Beware Of Dogmatists

dog·ma·tism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

When writing critically about religion, it is sometimes hard to adequately convey both the idea that fundamentalism is undesirable and dangerous and that other, less dogmatic, forms of spirituality can be, and often are, forces for good. People often conclude from some of my criticisms of religious faith: “You hate religion, period.” Well, I don’t. There are many religion-motivated people who do a lot of good in our communities. Each and every day. Thus, allow me to explain, in more detail, where I’m coming from. Then, I promise, I will resume my blogging on politics.

What I don’t like, and what I believe all thinking people should aggressively attack, is any form of religion that does not admit to what a couple of commenters on my latest piece (“‘Without God, I Am No One’—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention“) called “humility,” the idea that one’s vision of God is not necessarily the correct one and that “the next person may understand God even better than I do.”  I have no quarrel with anyone who holds religious views in that context.

My quarrel is with the dogmatists. I believe, and I think the evidence from history supports it, that religious dogmatism is mostly a destructive force, even if it isn’t (these days) always manifested in violence against others. I ambrose biercehappen to think that dedicating precious time and minds and other resources to discussing or settling dogmatism-inspired controversies is a colossal waste, a form of destruction. (And I am one who has spent a lot of time exploring the meandering contours of Christian theology.) So, I want to be clear that the form of religion I dislike is not the kind that admits to uncertainty or doubt. With increasing passion, I am attacking the kind of religious dogma expressed by people like Douglas McCain, whose fanaticism and dogmatism may have finally led him to Syria to kill and be killed in the name of his religion, but who first began by embracing incontrovertible beliefs and essentially enslaving himself to his unquestionable notion of God.

Evidence should always be our guide, wherever it leads. As a former evangelical Christian, I am now open to evidence that God exists or that he doesn’t exist. I have to admit that most of the evidence is for the latter, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I have before described myself as a theist, even though my faith is really a hope that there exists a being who will enforce common notions of justice at some point in the life of this universe or beyond. Really, I suppose, I am an agnostic. I don’t know if it is even possible to discover the existence or non-existence of God. But I do know that I don’t have much faith that a collection of old writings, written by ignorant and bigoted men, has anything at all to do with finding God. In fact, in so many ways, they lead the other way.

One commenter wrote,

It is entirely possible to be a serious, devout Christian and still maintain an awareness that, however binding you may personally find the Bible, the next person is entitled [to] view things differently.

Of course that is true. Most serious, devout American Christians do believe people are entitled to view things differently. After all, we live in a country with a secular Constitution that values no religion over another, and most of us have been taught to respect the religious views of others.

But my argument is not about whether this or that religious dogmatist thinks others are or are not entitled to hold one view or another. I am not saying that zealous believers necessarily want the government to step in and demand that people become fellow fundamentalists and fanatics. My argument is with the zealotry, the fundamentalism, the fanaticism itself. It is about whether we should continue to leave unchallenged the views of people who say things like, “Without God, I am no one,” or, “The Bible is all I need in this life,” people who enslave themselves to their necessarily imperfect idea of God. And I especially think we should challenge the views of people who teach their children such dangerous and injurious ideas. Deliberately closing the minds of children, essentially drowning their imaginations in dogmatism, shouldn’t be something our 21st-century culture accepts in silence. We should object to it, and loudly.

In addition to all that, I think we should challenge religious dogma because—and this may be painful for some to hear—there is an element of narcissism involved in its expression. If you think about it, it is an amazing expression of egotism, even if it is in our culture a regrettably acceptable expression of egotism, to say after some personal escape from calamity, “God blessed me today.” Let me give you an example.

The Christian medical missionary, Dr. Kent Brantly, was recently released from the hospital, to much fanfare, after he was apparently cured of Ebola. No one can say for sure that it was the experimental drug he was given or whether it was his own immune system or some other treatment or mechanism that made him well. It even may have been the prayers that people offered up to God that did the trick. That is certainly what Dr. Brantly claimed:

…there were thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world praying for me throughout that week, and even still today…what I can tell you is that I serve a faithful God who answers prayers…Through the care of the Samaritan’s Purse and SIM missionary team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, and the expertise and resources of the health care team at Emory University Hospital, God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.

