Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2017

Christian Fundamentalism and that Hideous Darkness
Father Larry

Great evil has been committed throughout the centuries—and is still being committed—by nominal Christians, often in the name of Christ. The visible Christian Church is necessary, even saving, but obviously faulty, and I do apologize for its sins as well as my own. Crusades and inquisitions have nothing to do with Christ. War, torture and persecution have noting to do with Christ. When he gave his one recorded sermon, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Not the arrogant. And as he was dying he asked that his murderers be forgiven.
M. Scott Peck — People of the Lie

 

How shall I begin? I think by saying I believe evil, real, palpable and vile, exists – a malevolent darkness that seeks to devour noble causes, good people, nations, churches, and human souls. J. R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings, is a wonderfully imaginative description of a cosmic struggle between good and evil; however, it is not entirely fantasy. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and as such was surely familiar with Saint Paul’s words of alarm and encouragement: “Finally,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Ephesus, “be strong in the Lord. . . For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NASB).

The implication here is that as Christians the struggle with that hideous darkness begins in our own heart and mind, and in our own church. Lying on a bed of rotting, rancid straw in one of the brutal camps of the Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says not long before his conversion from atheism to the Christian faith, he experienced a moment of spiritual clarity regarding the problem of good and evil. He wrote of his experience saying:

 

Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).

So, then, I believe in evil. And, like Solzhenitsyn, I believe the line between good and evil in our own heart shifts and “oscillates. But even in the best of hearts, and certainly in my own which is not among the best, there always remains “an unuprooted small corner of evil.” This is why Saint Paul in Ephesians, urges vigilance, alertness, spiritual attentiveness. However, having said this, I want to be clear that I am in no way attempting to minimize the enormity of evil.

The ordinary, garden variety of sin (literally falling short of the mark or the best to which we can aspire) that constantly plagues us, and interferes with our spiritual progress, is not what I am talking about here. We shouldn’t sin, not just because it is wrong, but because we don’t have time. It distracts us from the sort of spiritual practice that opens our hearts to the Divine Mystery of Christ living in us. But evil is far more sinister and lethal than that.

Peck says that when he was writing People of the Lie, he asked his then eight-year-old son, “Do you know what evil is?” And his son immediately answered, “Yes Dad! Evil is ‘live’ spelled backwards.” That’s about as good a definition of evil that you will ever find. Evil is what kills or destroys life in any of its forms – physical, psychological, or spiritual. Whatever diminishes or devours life is not simply a sin, but evil. There is, therefore, that hard saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder” (Matthew 5:21-22). Hate is evil because it kills.” If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see” (1 John 4:20-21)?

As M. Scott Peck further notes, most truly evil people are not in prisons and jails. They are not found principally among junkies and juicers – or immigrants. They are most likely to be found in legislatures and churches, for, remember, they are after all, People of the Lie, and it is important to them to look good, to be thought good. They are expert at scapegoating and rationalizing and dissimulating. And, their lie and their cruelty grows in proportion to the vulnerability of those in their power. The reality is that we become the person we practice to be. The question of our character is not answered by an isolated incident, but by the pattern of our life; and, when one looks at the pattern of a life and sees a trail of destruction, especially the destruction of vulnerable people, it exposes the lies of evil.

Evil is not only individual, it is also systematic. Everything, absolutely everything, is connected. The great Christian thinker C.S. Lewis said somewhere that if we could see the reality of humanity as God does, it would not look like separate dots on a page with nothing connecting them, but rather more like a tree with leaves, branches, limbs and roots all connected. We are all parts of various systems – family, work, church, community, nation. And these systems are all interlocking. Not only that, but every system is strangely greater than the sum of its parts. Together your family is something more than just adding up the total number of its members. Your church, to the extent it is truly the church, is mysteriously something more than its aggregate membership. What affects one part of a system therefore affects the whole. I think Lewis also suggested this analogy. If you add, say a drop of red dye, to a large glass of water, it will spread and contaminate all the water in the glass. Evil not only can be, but often is, systemic.

This, then, brings me to what I really want to say: The American fundamentalist conservative religious/political movement is antithetical to Christianity and systemically evil. A recent survey from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals what just ordinary common sense observation already knows. White fundamentalists, including white Roman Catholic fundamentalists, are more than twice as likely as are atheists, agnostics or those with no religious affiliation to blame poverty on laziness or some other individual character flaw. John Gehring, author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church, writes: “In this upside down world, white Christians can justify taking away health care coverage from struggling families and blindly worship the false idol of ‘trickle-down’ economic theories that Pope Francis has already called a ‘crude’ and ‘naïve’ fantasy.”

