We Believe They’re Evil: Party and Diversity in America

My good friend, Hank, alerted me to a recent survey and blog article that reported “many Americans think people in the other party are ignorant, spiteful, evil and generally destroying the country… About half of Democrats think Republicans are ignorant (54%) and spiteful (44%). Likewise, about half of Republicans think Democrats are ignorant (49%) and spiteful (54%). Twenty-one percent of Democrats think Republicans are evil, and about the same share of Republicans (23%) think Democrats are evil.” This is according to a November 2018 Axios poll first aired on HBO.

First of all I must respond by simply saying, “Wow!” Our country is, apparently, far more socio-politically divided than I imagined, but I haven’t had my head stuck in the sand either. Let me say for the record that, even though I identify as a democratic-socialist who aligns more comfortably with the Democrat Party, I do not believe most conservative Republicans are backward, ignorant, sexist, racists who are intent on destroying our country. In many, if not most cases misinformed and even misguided, perhaps, but not fiendish, nefarious individuals dedicated to wrecking society.

The results of the poll do point to an important divide in conviction and deeply held perception, though. How is it we’ve come to this point where so many folks in each party not only look at the “other side” with suspicion but even with disdain and loathing? Specifically, how is it each “side” has come to claim the moral high ground while at the same time condemning the other side as iniquitous and even malevolent? Well, perhaps part of the answer is that this is really not so completely new after all. It may be that when we look back upon the history of our country we may find some deep and wide moral-ethical ( as well as cultural and religious) divisions all along.

My friend, Hank, quoted the blog author (whom I’ve not had an opportunity to read) as opening his article by observing, “Our political and cultural environment has become so intensely moralized, in the sense of seeking with zeal virtue, absent prudence, that to compromise seems like giving in to evil.” And I agree with the second part of his statement — that is, that for many people compromising feels like giving in to evil — however, even though our political and cultural environment is very divided, it has not just now become so “intensely moralized” in its zealous quest for collective, socio-political and economic virtue, thus leading members of the two (or more) parties to harshly condemn members of the other (or some other) party.

Hank, quite gifted and deeply intelligent, surmises that if the blog author’s assessment is correct, then:

[T]he only way … it is correct is that fundamental change to our system, which includes change to the fundamental worldview of that system … is giving up what made us great as a country… The multi-cultural pluralism message is only a message because it doesn’t take into account the reality of fundamental transformation of our country and way of life … Everything may be already ‘gone with the wind,’ but there is a vast residual, in that case, who never were informed of the transformation and who never had a choice or chance to have themselves heard as the changes took place. So, the evil is what people expect to happen when the last vestige of our tradition is no more.

One might justly ask, however, precisely who is meant by “our” and specifically what is meant by “tradition.” In other words, just what is “our tradition?” To many white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (the WASPs of old), the answer seems to come rather easily … but it also betrays gross over-simplification of American history. For in fact, America has always been multi-cultural, and the embryonic promises of the unique, constitutional, American democracy have only grown and matured down through the generations.

Yes, as Hank also observes, the newly formed United States was informed by an overall Judeo-Christian worldview, broadly speaking, and this broad worldview continued to influence our country at least until somewhat recently, historically speaking. Yet beneath the umbrella of Judeo-Christianity there existed quite some variety marking very important differences between groups, sects, and denominations. From the beginning, there were Quakers and Roman Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists. There were also Jews and, among the slave population, even Muslims. And we certainly cannot forget the number of Deists and Unitarians to be counted among the Founders of this country… So there we have it: Diversity.

big-time-cover.jpegAnd culturally, there were, of course, English and Scottish, French and Germans, Africans and Spanish, and many Indigenous Peoples, as well as others. Each race and ethnic group brought with it their own cultural history and heritage, norms and habits, traditions and ways of life. This was all part of what made the American colonies so very unique, and the founding of the United States so different and even astonishing. That all of these disparate groups came together under the broad panoply of Judeo-Christianity is an important fact of history, yet one that ought not distort our view of that same rich and variegated history.

Certainly we must recognize that socio-political (and economic) controversy, and in the process claiming the moral high ground, has been part and parcel of American history. After all, the very nation itself was predicated upon self-evident, moral truth, and right from the beginning our Founders wrangled over the question of slavery. And there was some controversy in some states over tax-supported churches, and then there was the question of our relationship with the various Indigenous Peoples. And what about women and their “rightful place” in society? And the manufacturing and selling of alcohol? And the rights of common laborers? Safety in the workplace, quality standards for meats sold on the market, regulation of medications for public safety?