“God saved my life.” How often have we heard people say that? After the 2011 tornado here in Joplin, I heard that a lot. And I always wondered what those other people, those who didn’t survive the tornado, did to not deserve God saving their lives. And I wondered, when I heard Dr. Brantly talk, why those other people, now in the thousands, who have died or will die at the viral hands of Ebola, did to not deserve God’s blessings? Is Dr. Brantly’s life worth more to God than those others? Are those who survived the Joplin tornado worth more to God than those who didn’t?

People who claim that “God saved my life” should be challenged to explain why others were undeserving of such salvation. They should be challenged to explain why they were so special to the Creator Of The Universe. We would certainly challenge them if they said, “God exempted me from income taxes,” or “God has a plan for my life that includes being President of the United States.”

I submit to you that in any other context what Dr. Brantly said, and what some of those who survived the Joplin tornado said, would be taken as expressions of an unhealthy narcissism. But we don’t bat an eye when people talk that way about God saving them after an illness, a car wreck, or a horrific storm. And my argument is that we should bat an eye. In fact, both eyes, and say, “How do you know?” Or, more to the point, “How can you know?”

I will end this with a YouTube video that was put together by someone named Devon Tracey, an atheist (unfortunately, a much too dogmatic atheist) who took a presentation by Sam Harris and cleverly matched it with images and other video to make Harris’ speech on God and morality much more entertaining. Although there are some points I would quibble with, I urge you to watch with batting eyes:

I Can’t Think Of Anything That Better Demonstrates…Than Donald Trump

Last Wednesday, President Obama delivered a great speech to the Marines at Camp Pendleton in California. It was full of bravado—“We don’t get terrorized,” said the President—and, naturally, full of praise for the troops.

CNN and MSNBC covered Mr. Obama’s speech on Wednesday. But the Fox “News” Channel, the network where blondes and bravado meet to constantly (and ostensibly) celebrate our men and women in uniform, did not. Fox has a habit of ignoring the President’s speeches until its reactionary opinion makers have had a chance to comb through them in search of solecisms, socialism, and scandal.

What Fox did carry, as the President was finishing up his speech, was an interview with, uh, Donald Trump. Yes, as the President was telling the story of Captain Matthew Lampert—a Marine who lost both legs to an IED in Afghanistan, yet returned to his unit 18 months later—Fox’s Neil Cavuto was interviewing an ignorant birther buffoon who “stars” in his own “reality” TV show, if not his own reality.

I can’t think of anything that better demonstrates the hate-Obama-at-any-cost principle that guides Fox programming than ditching a presidential speech to the troops in favor of yet another talk with a decadent conspiracy nut.

That Fox interview was conducted a day after Trump played golf with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who enjoys both golf and golf-graft—the two played on Trump’s course and Trump reportedly has given $100,000 to a Boehner-related super PAC. At least this outing explains why Boehner can’t be bothered with negotiating with President Obama. The speaker has more important things to do.

I can’t think of anything that better demonstrates the sorry state of our politics than the most powerful Republican in the country slinking around the links with a Punchinello who pretends to run for president in order to stay relevant to right-wingers who somehow find his schtick interesting and enlightening, and to others who find it entertaining.

But that’s not all that is wrong with the right-wing these days. If you are so inclined, you can attend on Saturday—for only 49 bucks!—a “Family Leadership Summit” in Ames, Iowa, put on by a Christian group called The Family Leader. That group identifies itself this way:

The FAMiLY LEADER champions the principle that God is the ultimate leader of the family. Our goal at The FAMiLY LEADER is to honor and glorify God – not a political party, not a candidate, and not a program. The FAMiLY LEADER is a Christ-centered organization that leads with humility and service to strengthen and protect the family.

The Family Leadership Summit, put on by a group that says it is a non-partisan, Christ-centered organization, features Republicans like Chuck Grassley, Steve King, and Rick Santorum, as well as fast-rising reactionary Ted Cruz from Texas.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Highlighting the evening—the last speaker of the day—is that paragon of Christ-centered living, that champion of God-honoring and God-glorifying behavior, Donald Trump.