While 57 percent of Americans acknowledge racism against black people as a significant problem only 36 percent of white Protestant fundamentalists and 47 percent of white Roman Catholic fundamentalists see it as a significant problem. Following Trump’s election signs immediately went up, “Make America White Again!” There really is no doubt that much of the hatred for President Obama was due to racism. Fundamentalists acknowledged Christians ought to pray for him, but suggested praying after the fashion of Psalm 109, “Let his days be few, and let another have his office.” At the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference, Senator David Perdue said, “I think we should pray for Barack Obama, but I think we should be very specific about how we pray.” He then cited Psalm 109, and here, very specifically, is what that Psalm says:

 

8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labor.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

That’s pretty ugly evil stuff to have prayed on President Obama – but indicative of the malicious stink in the hearts of fundamentalists. Certainly, if I had ever said anything like that my Mama, from whom I first learned that the hope of salvation is to be found in the love of God, the knowledge of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, would have been unbearably disappointed with me. Yet, they gush over laying hands on Donald Trump in the Oval Office – a man that can’t speak two sentences without lying even when there is no point to the lie; a three-times married man who, as a matter of record, is a creepy sexual predator, vengeful and arrogant beyond concealing, and violent in words and temperament. What is it Jesus said? “A good person out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good; and an evil person out of the evil treasure of the heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

So, out of the abundance of his heart, Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and some sort of “religious” advisor to Trump, released a statement saying Trump has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers,” said Jeffress, “the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers with full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.” Just what we might expect Jesus to say – right? Sure, rip the guts out of your enemy, burn, maim, kill the children, smash them in the face, lock them up. Run them over with your car.

And, what is their response when that happens as it did last Saturday in Charlottesville? What is their response to the hate inspired death of Heather Heyer, or the brutal beating of Deandre Harris? Evangelist Rodney Howard-Brown, following Trump’s lead said, “We strongly condemn all white supremacists, KKK, Antifa and Black Lives Matter, Main Stream Media in the strongest of terms !!!!!” Franklin Graham, wrote, “Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on POTUS Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville.” And, Jerry Falwell, Jr., uttered not a word about Charlottesville, just an hour and fifteen minutes down the road from Liberty University. Neither was there anything from Richard Land. Out of the abundance of the heart. Out of the abundance of the heart.

Or, who can forget Pastor Steven Andersen who celebrated the Orlando massacre: Pastor Andersen, who is evidently too dumb and too uninformed to know that homosexuality and pedophilia are not at all the same thing, said:

 

The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles. That’s who was a victim here, are a bunch of, just, disgusting homosexuals at a gay bar, okay? But the bad news is that this is now gonna be used, I’m sure, to push for gun control, where, you know, law-abiding normal Americans are not gonna be allowed to have guns for self-defense. And then I’m sure it’s also gonna be used to push an agenda against so-called “hate speech.” So Bible-believing Christian preachers who preach what the Bible actually says about homosexuality — that it’s vile, that it’s disgusting, that they’re reprobates — you know, we’re gonna be blamed. Like, “It’s all extremism! It’s not just the Muslims, it’s the Christians!” I’m sure that that’s coming. I’m sure that people are gonna start attacking, you know, Bible-believing Christians now, because of what this guy did.

My simple argument is that Steven Andersen is neither ‘Bible- believing’, nor “Christian.” The words of Isaiah the Prophet are certainly appropriate and applicable to both Protestant and Catholic Fundamentalism in America:

 

Woe to you, who call evil good
     and good evil,
who put darkness for light
     and light for darkness
who put bitter for sweet
     and sweet for bitter

Let me be clear. It is not “woe” to the fundamentalists because of anything I can say or do, but first of all because of what they have done with the gift of life God has given them, and what they do with the gift of God’s love. Second, fundamentalists need to be careful on a very practical level. Evil is interested in who it can use, not in who it can love, and so can turn on anyone or any group, at anytime. Robert, has just said that if the the President, whoever he or she may be, decides you are evil, there is biblical justification to stop you by “whatever means necessary.” When I listen to the pastors who support policies that hurt the most vulnerable people among us, I am reminded that less than a third of the Lutheran Church and pastors in Germany had the Christian integrity to defy Adolph Hitler.

Wherever you look conservative, born again, bible believing, evangelical, fundamentalists, are antilife. Their denial of climate change and refusal to work for a habitable world is fueled by both a Biblical and scientific ignorance that is cruel, appalling, and totally unconscionable in its ignorance – “ignorance” in its literal sense. There is no compassion, sympathy, or human feeling for the plight of others. They have supported American use of slave labor in the Northern Marianna Islands. And their deportation of “dreamers” is heartbreaking.

