“Intolerant, Judgemental, Hypocritical & Homophobic.” Who could that be?

Someone says Christians are seen this way.  Who said it?  It was another Christian.

A Texan named Brad White has started a group called Changing the Face of Christianity. His view is that Christians are seen by secular society as intolerant, judgemental, hypocritical and homophobic.

His group is holding seminars on how Christians can shake being viewed in these negative ways.  I read the article about this but could not figure out what White’s solution is to these labels.

My guess is that nothing much will come of Mr. White’s new effort.  Many conservative Christians simply see these labels as something that goes with being a good Christian.

The same thing goes on among atheists.  There is a little army of atheists who criticize “new atheists”.  The “new atheists” are the best selling authors like Richard Dawkins.  They are quite blunt in stating their views that they cannot find evidence of a god.  They put forth little effort to “make nice” with members of the religious communty.

I think there are few “programs” that change peoples’ approachs to either Christianity or atheism.  Instead, things change through a complex set of influences and circumstances, each generation seeing things a little differently than the previous one. 

For the future, my guess is that the children of today’s fundamentalists will be Christian Lite in many ways.  The children of today’s atheists will be even more blunt than their parents.

Is This the Second Reformation?

Generally speaking, the reformation is considered to be the time when the protestant church was born.  I say generally, because it was a complex time.  Many things were changing. 

Today, times are complex as well.  There is one thing that appears indisputable.  People are leaving the organized church in large numbers.

I’ve been reading some solutions on Christian websites for turning around this trend.  They include rather silly suggestions like setting goals and sticking to them, sprucing up  of churches, finding the right leadership and so on. 

To me, there appear to be some parallels to the refomation period.  Leading up to the reformation, the Catholic Church was criticized for selling indulgences, licensing of brothels, teaching false doctrines and of having institutional rigidity.

Today, churches do not license brothels, but they are plagued by sexual abuse.  Some churches teach doctrines that the majority of the public think are false, such as the condemation of homosexuality. And, institutional rigidtiy, it’s there in spades.

I would admit there are many differences between today’s events and those of the original reformation period.  But what seems true is that the Catholic Church of the 1500’s did not respond to the changing times.  Today’s conservative churches are not responding much either. 

The “leave-the-church” train has left the station.  Churches can either run and catch up or bend the track to bring it back to them.

Track bending did not work in the 1500’s.  It won’t work today.

Martin Luther Would not Like Today’s Evangelicals

It has to do with what is called “reason”.

When I read about who Luther was, the life he lived and his views on things, I see a person very much like the pastors and priests I am most admire.  They, like Luther, are intellectuals and are able to separate their own emotional feelings about religion from rational and reasoned thinking.  

Luther had studied philosophy.  He did not like it.  This is because he was more interested in the emotional attachment to religion,  to God, and knew that the study of philosophy seemed to get in the way.  He wrote that reason is not a path to God.  Reason was a tool in the field of philosophy, not in religion.

Today’s evangelicals are trying to compete in the realm of reason.  They are trying to make their arguments appear rational. They try to put them into play in debates where they do not belong.

One of the places they continue to try this is in the argument of evolution versus creationism.  For example, they are trying to relabel creationism with the term “intelligent design.” They argue that the human eye is so complex the odds are against it being the product of evolution.  I’d like to be diplomatic about this but I cannot.  They are making  a rediculous argument. 

Evangelicals would do well to recognize the wisdom of Martin Luther.  They should simply admit that religion and reason are two different things.

Martin Luther’s Big Mistake

Anyone who knows the smallest amount of the history knows about Martin Luther.  He is either seen as a hero, by some protestants, or, as a corrupting force that left behind the true faith, by some Catholics.

Luther made his name by criticizing the Pope in the 1500’s.  His writings spread far and wide because of the newly invented printing presses.  The Pope, Luther said, took money from the poor to use for excessive buildings.  The money was collected by the church in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. 

It was the Catholic clergy who had the exclusive authority to interpret scripture and collect this money.  Luther challenged this exclusive authority and said that ordinary people should seek guidence directly from the Bible, not through the Catholic Clergy.

In doing this, Luther was making two assumptions.  One was that Catholic Clergy would let their own personal interests influence how they interpreted scripture.  The other was that the men who wrote the Bible would not write it to serve their own interests.  The first assumption was a good one.  The second was not.

The Bible has much to do with the self interest of those who wrote it.  It is a manual on how to control people toward the writers’ own ends.  Wives as property, the stoning of children, salvery and the details of how to control people are all there.

Why Luther had such an accurate insight into the minds of the Catholic Clergy of his day but was oblivious to the motives of the Bible’s authors is a mystery.

Is Your Pastor/Priest an Authority about Anything?

My answer to that question is an enthusiastic YES.  The clergy are people with experience in areas where many of us are lacking.  I have learned a great deal from the Pastors of churches we have belonged to and the Pastors and Priests I’ve known.

The things Pastors know the most about, in my experience, is in how to get along with people, and, how people get along with each other.  Because of my 16 years as a Mayor, many people whom I liked came to dislike me.  

For a Mayor, or, a retired person as I am, that some people dislike you is not a major concern.  In politics one just moves on, and hopes it will be possible to make new friends somewhere else.  But, a Pastor/Priest who makes an enemy does not have that luxury.  He/she is stuck in that parish and must find a way to win over the enemy or manuver around him to soldier on. 

