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The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society

Catching upon blogging, I want to share this interesting article from the NY Times on the evangelical roots of the post-truth society.  If anything, I think this article needs to be longer, with more in-depth exploration of the topic.

The author discusses how conservative and fundamentalist evangelical Christians embrace a worldview of biblical inerrancy which compels them to reject aspects of science, philosophy, and history which they find incompatible.  They are taught to view those things and their purveyors as false or fake.

This was something of my experience, growing up, though I grew up in an era when the fundamentalists did not have complete control of my denomination, but this sort of talk was gaining ground.  In some ways it emerged out of conservative Christian rejection of some aspects of popular culture and the culture wars of my parent's generation.  I do remember being raised on the evils of rock music, for example.  So as those sectarian ideas developed over time, they led to a rejection of even more of mainstream culture and thought.

The Texas textbook fights are good examples. The debate wasn't just about rejecting science books that discussed evolution, health textbooks couldn't discuss condoms in the sex ed section and, later, history textbooks downplayed ideas like the separation of church and state.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

We all cling to our own unquestioned assumptions. But in the quest to advance knowledge and broker peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world, the worldview based on biblical inerrancy gets tangled up in the contradiction between its claims on universalist science and insistence on an exclusive faith.

By contrast, the worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts . . .

So, it's easy to see how this brainwashing might lead to people without the critical thinking skills and personal autonomy to judge Donald Trump accurately.  Yet, I remain puzzled with how supposed promoters of traditional values could embrace this moral reprobate.


The Norse Myths

The Norse MythsThe Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What struck me most about these Norse myths was their darkness. There is a lightness to the fantasies of the Greeks and Romans and an enjoyable humor in the tales of Native Americans. But these myths contain a heaviness.

For example, in the description of Yggdrasill, the great tree which is the axis of the world. It is constantly being gnawed at by the dragon Nidhogg "trying to loosen what was firm and put an end to the eternal." We are told that "Parts of the huge trunk were peeling, parts were soft and rotten. Yggdrasill whispered and Yggdrasill groaned."

Strange to imagine this corruption and rot in the the very core of one's mythology. Plus, the constantly foreboding of the end of the age and the destruction that would come with it.

How strange that there was a time when these were the tales people told about those they worshiped.

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Repair

I have felt the last few months that the most important task isn't opposition--as important as that is--but reweaving the moral and social fabric which has deteriorated.  Which means I, in some ways, viewed Trump as a symptom and not the disease, the cause.  This is the motivation behind much of my recent reading, writing, preaching, even the podcast.  How to restore morality, decency, faith, society, and democracy.

Today I watched this sermon which David Brooks delivered at the National Cathedral and it expresses so much of what I've been thinking and feeling.  This sermon gives more shape to my thoughts and encourages me at a point when I was doubting the direction I had chosen.  I encourage you to watch it.

 


Demonic Activity?

In one of the stranger articles I've ever read in the Washington Post, an evangelical pastor in Florida, who seems to have supported Trump before, reveals how he experienced "demonic activity" at Trump's rally this week.  

The article's conclusion is quite frightening:

“I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.”

And there was this strange, revealing, and also upsetting tidbit:

“The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer,” he added. “I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, ‘be the glory forever and ever, amen!’ As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ”


Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns


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Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors
by Hena Khan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Goodreads friend marked this as to-read, curious I pulled the link upon Amazon and thought the book looked lovely. We want to raise our son with an appreciation of many cultures, ethnicities, and faiths, so this is the type of book we want in our house. Plus, there is a Muslim girl in his class at daycare with whom he has been good friends. That this book was about a Muslim girl seemed perfect.

The book arrived a few days later and its quite beautiful. Sebastian enjoyed it so much we read it three times that first evening. He has taken to calling the girl in the book by the name of the friend at daycare!

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6 tasks for Christians struggling with Trump

On Ministry Matters a post that gives a concise summary of  Ministry Matters™ | 6 tasks for Christians struggling with Trump 6 tasks for Christians struggling with Trump.

 

 


Spiritual Adventure

Dorothy-day
 

Even as a child, Dorothy Day was "filled with a natural striving, a thrilling recognition of the possibilities of spiritual adventure" (her own words).  She is the next person discussed in David Brook's exploration of character.  Despite her childhood spirituality, the saintly Day emerged from a life of struggle and a very bohemian young adulthood.  Brooks uses her as an example of how character emerges from struggle and suffering.

