in society, as if that qualifies or privileges them to a higher moral or spiritual ground, and they become the victims of their own criticism. Whose standards are we following to measure the efficacy or truth value of one’s view over another’s? In the end, it often gets down to “My God is better than your God, or my view is more reasonable or rational than your view.” It seems like no one is immune from this no matter what they believe or not believe, including all atheists, theists, agnostics, everyone.

As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his book, Christian Reflections, “You must trust the universe in one respect even in order to condemn it in another.” It reminds me of the skeptic who says, “All is meaningless,” or “There is no meaning.” Making any statement at all already assumes that some kind of meaning has been embraced. If the statements were “true,” we could simply discard them. So, in order to believe, dismiss, accept, criticize, embrace or discard anything, one must believe, accept, and embrace meaning in some form. Lewis' notion about "right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe" (from Mere Christianity) still resonates with me. Atheistic existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre who said, "Finite man can have no meaning without an infinite reference point." That led him to his "No Exit" from meaninglessness.

As a christian, I try to embrace two things Jesus said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." If we all really did those two things, there would be no need for war, and no need to commit the evils listed by Mr. Kennell. Human nature, however, seems to be about every individual's own journey to deal with life in a "relational" way: spiritually (to God and self), socially (to other humans), emotionally and psychologically (to self and others), ecologically (to environment), physically (to one's body), and artistically (to one's creativity). That's why I am interested in "relational" truth more so than some abstract "absolute" truth. As finite human beings, I think it's nearly impossible to understand and comprehend the absolute, but I believe we can come closest to embracing absolute truth or our ultimate concerns in life through relational truth. I hope that we would all seek truth and goodness honestly.

Luke Gillespie said...

This will be the third and final segment of this post.

I shared this blog with my brother, T. H. Gillespie, a 57-yr old baptist minister who was a CO (conscientious objector) and served two years of alternate service work during the Vietnam War, and, like me, enthusiastically voted for Obama. He gave me permission to share the following quote:

"...we all are fundamentalists to some degree or other. We all subscribe to one truth or another. The issue shouldn't be about getting us to give that up, but to scrutinize exactly which ones we are going to embrace. Standing back and claiming that "taking sides" is the wrong way to go is simply taking another side, a point lost on so many liberals these days.

"The point I would want to add to the discussion and sort of as a challenge to [readers of this blog] is this:

"Many of us grew up alongside the Jesus movement and American evangelicalism and post-WWII missiology and lay claim to a real, personal, experience with the Living Christ. But as we matured, we began to see the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the Americanism and/or theological imperialism in many missionary/evangelical efforts. But we continued to champion the Person and Cause of Christ. Then, once issues such as abortion, ordination of women, pacifism, and so on, began to play a stronger role in evangelical dialogue, especially in American Christianity, many of us more moderate- to liberal-minded Christians began to grow even more uncomfortable with evangelicalism. Rather than bringing us all closer together, these issues, often co-opted by the Republican mindset, began to polarize a worldwide church that was beginning to enjoy some degree of ecuminicism and unity.

"But what I believe has happened is this: many of us have made the mistake of making too close a connection of our commitment to the Personal Christ with this Republican brand of American/Imperialist Christianity. So, when we finally decided to renounce or move away from American evangelicalism, we also discarded this core tenet of our faith experience, and we naturally gravitated toward the new age, "emergent" theology of inclusion and tolerance (a la Borg et al)--i.e., that a trust in the Living Christ is itself a myopic and narrow doctrine and, therefore, part of the problem. But I believe this has been unfortunate. It is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I still believe in the Living Christ and commune with Him daily, and it is in that very experience that I find the inspiration and guidance to champion the very liberal causes I embrace. Could I (we) do this without Christ? Probably. As Paul states in Romans, if you can do it without God and/or Christ, more power to you. But I know in my heart I am a better person and better off because of Christ's presence in my life. I may fall short a bunch, but I believe I'd fall far shorter were it not for Him. So, while it's easy to sit back and be the open-minded cynic who sees all extremes and any attempt to provide an answer as myopic, and while I believe we need to remain respectful even in the face of disagreement, I'm putting all my chips on Rom 5:8, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it."

