Memorial Day and Atheists in the Foxholes

I’ve always admired the veteran organizations who organize Memorial Day events and the people who came out to watch.  To give up their time on the first holiday of the summer is  admirable.

I have not made it to this event for a few years and wonder if it has changed any with the  new generations of war veterans.  One would expect, perhaps, some subtle changes.

At such affairs, a  Chaplain always offers some remarks and prayers.  For most of the two centuries of U. S. wars, there has been an assumtion that soldiers are Christians. There is the saying that, “There are no atheists in the foxhole.” 

As far as I know, nearly all graves at military cemetaries are marked with crosses, except the occasional Star of David for Jewish soldiers.  Yet, apparently there has always been about ten percent of the population that is skeptical  and it would be reasonable to assume the same is true of soldiers killed in battle.

The crosses on military graves represent what the majority of the public wanted placed there, not necessarly what the fallen soldiers themselves might have wanted.  The same is true for what is included in the cememonies on Memorial Day. 

One would expect that as secularism asserts itself in our society, we will see more of it in military ceremonies.  It will be good on Memorial Day, in my opinion, to focus on the tragedy of war and of the lives lost, regardless of what the fallen may or may not have believed.

Local Presbytaries can Keep the Caste System, Shun the Untouchables.

Our newspaper, the Fargo Forum, published a letter today from a local Presbyterian pastor.  I read his letter as a chilling endorsement of Christian right’s version of the caste system.

Those who oppose ordaining gays, such as he himself and the majority of Presbyterian churches in this area, he wrote, come from a “…broad spectrum of theological and political beliefs within the church.”  It’s hard to believe this is so.  He believes the measure passed by the national Presbyterian Church allowing local units to ordain gays should not be met with rejoicing, but with “…a request for God’s… forgiveness.”

He also reiterated the usual disclaimer that the opposition to gay pastors does not reflect a dislike for gay people. It has to do “…with whether or not Scripture is the church’s one and only rule of faith and life.”  He went on to say that giving humans the right to make up their own minds about what the Scriptures mean is a form of “idolatry”.

A long time ago I served a few years as a deacon in our local Presbyterian church.  The only siginificant task we performed was to chat with church members in nursing homes.

The great anti-sin axe has fallen here as well. Since one is “ordained” to be a deacon, no gays in relationships are allowed to perform this kind act.

I can’t help but feel a little guilty that I was an active member of a denomination that, in some locations, still considers gay people as the untouchables.

Marry Billy Graham and Martin Luther King

I was impressed with an article  on today. It is called, “Evangelical Social Gospel” by Tim Suttle.

Suttle says the Christian message is divided into the personal gospel and the social gospel.  Billy Graham has personified the personal gospel.  That is where one worries about sin, accepts Jesus as God and goes to heaven.  This approach is mostly about “me”.

The social gospel is about how people in society can live together.  It was personified by Martin Luther King.  While Graham talked about the need to heal the person, King talked about the need to heal society.

In Suttle’s view, the personal gospel has crowded out the social gospel in today’s Christian message.  That’s the impression I get as well.  It could be this is the central reason young people are not as interested in the faith.  They might be looking for something bigger than themselves to reach for, but they find church limited to the self.

Suttle, a minister, believes both halves are part of  Christianity’s history and the Bible.  He wishes for new leader and a movement that personifies both gospels and the approaches of both King and Graham.

The “New Atheists” and their powerful pens have taken aim at the personal gospel.  They lob morter shells and hit their target often enough.

I think if the personal and social gospels were combined, there would be much less of a target for the new atheists.  I wish it would happen.

Politics, Religion and the “Truth”.

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty focused on telling the “truth” during his recent annoucement.  Certainly, that is a noble thought. Good for him if he actually does this.

This word, “truth”, must be an appealing one just now because a religious columnist immediately latched on to it.  We need “truth” in religion as well, he wrote, instead of the falsehoods being sold by the emerging church.

The falsehood he referred to is the emerging church’s reluctance to declare that sinners go to hell.  The “truth”, wrote this fellow,  is that hell is a real place and sinners will really go there.

That hell is real certainly is a belief, but to put it in the category of “truth” is quite another matter. No one has ever seen hell or heaven.  Someone telling the “truth” should say he believes there is a hell, not that he knows it exists.

It is easy to let things we believe to true to become really true to us.  One recent place where politics and religion combined to make people believe something was true that was not was the issue of marriage between gays.

It was said over and over again that gay marriage is a threat to straight marriage. No evidence was ever provided for this. But, gay marriage was voted down in state after state.

Tim Pawlenty gave some examples of issues that he said needed to be addressed truthfully, regardless of the political consequences.  They involved the federal budget.

It would have been refreshing if he had said, “Gay marriage does not harm straight marriage.”

Welcome to the Sin Leader Board: Transgender

The other day, the President of Focus on the Family admitted that his ilk is losing the the battle against gay marriage.  Homosexuality is losing its appeal as a sin to bash.   Many of the sins that were important in my childhood, working on Sunday, alcohol and dancing are seldom considered sins today.

Albert Molher, Jr., President of the Southern Baptish Seminary, wrote a piece recently that, I believe,  signals transgendered people will be the next group fundamentalists will rise to demonize.  Sex change will make the Sin Leader Board.

Molher’s grievance against transgendered people goes like this.  “We are, in fact, what our genitals tell us we are.”  Because “…we are created by a holy God…” we have no business challenging the genitals He gave us.

I’ve know dozens of transgendered people.  We’ve enterained trans people in our home.  I don’t understand why it happens, but I can say for certain that genitals do not always determine gender.  There are people born with male plumbing who realize at some point their minds or brains are female.  And, visa versa.  It is so common the country of Thailand has entire medical units that specialize in surgery on trans people, many of whom are from the United States.