Brooks uses the opportunity of recounting Day's life to explore the impact of suffering on building character.  He makes an important point near the beginning of that discussion, "When it is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people."

How do we grow from suffering?  Brooks makes three points.  First that it "drags you deeper into yourself."  Suffering compels you to face your sins and weaknesses and won't let you get away with the easy answers.  Second, it teaches us our limitations, what we can and cannot control.  Finally, it teaches gratitude for the thinks we take for granted in good times.

He concludes,

Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease.  Many people don't come out healed; they come out different.  They crash through the logic of individual utility and behave paradoxically.  Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that often lead to suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them.  Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability and become available to healing love.  They hurl themselves deeper and more gratefully into their art, loved ones, and commitments.

 

Three other points I want to comment on in this chapter.

First, this:

It's hard now to recapture how seriously people took novel reading then, or at least how seriously Day and others took it--reading important works as wisdom literature, believing that supreme artists possessed insights that could be handed down as revelation, trying to mold one's life around the heroic and deep souls one found in books.  Day read as if her whole life depended upon it.

I think I read like this, or at least something similar.

Second.  He writes about Day's choice to live among the poor and experience their suffering and poverty.  I was once drawn to such a Christian conviction , though I never acted on it.  In the mid-Aughts I was reading much theology and Wendell Berry.  I was influenced by Day indirectly and others.  At the time I was coming out and worried about losing my calling as a pastor, I considered that if everything went south, then I'd choose some commitment to poverty.  But, life didn't lead in that direction, and my calling was clearly different.

I contrasted Brooks' discussion of Day in this chapter with Kittlestrom's discussion of Jane Addams and her relationship with Hull House in The Religion of Democracy.  In my blogpost on that chapter, I wrote about Addams's encounter with Tolstoy and how she ultimately rejected his ethical purity for a pragmatism she thought was more likely to solve problems.  These days I tend in the Addams direction.

Finally.  In this chapter I began to feel the constraints of Brooks' presentation and further admiration for Kittelstrom's figures. Brooks has yet to explore any figure who advocated for personal liberation.  All of his characters are dominated by restraint.  I know that is one of the themes of the book, but it's beginning to feel a little stifling.  Consider the discussion of Thomas Davidson in Kittelstrom.  In contrast to the submission of Day is this idea: " to grow their moral agency through nonconformity, resisting conventional authority and traditional standards and fixed ideas in several ways: by cultivating their individual understandings as active forces capable of shaping practice; by accepting uncertainty and partial truths as inevitable features of an unfinished, infinite, pluralistic universe."

Again, my coming out experience has emphasized the important of authenticity, liberation, and self-expression.  Maybe a book on the important virtues from the queer perspective?

And, here was my last post in this particular series, on the virtue of moderation as expressed by Dwight Eisenhower.


Conquering Your Own Soul

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Ida Stover Eisenhower was "strict in her faith but fun-loving and humane in practice" raising her boys on the difficult Kansas plains in "a harsh environment covered by a thick code of respectability and propriety."  David Brooks writes in The Road to Character that

The fragility and remorselessness of this life demanded a certain level of discipline. If a single slip could produce disaster, with little in the way of a social safety net to cushion the fall; if death, or drought, or disease, or betrayal could come crushingly at any moment; then character and discipline were paramount requirements.  This was the shape of life: an underlying condition of peril, covered by an ethos of self-restraint, reticence, temperance, and self-wariness, all designed to minimize the risks.

And so Ida Eisenhower taught her boys to conquer the worst aspects of themselves.  Brooks writes:

That concept--conquering your own soul--was a significant one in the moral ecology in which Eisenhower grew up.  It was based on the idea that deep inside we are dual in our nature.  We are fallen, but also splendidly endowed.  We have a side to our nature that is sinful--selfish, deceiving, and self-deceiving--but we have another side to our nature that is in God's image, that seeks transcendence and virtue.  The essential drama of life is the drama to construct character, which is an engraved set of disciplined habits, a settled disposition to do good.

Brooks spends a few pages advocating for the recovery of the concept of sin, which I agree with and have made an important aspect of my ministry.  I guffawed when I read this from the pen of David Brooks "Sin is not some demonic thing.  It's just our perverse tendency to fuck things up."