Rachel, a young, hardworking, law-abiding, Latino girl in her mid-twenties, was brought to this country by her undocumented parents when she was only a few months old. The American way of life is the only life she has ever known. Not long ago she went to a dance with some of her young friends. She was snatched up by the INS and sent to an internment camp in Arizona where she continues to wait in fear for her fate to be decided. Most likely, she we will be sent to Mexico where she has no family, no friends, no knowledge of the culture or how to make her way. And, I will add, little facility with the Spanish language. I remember a documentary on the Queen of England’s carriage horses. The interviewer asked the head Groom, “When one of these horses is retired, do you give it a life of ease out in a pasture somewhere?” The Groom responded emphatically, “Oh no! These horses are fed a healthy diet of quality grain and hay. The stable is climate controlled. They are blanketed to protect and enhance the quality of their coats. They are brushed and groomed every day. They have a carefully prescribed regime of exercise. The dogs and cats, the people coming and going and working n the stable, and the other horses all keep it company. It would be terribly cruel to take one of these horses out and leave it in a pasture.” What the British consider too cruel for a horse, is considered by some Americans to be just fine for Rachel and people like her.

Now you may think I should have been more judicious in my choice of words here; and, that may very well be the case. But I am aware that both Jesus and Saint Paul called clergy of the religious establishment “whited walls,” or as I once heard a pastor friend paraphrase it – “piss pots.” And Jesus called Herod, “That old fox.” Actually I am more concerned that I have done something a little silly. The blog preceding this one is an open letter challenging the religious right to debate the proposition: “The Conservative Fundamentalist Movement is Antithetical to Christianity and a Religious and Political Force for Evil.”

By way of clarification, I should acknowledge that all conservatives are not necessarily fundamentalists, and while evangelicalism and fundamentalism have become somewhat synonymous in the media and in the popular mind, they are technically not the same thing. However, I am afraid that those who want to maintain that distinction, like Fuller Theological Seminary or Sojourners Magaine, are engaged in a futile effort. Nevertheless, most of what one reads in the media about evangelicals supporting Trump, is really about the support of fundamentalists.

Finally, I would like for you to know that I take Scripture with the utmost seriousness. I believe the Bible should be interpreted in the light of reason, tradition, experience, and is best understood by those steeped in contemplative practice. I do not see it as an ancient and flawed manuscript without relevance, but rather hear it as the voice of God speaking simple yet profound and mysterious wisdom. As a result, I believe that if we are not saturated with the same love with which Christ loves us, then we stand exposed as frauds before the watching world (John 13:35). The Medieval saint, Teresa of Lysieux wrote to her sister, “If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place to shelter.” M. Scott Peck saw this as a good definition of what it means to be a true Christian; however, he noted, “There are hundreds of thousands who go to Christian churches every Sunday who are not the least bit willing to be displeasing to themselves, serenely or otherwise, and who are not, therefore, for Jesus a pleasant place to shelter.” This would be an equally good definition of a true church; indeed, in similar fashion, are we not likely to find, in the end, thousands upon thousands of churches which, in spite of their words and pretensions of piety, were no pleasant place for Christ to dwell.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

An Open Letter To The Christian Conservative Movement

 

Dear Leaders of the Religious “Right:”

I originally intended this as an open letter to Jerry Falwell, Jr., who I believe would describe himself as a born again, evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Bible believing Christian. However, I have since “repented,” and now address this letter to include not only Mr. Falwell, but any fundamentalist, conservative, Christian who like Mr. Falwell can claim, with some legitimacy, to represent the “conservative movement.”

This is an invitation, no more of a challenge, to debate some form of the following proposition:
The Conservative Movement Is Antithetical to Christianity and a Religious Force for Evil.

I say some form of this proposition because I would be willing, along with other possible alterations, to affirm the proposition as it stands; or, to reverse and deny the proposition; that is, deny that,
The Conservative Movement is Christian and a Force for Good.
I am suggesting something like a two-person collegiate debate. An Affirmative and a Negative presentation of perhaps thirty minutes each, followed by an Affirmative and a Negative rebuttal of perhaps fifteen minutes each. The order normally is: Affirmative Presentation, Negative Presentation, followed by the Negative Rebuttal, and then the Affirmative Rebuttal. But the order is not important to me. There would be an MC/Time Keeper but no Moderator with a set of questions. Other than the time allocated each speaker and maintaining a civil, and, hopefully, thoughtful audience, I am quite flexible.

I believe it was last February that Republican Congressional Representative Dave Brat from the 7th District of Virginia said in an interview, “The Conservative Movement, owns the whole Christian compassion thing.” I wrote Rep. Brat at the time suggesting we debate that assertion, but, of course, did not receive a response. Maybe Rep. Brat recognized he was on the wrong side of Exodus 20:16, or Proverbs 16:6-19, and decided not to compound his error. But here’s hoping better from some other recognized leader of the born again, evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Bible believing Christian movement of the late 20th or 21st century.

With sincerity and in good faith, then, I offer the above invitation – or challenge.

“For freedom Christ has set us free,”
Larry Hart
The Rev. Larry Hart
1470 Encinitas Blvd
Box 223
Encinitas, CA 92024

Read Full Post »