I can’t think of anything that better demonstrates how corrupt is American evangelicalism than inviting the thrice-married, gold-plated materialist-conspiracist to a “family leadership summit.” Jesus would be turning over in his grave, if he were still in there.

By the way. Trump is mad at NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd. Why? Todd, almost alone among TV journalists, dared to say of Trump that he is “one of the dumbest voices in politics” and said of his appearance in Iowa:

In the “here we go again,” the sideshow that is Donald Trump, he’s apparently showing up for another PR stunt. The question is: Will he drag it out for three years before he finally announces that he’s not running for president so he doesn’t have to turn over all of his business paperwork?

Trump returned Todd’s “one of the dumbest voices in politics” insult and then suggested that Todd was just mad because ABC’s This Week has, unbelievably, booked Donald Trump. Yes, the once-reputable Sunday talk show is now a forum for a clown.

I can’t think of anything that better demonstrates the poor quality of journalism these days.

Farting Jesus

I spent the first 16 years of my life living with this picture of Jesus:

heinrich hofmann jesus

Heinrich Hofmann’s 1890 “Christ in Gethsemane” graced the wall of our living room (okay, okay, it was a somewhat murkier copy) for all the time I lived at home. I stared at it often.

Look at Jesus sitting there, earnestly and majestically looking to heaven, with heaven looking back and lighting up his noggin’. This is the image I had of Jesus almost the entire time I was an evangelical Christian, a quaint mixture of earthiness—the slightly unkempt hair and the scraggly beard—and godliness—he could command supernaturally-lit attention from on high.

This picture, using an ancient inconographic technique, tells us that despite the messed-up hair and the wayward beard, Jesus wasn’t really like you and me. He was holiness on steroids.

I couldn’t help wondering, though, as a kid, if Jesus did ordinary things, things like take a piss or, well, worse. And when I wondered those things I felt guilty thinking about them, what with that halo and all.

In any case, the Jesus that many of us came to “know” was in so many ways the Untouchable Savior, in the sense that we were told that he was one-of-a-kind, without sin and without blemish. Tempted? Yes. Just like us. But Jesus never failed the test. He passed every time. Every time. Who could really relate to that? Who could, in ways that we would call personal, really know someone like that?

In all the Sunday school lessons I sat through, and then later all the sermons I endured—a few I even preached—I never heard anyone go so far as to say that we should think about a farting Jesus.

But let’s face it. Jesus passed gas. If he didn’t, he wasn’t like any man I know (and some women, but they shall remain nameless).

Now, we don’t have to think that Jesus was such a man that would deliberately, just for laughs, spray his disciples with the vapors, but maybe he did. After one such episode, I can imagine the rowdy Peter exclaiming,

Oh my God, Jesus! You needeth prayer!

Or something like that.

If any of this makes you cringe, don’t blame me. I started thinking about all this again when I read a piece on CNN’s Belief Blog by a bona fide right-wing fundamentalist big shot from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It was written by Johnnie Moore and titled, “Jesus was a dirty, dirty God,” and it began like this:

Jesus was a lot more like you than you think…

In order to make Jesus more you-like, Moore had the nerve to suggest to his “astounded colleagues” at Liberty that Jesus “might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.” I know why his colleagues were stunned because I am sure there are lots of people who can’t imagine Jesus taking a dump, let alone having severe diarrhea.

He wrote,

It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. We might believe that God was also man, but we picture him with an ever-present halo over his head.

Yes, that’s pretty much the way I pictured Jesus, thanks to Heinrich Hofmann and essentially a fundamentalist upbringing. But Moore had more:

The real Jesus had dirt underneath his fingernails and calluses on his hands. He probably smelled badly from sweating profusely in the Judean sun on his long hikes to Jerusalem…

This dirty, sweaty Jesus is not the Jesus you meet in Sunday school, at least in the churches I attended. He’s been cleaned up for American consumption, and for American exploitation, ultimately for Republican-American exploitation. The Jesus of the evangelical right, which was once my Jesus, and the one who presumably endorses the GOP platform, is not a farting Jesus.

