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Justice and Life as an Exercise in Exceptions: Faith in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. Our founders realized how easily it could happen, they warned about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted. In fact, his followers are for more dangerous thanTrump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Religious Fanaticism and Politics: The Danger of the “True” Believers

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

That is why I tend to get spun up about the way that some people use their religion as a weapon in public life and politics. This happens around the world and frankly there is nothing good in it regardless of who is doing it or what religion they are using to subjugate or attempt to subjugate others, particularly religious minorities.

In fact it was on this day, October 14th 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where church and state were one enacted the first punitive laws against the Quakers, who they believed to spiritually apostate and subversive. The interesting thing is that the political and theological descendants of the Puritans who enacted those laws held a major political conference this weekend, they called it the Value Voter’s Summit. While religious liberty was a major theme of that conference it was not the religious liberty of all, simply theirs which they believe is superior to others and should be the established state religion.

Since I have written numerous other articles about the dangers that I see in what they term the Dominionist or Reconstructionist movement and the Seven Mountains theology I will not dwell on that here. Instead I will share some insights I have based on my interaction with individuals who believe that no religious rights except for their understanding of Christianity should be legal in the United States.

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

After I wrote an article about two years ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

I found it amazing to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator was obviously a very angry person. So I decided to search Facebook and Google search and in about 5 minutes I found more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded: “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”

Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man blasted the Founders in their views of religious liberty on a Tea Party blog: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

baptistpersecutionvirginia01

Anglican Persecution of Virginia Baptists

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and likewise some on the political left as well as other more extreme hate groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I wish that they would consider this before they attempt to destroy the country in order to save it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Revisiting the Gift of Religious Liberty: The Danger posed by Fanatics

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

A couple of days ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

It is amazing to me to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator is a very angry person and a search Facebook and a Google search that took all of about 5 minutes told me more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded. “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”  Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man who on other Tea Party blogs practically deifies the Founders says of them regarding religious liberty: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and in the Occupy Movement as well as other even more extreme groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion