The fact that it ultimately isn’t surprising is what proves that we all would have predicted it. I just can’t stop thinking about Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigrants. The idea of freedom of religion as one of the greatest achievements mankind has ever bestowed upon itself was so ingrained in me as a child that I cannot help but wonder how the country that guarantees this freedom is now fascinated by a possible presidential candidate who brings into the legal realm religion. And do not get me started on the fact that other candidates are rebuking him via their–I’m sure–personal social meeja accounts. Ooo, scary.
I wrote about this once before, but it seems timely to bring the issue back to the front. In an odd turn of events, I have had the pleasure of attending undergraduate courses in two different decades at two different colleges. Within the liberal arts departments at least, the theme of my two experiences or the ultimate goal of American universities seemed to be Holocaust prevention. Specifically, the history and social science departments spend tremendous time and energy explaining how something as horrific as the Holocaust could even occur in generally civilized society. The Stanford Prison Experiment. The Milgram Experiment. We’re taught about these social experiments which were conducted after the war ended and even then–in a controlled setting–they had to be administratively stopped because things got so out of hand. Furthermore, to illustrate just how fully these experiments permeate our culture, a movie (not the first) was released earlier this year called, ta da, The Stanford Prison Experiment about the very same thing. The professors teach these lessons under the guise that if only we prove scientifically that people are violence-prone sheep, then people are not violence-prone sheep. To me the experiments have only proven that another holocaust is very possible.
And this whole discussion illustrates the problem with the progressive/liberal/leftist worldview that dominates academia and therefore society. (Yes, I’m lumping Trump–a republican–in the group.) Philosophically, quantum-something-or-other-ly, and really, there actually only exists the present. So if you do wrong in the present, in hopes of improving the future, then you can’t escape that you are doing wrong. But Trump wants to do wrong by banning Muslims. Only for a short time, though. Until things get better. And the President wants to do wrong by stopping the sale of guns today, not because he has any evidence that this stoppage will stop gun violence today, but because maybe it will curb it in the future. The trouble is that it is wrong to make a legal decision based on religion. The trouble is that it is wrong to disarm a nation. These things are wrong. They were wrong a couple hundred years ago, they are wrong today, and they will be wrong in the future. By wrong, I don’t mean these two notions go against trending political correctness, I mean they are wrong. Just wrong. Google it if you have to. Wrong.
The conservative, on the other hand, strives to do right today. And the conservative recognizes that one measure of righteousness is its practical, predictable consequence of more righteousness. I, as a man who loves his ability to be a Christian without being a martyr, won’t support a man running for government office who wants to use religion as a legal definition because I don’t want to be around when he changes his mind regarding which religions are good and which ones are bad. I, as a veteran (which means I’ve seen first-hand how people with guns are sheep), don’t want the government to be the only one with assault/combat weapons because I can plainly see that if the government has all the guns, then the government has all the guns! My pink body explodes when shot. And given my disdain for authority, guess who gets shot first?
Even the event of the Holocaust itself was based in liberalism/progressivism. Life will be better in the future if we do this action today. How about we try “Life will be better today and in the future if we do this act today”?
Ah, but it doesn’t matter. Many of you (obviously it’s you. I know it’s not me.) love progressives. Obama, Trump, Clinton, the whole lot of them. You and I are very similar in that we don’t care about politics and don’t have time to get involved. Where you and I differ is that you are going to vote for the lesser of two evils. You are going to cast a vote under your name that will have the effect of taking one more step towards our asking, “Who would’ve thunk it?” during whatever atrocity America (that’s you and me) is bound to commit before too long if this dream of a better future holds.
Looking for a call to action? Here it is. Don’t vote for people you don’t want to hold office. That might mean not voting. Or that might mean voting for people who won’t win. Either way, we’re at the point in history where instead of admitting, “I didn’t want to waste my vote so I picked the better of the two,” we can declare, “I didn’t vote for this fool.” Not voting is voting.
