Archive for the ‘American Civic Religion’ Category

ImageOffended by this picture?  Put God and money in the same headline, and you’ll get unwanted attention.  Of course, a chrome-domed financial guru like David Ramsey can take little flack.  Gurus like him assume a fundamental axiom: one’s habits/choices determine one’s financial well being.  Recently, Ramsey posted a list (not of his own making) of the habits of the poor versus the habits of the wealthy.

In reaction, a trio of Bloggers from Her.meneutics (Caryn Rivadeneira, Rachel Marie Stone, and Marlena Graves) denounced his list.  They implied that the list showed a contempt for the poor, did not apply to the third world, and rightly said that it is not easy (and maybe not possible) for the 1st world poor to follow the “rich” people habits.

Rachel Held Evans hit the nail on the head when she wrote:

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

Overall, the fair criticism raised important questions.  Marlena Graves acknowledged in her twitter feed that Ramsey helped people.  RHE did the same in her article.  By far, the best point made was that correlation does not imply causation.  What does mean?  It means that the first time you read that list, you might think that regular gym time will help you get rich.  But what if it’s the other way around?  What if it’s your 85k a year job that provides a nice gym? It’s the one of the building’s first floor.  The one you go to before you commute home elsewhere in Silicon Valley. Also, Marlena Graves is right that many of these habits will simply be impractical for the bus-riding, two-job working, members of society to follow.  Who can encourage their kids to read or volunteer if both parents are working 60+ hours in a week?  What is the point of networking when you have no skills?

But were these strong words as constructive as they could have been?  It’s true that nothing in this list applies outside of the first world.  But was it supposed to?  Ramsey’s niche audience in evangelicalism is the American Middle class.  He can’t be faulted for speaking primarily to their context.  Does the list show contempt for the poor?  Yes, someone who does show contempt for the poor can think these things.  But does everyone who think these things show contempt for the poor?  Finally, it’s a low blow to call Ramsey’s message part of the prosperity Gospel.  I’ll believe that Ramsey is one of them when he says that Jesus’ disciples were rich, sprinkles gold gust from his pulpit, or similar tripe.

Is Dave Ramsey’s fundamental axiom totally wrong?  I worked as teacher’s aide to an “at risk” community.  One day, I learned that many vocational programs at the school were cut.  This cut had a noble intention (“get them all to college!”), but it had the practical effect of denying those students opportunities that were available to their middle class counterparts.  So yes, there are plenty of when outside forces keep the poor, poor, in America.  At the same time (and there’s no delicate way to put this), I listened to 15-17 year old girls talk casually, candidly, and even enthusiastically about how they planned to have a baby -while still in their teens.  Can anyone really deny that this is a poor choice that is indicative of a poor lifestyle?

The most constructive approach is not to attack perceived contempt of the poor.  Neither is it to opine that such a list applies only first worlders.  It certainly is not helpful to hyperbolicly group Ramsey in with people like this:

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Did you budget for those shoes, or is that on your credit card? Stupid Tax! Stupid Tax!

The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to take the best of criticism from RHE and her.menuetics.  We should realize that correlation does not imply causation.  The habits can either help get your rich, or are things you can do when you’re already rich.  Second, take the criticism that some of these are going to be harder to do when your poor *and* that many of these can be done regardless of your net worth.

If we can find habits that people can do regardless of their net worth, than those are quite possibly the ones that should be endorsed.  I won’t go through them all, but here’s a few openers for everyone’s thoughts:

Habit 1: 1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

If we define “junk food” as sugary snacks, pre-packaged chips, and anything loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, than this is something that does not depend on your net worth.  No matter where you live, you can pass on soda and snickers.  Gambling is very much something that is anyone’s control.   Casinos are designed to separate fools from their money, regardless of the skill or talent of the fool (yes, I realize that poker and other games are exceptions, but these are exceptions); thus it is obvious that avoiding gambling will more likely bring financial success.

Habit 5: 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

Does anyone think you must be financially successful before you can make a to-do list?

Habit 13: 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

In the her.menutics article, TV was almost lauded as one of the few leisure’s of the poor, which is maybe why they can’t not watch a week long Honey Boo Boo marathon or other poverty porn.  I strongly disagree with this.

The list will go on.  Go ahead and read it and ask: which habits can you do, no matter how much money you have in the bank?

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A NASA engineer predicts the rapture in 1988. A career eschatologist declares that Christians should plan to be off the earth by the year 2000. A chorus of bloggers and ministry leaders ascribe a prophetic connection between the book of Isaiah and the violence in Syria. What separates the final group of speculators from the rest? Only that time has not yet proven them wrong. (That, and they probably have not collected their full share of publishing royalties) All speculate about news events. All look at real life, far away, violence as if it was exciting action movie. All are as committed to Christian Zionism as fish are to water.