There is so much more from early on in our history that we can mention: Should we maintain a strong military or be more pacifist? Should we invade and conquer the West as part of our “Manifest Destiny” or respect the boundaries of Mexico? Should slaves be counted in the population of a state or not … or partly counted? Should an atheist be allowed to hold public office? And, yes, this was a question, but by the first half of the 20th century was, for the most part, answered in the affirmative. If the majority of voters vote someone into an office, then that individual should be allowed to serve, period. 

But my friend nevertheless laments, “we have lost something great in this country and that is character,” and I do agree with him, though perhaps not in quite the same way. Character includes, among other virtues: honesty, integrity, and courage with love and compassion, and I simply do not see this currently issuing from the White House or the Republican Party in general. Still, we should not conclude that there has been some great overturning of the American society, or that what was established and generally accepted before is now “gone with the wind.” The wind has always been blowing in this part of the world, at least, and still blows today. Where it carries us largely depends on how we set our sails, and that is largely up to us, to be decided by “we the people.”

Now we should conclude by observing that, yes, as a matter of fact Judeo-Christianity has waned in this country, its influence much diminished, but why is that? Perhaps it is not so much that the larger population has rejected truth or, especially, the love of Christ Jesus presented in the Gospel, but rather has altogether and quite understandably rejected an overly-politicized, sham gospel that Jesus of Nazareth would also reject just as vehemently as he renounced the message of the religious leaders of his own day and time. Perhaps it is time for self-professing Christians, especially of the evangelical ilk, to “get back to the basics,” so to speak, in order to re-present the light, life, and love of Christ to the whole of the hungering world suffering in darkness, sin, and death. Maybe then the masses would listen once again. Maybe then the Judeo-Christian worldview would be taken seriously… Perhaps. 

Advertisements

Toward Understanding and Harmony: One Way Forward

While looking back on previously published poetry for inclusion in (possibly) another printed collection, I ran across this one that seems appropriate, not only at the beginning of this New Year, but also for the current political climate here in the U. S.! (Who knows? Perhaps POTUS will read it and be transformed into something of a real human being! LOL) Ah, but here it is, from back in August of 2015:

So often it’s so easy to misunderstand and reprimand
When there’s really no reason for words out of season;
We assume and fume and leave no room for the benefit
Of doubt; never consider we may be wrong, agony prolong
So unnecessarily because we’ve failed to give charity
And beckon clarity for sake of peace instead of caprice
In broken harmony as we release anger and animosity
From paucity of heart; we can be so small when we should
Stand tall in character and integrity with better dignity;
And so much strife would fade in play of fife and flute
Of happier days and higher ways, in serenity and amenity;
Would not this be better than bitter rancor and soul canker?
Perhaps we begin with open ears to hear and eyes to see
In the other our true sister, brother, father, and mother
Rather than unsuspecting foe ready to deal death blow…
Oh, how suspicious we can be when we’re not free
To live and love without attrition of suspicion of ill-will!

Civil War or Christmas Cheer?

Did you know there is a coming Civil War in the United States? Well, I didn’t either until someone posted about it on Facebook. Well … not to be too incredulous, I decided to at least Google “coming civil war in America,” and sure enough, I got some results! From the League of the South. Never heard of the League of the South? That’s okay. They explain themselves very forthrightly on their website:

The League of the South is a Southern nationalist organization, headquartered in Killen, Alabama, whose ultimate goal is “a free and independent Southern republic.” The League defines the Southern United States as the states that make up the Confederate States of America.

Okay, now that you have an idea of what this organization is all about, what do they have to say about the coming civil war? Again they mince no words:

The coming civil war in America. With each passing day, we move closer to open conflict in America – civil war, if you will – between the forces of Western Civilization (which is founded on a biblical understanding of nationalism) and the forces of Judeo-Marxism or godless international leftism in general.

Gotta’ hand it to them on one count: They’re very clear and straightforward in their statements! If you’re like me, though, you might want a second opinion. So … I got one. This time from an article, penned back in January 2017, in The Trumpet, an ostensibly Christian webzine focusing on current events and Bible prophecy, particularly “the end times,” or eschatology. The writer of the article, “America’s Coming Civil War,” Gerald Flurry, had this to say:

Protests occurred in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Miami and several other cities (following Trump’s election.) Dozens of people were arrested. Many journalists reported these as if they were spontaneous, but everything indicated that they were all organized and planned. Many of these protesters are professionals who are paid to stir up demonstrations! Many of them don’t even live in the cities where they march and riot… Bill O’Reilly asked, “Is a civil war brewing in the U.S.A.?” 