Oddly, in his portrayal of a gritty savior, Moore let this slip:

He was the teacher from a small town who knew and understood the economic insecurity that was common in the first century.

Ah. Economic insecurity. Jesus knew and understood that, says Moore. And thus it’s fair to ask, since economic insecurity is also common here in the twenty-first century, does Jesus still know and understand it?

Liberty University, the place where Johnnie Moore works—he is a “professor of religion and vice president”—invited Mitt Romney, a man no one would seriously argue understands economic insecurity, to speak at last year’s graduation, right in the middle of a presidential campaign, despite the fact that the theology taught at the university clearly excludes Mormonism from the ranks of Christianity. Why would the university welcome him to speak?

But more than that, why would a Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping Christian university invite Donald Trump to address their Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping students last September? In fact, why would any university worthy of the name invite him to speak on any topic?

But speak he did, after he was reportedly introduced by Jerry Falwell, Jr., as one of the “greatest visionaries of our time.” I’m sure that made both Trump and GOP Jesus very proud.

Trump did not disappoint. Toward the end of his speech he told the more than ten-thousand gathered youthful Jesus-worshipers:

Don’t let people take advantage. Get even. And you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they’re going to say, ‘You know, I’m going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I’m going to let them alone because they’re tough customers.

Get even.” You know, in a weird sort of way, Trump has stumbled upon a great truth. “Get even” is God’s message in the Book of Revelation. But I digress.

After Trump’s remarks were criticized by offended true believers, some of them students who actually believe Liberty University stands for something spiritual, who actually believe that Jesus stood for something other than revenge, Trump’s spokesman, Michael Cohen, told ABC News:

I conferred with Johnnie Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the Bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character – just as Trump stated.

So now we know what Johnnie Moore really meant by his “dirty Jesus” claim. Not only did Jesus have dirt under his fingernails; not only did Jesus take a messy poop now and then; not only did Jesus get mad at the money changers; he actually got even with his enemies and, well, he apparently was a lot like Donald Trump!

Thus, here in twenty-first century America, we can see why Mitt Romney and Donald Trump were invited to speak at a fundamentalist university in an election year. The kids had to be introduced to the Jesus who endorses predatory capitalism, who endorses revenge, who endorses the contemporary values of the Republican Party.

And what better way of doing that than by introducing the kids to a couple of Republicans—both claiming to be Christians in good standing—who just happen to be very rich and who just happen to be unable to know or understand what Johnnie Moore said the biblical Jesus knew and understood: economic insecurity.

But the Republican-American Jesus knows nothing of that economic insecurity. He doesn’t sweat all that much, except at the gym. His fingernails are clean. There are no calluses on his hands. He is comfortable in board rooms and in corporate suites, the kinds of places where high-powered people meet to plan their next vulture capitalist adventure. He’s okay with folks who slander our black President as not being an American.

And when this Jesus farts, he often does so in bathrooms in buildings with TRUMP stamped all over them.

He too is a “dirty Jesus.” He just has a different kind of dirt on his hands.

Faith Without Republican Works Is Dead

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

—James 2:20

You couldn’t turn on a cable channel on Tuesday without seeing it: Franklin Graham, Billy’s boy, famously exposing his oh-so-gentlemanly spiritual suspicion of President Obama on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Graham, apparently God’s Prostestant arbiter of the Christian faith (the Pope has the rest covered), isn’t sure Obama is a Christian, but he is positive Rick Santorum is, and he thinks Newt Gingrich is, and as for Romney, well, he’s a Mormon, which is Christianity with a twist of lemon, and everybody knows that a Mormon lemon will ruin a good evangelical cocktail.

And while it is proper for journalists to expose Graham’s metaphysical booshwa and his bearing false witness against a Jesus Bro, who happens to be President of God’s Country, the truth is that this is not at all surprising.