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The Bible says this civil war will lead to war in Europe. What no? ahh… well the Antichrist will arise from the German Empire. They’re our allies now? Dammit. Well the rapture will occur now that 9/11 happened… I’m sure of it this time…

Christian Zionism, broadly termed here, is the belief that events in the middle east have prophetic significance. This leads to speculation about future events. The Bible is used as if it were a crystal ball.. Why should anyone take the alleged prophecies about Syria in 2013 any more seriously than the now false prophecies about the Soviet Union or the rapture in the 1980s? It is easy for Christian Zionists to invoke 2 Peter 3:3-4. Yet this is little more than self-affirming circular reasoning. It begs the question, “what do these prophecies even mean?” While many Christian Zionists believe their method of interpretation is self-evidently true, conservative, and literal, I submit that it is none of these. More practically, the political consequences of their teachings are destructive.

On a message board years ago, a Christian Zionist once explained their methods this way: Just as Jesus’ generation was meant to watch for signs of his first coming, so must contemporary Christians must watch for his second. Specifically, any current event will help us make sense the prophecies. So when a news event (Syria) seems to match something in the Bible (Isaiah 17) than that is enough reason to believe that prophecy is being fulfilled. Of course, they are often clever enough to not nail down exact dates, but their speculations nevertheless reflect what they think the Bible teaches.

The problem with this method is that any event in history can look like a fulfillment of prophecy. The commercial success of the literature mentioned earlier proves this. Considering the list of failed predictions (and there have been a lot of failed predictions!) maybe it is a good idea to re-evaluate the method before deciding that preventible armed conflict is per-determined by God.

Many others explain that their methods are conservative because it reads the Bible literally whenever possible. This way they avoid (as LaHaye famously put it) confusing metaphors. But are they consistent? Many Zionists interpret the seven churches addressed in the opening of Revelation as seven symbolic church ages even though the letter itself gives us no reason to do so. This is only one example of the inconsistency of “literal whenever possible.”

If anyone is going to understand the Bible, especially the apocalyptic visions, we need a deeper examination. Consider the following questions when applied to Isaiah or books like Ezekial, Revelation or Daniel. What is the literary context of this verse, passage, and book? When was it written? What was the political situation of the original audience? What is the genre of this or that passage? How would someone living at that time interpret that genre? What kinds of idioms, metaphors, hyperbole, etc would these ancient people be intuitively familiar with, but are not used (and not known) in our culture? How does it compare to similar, non-canonical literature of the same genre? None of these questions can be adequately addressed in a single twitter post, a news article, a Sunday sermon, or podcast. In fact, if anyone makes you feel that understanding Isaiah 17 (or anything else apocalyptic) is intuitive and easy, they are oversimplifying. If anyone cannot answer these kinds of questions, then their interpretation is not worth your attention, time, or money.

This is not a poorly written thriller novel.

There is more at stake than mere theological disagreement. Crystal ball gazing and Christian Zionism have serious, concrete consequences. Right now, the public overwhelmingly opposes United States military action in Syria. Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, already upped the ante when he unambiguously stated that he his country would provide further support to Syria if the United States intervenes. Furthermore, there are allegations that the gas attacks came from the rebels not from the Syrian government, despite what the Whitehouse administrations says. At the time of this writing, things are smoother over via diplomacy, but the two super powers are still cold warrioring it. While Christian Zionists may look at this as an exciting, inevitable, new chapter in prophetic progress, it looks to everyone else like a conflict that can be prevented. Indeed, it is a conflict that should be prevented.

I spent my high school years in a denomination that taught the crystal ball gazing approach to scripture. I happily left it behind, especially when I learned of alternative views. The crystal ball approach makes Christians look foolish when the prophecies do not come around. We look even more silly when we revise our interpretations, rather than admit that something is wrong. Its methods of reading scripture are intellectually troubled. At best, it helps American Christians ignore the plight of Christians in the middle east. At worst, it inspires a nearly fetishistic fascination with violence in far away countries. Most notably, now, with the conflict in Syria.

To close, I’d like to ask all Christian Zionists to do the rest of Christendom a favor: please just stop. The crystal ball gazing isn’t helping anyone.

This blog continues the discussion on why the young are leaving the Church.

Have ever heard this only partly ironic joke: Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with girls/boys who do?  While the phrasing is archaic, the spirit of the statement continues in evangelical culture.  It might be better said today as “Watch out for those video games, movies, music, internet chat rooms and Pokemon.”

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How stupid can you look?

Reason number one why young people leave is that the church seems overprotective.  As the Barna research reports expands:

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

I can still remember fear-based tactics to encourage a kind of ghetto, tribal, thinking under the guise of spiritual purity or holiness.  Most of the readers can probably know this too.  See if any of these statements sound familiar:

  • Colleges encourage hedonism and secularism.
  • It’s not acceptable to watch movies with nudity, foul-language, violence etc in it.
  • Harry Potter encourages witchcraft.
  • Martial Arts and Yoga worship demons.
  • Halloween is a pagan holiday.
  • Good Christians only listen to Christian music.
  • Is that a “Christian” video game, movie, book, school, person etc?