That is an important question! Clearly there are many people who want a fight — a revolution — a race war! And they are going to get it — and a whole lot more…! Average Americans just want everything to calm down so they can get back to their lives and their pleasures and so forth. But the shocks for America aren’t going to go away. You can see that if you are watching what is happening with open eyes. But beyond that, you can be sure of it because of the prophecies in the Bible.

Alrighty, then … maybe a third opinion? Well, just for kicks, I looked at a number of other websites touting the idea (or prophecy) of Civil War, but I won’t bother to share any more of what I found because, quite frankly, it all began to sound like the same person(s) wrote basically the same article with just a few tweaks here and there. More importantly, though, I was reminded just today that not only should I not focus too intently on all the negatives, I should also be careful not to spread despondency, doom and gloom. So I choose to look on the brighter side of life ~ not through rose-colored glasses, mind you, but just, you might say, realistically with a definite bent toward the optimistic.

Besides, the same person who posted on Facebook about an impending Civil War, and his friends and compatriots, also talks frequently about an evil “New World Order,” the wicked United Nations, Communists, the unholy Freemasons, illegal immigrants infiltrating our country for the purpose of overthrowing the government, and of course Muslims, etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. I could add a few to their list, such as: the Illuminati, the world banking system, the Federal Reserve, and China. In one sense, it might be kind of fun, but then, why add fuel to the fire?

All in all, it’s better to live life in peace with joy, as much as reasonably possible. Besides, it goes against almost every belief I hold dear, including that really most people living on this globe, while certainly not perfect, are nevertheless good folk. I am also a dreamer, who, with Christian moorings, looks toward an ever-brighter future for our world, and I believe that, despite all of the wars and hunger and poverty, overall progress has been made down through the centuries, and I hold fast to the hope-filled belief that we can and will still progress now and in the future.

Life is filled with obstacles, yet it is also filled with opportunities, and something tells me that we really couldn’t have all the opportunities we do without at least some of the obstacles. After all, obstacles present us with opportunities to overcome, do they not? And with all the advancements in technology, literally linking the peoples of the world together in (possible) daily communication, we might just find (as I believe we are) that we have more of a unified voice than ever we before allowed ourselves to imagine.

At least I know I have friends on both Facebook and in the Blogosphere from every corner of the earth, and you know what? We not only get along … we actually like each other, and encourage each other. And when one weeps, we all weep; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. And while this may sound to some overly simplistic and, perhaps, too starry-eyed, I would rather live this way than constantly looking over my shoulder, finding in every different face another prospective boogeyman, waiting on pins and needles for the next Civil War or Revolution, and cringing at the daily news.

No, I won’t blind myself to the harsher realities of life, but in looking around me with eyes wide open I will say with the early 20th century minister, William L. Watkinson, that “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” And this, my friends, is all one important reason I can (and will) have a very merry Christmas, indeed … and, yes, I trust a happy New Year, too!

 

By the Book: Assessing Trump by Evangelical Standards

Since recently writing (for the second time) about evangelical Protestant support of Donald Trump and their unflinching defense of (seemingly, at least) everything he does and says  ~ or, at least, their very noticeable silence ~ I wondered just how well Trump lines up with biblical doctrine, especially since evangelicals consider the Bible the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

Mulling this over a good bit, I’m wondering just how much conservative Protestant Christians (and, I suppose, some Roman Catholics, too) are left with of Donald Trump to defend. Of course, I have to say I’ve been prompted to this by some vitriolic reactions on Facebook, and one reactionary pointedly said, “I’m willing to bet you’re not perfect either!”

Well, no I’m not perfect … but neither is the whole evangelical world defending me as both an awesome President and respectable Christian (with, perhaps, some “rough edges.”) Besides, there are some important comparisons to be made, as I did in my recent blog, for example: G. H. W. Bush professed to be a Christian; however, he did not shamelessly use his religion to gain the support of an entire block of voters.

Also, and importantly, Bush simply lived a life of upstanding character and integrity, and he was a truly patriotic (not nationalistic) public servant, who was an excellent husband, father, grandfather, war hero, statesman and gentleman. I also think of “the buck stops here” President, Harry Truman. He was an outstanding statesman and family man, honest, patriotic, and unwavering in his commitment to God and country.