Happy New Years people.
Oh, and one more observation to round out my first week at seminary.
Tenth, it feels amazing to be back in a place that uses B.C. and A.D. to describe dates in history.
When I was taking a few undergraduate writing courses for pleasure a year or so ago, I kinda shrugged off the new-to-me B.C.E. (before common era) and C.E. (common era) dating convention as, “that’s redonkulous, but whatever.” (If you’re older than me and haven’t been in college recently, these days colleges (maybe all schools?) call B.C., B.C.E., ie 700 B.C. is 700 B.C.E. and call years formerly designated as A.D., C.E.–this year is 2015 C.E.–not 2015 A.D.) (Too many parentheses–sorry–but does anyone else crack up that they couldn’t get away from the letters B and C?) Despite only being 34 years old, I feel like others must view me as a crotchety, old, slave-owning white man when I confess that I am happy to be among honest historians again. Seriously, how in the world can someone honestly describe what makes BCE change to CE without mentioning a certain Jew? (That’s a serious question. Tell me.)
In a stunning turn of events whose deeper meaning even I am still struggling to discern, I just finished my first week at seminary where I am taking courses which line me up to earn a Masters of Divinity, with a major in theology. Smile, people. I am.
I don’t really have time to be writing for free at the moment, but I just feel like sharing some observations about this new journey.
First, this news should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I love talking/thinking/studying Christianity and theology. It only makes sense that I’d end up doing it in a formal school.
Second, I can now pronounce and write the Koine Greek alphabet in upper and lowercase.
Third, did I mention I can’t stop smiling? Here’s why. I was late to the orientation where the few other theology majors were chatting with the department heads. When it came time for questions, I asked, “So. Say a person doesn’t really know what theology is. How would you explain it?” My heart was pounding. I didn’t have time to add/drop courses etc, and so I didn’t want to discover that I was in the wrong room. Yet I had to ask the question. When he began to answer I played it cool and listened, though I am sure my eyes had a sparkle. When he stopped, I couldn’t suppress my excitement any longer. Boom. Huge smile. I was in the right place. I said, “You just made me happy.” The two professors couldn’t believe it. Ha. They chuckled and said, “We don’t usually hear students say that…” B, for one of my courses, I have to write a book report on a book called War in the Bible and Terrorism is the 21st Century. Knowing my own stance on war, post military service which included combat, I couldn’t help but feel like I just showed up to an all you can eat pizza buffet and discovered that there was also a dessert buffet. Read and write about whether “love your enemy” stops somewhere short of unless they’re building nukes? Yes sir. I’ll take another piece. And some ice cream.
Fourth, what this really boils down to is “I want to know what I believe.” I just want to know.
Fifth, as I’ve shared what type of Masters program I’m in with non-believers, I have chuckled nearly every time upon the discovery that while I’m the one attending, they seem to know more about my future as they say, “You want to be a preacher?” Ha. I have no idea. I just want to learn for now. It’s funny that learning as a virtue is totally gone. If there is no professional monetary endgame, then people become confused. “Why are you going then?” (Naturally, at this point I have to insist it’s to get in to heaven.)
Sixth, I cannot describe the feeling I get while on campus. Forget Jesus (forgive me Jesus), forget God (ditto), forget theology, forget the Bible (I’m really going to hell now), forget Christianity. Forget it all, and the place is still shocking. Unlike all the jobs and co-workers I’ve had, unlike the folks that constitute my beloved Toastmasters club, unlike those who attended my Mark Twain Listening Club, the seminary is a place filled with people who honestly want to make the world better. They’re not selling t-shirts, they’re not handing out business cards, they don’t have a desperation in their voice about closing the sale, they’re not trying to get the upper-hand in the conversation, they just have come to a place in their lives where they see service to others as their mission and want to do it in an as informed a way as possible. The campus, the offices, the classrooms, the chapel, the coffee shop, it’s just oozing with heart.