So, that's my brother's two cents. I agree with his assessment. And I wish that the many debates going on today, especially on TV, would not be limited to the usual short dumbed-down version of a particular view, right and left, but would instead focus on more informed and deeper discussions of various views, right and left and everything in-between, and weigh them honestly.

Luke Gillespie said...

...sorry for the extra posting, but wanted to make a correction in the post above. The verse my brother quotes is, of course, 2 Cor 5:19, not Rom 5:8.

mom23 said...

@ Luke Gillespie--I agree with some of what you've stated above. It's as (even more so, IMO) disingenuous to point to tyrannical political leaders who didn't have religious faith and say that their heinous acts were committed in the name of atheism.

As a former evangelical who went into ministry for three years out of college, I hear what you're saying about religion vs. real faith. However, when I became horrified about what I call "the seedy underbelly" of the evangelical ministry of which I was a part and the entire evangelical world about me it caused me to step back and look at my beliefs. I had never really objectively studied the facts behind my beliefs.

How I wish, when I looked at the history of the bible and history itself, that I could have thrown the bathwater out without the baby. However, after studying the foundations of christianity, I came to the realization that the evidence shows that the "baby" wasn't real in the first place! It was all bathwater! So here I am.

My problem with those of you who like to hold on to bits and pieces of the Jesus myth while discarding what you find troublesome is that you are not confronting the facts. You act as if the facts about the beginnings of christianity or the existence/divinity of Jesus is assumed. That smacks of wishful thinking of the worst sort to me.

I like the ideas of love and sharing that with community. I even like the idea of some kind of force for good out there. I just think you discredit your assertions when you use Jesus (or Allah or Zeus) to make your points.

exnyers said...

I agree with much of what you have said, Frank.... but I'm not against ALL homeschooling.... for my family, homeschooling our boys is being done in attempt to expose them to more. We are teaching them to learn and to enjoy learning rather than to just 'perform', which is what I think often is the case in some of the mediocre public schools.

But we are not religious fanatics and aren't choking our kids with any dogma (at least not that I'm aware of!).

I always enjoy reading your blog, comments, etc. I have read Crazy For God and loved it.... I just ordered Patience With God and can't wait to dig into it!

Luke Gillespie said...

Frank, there seems to be a basic misunderstanding with some of your "atheist" readers. As far as human rights and evils committed in history are concerned, I would not necessarily blame atheism (so mom23's first point is, on the surface, well-taken, though I don't accept nor am persuaded by her view that there is no baby in the bathwater--I believe atheism is a copout), but neither religion nor atheism exclusively should be the culprit in this discussion. I believe it has to do with human nature. We'd all agree that religions or philosophies that exclusively espouse evil and abuse are wrong (for example, discriminating against and harming certain people), but it's equally important to say that one's (false?) interpretation of a given religion or philosophy may be more to blame.

If someone commits evil acts, I don't care what he believes in or doesn't believe in, whether he invokes Allah, Buddha, God, Mohammed, Jesus, a Pharoah, Timothy Leary, Charles Manson, one's own ego, or doesn't invoke anyone or anything. What he's doing is, I believe, wrong, even if he is allegedly sincere about it. For all we know, many leaders and rulers may have been quite sincere in killing off whoever they wanted. That doesn't legitimize their actions.

We can debate religion, philosophy, theology, ethics, morality, or whatever, but let's not cop out and blame a religion or philosophy without examining specific tenets and particular interpretations that may lead to evil behavior. I will join the atheist in condemning a religion that espouses evil, but if the atheist condemns a religion or all religion because of some false interpretation that has led to abuse, I will condemn the false interpretation, not the religion itself, especially if it preaches love and peace. Don't condemn baseball (or all sports!) because some baseball players or athletes have abused the game. Don't condemn all films because some filmmakers are abusive jerks. And don't stop eating because some food distributors use shady production techniques.