There is only one brand of Christianity that evangelicals like Graham are obliged to acknowledge as genuine. And that is the kind that has an “R” after it, as in “Jesus (R-Heaven)”— Romney’s Savior’s I.D., bless his Mormon heart, might read: “Jesus (R-Kolob)”

Democrats cannot be Christians by contemporary evangelical standards, unless they change their views on, say, abortion and homosexuality and guns and, as has been the case lately, laissez-faire economics. Of course, if Democrats changed their views on all those things then they would be Republicans, and thus by default Christians. Get it?

It’s all so easy when you have G-O-P stamped on your forehead like a political Mark of the Beast.

Unable to confidently confirm Obama’s Christianity and “categorically deny” that the President is a Muslim, Graham said,

Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.

Free pass? Yep, that’s right, and Mr. Graham can confirm his claim by strapping on an aqualung and visiting the bottom of the North Arabian Sea, where what’s left of Osama bin Laden rests courtesy of a free pass from Mr. Obama.

In any case, what may go unnoticed in Graham’s appearance on Morning Joe is his utterly contradictory definition of Christianity, which is a perfect example of what has bedeviled the Christian church since God first emailed parts of the New Testament to the Apostle Paul and James the Just.

Graham first defined Christianity this way:

A Christian is a person who believes that Jesus Christ is God’s son, who died on the cross for our sins, who God raised to life, and that if we put our faith and trust in him, then God will forgive us of our sins. Now, that’s the definition of a Christian.

Then later, responding to the skepticism of journalist John Heilemann, who offered to Graham’s face that the preacher was exhibiting an “amazing double standard” in regards to being certain that Rick Santorum was a Christian and uncertain that Obama was, Graham said,

You have to look at what a person does with his life. Anyone can say that he’s a Christian. You look at—do they live—where do they go and act?

And later,

…you have to go by what a person says and how they live their life and where they go to church. Are they faithful church goers? Or do they just go when the camera’s are on them? That sort of thing.

It’s the old “faith versus works” thing. If Obama says he has the faith, then having works to go with it becomes essential. And the works in this case are defined by mostly white guys with non-exotic names.

Now, it is true that Mr. Graham said, “Obama is a nice man…and his wife is a class act and their kids are classy; you can’t help but like them,” but it was clear that he realized he had dug himself a rather deep theological hole and he was attempting to climb out and hide the shovel before anyone noticed.

Look, I am sure that Franklin Graham is in his normal life a wonderful human being and an outstanding citizen.  But he, like most evangelical leaders, has so grafted his Christian faith on the Republican tree that he can’t help what happened to him on Morning Joe on Tuesday.

And what happened to him was an embarrassment not only to him, but to his father and his faith and his political party, and most important, to his country.

What Would Jesus Do At The Border?

God that made the world and all things therein…hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth… ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being’; as certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.'”

—Paul the Apostle, speaking to the philosophers of Athens


Herman Cain, a joke of a presidential candidate, told a joke—or not—about electrocuting folks foolish enough to want to sneak into America while Republicans are in charge of the country.

About his 20-foot high border fence—which would take a gazillion years to build—Cain, a Baptist minister, said:

It’s going to have barbed wire on top. It’s going to be electrocuted, electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you.

Just as soon as your belly laugh has subsided over that thigh-slappin’ gag presented by a favorite of the Christian values community, try to think about this: Is it worse to tell a joke about electrocuting Mexicans at the border or actually doing it?

Well, we’re still not sure what Cain’s intentions were, but does it really matter?

I’m going to go out on a theological limb here and say that maybe, just maybe, Jesus wouldn’t exactly endorse a 20-foot high barbed wire fence designed to send him more dark-skinned company in the hereafter. 

In any case, the Republican Party—replete with Christian moralists—is conducting something like a war against those who desire to come to America and work, particularly if they are from south of our border.  And when I think about Christians and war, I think of Charles Sumner, who was one of the greatest of Americans, not least because he was one of the greatest of Republicans.

In his famous 1845 anti-war speech, the soon-to-be U.S. Senator said:

It is Plato, reporting the angelic wisdom of Socrates, who declares in one of those beautiful dialogues, which shine with stellar light across the ages, that it is more shameful to do a wrong than to receive a wrong.  And this benign sentiment commends itself alike to the Christian who is told to render good for evil, and to the universal heart of man.