Most of these look rather reactionary, strange, and often just plain stupid.  It seems very odd to me that a movie or videogame ought to be denounced for sex and violence, but yet we are still expected to read passages like this in the Bible:

 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your counsel; what shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. -2 Samuel 16:20-22 NRSV

I want to be clear with the irony here.  An overprotective church says that sexual content or violence is something Christians shouldn’t watch or see.   However, it’s okay to read a story were a prince usurps his father’s kingdom through sexual exhibitionism.  This is only one example of how the overprotective impulse would have us stop reading the Bible.

Little needs to be said here about Harry Potter, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, or a host of other forms of entertainment that children and teens have enjoyed.  Harry Potter was actually infused with Christian symbolism.  Pokemon and Magic the Gathering never turned children into little satanists.

But what about movies and television?  Don’t these influence teenagers and young adults?  Shouldn’t we be worried about our Christian witness when watching a film that has a premarital sex, gay people, occult activity, and curse words?  A good Christian could never watch Dexter or Game of the Thrones for sake of these sins in those shows, or so it is said.

I actually do think that movies, television, and video-games influence behavior and even personality.  Yet this kind of mentality concentrates on incidental superficialities, rather than evaluating a work of fiction as a work of fiction.  In other words, an overprotective church complains about some presence of “sin” in a story, but fails to evaluate its role  in the story.

Let’s use Game of Thrones as an example.  Throughout season one, when see Daenerys Targaryen develop as a person.  At the first, she is little more than a pawn (and property) in her brother’s ambitious schemes.  At the end, we see her grow into a self-made monarch-to-be, the mother of dragons, and is also naked.  “Also naked” is the superficiality that an overprotective church fixates on.  There is no discussion about character arcs, themes, or anything else that a work of fiction should be evaluated by.  Someone is naked, and it is therefore “not Christian.”

Doing entertainment differently

Let’s be clear: young people are going to encounter the world outside of the Christian ghetto.  Attempting to censor what they read, watch, play or listen to out of fear will server only to make them resentful.  An overprotective church does the Gospel no service.  It only makes people appear awkward.

The solution to this is two fold.

For the first part, I am indebted to Glenn Peoples over at Beretta Online.  I recommend everyone simply listen to this podcast.  In it, he argues that we should not filter our entertainment between “Christian” and “everything else that is evil.”  If we are to evaluate a song, a film or a video game we ought stop asking “is it Christian?” and instead ask “is it good?”  Plenty of good things came outside of Christian ghetto.  Plenty of things inside the Christian ghetto represent a lousy form of Christianity.  What do I mean by this?  Listen to the podcast.  His accent is really cool.

The second part is this.  When we do evaluate a work of art we should not be counting how many sins it represents.  Rather, we should dig into its substance and evaluate the work of art as a work of art.  In the case of works of fiction, we need to be discussing characters arcs, genres, three acts just to start.  If we’re listening to music, we should be talking about musical arrangements, lyrical quality, vocal talent and so forth.  If we’re playing a video game, we’ll talk about game mechanics, plot development, and other things that make a game fun.

For all of these things, I count myself lucky to be in Southern California.  For all my gripes about “touchy feely west coast Evangelicalism,” it is wonderful to be surrounded by artists, musicians, actors and other Christian creatives who understand their faith well enough to interact well with the creative world.

So go out and watch something sinful tonight.  Read a book where someone does witchcraft.  Get yourself some funny shaped dice and slay a few dragons.  Listen to a rap lyrics was bad language.  Play a videogame where you shoot nazis.

When you’re done, ask yourself “was it good”?

I don’t think God is going to condemn you for your entertainment.

Young people leave the Christianity they were raised with.

Now that is hardly a headline.  Every young person who was raised a Christian has either seen this happen or gone through it themselves.  It is a shared cultural experience.  It happens despite the efforts of many youth and college pastors.

This means that despite the grandiose so-cal mega churches, the inspiring baptisms, and the stories of conversions you hear on Sundays, faith is not passed from one generation to the next.  If there is any church that lasts, it is probably perpetually a church “first generation” Christians.  In sum, Evangelicalism is great at marketing, but terrible at retention.  Somehow, I do not think this is what Jesus had in mind.

Why is the younger generation leaving?  Barna research group noted six reasons why young people leave:

1. Churches are over protective.

2. Teens and Twenty somethings experience of Christianity is shallow.

3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science.

4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

6. The Church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

One of the most important points of the article is this one:

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

I am sure that many people reading this blog can relate to these six points.  I also know that many (myself included) can relate to the “non-traditional” lifestyle.

Many of these problems stem from, in my opinion, the mistakes and oversights of Christianity in the United States going back at least fifty years.  So these six points need to be put in a bit historical context.

But we’ve all beaten the problems to death by now haven’t we?

The real turn that we need to make is not discussing problems, but discussing solutions.  That is what the next few blogs will be about.  We need to talk about what Christianity would look like if it had some depth in it.  We need to really get down to the issue on this science thing.  We need to discard some excessive protectiveness for the young.  We need an entirely new sexual ethic.

We need to do some things different.