Naturally, our 39th President, James Earl Carter, comes to mind, as well as his 1976 opponent, then-President Gerald Ford. Many great women come to mind, too, of course, such as: Elenore Roosevelt, first lady for a little over 12 years and, later, an ambassador to the United nations, who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dixie Bibb Graves, the first female senator from Alabama, and the first married woman to serve in the Senate. Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush also quickly come to mind.

But I digress… Back to my original question: How does Trump line up with the biblical standards evangelical Protestants claim to hold so dear (as the inspired, infallible Word of God)? Well, let’s take a quick look. What do the holy Scriptures of Judeo-Christianity say about:

Strangers, Sojourners and Immigrants?

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22. 21, RSV)

You must never do wrong things to a foreigner. Remember, you know what it is like to be a foreigner because at one time you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23. 9, ERV)

Do not mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19. 33 – 34, CEV)

Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me… (The Gospel of Matthew 25. 34 – 35, CEV)

The Poor?

You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19.10, ESV)

And this next passage is particularly poignant:

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be… Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  (Deuteronomy 15. 7 – 8, 10, NRSV) 

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was very plain spoken when it came to riches on one hand and poverty and the poor on the other:

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ (The Gospel of Matthew 19. 21, NRSV)

And also, of course, this famous statement:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (The Gospel of Mark 10. 25, NRSV)

If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? (Epistle of James 2. 15 – 16, RSV)

Care for the Environment?

The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to work the soil and take care of the garden. (Genesis 2. 15, ERV) In other words, to be the steward of creation. 

And God shows just how much he cares for creation by condemning those who “defile” it, and turn it into an obscenity:

I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. (Jeremiah 2. 7, RSV)

This next passage is particularly appropriate for our day and age, and one must justly wonder what bearing (if any) it has on the horrible practice of fracking, on damaging oil spills, on air pollution and global warming, deforestation, and so much more … and also the fact that Trump has not only denied the scientifically proven fact of global warming, but also refused to sign the G 7 Agreement on Climate Control:

The earth dries up and withers; the world languishes and fades away; heaven fades away, along with the earth. The earth lies defiled beneath its inhabitants; because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse keeps on consuming, and its inhabitants are declared guilty. Furthermore, the inhabitants of earth are ablaze, and few people are left. (Isaiah 24. 4 – 6, ISV)

Scripture makes it quite clear that one day God will take vengeance on behalf of this tortured earth. Has Trump considered this? Is he even familiar with the verse of Scripture?

‘We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’ (Revelation 11. 17 – 18, NRSV)

On Speech and/or Conversation?

Donald Trump said, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” And he also said, “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well been documented, are various other parts of my body.” But what do the scriptures say?

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Epistle to the Ephesians 5. 4, ESV)

But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. (Epistle to the Colossians 3. 8, NRSV)

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. (Second Epistle of Peter 2. 17 – 19)

Donald Trump falsely claimed, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” In so doing, he slandered an entire segment of our population. What does the Bible have to say about this?

Beware then of useless grumbling, and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result, and a lying mouth destroys the soul. (Book of Wisdom 1. 11, NRSV)

Promiscuity/Adultery

Did he really say this? Yes, indeed he did: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.” On top of this, and paying off at least two women with whom he fraternized, he is on his third marriage… Wonder why? But what do we read in Scripture?

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20.14, NRSV)

But he who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. (Proverbs 6. 32, NRSV)

Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Epistle to the Romans 13. 13, RSV)

Lying and/or Bearing False Witness

“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it. But you also have to get elected,” Trump said. “And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.” And he said this privately to explain to Paul Ryan why he supported cutting Social Security even though he was saying the opposite in his public campaign. This is but one of many examples of outright lying, but what does the Bible say about deceit? 

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12. 22, RSV)

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. (Exodus 20. 16, NRSV)

For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (Second Epistle to the Corinthians 11. 13 – 15, NRSV)

For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin. (Book of Wisdom 1. 3 – 5, NRSV)

Well, perhaps this is more than enough. I will only finish by noting that it was the evangelical Protestant community that berated Barak Obama so fiercely and unrelentingly, falsely accusing him of being Muslim, and even referring to him as the anti-Christ. Funny, though, he conducted himself in a far more presidential way, has always been a family man, still married to his first wife, and during the funeral for G. H. W. Bush, he could be seen and heard, along with Michelle, reciting the Apostles’ Creed ~ so much for his being Muslim ~ and singing the hymns! But has the evangelical community cut him any slack yet? No, of course not … but, thank God, they now have an authentic, evangelical Christian as POTUS, right???