Seventh, I will not become a robot. One ex-mormon blogger-friend comes to mind now and I can hear her disdain at this news already. Allow me to rebut. Whatever other seminary’s exist, and what goes on behind their closed doors, I don’t know. So far this one is not a brain washing factory. So far the professors are classic professors. They are extremely well-read (and traveled), they are decent public speakers, they challenge commonly accepted beliefs and paradigms, and they have adorable quirks that can only be developed after years of standing at the front of a classroom and of which they are unaware. Let it be known: If anything gets weird, I’ll share it. And then I’ll definitely stay in the program. Undercover student in a cult indoctrination? That job is almost cooler than actually believing I might be able to learn how best to actively glorify God and perhaps be on the contributor side of the equation that might lead to a pagan experiencing the joyful spiritual transformation that occurs after accepting Jesus as his/her personal savior. You might call that a win-win situation.
Eighth, one of my first devil’s advocate questions to any heathen reader right now is this: “Do you believe human beings possess the parts/capability to discern that a leader is speaking from (brace yourself) God?” Put another way, is it possible for me to convince you that I honestly believe (as a reasonable, sane citizen) that leader So-and-So’s ideas/rhetoric/vision/plan/mission transcends generally accepted scientific knowledge? That they are acting as an agent of some unnamed ultimate reality? Or will you always label me a “sucker” or “delusional”? Why or why not?
Ninth, on a wholly un-theological note, I think God might have messed up. As H- gets older and older it is becoming clear that she is supposed to be the daughter of a blind couple. Does anyone else’s kid announce every single thing they do? “I’m walking. I’m putting on my shoes. I’m jumping. I’m playing. I’m swimming. I’m dancing. I’m raising my hand.” Yeah, H-, I get it. I’m right next to you and can see what you’re doing. These eyes aren’t just for show. Shyat!
I mentioned in post number one today that a theologian named Marcus Borg labeled Jesus of Nazareth a “movement initiator.” That’s funny to me because it’s so demonstrative of effort. Borg was a Believer, but he really thought that things weren’t good enough as is. He seemed to think, “Maybe if we change the words and labels more people will buy into this garbage.
“Messiah? Too old testament. Movement initiator? Brilliant!
“Christ? Too Greek. Che Guevara? That’s the ticket!
“Son of God? Too not-atheistic. Barack Obama? Exactly!”
Well, I have a revision of my own that I’d like to share. This one came to me the other morning. Different than a phrase, mine is an image. But I’m no artist, so I’ll do my best to describe the image.
To make it palatable, you need some backstory. The backstory is that a good friend, or former good friend (he has a girlfriend now and naturally we don’t talk anymore), is a little brother. And through conversations he shared with me that he has lent his big brother money and never been repaid–not that he ever expected to be. Why did he lend the big brother the money? Obviously love is the reason.
Most of you know that I, too, have a brother. But in my case, I am the big brother. So the other morning, I am reporting in to my little brother that a big conversation with the ex ended terribly and left me without hope, at least in the financial realm of life. As we chit-chatted via the wonder of texting, I jokingly asked him for money. (Actually, I asked him to buy me a house.) Suddenly, my friend’s situation came to mind, and I felt terrible because it occurred to me that maybe my question, despite being ridiculous and clearly a joke, would actually cause my little brother consternation because of how much he loves me. Still with me? I suddenly feared that I was becoming my friend’s douche-bag older brother who was taking advantage of his position in relation to my good friend. And that was not my intent at all.
Now, whether or not my little brother felt any pang of “maybe I should…” before he texted me a resolute “no”, a new version of Jesus’ attitude/demeanor before/during the crucifixion came to mind.