Over the next few weeks, every Monday, I will post short blogs on each of these issues.  My hope is to generate discussion on solutions.  I hope that everyone will contribute in comments.

As final caveat, I realize that many of the things that people suggest will be dismissed or not taken seriously.  Some things suggested will even look like “compromising with the world” or “being soft on sin” or a myriad of other complaints.  This perspective remains important.  Nonetheless, if we want different results we will have to reconsider what we are doing.

A particular book contained a copy of a personal letter from a high-up LDS official.  The writer said that he did not believe that there was enough historical evidence to believe the Book of Mormon, that he and others had been duped by Joseph Smith’s great story, and that he was going to stick around in the “good ship” of Mormonism anyway.  You read that correctly.  This story illustrates our willingness to believe a good-sounding story, even in the face of evidence (or lack thereof).  If the story sounds nice, if it inspires morality,  then that is all that matters -even if you admit you were lied to.  This tendency can only be stronger when you hear the story from a clever speaker.

Most evangelicals shake their heads in dismay at this story.  However, there is a large wing of Evangelicalism that is equally willing to believe myths.  No, I am not talking about the Bible of course.  I am talking about the founding fathers myths.  The recently maligned David Barton and his book “The Jefferson Lies” is a perfect example.  Thomas Nelson -a Christian Publishing house- pulled its publication due to a loss of confidence.  Christians, not atheists, came out to criticize this latest tome from the religious right.

Despite that, many people persist in ignoring criticism of this book.  This has less to do with its merits, and more to do with rhetorical cunning.  David Barton asserted at the beginning of his book that detractors of his views are evil secularists, modernists, and minimalists and a host of a derogatory names.  These people, according to Barton, are the enemies of our country and have deliberately published lies when interpreting Jefferson.  This helps the reader understand that David Barton is here to give the truth to them.  Any one smell a con?

Furthermore, did you know you can just read Jefferson’s letters for yourself?

My interest, as a Christian, is really only in one section of this book: the final chapter which argues that Jefferson was not an atheist, but was a Christian.  This is something Barton has a serious burden of on.  Put very specifically, Barton must submit that Jefferson was a Christian.  Thomas Jefferson is known for the voluminous, meticulously cataloged collection of letters, writings, and essays that he left us.  So there is bound to be something.  So is Barton’s evidence sufficient?  In this blog, we can look at a few points.

Jefferson affirmed the Apostles’ Creed?

One of the most important claims that he makes is that Thomas Jefferson said certain Christian sounding things.  For instance Barton writes:

In 1776… he [Jefferson] penned his Notes on Religion in which he affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, the Scriptures were inspired and that the Apostles’ Creed “contain[ed] all things necessary to Salvation.”

Here then, it appears that Jefferson affirmed the Apostles’ Creed.  Unfortunately though, the notes on religion are just that: Notes on religion.  This collection of short notes surveys several Christian groups, several heretical group, and summarizes the views of John Locke -espeically when it comes to religious toleration/freedom.  The complete paragraph reads as follows:

The Epistles were written to persons already Christians. A person might be a Xn then before they were written. Consequently the fundamentals of Xty were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. These fundamentals are to be found in the epistles dropped here & there, & promiscuously mixed with other truths. But these other truths are not to be made fundamentals. They serve for edification indeed & explaining to us matters in worship & morality, but being written occasionally it will readily be seen that their explanations are adpated to the notions & customs of the people they were written to. But yet every sentence in them (tho the writers were inspired) must not be taken up & made a fundamental, without assent to which a man is not to be admitted a member of the Xn church here, or to his kingdom hereafter. The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation, & consequently to a communion.

So why did Jefferson mention the Apostles’ Creed here?  Is it because he believed it himself, or because he’s taking short-hand notes on what other people believed?  In another section of Notes on Religion Jefferson wrote:

A heretic is an impugner of fundamentals. What are fundamentals? The protestants will say those doctrines which are clearly & precisely delivered in the holy Scriptures. Dr. Vaterland would say the Trinity. But how far this character of being clearly delivered will suit the doctrine of the trinity I leave others to determine. It is nowhere expressly declared by any of the earliest fathers, & was never affirmed or taught by the Church before the Council of Nice.

Here is another quote:

Another plea for Episcopal government in Religion in England is it’s similarity to the political governmt by a king. No bishop, no king. This then with us is a plea for government by a presbytery which resembles republican government.

The clergy have ever seen this. The bishops were alwais mere tools of the crown.

The Presbyterian spirit is known to be so congenial with friendly liberty, that the patriots after the restoration finding that the humour of people was running too strongly to exalt the prerogative of the crown promoted the dissenting interest as a check a and balance, & thus was produced the Toleration Act

If there is anything in “Notes on Religion” that indicates that Thomas Jefferson made serious commitment to one Christian group or the other, all the while personally affirming the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, I did not find it.  It doesn’t look like Barton did either.

Jefferson said “I am a Christian.”

Barton makes a bold claim based on two letters: one to Charles Thomson and another famous one to Benjamin Rush.  Both of these letters are nearly as famous as Google itself.  In the letter to Charles Thomson Jefferson said (and is quoted by Barton) “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”  However, we read the complete letter, we find that Jefferson is separating himself from the “Platonists.”  Here again is the quote in context:

I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same
materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus ; it is
a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the
texts out of the book, and arranging them on the
pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or
subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of
ethics I have never seen ; it is a document in proof
that / am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple
of tha doctrines of Jesus, very different from the
Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians
and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their
characteristic dogmas from what its author
never said nor saw.

In this letter, -which can be found here– Jefferson refers to his “Jefferson Bible.”  This was the Bible in which he cut out the parts of the Gospels he belied were not authentic.  Jefferson is not affirming, “Christian” in any sense that your average Texas fundamentalist would recognize.

Barton makes a larger quote of the letter to Benjamin rush.  From Barton’s book:

To the corruptions of Christian I am indeed opposed; but no the genuine precepts of Jesus Himself.  I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others…

Of course, Barton leaves what follows in that letter.  Jefferson ended that phrase with, “in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.”  Furthermore, Jefferson later refers to the influence of Joseph Priestly.  Joseph Priestly was an enlightenment thinker who authored “the Corruptions of Christianity.”  There, he denied both the Trinity and the atonement.  I cannot emphasize enough that Jefferson himself mentions Priestly favorably.

Thomas Jefferson didn’t really mean to deny the Trinity

Barton makes a great deal about Jefferson and the Trinity.  If he can prove that Jefferson affirmed the Trinity, than that is a big point in his favor, but Barton has some background work to do first.  He explains that around 1810 in Virgina a movement called “the primitivists” had gained a lot of popularity.  These primitivists rejected nearly every traditional Christian doctrine in favor of an extremely minimalized adherence to the Bible.  This excluded an affirmation of the Trinity.  Barton than actually quotes Jefferson when he explicitly denies the Trinity, the Eucharist, original sin, atonement.  Barton then acknowledges that these denials are heretical.  On the other hand Barton did say that “Jefferson had openly embraced doctrinal beliefs he was no rejecting,” yet he offered none of Jefferson’s letters to support that here.  So what does David Barton do?

Barton appears to assert that the influence of the primitivists made Jefferson deny the Trinity.  He asserts “it was during his affiliation with Christian Primitivism. that he first expressed Anti-Trinitarian views in a letter to John Adams in 1813.”  So we are to believe that Jefferson denied a core Christian doctrine late in his life, and it wasn’t really his fault.

The are two problems here.  First, Jefferson had already read Joseph Priestly by at least 1803.  He had sent Joseph Priestly a letter praising the author for his work.  Jefferson mentioned that he agreed with some of Priestly’s views and that he himself had hoped to do similar work.  Jefferson here wrote that he the doctrines of Jesus had been corrupted by people who pretended to be his disciples, that the question of Jesus’ divinity and inspiration were unimportant to him, and that the Jesus belong in the lines of the great moral teachers like Socrates, Cicero, and Seneca.  Therefore, Jefferson expressed these pretty non-Christian thoughts before 1810, when Barton asserts primitivism became popular.  The second problem is this: even if Jefferson denied the Trinity because of the primitivists, I don’t see how that means that Jefferson did not deny the Trinity.  At one point Barton thought that Jefferson “might have changed his position on the Trinity” had he lived a bit longer.  Does this vain speculation count as an argument?

David Barton closes the chapter with this:

Perhaps Jefferson, having once ha d a strong early Christian faith, which later became contaminated and weak, fits the category of 1 Corinthians 3:15 that “if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved but only through fire.”

When I read this, I get the feeling that Barton doesn’t even really believe what he is writing anymore.  It is if he is begging the reader to imagine ways with him that Thomas Jefferson was a dye-ed in the wool evangelical.  These statements are sad for any scholar.  It speaks volumes of how far Barton is willing to stretch things.

Conclusion

David Barton really wants readers to believe that Jefferson was a Christian.  So how did he argue for it?  As you can see by the quotes, David Barton is good at lifting statements out of their context to suit his preconceived conclusion.  If he was doing this to the Bible we would call it poof-texting.  Additionally, he demands a sense of special pleading when it comes to Jefferson’s overt denial of the Trinity.  No contemporary figure would get this “free pass” if they did the same.  Finally, Barton ignored that Jefferson admired Joseph Priestly in this chapter.  By his own words, Jefferson tells us that he was the fan of a scholar who denied the incarnation, resurrection, atonement and the Trinity.  Yes, there were other “Christian” things that Jefferson did that I did cover here, but the very best conclusion you can get from that evidence is that Jefferson believed in a deity, that Jesus was a great moral teacher, and that religious toleration and cooperation ought to be promoted.  None of that is sufficient to make someone a Christian.

Ladies and gentlemen, David Barton thinks he can con you.

This leaves really only one stone unturned.  David Barton, wants you to imagine ways that Jefferson might have been a Christian.  Maybe he would have changed his mind.  Maybe his denial of the Trinity was because of his failing mind.  Maybe all his support of religious cooperation meant more than Unitarianism.  Let me remind the reader this: it is all a nice sounding story, exactly like the good ship of Mormonism.  But the evidence against Barton’s myth is there.  I hope  that members of the religious right have the courage to confront it.

I feel that there are three holy days on the Evangelical calendar: Christmas, Evangelism Sunday, and the Super Bowl.  The third is coming up this Sunday.

This year, I won’t participate in any of sacred rituals of the Superbowl.  This means I won’t be gathering around a TV with a bowl fulls of snacks, I won’t be voting for the plethora of Doritos/Pepsi commercials, and I certainly will not be procuring the services of a teenage prostitute.

Real men raise them.

By now, most people are probably aware the Super Bowl is one of the biggest hubs of sex traffic in the United States.  This should probably concern Christians because -despite various other doctrinal differences- we all believe that forced prostitution is a horrible thing.

The above is an illustration of understatement.

It’s good to know that many Churches and blogs are speaking up against this.  Right now, many Christians are helping to put a stop to it.  Churches, like Mars Hill, also speak out against it.  I have attended churches were the super bowl was an event for the church, but those churches did not speak aboutthe trafficking.  I am little chagrined about that, but I could have missed a Sunday.

Obviously Christians aren’t going to be tacit about this, but we can’t all be at the Super Bowl either.  So if you can’t volunteer at the Superbowl, what can you do to stop the trafficking?  It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

For me, I am personally boycotting the Super Bowl this year.  I don’t want the event to get any of my attention or any of cash if it also attracts that much sex trafficking.  Is this unfair to the great American Sport?  Maybe it is, but last year the Super Bowl committee was pretty silent on this problem.  Should I buy their product if I don’t have to?  I specifically walked out of the foreigner bar in Korea last year because they were hosting the Super Bowl.  I did that despite the fun I otherwise might have had that night.

Of course, I freely admit that I am not exactly a grid-iron gremlin.  I don’t even know who is playing this year.  Yet, I understand how passionate people are for this game and the sense of camaraderie it brings.  Besides, who isn’t up for an excuse to barbeque, right?

So for those who will celebrate the Super Bowl, please consider this: count every penny you spend on the Super Bowl this year.  This means the snacks, the meat, the beer/soda, and even the gas you use to drive.  Figure out what that dollar amount is and multiply it by two.  Then donate that dollar amount to International Justice Mission an organization that fights human trafficking.  You’ll spend money either way, but this way you’ll spend money to stop the injustice as well.  If a 2:1 ratio is too high for sex trafficking, trying matching every dollar you spend on fun with a donation.  If you’re like me, and already ignoring the Super Bowl, then post one of the links in this blog somewhere for a honest, descent, football fan to see.

This way, the a giant hub of sex trafficking could turn into a giant sting operation against sex trafficking.  I’d love to read blogs on Monday about how many arrests were made and victims freed.

Go celebrate the Super Bowl, and help clean up the mess in its shadow.

How then shall we vote?

I recently watched the hilariously lambasted Rick Perry “strong” video.  It is now one of the most disliked videos in You Tube history.    Now think about the endless flow of audio-visual travesties that are uploaded to You Tube every hour.  Getting that many dislikes is quite an accomplishment.  It was a briefly lived meme, but is indicative of deeper issues this election.

I am one of many Christians who was raised around the political right, but is now completely annoyed with their views.  I still remember a life sized cut-out of George W. Bush in my church’s sanctuary during the 2000 elections.  It felt weird then, but now it feels almost blasphemous.   I digress however.

That church also taught that this was idol worship.

Let me start this conversation by listing off what seems to be some of the problems of the religious right.  Hopefully, readers can add a few.  Here they are:

1. “Christians versus everybody else.” If I could pick just one root cause of my problems with the religious right it is this mentality.  It goes back all the way to Schaeffer, who saw every perspective (political or otherwise) as either the Christian worldview, or a slippery, apocalyptic slope towards secular humanism.  Such black and white thinking is little more than thinly veiled fear mongering.  Anyone who isn’t afraid different ideas, religions, or people can see this rather plainly.

2. Christian Zionism.  Israel has a right to peacefully exist along side other nations in the middle east, and  modern-day Israel has nothing to do with prophecies in the Bible.

Please read that sentence one more time.

Unflinching, unthinking, and dogmatic support for Israel depends on a minority, liberal interpretation of scripture known as Dispensational futurism.  This is not what all Christians believe.  I don’t think it is something any Christian should believe.  People like Rick Perry and John Hagee believe that we have a sacred religious duty to support Israel.  I wonder what they think about supporting Palestinian Christians.  I wonder if they even knows that such people exist.

Dispies often visit Christian holy sites in the middle east.  Don’t they ever wonder who has maintained those sites over the last few centuries?

3. The Christian Nation Myth.  The religious right loves to talk about “America’s Christian heritage.”  There is no doubt that Christianity has played an important role the culture of the United States, but it is an exaggeration (at best) and a lie (at worst) to believe that God has somehow uniquely blessed the United States and that our constitution is somehow holy writ.

