“Why I Don’t Sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”

That is the title of an article by Mark Schlonger, the Pastor of a Mennonite Church (CNN Blogs).  He also explained why the Mennonite’s college, Goshen (Indiana), does not play the national athem at its athletic events.

“That’s because we recognize only one Christian Nation, the church, the holy nation that is bound togather by a living faith in Jesus rather than by man-made, blood soaked borders.”

He points to the trouble his church as had with governments through its history because it refused to worship any nation’s flag or leaders.  It holds to a clear and unambiguous commitment to separation of church and state.

I contrast that to a speech made in Fargo by James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan.  He spoke of an emotional experience when attending the evangelical church of his childhood.  The experience came as he looked on the flag and the cross side by side in the church.  This was the America he respected, he said.

Atheists and Mennonites see this separation as patriotic. Most of the countries where we now have troops mix religion with government.  If we could all see our government as something very different from our religious views, we would accomplish more and argue less.

So, when you see someone who does not stand for the pledge or sing the ritualistic songs at public events, don’t assume he is not religious or is unpatriotic.  He might be a very patriotic Mennonite.

Fear of Fire

There are many phobias.  Flying in airplanes is a common one.  Height is another. The disease, cancer, strikes fear in many.  A universial phobia is death in fire.

When I was the local Mayor, I learned about the fire phobia.  I had read about cities where the police officers and fire fighters were cross trained into one public safety department. 

When a fire call came in, the patrol car nearest the fire call would respond, take light fire fighting equipment to the door and address what he/she saw. Larger equipment and more people would be called if needed.

This system is safer because officers get to the scene faster. The sooner the arrival, the easier it is to stop a fire and save lives.  There are fewer fires every year as codes require safer buildings.  And, it saves money because both firefighters and police officers spend some time waiting for calls.

But, when the fire fighters’ political crew went into action, my idea was toast.  All they had to do was suggest YOU might  burn to death because the officer was busy writing a parking ticket.  They played fear-of-fire perfectly.

And, so did the authors of the Bible.  When they wanted to control people, they did not threaten them with an afterlife in misery from the diseases common in that time. They knew there was something better,  fire. 

Their manipulation of human minds was masterful.  The concept of a hell with fire frightens people to this day.

Hell is Really Funny

In one sense, from my field of economics, hell makes sense.   If a segement of the population in some ancient time did not behave, those in power could have killed them.  This would have been a high-cost solution because the labor of the misbehavors was needed to survive.  

They could have, and often did, enslave them.  But, slaves use up some labor because they require housing and need to be guarded.  American Indians adopted enemy members, including Danial Boone for a short period, and played with their heads until they eventually turned against their own tribes. 

In the Bible was a more efficient method.  Scare them with  mind games.  What could be a more feared source of pain than fire?  A cost effective way to make people fall into line with authorities was to threaten fire.  But, not in the present life where the guilty’s labor would be lost, but in the afterlife where is didn’t cost a thing.

Fortunately, for authorities, neither people in ancient times nor most today have thought through the ludicrous notion of “fire in hell”.  Literal fire requires fuel.  Does Exxon pipe in fuel?

And then,  no one has ever seen, touched or heard from a soul.  If souls did exist would not they be burned up or gased immediately by the literal fire?

Hell provided lots of material for the late comedian, George Calin.  Appart from comedy, and an economical way of controlling people, there is no point to it.

Gay Marriage:Entanglement of Church, Politics & Business

I was fortunate to have been a young adult during the civil rights and women’s equality periods.  It was exciting to read about them and experience first hand some aspects of those changes.

Though I’m not gay, the gay rights experience has been even more exciting to me personally. The issue has so many intersections with religion and politics, and to a lesser extent, money.

I recall Alabama Governor George Wallace shouting to adoring crowds, “Integration, never, not ever.”  In retrospect, it seems like a very short time between when he drew a line in the sand there would be no integration in Alabama to George Wallace courting the black vote and embracing the new reality.

With the vote in New York to allow gay marriage, it seems inevitable we will see something similar.  Much is at stake.

I wish I were a fly on the wall inside the New York City Diocese.  In New York there are both many Catholics and many gays.  If, say ten percent of active Catholics are gays, and preists refuse to perform a gay weddings, one would have to think it would have at least some fiscal impact.  Theology will make the inevitable adjustments.

In politics, conservatives are vowing to take out revenge on politicans who voted in favor of gay marraige.  Revenge doesn’t always work out. 

The Family Alliance boycotted Disney to punish it for marketing to gays.  They recently admitted the effort was unsuccessful.

There Are Never Enough Books About Hell

Some readers may be interested in reading a lengthy interview with author, Edward Fudge, at  ChristianPost.com.

With my limited interest in hell, I find it incredible someone like Fudge could have spent his life studying it. Apparently, there are numerous other people who have spent their careers studying it as well.

That someone like Fudge would make to leap to believe (A.) the Bible was written as a result of some kind of devine intervention and (B.) the concepts discussed in it, such as hell, are real places, is not within my ability to comprehend.  A more useful career would have been to study the social and political forces that gave rise to such mythology.

Fudge claims that his first book, published in 1984, has become the definitive work on hell.  He says there are three views of hell: Traditionalist, hell is a fire that torments forever.  Universalist,  hell is a fire that purifies and refines.  Conditionalist,  Hell is a fire that consumes.  He is a conditionalist.

According to Fudge, his book was the focus of 17 other books written by traditionalists.  So, to bring order to the arguments, he has published yet another book which addresses the arguments of the 17 opposing books. In the hell industry, we can add Rob Bell’s best selling book which has much discussion of hell as well.

There seems to be an almost unlimited demand for hell products. Because of this, the hell industry in going through the roof. 