On a different note, if I tell theists, atheists or fundamentalists that they are wrong BECAUSE they're too exclusive or intolerant in their beliefs, they could all answer, "So what?" I am being equally intolerant of their exclusivity. I may claim to be free from fundamentalism because I don't care to wave a revolutionary flag that says "Moderation" on it, but my moderate to liberal views on things (or anyone else's views) are no less dogmatic than my fundamentalist friends. The point is WHAT one is being fundamentalistic or exclusive about. Belief ("credo") is what one carries in one's heart, but it is often HOW one interprets belief and what one does about it that should be the subject of debate. If one carries hate in one's heart, I will be against it. If one carries love in one's heart, then I'm "exclusively" and "dogmatically" (even "fundamentalistically") for it.

So, no one is immune from a point of view, from some kind of religion ("ultimate concern"), philosophy or dogma. Until we face the fact that it is human nature that needs to be addressed (and our capacity to commit evil or do good), we will never move forward and embrace the love and goodness that I believe we all seek. I have chosen to do that with christian faith as my guide. That doesn't make me any more or less good or moral or spiritual or whatever than the next person. It's simply my choice.

Luke Gillespie said...

My brother, T. H. Gillespie, who added a follow-up to a previous comment of mine above, offers another follow-up comment below:

"Yeah, I think we're headed in the right direction here. But again, it may not just be our interpretation that should be put to the test. The line between what a religion or philosophy preaches and how we interpret it might be fairly thin. If, for example, our philosophy is one that includes some sort of negative view of, say, all Jews, or all blacks, then our interpretation of it might be perfectly accurate. So our interpretation may not be misguided, but, rather, the philosophy itself. So then perhaps we come full circle.

"I subscribe to Cny and, in particular, to Christ himself, not so much because it is one choice among several options, but because I believe it is the BEST choice. I believe other religions and philosophies might have some good stuff, etc., but, in general, and after comparative analysis, I believe nothing matches the goodness and majesty of the biblical God and His plan. Many might want to argue about whether my interpretation of this brand of religious faith is accurate or good or whatever. Fine. Let's debate. But to say I'm wrong out of hand simply because I'm believing in something is itself simply another opinion, and doesn't prove anything. Again, if having a strong opinion about something is itself the culprit, then even that conclusion (that my strong opinion is the culprit) is suspect, because that conclusion is based on another strong opinion. Such a stance shoots itself in the foot.

"I believe such a debate becomes more productive if we actually get into the nitty gritty of our beliefs and compare. I'd rather side with Christ, and be plenty passionate about it, because I believe He is the answer, not because he's just a cool dude who said some cool things and I just decided I'd like to try him out. I side with Christ because He is the unique Incarnation, not because he's just another teacher with some neat stuff to follow. If people want to debate whether I've got my interpretation right or not, fine, but don't implicate me merely because I have committed my life to him. Show me where he is wrong, and I'll check out whoever or whatever else remains on the table. My problem with so many extremists, atheists, etc., is not that they have a belief, but that their beliefs are wrong (and/or that their interpretations are wrong). Or, it could be that I agree with much of what a person believes, but I disagree with how he is disseminating that belief. If he's forcing people to agree with him at gunpoint, then I believe he's barking up the wrong tree, even if I think all his other doctrines and beliefs are perfectly sound. So I have a problem with what they believe and/or with how they are spreading their beliefs, not merely that they have a belief.

"The effort to rid ourselves of conflict by ridding ourselves of divergent beliefs is, I believe, a copout. It is no better than the effort to force conformity at gunpoint. What we need is to go ahead and express our beliefs and take a stand, but do it with gentleness, dignity, mutual respect, and with an open ear, honoring the other person's right to express themselves just as we've done and allowing freedom of choice. This way we can agree to disagree without feeling like our lives are threatened or like we need to threaten others. This may be a tall order, but it is, in my opinion, the only way to go."

So, that's two more cents from my brother. We have similar, but different, angles or variations.

mom23 said...

I agree with you both to some extent. However, my stumbling block is the actual truth of the Jesus story. When studying the evidence for Jesus=God or even if Jesus rose from the dead, there is a dearth of non-biblical evidence. The bible isn't even clear on the Jesus=God part. And the earliest gospel didn't originally end with the resurrection. I am with Bart Ehrman. The lack of evidence for the veracity of the claims about Jesus is sorely lacking. As a result, belief is not an option for me.