What this has to do with God or sin is lost on me.  But, they are numerically small in number, make for good photographic imagery and, thus, are perfect for demonizing.

Sin and Hell; Joined at the Hip

It is just amazing how many new articles pop up every day about the new concept being preached by the “emerging church” about sin and hell.  This is the concept that being condemned to hell by sin is not permanent–that Jesus accepts us all.

The articles, at least the ones I read, condemn this emerging theology. The Christian right has major heartburn over the idea that doing sin does not condemn people to hell.  It cannot tolerate the idea that they themselves will not end up the winners in the afterlife.

I have to give some of these hellbangers credit for creativity.  Charles Coalson wrote that people need the concept of being condemned to hell for their self esteem.  It had never occurred to me that I might need to realize that thinking the proper and orthodox way would let me believe I am going to heaven and this, in turn, will allow me to think I am a good person.  Here, I thought I was a happy person and now learn I am not.

Then, there was the article by the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, Albert Mohler, who said the Western concept of justice, being punished, would be thrown out by such theology.  Living in a world where Chrisitanity is no longer about sin, followed by judgement and punishment is a very foreign world to the right.

Judging by all the articles condemning this new theology, it must represent an important threat.

Mayor, I’m Right About This. I Know I Am.

I was the Mayor of Fargo, ND, for 16 years.   I think people would be surprised at how often religion is what people want to discuss with a Mayor.

I wish I could remember all the different topics that lead to these visits about religion.  A few were, abortion, homosexuality, alcohol sales, open stores on Sunday, which bands should allowed to hold concerts, topics advertised on billboards, prayers at public meetings, proclamations, sale of pornographic stuff and team mascots.

In these cases, I would explain other people also had visited with me who had the opposite views.  I would say I needed to hear from everyone to learn for myself what was involved in the issue.

“Mayor, in all due respect, you do not understand,” was often the reply.  “I know I am right about this.  If others are telling you something different, they are wrong.”

The late politician, Tip O’Neill used say, “All politics is local.” He meant that elections to national offices revolve around who is liked and known locally instead of around national issues.

I came to believe that is true about religion as well.  That is, people’s “theology” is influenced less by what is discussed in seminaries and more by their parents, local values, pastors, friends and neigborhoods.

But, once they have arrived at their station in faith, they are confident they arrived there by way of an insite into theology, not by these other influences.  That gives them confidence to believe they are right.

Mayors come and go.  But, the need to set them straight remains.

Covering Your Body for God

A server at a resturant yesterday had her head and neck covered.   Obviously, it had something to do with her religion.

It got me to wondering why it is so imparative that in some religions, the man and woman’s heads must be covered, in others it is the female breast, then it is everything but the female eyes and hands and in some aborigine cultures people just go naked.

A fellow blogger pointed out the other day that in marathon run in  San Fransico some of the runners were naked.  There was no such thing in the Fargo Marathon.

All of this makes one wonder why the various gods have different rules on which parts of the body are sinful to reveal and which are OK.  Whether it is our faces or our “private parts”, they are all part of our bodies.  It seems it should be no more “sinful” to uncover one part of these bodies than any other part.

We’ve gone through periods in the past few decades where undressing taboos were exposed (pardon the pun). During the Woodstock period, young people went nude in public.  Then, there was the “streaker” period.  But, except for riske swimsuits and necklines, not much has changed.

From my observation, these religion-base rules of covering various part of the body apply to women more than men.   So, my own conclusion is that the various rules on what must be covered have something to do with the exercise of power.

When the Minister has a Gay Kid

Anyone who has the interest in writing a book, here is a topic for you:  How do preachers and their spouses handle it when, on Sundays, the sermons is about the sinfulness of being gay, but their own child is gay?

I knew a pastor here where I live in Fargo, ND, who has a lesbian daughter.  He said they had to keep this a secret for fear of losing his job.  He implied they simply lied about it.

He was critical of the seminary in the ELCA because they did not provide help to Pastors.  “We’re out here in the field dealing with this real world issue, but the professors back at the seminary just keeping living in their ivory towers not giving it a thought.”

I knew another Pastor, an American Baptist, who has a gay son.  He feels he lost one pastorship when he revealed the news about his son.  When intereviewing for the next church, he was told he could have the pastorship if he just did not discuss the issue.  He stayed there until he retired.

As far as I know, neither of these pastors had to preach about the sin of being gay.  Yet, I can imagine they had to hold their tongues many times when members of the flock shared their views. 

There have to be hundreds of preachers who need to preach the sinfulness of being gay to their flocks while not believing it applies to their own gay children.  I wish I knew just one of them.

Help Wanted: If You Suvived May 21, Apply Within

This is an actual sign in the window of a local Mexican fast food place.  There is an idea floating around our Freethinker list serve that next time several of us will park our cars beside the Interstate, leave a door open and put a sign in the window, RAPTURED.

While there is much fun to be had over the phony prediction, there are sad things as well.  I read on the web that several of the guy’s followers sold all their stuff and were ready to “die”. 

It is always sobering to see the effect religious leaders can have over their followers.   In the last few decades, we have seen a few mass suicides lead by such people. 

There are dozens of stories of people taken into religious cults.  Parents, who take their children away from these cults find it requires extensive deprograming.  Such is the power of personalities and ideas.

It’s also encouraging to see religious leaders who are aware of the potential they have for power over people and make certain they do not exercise it.  I saw Jay Bakker interviewed a while back and he alluded to the care that needs to be taken in handling this problem.

Fortunately, the religious leaders who do harm is a tiny minority.  Pastors and priests are mostly wonderful people who work in a difficult profession.

Bad things seem to happen when a bad religious leader finds weak and vulnerable followers.