Trump and the Irremissible Blindness of Evangelicals

Except for, perhaps, the funeral of Sen. John McCain, there has been no greater, more poignant contrast between gentleman and statesman on one hand, and the putrid demagoguery of Trump on the other than our national farewell to George H. W. Bush. Our 41st President was a war hero, lifelong public servant, exemplary husband, father, friend and family man, who led this nation as Commander in Chief for four very crucial years. The current occupant of the White House is an unthinking, irresponsible, and promiscuous man on his third marriage, who has done nothing in his life apart from serving himself, often to the detriment of those around him.

Hardly anything could be more appalling than having such an individual seated in the Oval Office, except for, perhaps, the unwavering support he enjoys from the vast majority of evangelical Protestant “Christians.” It does not seem to matter that the Trump campaign quite possibly colluded with Russia in its attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections. It does not seem to matter that, during this same period, Trump was planning on building another Trump Tower, this time in Moscow. It does not seem to matter that Trump forced the resignation of Jeff Sessions, whom many consider to be a truly Christian statesman, as Attorney General simply because Sessions refused to compromise the integrity of his office to serve the President’s personal interests.

No, and it does not seem to matter that, as is now being revealed, Trump may very well have violated the Constitution’s restrictions on receiving payments from foreign governments due to his continuing involvement in his businesses during and after the Saudi government spent an estimated $270,000 to pay for a total of 500 nights in the Trump International Hotel following the 2016 elections. It does not seem to matter to evangelicals that the President has done nothing to advance their anti-abortion, pro-life cause. It does not seem to matter that Trump continues to engage in vulgar and offensive “tweets,” and race-baiting. In fact, it does not seem to matter that, while standing on the front row with other past Presidents at Bush’s funeral, he did not recite the Apostles’ Creed ~ the most basic statement of Christian doctrine with which evangelicals certainly agree … along with most of the rest of the Christian world ~ and did not even participate in the hymns.

At this properly reverent fare-thee-well to an outstanding statesman and true gentleman, there stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, Barak and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Bush family including, of course, George W. and Jeb Bush. Many other names could be named, but all were somber and reverent. All participated fully in the service … except Donald Trump. And this is the great evangelical President, who can do no wrong??? Excuse me for lecturing the evangelical Protestant community, to which I no longer belong, but it is high time ~ far past time ~ for those who are sincerely sincere about their life and faith to come to their senses! Message to the evangelical Protestant churches: You are making a damn laughing stock of yourselves, but even worse, you are bringing nothing but shame to the name of the Lord and Savior you purport to serve, in aiding and abetting an unethical, villainous miscreant! And especially to the evangelical leadership: Hold your President accountable! You say he really is Christian, then charge him and expect him to act like one!

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Democrat and Republican, both respected the Office of the President, and they respected themselves and the American people, whom they served. George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, Republican and Democrat, both set appropriately high standards for occupancy of the White House, and they made it their sacred duty to serve the people of this country to the best of their God-given abilities. Above all, this was also George Herbert Walker Bush, who remained unwavering in his commitment to God, family, country, and the world in which he lived. And there are so many others, too, who never made it into the Oval Office, at least not as Commander-in-Chief: Walter Mondale, Robert Dole, George McGovern, Alan Keyes, Bill Richardson, Ben Carson, and, of course, John McCain and on and on… (And the point here is character and integrity, not political perspectives or stand on particular issues.)

We can all hope and pray ~ as we should ~ that the overwhelming majority of American voters will save the executive branch of our government from further ignominy by placing it into the hands of someone of upstanding character and integrity who, like George H. W. Bush, is intent on serving our country rather than her/himself … an individual with hands unsullied and spirit undefiled … someone who has and still leads an exemplary life, who genuinely has the ability to preside over this great nation. And if evangelical “Christians” cannot see through the Trumpian fog and commit themselves to this most worthy, fundamentally important goal, then perhaps it is time for their ship to sink, even as it is now taking on the dingy water of bad repute. This would be a somewhat sad ending to the community of faith, which included the likes of Billy Graham and (the lesser known) D. James Kennedy, but … come to this end if it must.