But who that confesses its truth, can vindicate a resort to force for the sake of honor? Better far to receive the blow that a false morality has thought degrading, than that it should be revenged by force. Better that a nation should submit to what is wrong, rather than vainly seek to maintain its honor by the great crime of war.

But Charles Sumner wasn’t just speaking to American Christians.  He spoke to all Americans when he suggested a painful truth about patriotism:

There is still another influence which stimulates war, and interferes with the natural attractions of Peace; I refer to a selfish and exaggerated love of country. Our minds, nursed by the literature of antiquity, have imbibed the narrow sentiment of heathen patriotism. Exclusive love for the land of birth was a part of the religion of Greece and Rome. It is an indication of the lowness of their moral natures, that this sentiment was so exclusive.


It has been a part of the policy of rulers to encourage this exclusive patriotism; and the people of modern times have each inherited the feeling of Antiquity. I do not know that any one nation is in a condition to reproach the other with this patriotic selfishness. All are selfish…

I do not inculcate an indifference to country. We incline, by a natural sentiment, to the spot where we were born, to the fields which witnessed the sports of childhood, to the seat of youthful studies, and to the institutions under which we have been trained… This sentiment is independent of reflection, for it begins before reflection, grows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength. It is blind in its nature; and it is the duty of each of us to take care that it does not absorb the whole character.

We find that God has not placed us on this earth alone; that there are other nations, equally with us, children of his protecting care. It is not because I love country less, but Humanity more, that I plead the cause of a higher and truer patriotism. Remember that you are men, by a more sacred bond than you are citizens; that you are children of a common Father more than you are Americans.

Whatever you think of Charles Sumner’s sentiments, they represent something closer to what I understand Christianity to be than what Herman Cain and other conservative American Christians, jokingly or not, have become.

I’ll let Sumner have the last word:

But Christianity not only teaches the superiority of Love over Force; it positively enjoins the practice of the one, and the rejection of the other. It says, “love your neighbors;” but it does not say, “in time of Peace rear the massive fortification, build the man of war, enlist armies, train the militia, and accumulate military stores to be employed in future quarrels with your neighbors.” Its precepts go still further. They direct that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us — a golden rule for the conduct of nations as well as individuals…


Jesus Christ Supersocialist

A commenter on my post, “The Socialist Capital Of Missouri: Joplin,” wrote:

I would submit the idea that Christ would be in favor of socialism!

It so happens that Gregory Paul, who knows a little something about sociological research, wrote a piece for The Washington Post a few days ago that addressed the Jesus-as-socialist idea.

In fact, Paul went further and questioned “a set of profound contradictions” that “have developed within modern conservative Christianity.” If that critique sounds familiar to readers of this blog, it is because I, a former conservative, evangelical Christian, have offered the same criticisms.

Paul wrote:

Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations. And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand, who was one of – and many of whose followers are — the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get. Meanwhile many Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinistic strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to, well, social Darwinism!

He then goes on to discuss chapters 2 and 4 of the book of Acts in the New Testament, especially:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Paul comments:

Now folks, that’s outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx—who likely got the general idea from the gospels.

The pro-capitalist Christians who are aware of these passages wave them away even though it is the only explicit description of Christian economics in the Bible.

Mr. Paul also comments on the odd affection that a lot of Bible-toting evangelicals and fundamentalists have for the rabid atheist Ayn Rand:

…many influential conservative Christians have embraced her expressly atheistic theory of Objectivism that in her books such as The Virtue of Selfishness, they propose that government must be shrunk to a bare minimum so socially Darwinist that it dances with anarchy. Only then can entrepreneurial greed have the free run that liberty demands…

In the Randian hyper-materialistic world those who are on the financial make are the exalted makers, the impoverished that accept tax payer assistance are parasitic takers who need to fend for themselves. A radical modernist ideology in greater antithesis to the traditional scriptural favoring of the poor over the rich can hardly be imagined. Yet the economics of the plutocratic Republican Party that embraces the Christian, anti-Darwinist creationist right are essentially those of the uberatheist, anti-creationist, Darwin-adoring Christianity-loathing Ayn Rand. So we have Christian creationists like Jay Richards writing books titled Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. Can a stranger amalgam of opposing opinions be devised?