Mel Gibson and the events as recorded in the Gospels seem to have it that he willfully submitted to the punishment because he knew that it was what had to happen if we were ever to understand the better. But for today, at least, I’m kinda in love with this new revision of his emotional state at that trying time. Instead of willful submission, try picturing Jesus of Nazareth in a discussion with the human race. His side of the argument? “Listen to me. Life because better. I speak the truth.” Our side? “Prove it.”
And much like my friend, Jesus would really prefer to avoid the debate. Not because he doubts himself–no. But because he knows how far he will go to prove his conviction. He knows that he will do anything to convince humanity that he’s telling the truth–that he loves us more than he loves himself and that that’s because we deserve the love that we just won’t accept for some reason. So my revision of Jesus during the passion is an unkemptly bearded man pleading with me, a sure sadness in his eyes, “Please don’t ask me to prove it. Please.” And then to himself only, continuing, “Because I will. You don’t know how far I will go.”
Forgive me, brother. My request was in poor taste.
Get excited people. You don’t just get two, but three posts today. The third post on this random August day is coming in an hour. What? I just have a lot to say tonight. Exciting.
Before I became a hero, I always perceived civilians as mocking the military’s love of acronyms. How times have changed. This is relevant to Christianity and happiness (or eudaimonia) because I have simplified Christianity into three words. But I didn’t stop there. I want to promote the three words using their acronym. The reason I think this is the best marketing strategy is because it’s an acronym that sounds remarkably similar to another trending one. My acronym? LBB. See? One short syllable away from LBGT. You civilian pukes want acronyms? Well, this is the only one you need to know.
So what does LBB stand for? Life Because Better.
That’s what Christianity is all about. Better. I don’t think the LBGT crowd will mind too much that I’m ripping them off, because that whole thing is about better in its own way. (Though, I can’t deny that I am utterly shocked and yet wear a larger than life smile of amazement at life’s absurdities to include that anyone would ever celebrate gaining the ability to get married. That is one contract this confirmed bachelor will never enter into again.)
Some of what I’m about to argue just has to be felt in your heart. I’m not right, you’re not wrong. It just is. You either agree or you don’t.
History of Everything: The only relevant lesson.
God creates humanity with free will. Why? Why does he give us life? Because better. Life because better. LBB. In brief, God created humanity. Humanity went to shit (doh, sorry Dad, *). So he destroys everyone but one family and their animals and boat. Then God decides on this second go-around that he needs to be a more hands-on parent. So he chooses a group of people, (Jews), to use to teach the other groups of people that life can in fact be better than the fleeting pleasure found in raping your sister and mom and the livestock. How were the non-chosen people supposed to determine that they were missing out on happiness? They would notice that the Jews win more wars, get out of tight spots more often, and have an uncommon solidarity down through history despite not always, or hardly ever, being recognized as a nation-state. These Jews also had one only God, and a hope for a messiah.
Then, around the time of Jesus’ existence, the Jews really, really believed that a messiah was going to come and violently overthrow their current oppressors, like the Old Testament reported used to happen. But surprise, surprise, the man who claims to be the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, enters the picture and instead of same-shit-different-day, he says the time has come to open up the ability to be a member of the people of God to anyone and everyone and that it has nothing to do with buildings and geography. He argues that the era of teaching the world what’s up through methods including violent revolution for the benefit of one segment of the population is over. He claims that a new history needs to begin and unlike ever before humanity as a whole is finally ready to accept the notion that life can be better. Life because better.
Life because better. LBB.
The best part of this story? It’s true. Life can be better. We can be kinder. We can not hurt each other. We can love our neighbor. We can be decent. We can respect each other for who we are. We can meet each other where we are.
Truth be told, sometimes I like worse life. I like venting and ranting and name calling. I like doing it very articulately as I’ve tried to demonstrate on this blog. I like hating–a lot. Feels good. Not as good as loving, but sometimes really close.
At the end of the day, however, as I lay in bed I dream about the better. I wish I wouldn’t have said things, done things, or contributed to anyone else’s pain.