It is a professional hazard to make an enemy.  For that reason, clergy are experts at dealing with difficult interpersonal relationships.

For other issues, like those of theology, I feel more comfortable  looking for answers in books and on line than I do asking a member of the clergy.  It is not that I disrespect their views. 

 The concept of the unseen God is so different to the believer as opposed to the skeptic it seems like a chasm too wide to cross.

Pope Should Celebrate DADT Repeal

I’m not a Catholic, but I read this little item today that pleased me. It was a phrase from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358, that set forth the church’s view on the treatment of gay people:  “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.”

Here, there is no mention of the Catholic taboo on gay marriage.  Thus, that issue is unrelated.  It seems like this leaves the coast clear for an endorcement of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

I would baffle me if a member of the clergy said discrimination was not taking place in the armed services with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It seems self evident.  They are being asked to behave differently than other soldiers–to lie about an important part of their lives.

It would be very helpful to our country if the Pope, or a committee of American Bishops, would step forward and endorce this repeal.

Pat Robertson Turns Liberal

I often watch Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” just to see what his thinking is about events that come along.  Every once in a while he provides some a big surprises.

After the Haiti earthquake, he said it was punishment from God for some deal the Haitian people made with the Devil.  It is obvious he believes there is an actual Satan and God and claims to know exactly what they are up to.  He is not at his best when he speaks about imaginary beings.

Where he is at his best is making money for himself by fitting his religious views neatly inside profitable enterprises.  He is worth watching to learn where these opportunities are and how he must adjust his views to make them work.  

All this is what makes his comments on the “700 Club” this week about marijuana so interesting.  He said our prisons are full of young people who committed small infractions involving marijuana. They go into prisons as ordinary young people and come out criminals.  The prison sentences are not slowing drug use, he noted. 

He mentioned three times, as I recall, how expensive this prison solution is.  The expense seemed to be more important to him than the injustice of small crimes generating long sentences. 

Robertson’s remarks and the repeal of DADT made this a good week for rational thinking.

Sometimes Men of the Church Seem Medieval

When I read about the Old Testiment advocacy of stoning to death children who disrespect their parents or women who are unfaithful,  I know it was men who made these decisions.  I am glad we do not live in those times.  Yet, when I read about the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz0na, I’m not so sure we have left the middle ages behind.

The Diocese severed its relationship with a highly regarded Catholic hospital.  It was over a topic that I cannot mention directly.  That is, if I write directly the issue, the computerized monitor of areavoices will terminate this post.  I’ll  tell the story this way.

Doctors in the Phoenix hospital admitted a woman in her 20’s who was seriously ill and deteriorating.  She had been “with child” for 11 weeks.

Doctors and the hospital ethics committee met and reviewed the hospital’s goals and policy dealing with these situations. They were to save whomever it was possible to save.  They saved the mother. This was in 2008.

Today Bishop Thomas Olmsted issued his condemation of the decision, “In the decision….the equal dignity of the mother and her baby were not both upheld.”

I have friends who find the above view very rational.  They have a right to their views, as does everyone. 

 My own view is this, it sounds like the men of the Old Testiment talking.

Moral Majority, Where Have You Gone?

This past week there were two bills the religious evangelical community had weighed in on.  One it wanted passed, the other defeated. They lost both.

One was better known, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.  Evangelicals pulled out all the stops on that one. But they lost anyway.  It seemed as if the members of Congress just did not care what this once powerful group told them.

The other was a more positive effort, passage of the “Dream Act.”  This was a bill to allow young people who were children of illegal aliens to obtain citizenship.  Several evangelical and mainline churches joined forces to pass the bill.  But again to no avail.

It is, of course, a stretch to say these two events represent a clear signal that the religious right has lost its politcal influence.  Perhaps it has not at all.  Or, perhaps it did not have as much as conventional wisdom assumed it had back in its heyday. 

What is does illustrate, I think, is the uneasy dance that goes on constantly with politicans and the religious community. Popes and Kings did the same thing a long time ago. Experience has shown that neither should think the other will go very far outside its comfort zone to help. 

In my view, the more suspious politicians are of religious leaders, and visa versa, the better off our country will be.

Christmas for the Faithful: Best of Times, Worst of Times

So much is written about a “blue” Christmas. A church I have attended in Des Moines is even having a special service for people who are blue.

Little is written about the conflicted feelings expressed by the faithful themselves.  Yet, there are two difference feeings in front of us daily during every Christmas season.

For Christians, it should always be the best of times.  How could it not be?  It is the birth of Jesus, the figure that forms the theological basis for the entire faith. The joyous music, color, imagery and good will greetings reflect the fullness of the season and are the exclusive ingrediants of a great Christmas.  Today, they are not so exclusive.

Their companion today is “war”, the “culture war”.  One part of it is the “war on Christmas” grumble.  

Sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that the faith has been weakened by its bunker mentality. It has produced a faith which mobilizes but does not convert, alienates rather than seduces and looks backward to a lost past rather than forward to a vibrant future. It has encouraged its believers to express their mission in terms of conflict.  We hear of loss, disappointment, anger and resentment.  The faith has driven into a cul-de-sac and can’t seem to turn around.

If anyone from the faithful were to ask my advice, which will not happen, here is what I would say. Relax. Enjoy your faith.  Then, ignore leaders and politicans who plant the expectation in your mind that the rightful place of the faith is in politics, culture and government. It is not.

The rightful place for your faith is in your heart. Keep it there and every Christmas will be a happy one.