The constitution is an agreement and a rulebook that is as much open to revision as any other secular, legal, contract.  Many of the founding fathers were Christians, but many of them were not.  Even the Christian conservatives acknowledge that Jefferson was deist, but they fail to appreciate how big of a problem that represents for the “Christian Nation” myth.

Can we take a closer look at the Christian founders?  How about Valley Forge praying, George Washington?  He was an active member of the Anglican Church, which means his services looked more like this:

Church service at Cantebury, England.

Than they did like this:

Totally not idol worship.

Furthermore, George Washington was a free mason!  That’s a big no-no for most Christian conservatives.  I wonder how the Christian Nation fundies rationalize that contradiction. Christianity for the founders was a quite different Christianity.  They did not worship like the Bachmanns or the Perrys of the world.

A final point

I do not want to be part of the Christian Nation that Perry and Bachmann want.  I do not agree with their views of scripture.  Why am I as a Christian denouncing the religious right?  It is really simple.  We can do better.  We can have a view of end times that promotes peace rather than conquest.  We can learn to look pace prejudices and understand that Arabs can be Christians too.  We can learn that the constitution is a social contract that allows people to live together despite religious differences.

Mark Galli at Christianity Today has posted a nice article on the need for “Chaplain” rather “Catalytic” pastors in the church. He cited a study on church growth which praised the Catalytic pastors for their charisma and bringing in new converts. Chaplains are not so good, because they focus on “healing souls” and do not grow a church numerically.

If you feel this is backwards, then you will enjoy the article.

It has been years since I spent time with future youth ministers and pastors (many are just regular ‘pastors’ now), but I remember there was an old saying among evangelicals: “I’d rather have a small ‘on fire for God’ church, than a large lukewarm one.” What people meant by that is that they did not want to be involved in a church that measured everything in numbers.

The mega-churches love big. Whatever gets more people in the door, is the right thing to do. This is why Easter Sunday is “leveraged” to get more members. What if the demand for “growth” overshadows a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ? Also, Isn’t a little weird for a leader of a megachurch to use words like “advertise” and “promote”? Mega-churches are primarily concerned about numbers. The pastors act like the ad-men.

What happens when churches grow? Most people think that it is a good thing, but it has dark side. Mega-churches over step their bounds as they get more attention at a national level. Why should a handful of “catalytic” leaders in Colorado Springs, Orange County, and Seattle speak for rest of us? Besides, when churches get that big, you have to wonder what really drives that growth. A professional advertiser says “millions of satisfied customers [so the product is good].” A catalyst pastor says, “Our church has thousands of members [so God is with us].” Is it the Holy Spirit that drives the growth, or a clever leader who has created a self-perpetuating system of social proof?

The ministers and pastors I appreciate the most aren’t catalyst pastors. Most of them lead small to mid-size churches and are fairly anonymous outside their congregations. Their typical duties are not leading a great new sermon series under a spotlight. Rather, you’ll find them officiating a baptism, or delivering a mercifully short, yet effective, sermon to remind Christians how to best be Christians. They likewise want to connect people to Jesus Christ, but do not see explosive numerical growth as a necessity. These are the chaplain pastors that seem to be getting poor reputation. Yet I find it much easier to work with -and trust- these anonymous pastors than any mega-church poster child.

What kind of pastor do you trust the most?

We approach Christmas time.  Which means that many people will be sending out cards and gifts in the coming weeks.

My hope is that when people do so, that they do find the most inspired and truly spiritual cards that they can find.  Even if they have cards, they will still need stamps.  That’s not all that this about though.  Blogs like this are always about questions for readers.  Like these here:

Do you support the Occupy Wall Street Movement?  Are you concerned about the connection between money and politics?  Then support an independent merchant because that snubs corporate corruption.  It’s also easier than waving signs in cold weather.

Here’s another question.

Do you support the Tea Party Movement? Are you a fan of free markets, free enterprise, and freedom?  Then support an independent merchant because you’ll support a new economy and new innovation.

Here’s a last question.

Do you love Thomas Kincaide and Precious Moments dolls?  Well, I actually can’t help you there.  Let’s say that you’d like to try something new and something different than everyone else at your church this year.  Why not support an independent merchant and look at the stamps here instead?

What?  You don’t like Christmas cards?  You don’t need stamps?  That’s okay.  You still support an independent merchant by referring this post to friends.

Thanks in advance.  The main link to my store can be found below.

Thanks for your help this Christmas.  All proceeds go to my world vision kids.

In wonderful little book I learned that people often make choices based on their <i>identity.</i>  This leads to the phenomenon of the “Identity Vote” in which a candidate presents themselves as member of a demographic.  The powers of social proof (what we called “peer-pressure” in high school) compel all members of that particular demographic to vote for that candidate.  It works like this: are you a Hispanic?  Vote for the” Hispanic” candidate.  Are you a family orientated?  Vote for the “family” candidate.  Are you an educator?  Vote for the “education” candidate.