 

Good God, Wicked World

How can God be good, and loving, yet allow so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world? This is an acutely agonizing question that has been asked for centuries with no really satisfactory answer. Yet, of course, there have been plenty of explanations put forth by philosophers, theologians, religious scholars, priests, rabbis, and so many more. Whether one seems more acceptable — or shall we say digestible — than the others is, perhaps, up to the individual considering the subject.

Alvin Plantinga, for example, says that if God is good then it logically follows that God would create the best of possible worlds, so that if we grant that God is, indeed, good, then we must conclude that this world, as it is, is the best of all possible worlds. Two questions come to mind, though: 1) why is it so many of us humans can conceive of a much better world than the one in which we reside if this really is the best possible world? 2) And even if it is, does this really “excuse” God for all of the pain, suffering, wickedness, natural disasters, etc.?

Surely an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, and good God could do something, and would do something, to dislodge the evil. But, then, was it David Hume who said that either God is omnipotent and omniscient, but not good and loving, or that God is good and loving, but not omnipotent and omniscient? It’s easy to see his reasoning on this point, (if indeed it was Hume who made this observation), because it seems utterly senseless that an all-loving and good God, who is also all-knowing and all-powerful, would allow so much pain and suffering.

It may be, then, that God is not quite “GOD,” but rather “god,” and so s/he is quite loving and beneficent, yet simply unable to exercise sovereign control over all of life and the entire world.  Or it is very possible that God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and everywhere present, for that matter), yet is also malevolent. Or it may be that there are two equally powerful gods, one being completely good, while the other is completely bad. Although some would say evil in the world is not God’s fault at all; it is humanity that is culpable.

This is a particularly frustrating argument from free will, though, as several questions come to mind: 1) who gave humans free will in the first place? 2) Who instilled within humanity the capacity to commit evil, atrocities, acts of violence, and so forth? 3) Who “set the stage” in which these evils could be committed? 3) How are victims of atrocities, violence, and so forth at all responsible for their suffering? 4) Does free will cover every human being anyway, such as: infants, invalids, the mentally handicapped, sufferers of dementia, etc.?

Then again, maybe God counter-balances all of the evil with good … maybe more than counter-balances it. Perhaps s/he outweighs the evil with an overabundance of good. Within this we could/should very well include eternal life in the bliss of an heavenly realm, of course. Certainly an eternity spent in heaven — perfected with love, joy, peace, happiness, health, and so much more — would make up for all of the pain and suffering, for all of the wickedness and atrocities, right? Many human individuals would say unequivocally, “no.”

Naturally, the atheist takes care of this nasty conundrum very neatly by merely pointing out that, of course, there is no God. The atheist is, nevertheless, left with the problem of evil in the world, but s/he can always foist that off on the brutal, impersonal, and naturalistic/materialistic world in which we live. In other words, we are no more than biological machines fighting, not only for survival, but for our own perceived greatest good, or fortune, thus humans oftentimes act worse than fierce animals all to satisfy themselves.

There is another explanation laid on the table, however, and it is that of an aloof, cold and detached God…. perhaps the God of deism. In this case, God created the cosmos and at least kicked off life within it, but then just “sat back” to watch it all unfold, maybe like some grand soap opera on a divine scale. Who knows? But this is definitely not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of Christianity. What precisely is the God of Judeo-Christianity is an open question and has been for, perhaps, just as many centuries.

Is there still another answer? Surely we have not exhausted all of the explanations for evil, pain, and suffering in the world. There are, in all likelihood, many more to consider, but at present they escape the author’s knowledge … except for possibly one more. It seems in one sense the least satisfying of all answers, but could it be that God simply has an altogether different “measure” of, or perspective upon, pain and suffering and evil? Could it be that all of this looks quite differently from his/her vantage point? Doubtless, this is the case.

Does this satisfactorily explain the presence of so much evil, though? Well, as humans we would not charge the dog with an act of wickedness in catching and killing a rabbit; rather, we would say that this is just a dog being a dog, instinct and all. And again, we would not claim the cat is acting wickedly in prancing on a mouse, for that is what cats do as part and parcel of being cats. Perhaps, then, humans are also living out very fundamentally human lives — both good and bad, righteous and evil — and this is what God sees.