Can a stranger amalgam of opposing opinions be devised?” No.  And I experienced that strange amalgam first-hand here in Joplin at the April Tea Party rally.  A state legislator from Springfield, Eric Burlison, spoke to those gathered and mentioned his enthusiasm for Ayn Rand. I wrote at the time:

I can’t be the only one who finds irony in the fact that a man like Eric Burlison—a “pro-life” Christian who advertises that he gives back to the community by “serving” and “volunteering“—is behind a podium at a Tea Party event extolling the philosophy of a godless “baby-killer,” who would openly ridicule and scorn Mr. Burlison’s work on behalf of Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Ronald McDonald House.

I can’t be the only one.”  No, as it turns out.

And thank God for that.

Just Do The Math: The End Is Here

By now, most of you have heard that the world as we know it will end on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

That’s because Harold Camping, a former civil engineer and now president of something called Family Radio, has calculated that Noah’s flood happened in 4990 B.C., and through a series of obviously inspired inferences he determined that “the wrath of God” will destroy the world in just a couple of days. 

Here is his math, in case you are a skeptic:

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

It’s really that simple.  Just believe, my doubting friends.

Now, I don’t want to make fun of Mr. Camping, or those foolish followers of his who are spending their fortunes to warn the rest of us of our impending doom.  They will suffer enough come Sunday morning.

Or will they?

Anyone who has been around true-believers in the God of the Bible knows that there is no evidence that can ever be adduced that would convince them that their conception of God might possibly be in error.  Camping himself apparently tried this the-end-is-here business once before in 1994, a false prophecy that was subsequently reinterpreted by believers.  Thus, all evidence proves that God is good, that he is kind, that he is Love.  Even God’s willful destruction of billions of folks on Saturday has a silver lining, according to Camping:

…the Bible assures us that many of the people who do beg God for His mercy will not be destroyed. We learn from the Bible that Holy God plans to rescue about 200 million people (that is about 3% of today’s population). On the first day of the Day of Judgment (May 21, 2011) they will be caught up (raptured) into Heaven because God had great mercy for them.

You see? God is good. No matter what he does.

But that kind of reasoning, that all evidence vindicates the Jewish-Christian-Muslim conception of God, is not just confined to a few poor souls who have been travelling the world, spending their life savings, warning that the end is almost here.  It is a part of the mental lives of a majority of Americans.

A video-story on CNN’s “belief blog” titled, “Faith unshaken by tornado,” related how a man aptly named Joe Southern, standing in the midst of the “mangled metal and shattered sheetrock” of his tornado-damaged Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was nevertheless unfazed:

I really don’t think God does stuff like this to his church or his people.  I think it just, it occurs. He may allow it to happen for a purpose.  It’s our belief that it will make us stronger as a church…My belief now is stronger than it was two or three days ago simply because of this: People have a tendency to gravitate toward God in a situation like this. They look for some help, some sense of belonging, I think will go a long ways toward bringing them closer to God.

Joe Southern is not a bad man for conceiving of a God who might “allow” for a “purpose” a tornado to do so much damage.  In all likelihood Joe is a good man, a man you would want as your neighbor, a man who would go out of his way to help someone in need.  Odds are that no matter how busy Joe Southern was on April 27, he would, if he were in God’s place, not allowed that horrific tornado to pass through Tuscaloosa and kill 41 people, even if in some peculiar theological moment he thought there might be a good reason—a purpose—for doing so. 

Joe Southern just doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. And God forbid that anyone think that he would actually create the tornado and send it on its deadly path.

Yet, Joe does believe it’s possible that God, a being Joe understands as possessing unquestionable goodness and love for humanity, is that kind of guy.  Apparently, it is possible that God would sit back and watch the Tuscaloosa tornado and others across the area do unfathomable damage, not only to Joe’s church, but to Joe’s fellow-citizens, some of them children.  That destruction and death, divinely preventable under any Christian conception of God, is contained in Joe Southern’s tragic, but widely held, idea about the Almighty:

He may allow it to happen for a purpose.