I get liking the teachings of the bible (whether they were the actual words of Jesus is highly unlikely). I understand following the teachings of christianity that you like. What I don't understand is speaking as if these teachings are based on fact or real events. That, to me, is lazy and wishful thinking. And to expect someone who's actually done some research behind the myths to respect those who blindly accept these things as truth and expect others to do the same is asking a lot.

I don't particularly like the teachings of much of the bible about women (and a host of other issues). Remaining silent in church because "Eve is the one who sinned," is not my idea of love. Lot's wife being considered bad for looking back at her home and possessions while Lot is praised for offering his virgin daughter to the angry mob is twisted. The mental games one must play to make the god of the bible seem less horrid are just too contrived. Thank goodness the objective evidence for these things is so lacking. I don't have to make excuses for god any more.

Luke Gillespie said...

My brother, T. H. Gillespie, asked if I would post the following:

"I'd like to respond to mom23's thread.

"First, allow me to express optimism. This blog has raised the ire of people from across a broad spectrum of beliefs, and this thread between my brother, mom23 and me proves that mutually respectful dialogue can produce results even among those who are at opposite ends of the spectrum. As Frank says, we are in this "life" thing together, and we're just trying to make sense of it, and we might as well try to remain open and respectful, even as we maintain strong stands.

"While I remain a committed follower of Christ, I believe mom23 asks a valid question. If you're going to toss out parts of a religion because they are based on spurious data, then why adhere to some parts only because you happen to like those parts (see mom23's posts above)? I agree that often people pick and choose beliefs simply based on whim, a kind of "theology by convenience".

"Nevertheless, perhaps we need to consider the following. Many (including theologian Eric Rust and philosopher Mortimer Adler) have made the distinction between scientific method (a tested process for making sense of some parts of reality) and scientism (the belief that the scientific method is the only--or most reliable--method for making sense of all reality). Every one of us is guilty of picking and choosing beliefs. I have done it in my faith journey, but I do it in the mundaneity of daily life. I have no final scientific proof that the water I drink is healthy, but I drink it anyway. Mom23 does it, too. She says that the "evidence shows" that there is no basis for Christian (or religious) truth claims. Whose evidence is she referring to? Surely she doesn't trust ultimately in the historical-critical method. Surely she knows that even among scientists and scholars, there often lurks a "seedy underbelly". If she counters that she trusts scientific data over theological assertions and that we shouldn't impune all science because of some shady "underbelly", then I simply would counter back and ask her not to impune all religious truth claims because of some seedy parts of evangelicalism.

"Mom23 asserts that we are lazy if we blindly accept beliefs. I agree. But I don't believe that that is what I have done by committing my life to Christ. I grew up in Japan (where the dominant religion is anything but Cny) and attended a prep school where teachers grilled us daily about "blind acceptance" and "intellectual laziness". This may sound condescending, but I've been bombarded with atheist and alternative philosophy since I was a little kid. I have had to read, study, debate, and rigorously struggle along my faith journey all my life, but the majesty and beauty of the Living Person and Presence of Christ has reigned supreme. I have yet to find anything in any religion or philosophy that comes close to dismantling it. So, I hope mom23 will acknowledge at least one “fact”: some of us have arrived at certain points in our journeys after much struggle and careful thought, not through laziness and wishful thinking. It could be that accepting or rejecting all religions or belief systems is the more convenient and lazy prospect. It could be that sorting through and choosing certain beliefs requires a far greater amount of intellectual integrity and creative struggle. This is why I agree with one of Frank's major premises: the extremists on both sides of the divide have got it wrong. The fundamentalists tend to accept everything in the Bible literally and blindly, whereas atheists tend to reject all religious claims altogether. Could it be these extremes have something in common? Perhaps somewhere in the middle is where the real struggle lies."

Elizabeth said...

Amen, Frank. (No pun intended.)

mom23 said...