He also gives a nice topography of types of sins:

Some sins, such as anger and lust, are like wild beasts.  They have to be fought through habits of restraint.  Other sins, such as mockery and disrespect, are like stains.  They can be expunged only by absolution, by apology, remorse, restitution, and cleansing.  Still others, such as stealing, are like a debt.  They can be rectified only by repaying what you owe to society.  Sins such as adultery, bribery, and betrayal are more like treason than like crime; they damage the social order.  Social harmony can be rewoven only by slowly recommitting to relationships and rebuilding trust.  The sins of arrogance and pride arise from a perverse desire for status and superiority.  The only remedy for them is to humble oneself before others.

Brooks believes that we've lost not only the moral vocabulary but also the "set of moral tools, developed over centuries and handed down from generation to generation" to deal with our sins.  I believe that the era of Trump is further eroding this moral order.

Dwight Eisenhower is a study in self-conquest, as Brooks writes that Eisenhower had a violent temper and other flaws in his temperament.  He was also, by middle life, one of the least successful of his brothers.  To succeed the general and future president had to develop the moral tools to overcome his flaws.  Brooks writes that Ike was "not an authentic man."  

He writes that Ike existed a world where your public self was something you worked to create because you understood your private self to be flawed.  He writes, "A personality is a product of cultivation.  The true self is what you have built from your nature, not just what your nature started out with."

So Ike portrayed a calm, sunny, homey disposition.  Brooks wonders if our age of authenticity serves us well?

Ike's disciplined life had serious flaws.  "He was not a visionary.  He was not a creative thinker.  In war, he was not a great strategist."  He did not respond adequately to McCarthyism and Civil Rights.

In second post I will explore Ike as an exemplar of moderation.

Here's the last post in this particular series on David Brooks' book, "Collective Responsibility."


Ida B. Wells

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Ida B. Wells, in her late 19th century anti-lynching campaign, laid the groundwork for newly organized civil rights activities.  Which is why she is the second "Apostle of the New Abolition" in Gary Dorrien's The New Abolition about the black social gospel movement (Henry McNeal Turner was the first, and here is my blog post about him).

Wells' family was devastated by an epidemic, leaving her as a young woman to care for her siblings.  She became the first African-American woman to own and run a newspaper, in Memphis.  She eventually had to flee the South for safe haven because of her focus on lynching.  

Lynching was "justified" by white citizens as a defense of white women from rape. Wells called attention to why that was not true, but directly addressed the sexual thesis, which most people ignored.  Writes Dorrien,

On her sexual thesis, Wells was simultaneously emphatic, ambivalent, and repulsed.  The leading citizens that burned Coy and show Fowler were "notorious" for preferring black women as sexual partners, Wells contended.  They mythologized southern belles as pure-minded Christian ladies lacking sexual desire, and they vengefully punished the black men who dared to treat white women as sexual beings.  They prated about defending the honor of white women while betraying them as partners, preferring black women for sex, as they had during slavery.  White men were the barbarians in this picture; white women were more sexual than their husbands dared to imagine; black women were victimized by the predatory sexuality of white men; and black men caught hell for all of it, especially if they were not careful.

Dorrien concludes that "Everything about her argument was incendiary, or revelatory, depending on the reader."  Her opponents chose to attack her character and compelled her to flee Memphis.  

She went on the national and international lecture circuit and became a key organizer, though she often clashed with others in the black and progressive communities.  She in particular called out the latter for their hypocrisies.  "So many Christian leaders of her time were admired for their social virtue despite demonstrating little or none in the area of racial justice."  He write at length about her feud with Frances Willard.  Willard and, to my surprise Elizabeth Cady Stanton even, used racist tropes in their arguments for white women's rights (Anthony did not; she was a friend of Wells).  "Wells  was starting to become famous for saying harsh things about people who were renowned for their liberality and goodwill."

The end of her organizing career got caught up in what became the feud between Booker T. Washington and his allies and W. E. B. DuBois and his as to whether to accommodate or agitate (to put it too simply).  Wells lived till 1931, but was long forgotten before her death, being left out of memoirs and histories of the era.  In the 1960's she was rediscovered and her autobiography finally published in 1970, lifting her into the canon of civil rights history.