For me, the only person I’ve ever heard of who gives me hope that I can do life better tomorrow is Jesus of Nazareth. Not the current batch of intelligentsia, not Albert Einstein or Nietzsche, not any living person who thinks I’m totally wrong. You will be forgotten. I will be forgotten. It’s sad but true. Sorry. But he won’t be; he can’t be.
Life because better. LBB.
Americans, especially, the world is watching: Be the better. And give credit where credit’s due. It’s the only hope.
If I understand him correctly, Sigmund Freud preached a radical idea that quickly and firmly rooted itself in its mortal hearers. The idea? “If you want to be happy, blame your parents.” He didn’t want us to blame our parents for the trivial things like the shelter they provided or the food and water, but rather for the really important things or questions like, “Why do I hate myself?” and “Why can’t I keep my marriage together?” and “Why do I only like sex when it’s with strangers?”–you know, the really earth-shattering questions that must be solved if we’re to advance as a species.
Maybe it’s because I’m an honorary member (no voting rights) of MENSA, but I for one didn’t need Freud’s teaching to know that all of my problems were somebody else’s fault. But some of you might not be so smart, and so I want to start a movement. I want to be a movement initiator, the same title Marcus Borg used for Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike Jesus, my movement is to rid history of Freud’s influence. Too much of my time (and yours I’m guessing) is spent trying to figure out just how large a role my parents had in causing my life’s negative circumstances. (Oh, Dad, sorry, here’s the belated *.) Because I just don’t give a fuck anymore. I dream, I fantasize about what life must have been like before Freud. To just deal with problems as they come and quit imagining that happiness is possible if I only pinpoint exactly which spanking (all of them undeserved, as I remember it) led to me marrying my ex-wife.
Give me a break.
(The one after church on Sunday, August 30th, 1992 is my conclusion, btw).
Instead of Freud, I’d ask that we turn to Martin Heidegger, and eventually Him. Heidegger, a human, suggested that even as late as in the 20th century, philosophers were not asking the right question. The right question being, “Why do we wish to escape life?” Freud offers the idea that life can be better if we affix blame correctly; Heidegger, that life cannot be better as long as we keep trying to escape it.
Life is not in the past, it is not in the future. Life is right now.
Constitution or no constitution, I think it’s a valid question.
And if my daughter’s classroom had anything to say about them around last St. Patty’s Day, what with chairs overturned and tables on their side, I wouldn’t want to piss those little guys off. They can be awfully mischievous.
I recently responded to a friend’s seemingly angry comment to my favorable views of Christianity by suggesting she calm down. She did. Then she asked that I watch a presentation (that you can find here) in which a speaker essentially claims that my asking this friend to calm down was an example of me unwittingly antagonizing the social change movement known as atheism. News to me.
The presentation, by a woman named Greta Christina, is very generalized and therefore incapable of doing much more than rabble rousing. However, I would like to address one topic that I find fascinating. Here’s her claim:
“I get angry when believers say that the entire unimaginable hugeness of the universe was made entirely for the human race, [whereas] atheists by contrast say that humanity is this infinitesimal eye-blink in the vastness of time and space. And then religious believers accuse atheists of being arrogant.”
As I see it, we’re all guessing. We’re all looking at the data and drawing conclusions. More than that there are two levels at play here that she doesn’t seem to recognize. One level is the idea. The other is the proponent of the idea. If I expound the believers’ idea, I can also humbly admit that it’s just my best guess. No different than an atheist can admit that they are not certain. However, when the atheist or believer declares that for certain they are right, there is naturally, in both cases, an additional off-putting arrogance. And I am no more a fan of religious zealots who prematurely end the dialogue with claims of certainty than I am of atheists who do so. But in my experience, including this woman, while believers can be annoying in their certitude, atheists rue the day when it comes to arrogance. It’s inherent to their argument, the argument that goes something like,
“There are objective, scientific facts to be known. I know them. As facts are synonymous with truth, I know the truth. Moreover if you disagree with me, you’re disagreeing with the truth and consequently you are wrong. (And stupid).”