And maybe this leaves God rather undaunted by war and pestilence, disease and starvation, violence and gross neglect, and all sorts of pain and sufferings endured by countless millions upon millions of individuals, families and communities. In other words, it may be that God views all of this from an entirely divine perspective without being able to relate to the uniquely human viewpoint. Which is almost (if not entirely) to say that God cannot, perchance, “lower” him/herself to the crude level of humanity.

This won’t fly with Judeo-Christianity, though, because this is exactly where the Incarnation of Christ Jesus comes into crucial play. According to this central doctrine, God the only-and-eternally-begotten Son was conceived in the human womb of the Virgin Mary, from whom he assumed an authentically and completely human nature. And it was in this capacity that he suffered torture and death on the cross, being completely innocent of any wrongdoing, enabling him to literally understand pain, suffering, and victimization, (and so much more.)

Moreover, through his resurrection he is said to have somehow sanctified pain and suffering. At least, believer-followers of Christ are somehow able to mystically participate in the sufferings of Christ Jesus in and through their own pain and suffering. Does this satisfy the question/problem of the good God and wicked world? Well, it does seem to move closer to an important resolution, that is: God did not (and does not) stand idly by, watching all of the evil and wickedness in the world… No, s/he has actually, fully participated in suffering.

This still does not quite answer why an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, completely good God would allow so much evil, pain and suffering when it (seems) well within his/her ability to mitigate it all. Yet this may well be where some kind of free will argument, coupled with some best-of-all-worlds claim, enters into the equation … both carefully refined and nuanced, then astutely tied in with the argument from the Incarnation. Even still, this probably cannot be sufficient. So long as horrendous evil exists, nothing will likely entirely satisfy.

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

“It is easier to gaze into the sun, than into the face of the mystery of God. Such is its beauty and its radiance.” ~ Hildegard of Bingen

“The brilliance of contemplated beauty opens the spirit to the mystery of God.” ~ Angelo Sodano

I cannot recall exactly when it happened, but I remember I was going to sleep one night and it just suddenly hit me, that is, the awesome mystery of God. An image of an endless, dark and inscrutable ocean welled up in my mind. I instinctively knew it was a representation of the Divine, and it frightened me. The great swells of water seemed to threaten me, and I actually found it hard to breath.

HEY7221This image, with all the attendant feelings, came back many more times, (and has recurred since I left the Samson Group Home.) Along with this I realized something rather simple, something that should have been obvious all along, and that is: I really do not even begin to comprehend God in his essence. I also realized that God truly is completely overwhelming.

It struck me ~ this simple yet profound truth ~ that I could quite literally drown in the Divine. The more I thought about all of this, the more I felt like I was suffocating. I reached the point of terror, the a terrore Dei. And I could not escape…

You cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Jonah 2.3 (NRSVCE)

Yet at about the same time the beauty of the world around me struck me with nearly overpowering force, even, or especially, the simplest things: fish jumping up out of the pond behind the house, birds pecking around the yard, and squirrels scampering about; the fox and racoon at night, along with the opossum family, and the dogs barking in the distance. All of creation seemed to radiate intense beauty that in turn pointed to ultimate Beauty, which I identified with God.

During this time is when I began throwing out the leftover bread from lunch. For some reason, I’d suddenly began to feel it my duty to share our food with our kindred creatures. In fact, tossing out the bits and pieces of bread brought with it a deep feeling of peace. I felt as if I were somehow embracing life in the raw, if only a little. It was deeply satisfying and ultimately healthy… It was like a prayer in action.

This is when I began passing over from the more traditional religiosity of Christianity to a certain degree of mystical spirituality, and one without many words. More and more often I would bow my head in prayer, focusing upon God, speaking nothing, just centering on the Divine. And this was enough… It still is enough. In fact, for some reason, prayer with words began to feel strangely inadequate. I felt like I was falling terribly short when praying verbally … so I prayed while praying nothing and everything.

All in all, this was an exceptionally calming experience, even with the overwhelmingness of God. Really, I eventually began to crave the “ocean of the Divine.” I began to fall into an eerie kind of love ~ but true love, nonetheless ~ with this God of Mystery. No, I never really sacrificed the core of what I’d believed most of my life. I still counted myself Christian, (and still do today), but this was a new and powerful, ongoing experience for me, taking me to another, deeper level of life.

But in a strange sense, I also felt like this was, perhaps, the first time in my life that I’d begun to genuinely believe, having now had an authentic confrontation with God… And my whole life became for a time like a cocoon, within which I would be transformed into someone (or something) totally other than I had ever been before.


For previous instalments, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance