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The Heretic: Padre Steve Critiques the Christian Sub-Culture

I guess I am a heretic. It is a hard thing to admit but I will have to join the ranks of heretics tonight as I attempt to pass my yet as unnamed Kidney stone. I have had some interesting suggestions so far and if you have one for the 7mm by 4mm unnamed stone please feel free to suggest it.  Today I say my family practice doctor who put in a Urology consult and told me to come back Thursday morning if there is no change, to go to the ER if things get worse and who sent me home for two more days until the next appointment. I can only say that it is hurting and I do hope that pain and sleep medications will help me sleep tonight since I did not last night.

Since selves are very hard to help I am amazed daily with the latest self help books “baptized” with a smattering of Bible verses which are marketed to the hungry hordes that inhabit our Late Great Planet Earth. At the risk of offending everyone who knows and loves these books and yea verily even patterns their life after them as if they were the Scriptures themselves I have decided to write about this subject.  I have seldom discussed this with anyone outside my wife, the Abby Normal Abbess and a few brother miscreant Priests and un-named heretical co-conspirators.   As heretics who buck the party line we generally keep these conversations among ourselves in order not to offend the brethren and the sisteren. But today I just decided to say the heck with it all and be bold, yet hopefully funny in looking at these phenomena.  Of course the Christian Taliban will pronounce me a heretic worthy of death for venturing to criticize the holy writ contained therein.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s Evangelical Christians of who I once was began to crawl out of the typical Bible thumping, cheap suit and revival meeting evangelist look.  Evangelicals, driven on by early Christian rock groups and artists dared to get contemporary.  At first this was confined to dressing like regular people including hippies and to adopting relatively recent pop, rock or country music styles.  Of course while motives were good and the early pioneers did good work much of it because of a lack of theological and philosophical depth was really pretty shallow.  “Jesus loves me yeh, yeh, yeh, Jesus loves me, yeh, yeh yeh and he loves you too…” and other equally inspired lyrics.  Believe me I know this because I had a lot of the albums of the early artists.  However, they were a light years above and beyond some of the crap that came later as real record labels like MCA swallowed up Christian labels such as Maranatha, Light, Sparrow, Birdwing and Word.  After that even the innocent shallowness of some of the early groups was lost amid the focus on market share, image, ratings and corporate profit.  Of course since Capitalism is of God, or at least as its “Christian” supporters claim notwithstanding the fact that is it simple economic social Darwinism.  At the same time there were some good conservative Christian thinkers of various traditions who advocated a more active engagement with contemporary society including Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus. They were all learned and humble Christian men, unfortunately many who claim to be their successors have neither the training, temperament nor the Christian character of these men.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big issue with Christians finding common ground in anything, including music, the arts or even the sciences.  I just prefer that it retain some sense of theological, philosophical and Biblical integrity when it does so, especially when Christians assume a tacit moral. Spiritual and artistic superiority over “non-believers” in said areas.   Sorry Mr. Christian Taliban if you say the secular pioneers of a field of study are in Hell and you somehow have baptized their methods it is a clear example of assuming a moral, spiritual or intellectual superiority over the benighted unbelievers, heretics and infidels.  Such actions have no integrity, no Christian character or superiority to the people condemned to Hell (i.e. Freud, Jung, Maslow, Jung or Adler.)

Of course this branched out into other areas of life including and especially pop-psychology and self-help. Christian groups who had previously loathed and condemned to Hell or as a minimum darned to Heck anything to do with the disciplines of Psychiatry or Psychology embraced them like a blow up love doll, not content with the real thing but finding something less effective but at least buttressed by a few Bible verses. The fact that insurance will pay for at least part of it if you get a state license is even better. When actual therapy, even Christian counseling or therapy fails there are the latest in Christian Self-Help titles to satiate the soul and make everyone feel better or worse of they don’t measure up to what the Christian Self-Help industry promoters claim.

What really drove this was seeing friends Romans and countrymen flock to these baptized self-help books as if they were the latest editions of the Word of God printed in heaven and distributed by the Archangel Gabriel himself.  Now this may be a bit of an over-reach on my part for literary purposes but I think in some cases it is not far off the mark.  I don’t for a moment presume that everyone who finds meaning and value in these books has crossed this line into obsession but I am amazed with the almost cultic hold that they have over some people and ministries.  I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me as a Priest if I have read….fill in the blank.  Since my theological or inspirational reading usually deals with Church History, Ethics, Christology written by German theologians whose names start with “B” the early Church Fathers and Folks like Martin Luther as well as books by Henri Nouwen or one of the plethora of Father Andrew Greeley “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mysteries that I own, I have to no recourse but to say “NO” as my interests lay elsewhere.  Another line that I might use is that I’ve heard from people that name the book is supposed to be good.  In either case I am being honest.  This being said the next line from the person asking me is “well, you should, you’d really like it” or something similar.  I am always polite as I genuinely hope that they are getting something good out of these works and that the Deity Herself is using them in their lives.  I would after all patently hope that they have not wasted their hard earned money on a bunch of theological tepidness in light of our current economic difficulties.

What gets me in most cases is not the actual content of the books in question which especially in the case of the Purpose Driven Life or the Five Love Languages to be pretty benign, though I have heard some folks really hammer these books and their authors.  My concern is the almost hypnotic grip that these and other “method” promoting books have on their readers.  I have seen places where there are extended classes and seminars that go through the Purpose Driven Life or The Five Love Languages or any one of a number of other books where week after week people drag out their notebooks, Palm Pilots or whatever means of electronic note taking that they have and studiously listen and share about the book in question.  While Bible study is an ingrained feature of Evangelical Protestant life, it seems to me that these books are almost replacing Bible study with the study of what someone says that the Bible teaches.  Now this isn’t new at all as one only has to look at the number of books on the Rapture and Second coming by the multitude of “prophecy experts” to see this.  Again, I say that I find the contents of the Purpose Driven Life and the Five Love Languages to be rather benign, my concern is the importance being given to them which sometimes to me seems to border on cultic.  The list can go on especially in light of the books allegedly written by popular televangelists but certainly written by more literate but equally insipid and theological, philosophical and Biblical ghost writers who hope that their work will sell. After all it is all about the bottom line.  As a mega-church pastor told Chuck Colson when asked why he didn’t tackle difficult subjects “They pay me to fill the church.”

My feeling in regard to the Prayer of Jabez industry is another matter.  This is simply narcissistic prosperity gospel teaching repackaged for a new audience.  This book takes an incredibly minor prayer by an equally minor character (1 Chronicles 4: 9,10) and turns it into a revolutionary means of getting God to bless us.  It has spun off a whole line of targeted versions for every gender and ethnic group as well as kids and even a women’s Study Bible. Likewise it has spun off an array of merchandise apparently modeled on Yogurt’s marketing of Spaceballs merchandise.  The merchandise could be found in the “Jabez Junk” section of your local Christian book, music and novelty shop and included key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist’s conception of Jabez himself. A line of jewelry was introduced in 2002.  I found the whole thing deeply offensive and felt it to be a crass attempt by the author and the publishers to make money off of the flock of God.  I knew of pastors who spent years with their congregations dealing with the Prayer of Jabez. I wonder what they would have accomplished had they actually been teaching their congregations actual Christian doctrine, ethics and responsibility. But what can I say…mediocrity sells when slickly packaged and marketed…beats real study and responsible scholarship every time.  God forbid we actually deal with difficult stuff.  Until then if it sells its swell, but if I want to make money off the flock of God I’ll just do it the old fashioned way and ask for a “love offering.”   Maybe I should post a Pay-Pal link on this site so I can make some money too? After all it is better to receive than give isn’t it?

Fortunately for me and maybe unfortunately for others I have a rather twisted way of looking at life, which some of kindred spirit find amusing and those not find offensive.  I cannot for the life of me get around odd thoughts that occur when I see these books which is nowhere more evident than when I hear the words the Five Love Languages. Unfortunately my mind goes to the movie A Fish Called Wanda where Jamie Lee Curtis (who I have always found to be hot) plays an American in England who is let us say sexually excited by her lovers speaking in foreign languages.  In the case of the movie Kevin Kline speaking faux Italian and John Cleese who speaks Russian.  Thus when my office mate in Iraq was running a series of Five Love Language seminars for Marines and Sailors who were stationed at the base that I operated from I had a hard time keeping a straight face.  The chaplain was a very good guy and eventually I confessed what had been running through my mind and he did have a good sense of humor about it and began to laugh when he recalled the movie.  I guess my five love languages would be German, Dutch, Gaelic, Klingon and Romulan, I’ll have to try them on the Abbess sometime.

Until then I’ll just have to wage a battle in my mind to discover the purpose that drives my life while I navigate the Battlefield of the Mind, extend my tent out to cover the five love languages on this the late great planet Earth as I learn to discipline the Strong Willed Child.

Now let me add something.  I am not opposed to orthodox or even fundamental beliefs so long as they are not used as a weapon against those who don’t agree with them as if we were unbelievers or infidels.  Nor am I opposed to them if they are not used as fodder for someone else’s political agenda. I actually am a moderate and theologically Orthodox Anglo Catholic Christian. My faith is based on a high view of Scripture, Sacred Traditions including the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils and Reason.  Unfortunately most of the mass produced “Christian” crap is neither based on the total witness of Holy Scripture, does not match what faith has been proclaimed since the beginning of the Church and often is befit of reason. Instead it is personal interpretations of proof texted Bible verses cobbled together in isolation from the rest of the Christian faith, tradition and testimony of nearly 2000 years. If someone wants to pick a fight with me on that they can but they are on shaky ground.

God I love how a bunch of good Gordon Biersch beer helps me express my thoughts especially when trying to pass a big Kidney Stone.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

PS. No offense intended even if it was taken. Or is it the other way around?

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