@T.H. Gillespie: Thanks for the response. Regarding your analogy: I haven't much choice when it comes to blindly accepting that my drinking water is safe to drink. Water is a necessity for life. I rely on the facts that my city and state have a program set up with strict guidelines about cleaning the water. I rely on the fact that I have a water filter to clean it up some more. Sure, I'm believing these things will work in my favor, but do I have much of a choice?

From your post it seems that your biggest evidence for the person of Jesus is your personal experience. I agree that we all pick and choose beliefs. But, you must admit, that the historical evidence for the deity of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead is scant. It is improbable that the bible actually contains the very words he spoke or accurate descriptions of his actions. That you choose to believe in their truth puts the burden on you. I don't follow L. Ron Hubbard's inane babblings because there is no evidence for what he claims. Same with the claims of Joseph Smith or Zoroaster.

Picking and choosing spectacular claims that aren't adequately backed up by evidence is different than choosing to stay neutral (there isn't any god I can so easily define). Lumping non-believers in with fanatics is unfair and incorrect. Do I believe in unicorns? No. Does that make me a fanatical extremist who only accepts science? I don't think so. I'm just using my reasoning skills.

Robert Coss said...

Although the original question was “What do you think are the real issues confronting us?” it sort of spun into the causes of the issues and how to solve the issues. It is interesting to read what people have to say. After reading all the replies I am left thinking of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and their two opposing views of life. I’m wondering if they have anything to say to us today about our problems. Did Cain kill Abel over his religion? If so, how did God deal with it? Can we learn anything from it?

Luke Gillespie said...

My brother, T. H. Gillespie, responds further to mom23:

"Mom23's point about many decisions being personal ones based on personal experience is well taken. I agree that my choice to submit to the reality of Christ is very personal. Where we disagree is in her conclusion that, because the historical evidence for Christ's deity is scant, the only thing left for us is wishful thinking.

"I have not made my commitment to Christ based on mere whim or preferance, but on a vast array of "witnesses". These include my understanding of history, the church, human nature, other people in my life (including Christians), and so on. And I believe many other folks have appropriated this kind of holistic, rigorous approach to their faith as well, among them some of the greatest minds the world has known (Pascal, Descartes, Sir Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Wittgenstein, Einstein and Tillich to name a few). Faith in Christ is not necessarily based on a myopic, naive, theology for lazy dummies. As per one of my earlier posts, my problem with fundamentalism is not so much strict adherence to a belief as what that belief constitutes (which often, in my opinion, is plain wrong). On the other hand, since I believe the most compelling witness to God's reality is God's own personal revelation deep within our hearts (as per Paul in Romans), even the uneducated with a lowly IQ can experience God (perhaps sometimes more intimately than the rest of us).

"I am not an advocate of abdicating our reason. I believe science and other witnesses to reality are wonderful (including discussions such as this one), and they can point us in the right direction. But they have their limits. I believe apprehending God, ultimately, lies beyond their scope: no one can prove God any more than s/he can disprove God. But, if we accept that God is revealed deep within our hearts as per Paul, Augustine and Pascal (there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart that only God can fill), then faith ceases to be a merely intellectual issue. I believe, in the end, we all know there is a God, just as we know love and forgiveness are crucial components of human harmony (an equally unproven premise). If so, commitment to God (and loving one's neighbor) is more a matter of will than intellect."

mom23 said...

Thanks for your insights, Gillespie brothers :) I can agree to disagree on this. Sometimes I wish I hadn't delved so deep into the history of christianity so that I didn't know what I now do. For me, belief in the deity of Jesus and the actual existence of the god of the bible is impossible at this point. I have as much evidence for believing in them as I do for believing in the truths of any number of other gods and religions. The only reason I'd have for elevating the ideas of christianity to the level of "truth" would be my background. Growing up in a protestant family and a country that is christian has shaped my thinking in that direction. I believe that's the only reason christianity seems more valid. If I'd been raised in Iraq, I'd probably think Islam was truth. Anyway, thanks for your time.

Robert Coss said...

What is true, how do I know it is true, and what difference does it make has always been a good guide for me.