So, as Saturday, May 21, comes and goes and we are still here, as the Joe Southerns of the world live on to bravely clean up the mess from tornadoes and floods and other natural disasters, I suppose we should be thankful that God, in his mercy or perhaps because he had better things to do or perhaps because he is deaf to our prayers, decided not to follow the timeline of a former civil engineer from California and kill most of us.

He must have a purpose in making a fool out of Harold Camping and his fellow believers.

Dave Ramsey: “I’m Doubt Free!!!!!!”

Dave Ramsey is famous for telling people to get out of debt and live like paupers until they do. Of course, if everyone followed his advice, our economy would look quite different today.  But never mind that.

Ramsey should know something about the subject of debt since he had to file bankruptcy in the late 1980s due to creditors demanding that he pay them back a lot of money he owed them. 

So, how did he become so famous, and so rich, today?  Why, naturally he started counseling folks on how not to end up in bankruptcy like he did, that’s how.  And he wrote books.  And he started a radio show, which is on hundreds of stations around the country.  People call him up and sometimes scream, “I’m debt free!!!!!!

As far as that goes, more power to him.  Everyone should profit from their mistakes in life, as far as I’m concerned.  I wish I could figure out a Ramsey-esque way to handsomely profit from years of slurping up conservative nonsense, but nothing comes readily to mind.

Anyway, along with Ramsey’s mostly common-sense advice, he often mixes in a little Christianity and a lot of dead-certain right-wing political philosophy.

His financial advice column in today’s Joplin Globe was no exception:

Dear Dave,

I recently lost my job due to layoffs. I’m luckier than most, because I’m debt-free except for my house, and I have three months of expenses saved. I’ll also receive a severance package from my former employer, and my wife still has her job. I’m struggling with whether or not to file for unemployment compensation. Do you think it’s morally okay to do this?


Now, I’ve always been curious as to why folks like “Brent” would write a complete stranger and ask him for moral advice.  I find that a little weird.  It seems to me that if you’re morally confused or conflicted about something, you might want to talk to someone close to you, who knows you and your situation a little better than a guy sitting behind a microphone, or who might be hunched over a keyboard in his dark basement clad in Scooby-Doo skivvies with a bag of cheese puffs pecking out Iron Age wisdom with carrot-colored fingers.

In any case, here is part of Ramsey’s reply:

Dear Brent,

I don’t have a problem, morally or otherwise, with accepting something I’ve already paid for. The Social Security system in this country is a complete and abysmal mathematical failure. It’s proof that socialism doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my money out. The government took it from me in the first place!

You will note that poor Brent did not ask for a lecture on the evils of Social Security or socialism, nor did he ask for commentary on government “taking” taxes like a common thief.  He simply wanted to know if it were moral, given Brent’s obvious sympathy with Ramsey’s Christian world view, to apply for an unemployment check.

No doubt, Ramsey gave Brent the assurance he was probably looking for, despite his internal conflict.  Brent knew that his personal right-wing quasi-biblical philosophy obligated him to reject taking “something for nothing,” and getting unemployment benefits seems like getting something for nothing.  But Dave made it okay for him to indulge, just this one time at least.*

But I have the response that Ramsey, if he followed the logic of his worldview, should have given Brent:

Dear Brent,

What kind of deadbeat are you?  You sound like an Obama supporter to me. No wonder your boss cut you loose.  You should just be grateful that your kind and godly employer gave you a parting gift and not participate in that socialistic unemployment compensation scheme.  That’s for losers.

And by the way, that’s what’s wrong with this country.  People like you who want to live at other people’s expense. Why don’t you go find a job?  And don’t tell me there aren’t any jobs out there.  Go down to McDonald’s and ask them if you can clean their toilets for three bucks and hour.  That’s better than sitting around on your liberal keister soaking up funds you don’t deserve.  How long do you think the producers of this world are going to keep taking care of lazy people like you?

God bless,



* Oddly, the Dave Ramseys of the world, who presumably believe in the sacrificial efforts of Jesus to save the world, have no problem with taking salavation–which they didn’t earn themselves–from the Savior.

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