Does anyone remember the end of The Matrix Revolutions? (That’s the name of number three). The machines are trying to once and for all defeat humanity. Their agent, Agent Smith, asks our agent, Neo, who won’t stop fighting, “Why? Why, why do you persist?” Neo’s answer: “Because I choose to.” Smith’s question embodies the same argument as the atheist’s, just more eloquently. And it is arrogant. As if life is a computation to be solved and afterwards things will be normal.
Is it an arrogant idea that the unimaginable universe was created for little ol’ me? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s just my freely chosen conclusion–as of today–after studying the historical record and living among you for thirty-three years. Is it an arrogant idea that an infinitesimal eye-blink or even a very numerous group of them have accurately and finally recognized a system of knowledge that answers, “Why?” or “What for?” in a way that demands unquestioning allegiance? Yes. Yes, I’m afraid it is.
Church-going Christians: Probably want to skip this one. Or maybe you are my target audience. It’s difficult to say.
Because the topic is endlessly fascinating to me, I have read John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew series–the first four volumes–and I am anxiously awaiting the concluding fifth volume. I am also one book in to N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God five volume series. These books center themselves on the question “What does the historical record say about Jesus of Nazareth?” I believe them to be intellectually honest, and I have found great comfort and value in them. As an added bonus, I am fairly confident that I understand who Jesus of Nazareth was and thought he was much better than before. So much so that I have recently begun to hunt for a church which I think I could stomach attending week to week.
You should see the looks on the generally elder crowd’s faces when I tell them I’ve been away for a decade. They are so thankful that I’ve returned. It’s a little hokey but feels good nonetheless. My biggest complaint about modern churches is their music selection. It’s horrible, just horrible. I have never sat next to a person who didn’t agree, either. Because I’m older and can only attempt this adventure with authenticity, I let a guy know that I missed the Baptist Hymnal of my youth. He tells me, “You’re in luck!” It seems there is a Sunday School type class that sings the old hymns because there are others like me. Another vote for opening my big mouth, I think.
Yesterday, however, I discovered I should just sit quiet from now on. While the packed room did sing one (1) traditional hymn, I was sure that before the hour’s end I would be the only one not grasping St. Peter’s welcoming hand at the pearly gates.
Social decorum demanding obedience as it does, I remained in the room.
Skipping to the end, what did the well-meaning old timers want to debate for the hour we had together? Whether there is such a thing as unpardonable sin–a sin which is so awful that even Jesus’ saving power can’t redeem the perpetrator’s soul. (Consensus – There might be one, but don’t worry you can’t commit it inadvertently.)
The only thought that occupied my mind for that hour was, “Who gives a shit?”
The sermon was pretty good at least.
Arrest me. Do it soon. I need to feel the cold steel of handcuffs around my wrists. I am even okay with the sharp-edged plasticky feel of zip-ties. Hurry up and place a guiding hand on my head as I step into the back seat of a squad car.
I did it. I confess. It was over a decade ago. I cannot remember the exact day but I remember why I did it. He had become weak. He had lost his edge. He was no different than anyone else. He did not even know my name.
Replace my name with a number. You can have my personal effects. I look forward to putting on a jump suit. My favorite letters are D O and C. I will wear them with pride.
I never wanted to hurt him. You should know that. But I did it just the same.
So what if it was negligence. I am still the guilty party. I saw his thirst for more money. I heard his desire for a bigger house. I felt his demand for more friends.
I prefer powdered soap. I have no friends. I have no family. No one will miss me.
He disgusted me. So I killed him the only way I knew how. I left him.
I thought I saw him last Sunday. I was mistaken. The man I saw was just an imitation. He was older. He would not offend. He would not provoke. He would not incite. He would not love. I knew then that I must confess my crime. The world needs to know. Church is dead. I know because I killed him.