But, that’s just a figure of speech.  Due to hell’s location, it’s actually going through the floor.

Are Moral Values Declining?

All of my life, I’ve heard that moral values are headed south.   Not only have they been declining, it has been said, they are on the cusp of total decadence.

It reminds me of driving to Central America with my wife years ago.  We were on the backroads.  We would ask people about the conditions and safety ahead.  The answer was always the same, “Right here, things are OK.   But, further on it is very dangerous.”  We’d go further on, get the same answer.

There is a set of people who like to say moral standards are falling.  Yet, there is no stardard measurement of “moral standards”.  No one can say they actually are getting worse or better.

For myself, I’d have to conclude many things I call morals have improved.  Integration, equality for women are a couple of improvements.  Steps to avoid environmental degregation is another.

We can predict with certainty that when people now 15 to 25 years old, who are abondoning many of the traditions about marriage and church, are 5o to 60 years old, they will be complaining about the morals of teenagers at that time.  It’s always been that way.

An interesting poll I read about said a majority of the general public does not believe morals are declining.  While I agree with this, I thought I was in the minority.

So, if you are among those wringing your hands about your perception moral standards are falling, relax.   So far as we know, they are not.

Hearing from God about the Judeo-Christian Thing.

Albert Mohler  Jr. wrote that the wayward and flawed Anthony Weiner he should accept Jesus Christ.  Weiner is a Jew.

Albert Mohler is President of the Southern Baptist Seminary.  His view reflects that of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

In fact, in 1980, the Chair of the Southern Baptist Comvention said, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”

Officials of the Southern Baptist Convention feel their theology is superior to that of the Jews.  They look down on them.

One of the prophecies in the Bible is for the destruction of the Jews.  Some pundits theorize those who urge Israel to hold a hard line against its advisaries hope this provokes attack.  The defeat of Israel would fulfill a great prophecy.  

Many of the Republicans running for President say God told them to seek the office.  One has to wonder what God told them to do about Israel,  destroy it or defend it? 

While the liberal United Church of Christ denomination has apologized for the right wing and seeks unity with the Jewish people, but the old-time religion marches on.

When a candidate hears God,  one has to wonder what else God said.

Many candidates speak of open government. I’ll believe they are for open government when one, who hears from God,  invites us all to listen in.

Here is One Thing I Know About Politics

The Bible is full of stories.   Today, our take on the stories probably is different than the authors intended.  Stories work that way–people take away different things.  That’s why they work so well.

Politics is about story telling as well.  Watch as the next presidential candidates step forward.  You will see, while they say things about policy, a large part of their messages will be stories. 

They will tell stories of how they came to be successful in spite of great obstacles.  Any candidate who passes up the chance to tell such stories and, instead, focus’ on programs and policy only will disappear.

The story telling part of politics is why equal treatment of gays and gay marriage is making progress and why conservative opposition to them is not.  Advocates for gay rights have stories.

Suppose a church Board is meeting about whether to accept gays as equals in membership and clergy.  There is discussion about what the Bible does or does not mean, morals, hell and all the usual stuff.

One of the church’s most prominent ladies, a member for several decades, slowly rises to speak.  “My granddaughter, Becky, is a lesbian.  She is a child of God.  She cares for the sick, is raising a child, loves her partner and is a charished person in my life. I won’t stand here and take these insults to her and her friends. Let’s vote on it right here and now.”  

Opponents can quote from the Bible, but advocates have the stories.

Methodist Preachers Defy Church Authorities

Today I saw a newspaper account of several Methodist preachers who are thumbing their noses at the official position of their church.   They are not allowed to conduct marriages for gay couples.  Many are doing it anyway.  Many others have pledged to do it if asked.

There are consequences for these pastors.   Some have stood trial in the Church’s court system.  There is one going on right now.  Others have conducted these marriages and nothing seems to happen.

I suppose one possibility is the Church’s court system gets so overloaded it cannot deal with the rebels.  I don’t know what would happen then.

One thing is clear from what these preachers are doing and from the risks the other demoninations were willing to take when they allowed gay marriage.  There is a large group of Christian church officals who think the theology behind anti gay marriage is so flawed they simply are unable to tolerate it. It would be an interesting turn about if the liberal wing of the Methodist church walked away like the conservatives wings of the other Protestant demoninations have done.

The only period I’m aware of that mirrors this one was the civil rights era.  Churches, and church members, had dramatic differences they were not able to reconcil.  One would guess that most of the segregationist members look back at their stand then and see they were mistaken.

The rebel Methodist preachers will be seen as heros to Methodists at some point in the future.  Time is the friend of gay marriage.

A Call for Intellectual Arguments by Apologists

A Priest, Robert Barron, wrote a column about how aggressive nonbelievers have become in books, comments and arguments.  He notes, correctly, they seem not content to remain silent as in past times.

He warns Christians they are in for a battle and should arm themselves.  They, especially, should develop intellectual arguments to counter those offered by nonbelievers.

He offers an “intellectual” argument:   Christians believe “humans are hard wired to believe in God.”  This is the case because no amount of worldly possessions bring “fulfillment”.

He goes on to say that he is certain leading nonbelievers have a secret and unspoken desire to believe in God.  This is familar.  It has been stated here several times about me.

I can understand there are people who believe everyone thinks like they do.  And, they may well believe those who don’t must have a desire to do so. But, this is not an intellectual argument.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot.  Let me pose this as “intellectual insight” into the nature of humans:  Every believer is hard wired not to believe in God.  This is true because no amount of faith leaves a person thinking he/she is perfect.  Thus, everyone seeks to escape from faith.

Father Barron’s argument has no more depth than mine.  He should simply defend the faith in this way:  One  slice of the population gets something important from the faith.  Another does not. 

That’s about all there is to it.