And if you are a Christian, vote for the Christian candidate.

This blog seldom discuss politics.  However, I thought I’d break the silence because of election tim.  I am sure that a lot of Christians are busy thinking about who to vote for, so why not?  NPR had a segment on Michelle Bachmann.  The Christian post also covered her Christian views.   Now it is time to see if she matches your identity as a Christian and my identity as a Christian.

Francis Schaeffer seems to be the sticking point on this issue.  Since Bachmann has cited Schaeffer, we should probably look at his views.  Lets figure out what he believes.  In a way this is not a question of just Bachmann, but the entire Christian right in this country.  How then should we live?  Should we live like Schaeffer tells us to?

Schaeffer’s famous book and video series is difficult to sum up.    The series “How Shall we then Live” covers thinkers, artists, and culture from the Roman era to the present.  (feel free to look it up on youtube if you like) He has plenty of good things to say and a few not so good things.  Here are some highlights.  First, secular philosophy is really bad.  Now, this this almost sounds redundant, because the impression from Schaeffer is that philosophy is just what man does when he gets away from the Bible.  For Schaeffer, the influence of philosophy is simply reprobate.  His presents a polar opposition of “humanist” or “Christian.”  If someone begins thinking the wrong way, they’ve been infected by something that leads to humanism.  Thomas Aquinas is his example of this.  Secondly, there is a general tenor of fear in the documentary.  The idea is this, follow (Scheaffer’s) Christianity or descend into chaos and/or elitist dystopianism.  He lists off of a few things that sound like modern conspiracy theories to support this.   Without Christianity we will have non-Christian values imposed on the world or anarchy flowing from excessive freedom.

There are several ways that theologians believes that Christianity relates to the culture around it.  One way is that Christianity must change the culture around it, even if that be via political power.  Schaeffer seems to take that position very seriously.  Schaeffer believes, and presumably Bachmann with him, that Christians must vote their values, and fill as many seats as government as possible.

Schaeffer is Bachmann’s teacher.  He is her Aristotle and she is his Alexander.  So does Bachmann match your Christian identity?  Well ask yourself a few questions.  I will present two.  The first is abstract and theoretical and the second is a little bit more concrete and practical.

First, Is the world polarized into dim-thinking humanists and good clear thinking Christians?  Well have you ever once learned anything from a non-Christian?  I know I have.  So it is hard for me to understand why we should throw people into to binary groups.  In fact this kind of thinking tends to lead towards a “Christian Ghetto” mentality -if you’re not a Christian than you are wrong already.  Conversely, something said by a Christian is right, always.  This doesn’t seem to make sense because Christians have both strongly supported and vigilantly opposed slavery in the 19th century.  Schaeffer’s polarization -which I have noticed in other member’s of the Christian right- is just silly.  It turns any political discussion into ad hominem.  “You’re not a Christian.  You’re against God and the Bible.  Me and my people believe the Bible…”

Besides (and this really needs to be emphasized) Schaeffer is selective in the historical personalities he presents.  He cites Kant, Rosseau, and Hegel as the “bad guys” of the Enlightenment.  He however excludes John Locke and several other Christians who were part of that era and who influenced our modern world in a positive way.  If you not sure how, ask yourself this question: when was the last time there was religious war in the West?  When has anyone been arrested for changing their denomination?  The world is not divided into humanists and Christians.  That’s Schaeffer’s intellectual myopia.  I hope Bachmann understands the history of Christianity and philosophy better.

Here’s another question: Does God need Christian Laws and Christian legislators to work in the world?   There’s a deeper question here: can laws make people good or is God’s grace needed for that?  You probably already believe that God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit are actually required to make people good.  Perhaps God works though laws.  Such a thing might be true, but I have found no Bible verse or good exegesis that tells us that.  Maybe putting our morality into law books is how we honor God.  I am skeptical about this, because it takes a lot of energy to do so.  The collective energy, time, and money, of all Christians might be better spent elsewhere.

This leads us to the question of how the Christianity relates to culture.  The way of Schaeffer, Bachmann and the rest of the Christian right is not the only way.  Christians are not necessarily obligated to try to “take over” lest the barbarians at the gate do so.  Many Christians believe that we simply need to radically separate from a corrupt political culture and reprobate society, while at the same time inspiring it to conversion.  Monastic groups did this.  So did the Amish.  Others, like Luther, said that we must live in a paradox and trust God’s providence to work through worldly means in addition to Christian ones.  E.G., yes we know that we need to love our enemies, but we still have to find a way to stop the Mongols.  The “Christians take over” method is not the only method.

The point of this blog is not to say that Bachmann is insincere or not Christian.  The point is what kind of Christianity is she representing?  Bachmann’s Christian identity is quite dissimilar to my own.  There are many others out there who feel the same way.  We are all Christians, but we are not members of the Christian right.  My hope with this blog is that people will think very carefully about the two questions presented in this blog before they support Bachmann et al merely on the identity vote.  We must all make up our minds and not let preachers and politicians use fear to do it for us.