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The Antidote to Theocracy and Authoritarian Dictatorship Done in the Name of Any God: The Virginia Statute of Religious Rights

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Two hundred and thirty four years ago, in the year 1786, the the legislature of the Commonwealth Of Virginia ratified a law written by Thomas Jefferson. It was the precursor to the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses Of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is the antithesis of, and the antidote to all theocratic movements, to include contemporary Christian Nationalism and it’s close cousin Christian Dominionism, or as it is sometimes called Seven Mountains Theology.

Jefferson, James Madison, and their Virginia Baptist ally, John Leland understood the threat to a republic such as ours posed by religious theocrats of any type, to include Christians.

The Virginia statute was necessitated by militant Anglicans who desired to re-establish themselves as the state religion in Virginia and had gone about using physical violence against various dissenters, especially Virginia’s Baptist minority. It is fascinating, in a frightening and grotesque sense of the word to see Virginia Baptists like Jerry Falwell Jr., and other Evangelical leaders of the Free Church tradition, including Pat Robertson, Franklin Gresham, Paula White, John Hagee, Robert Jeffress, Rick Wiles, and a host of other contemporary theocrats interpreting Religious Freedom in a manner similar to the Anglicans of Virginia in the 1780s, or in the manner of all Christians who follow the path of Constantine.

Not all of these religious leaders are Baptists, but many are independents, charismatics, Pentecostals, and other conservative Evangelicals of many denominations have thrown their lot in the hat of theocracy and authoritarian rule.

Such was the warning of the great Southern Baptist Pastor and seminary president George Truett, who wrote:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The Virginia Statute stood in complete opposition to theocratic minded Americans then, and now. The statute which I post below in its entirety is must reading for anyone who thinks that they understand what the founders of the United States believed about religious liberty:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened 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. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Please, take some time to let those words sink in, especially if you think that religious liberty is only for people of your favorite religion, or the one that you belong to. The fact is, that those who established religious liberty in the United States, many of them like John Leland, professing Christians, did not think that religious liberty was for the powerful, or those who wanted to dominate others on the basis of religion wedded to government and political power.

Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

With that I bid you a good night, or maybe a troubling one. It all depends on ones perspective. I don’t say that lightly; but really, considering my vivid dreams, nightmares, and night terrors brought on by PTSD and a neurological condition that ensures that those dreams, nightmares, and terrors are acted out when I am in REM sleep, maybe it is a necessary step to healing.

If you value freedom those words may be hopeful; but if you don’t, they are a threat, a threat of unlimited government and religious power. The fact is, that all of us, regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack thereof must take them to heart when we proclaim our loyalty to the Constitution, and our belief in the First Amendment to it, if we don’t we actively proclaim our opposition to the ideals of our Founders, but I digress. The simple fact and problem is that authoritarians and theocrats hate the First Amendment, and have to twist it to ensure that only their rights are protected and enhanced. However, the Virginia Statute ,and the First Amendment at meant by the Founders, threatens their desires of theocracy and unbridled state power, and so long as we believe it and fight for it, undermines their power. My friends, if you know history, that is not a bad thing. As John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”,

Think about it, the police power of the state married to religion. For God’s sakes, we are not Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, the perverted Shinto of Imperial Japan, the Tsarist and Putin’s Russia, or any other state that relies on the unwavering loyalty of its religious majority, or powerful minority, to maintain power. In time they all come crashing down, as will Trump’s Cult.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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It Will Happen Again: The Holocaust and Trump’s “Christian” Supporters


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Today I received a forwarded email from a well known Jewish friend who represents the religious rights of many, mostly Christians in the military. It was one of the most despicable Anti-Semitic, racist, and Nazi-like screeds that I have read in a long time. He gets hundreds like it daily. It used the language of Joseph Goebbels and other Nazis referring to his “Jewish looks,” other blatantly racist and religious comments that might appear in Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, nearly pornographic. Whoever wrote the email also included some very disturbing theocratic Christian views and referred to my friend as a Christ Killer and member of the Tribe, both terms used widely among the Nazis.

The historian Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The sad thing is that many of the most active Anti-Semites are Christians, or people who label themselves as Christians, who often echo the words and Tweets of President Trump and many of his conservative Christian supporters. Such people people beat their chest and loudly proclaim their support for the State of Israel, but such support is only to usher in Armageddon, the annihilation of two thirds of living Jews, and the conversion of the survivors to Christianity. It is a theology of genocide. It is a theology that has allowed Christians since the time of Constantine to use the police power of the state and its military organizations to exterminate Jews, or any sect that opposes them to commit great acts of systematic murder in the name of Jesus.

It is no wonder to me that a man like my friend who actually stands for the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the actual beliefs of the Founders who did not create a “Christian nation,”  is targeted by such people.  The great Virginia Baptist, John Leland, who was in large part responsible for the Bill of Rights, and the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment 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.”

My friend is constantly threatened by supposed Christians, who are no doubt more nationalist and members of the Trump Cult than they are Christians, as were the German Christians, the official Christianity of Naziism.

But the Nazis weren’t the only ones to have such visions of religious superiority aided by the police power of the state.

Gary North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Christian Dominionist movement and a long time adviser to Ron and Rand Paul and other conservative Christian politicians wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.

That is not a criticism of the President, he is an opportunist who understands the insatiable needs of his supporters better than they do. The President really doesn’t believe a word of Christian doctrine, or exhibit one iota of Christian morality or ethics, as a businessman he just realizes an easy mark, a gullible customer, willing to believe whatever he says because he tickles their ears with what they want to hear. He is being what he is, while they are denying their faith and God, while at the same time aiding and abetting the persecution of American Jews.

It is late, I am tired, but believe me, the Anti-Semitism of the Holocaust was not an abnormality, but an ever present reality, even and maybe especially in the United States and Europe because we so easily forget and believe the lies of Holocaust deniers. Oh, I forget to mention, as Yehuda Bauer did. so well, that these people not only despise Jews, they are equal opportunity haters, willing to exterminate anyone who does not agree with them, including Christians. Please don’t blame the President for a more than a millennium of Anti-Semitism and alleged hatred and persecution of supposed heretics by Christians who wield the sword of the state in one hand and their particular versions of the Bible in the other. He’s just shrewd enough of a con-man to scam religious con-men.  If the stakes weren’t freedom and life itself I would think it amusing. But hopefully they will turn on each other before they can destroy the ever expanding idea of liberty that our flawed founders believed in.

So, until tomorrow, I wish you the best,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Freedom of Religion and the Yuck Factor: American Religious Theocrats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher 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 fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

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, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As 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 that as Picard said, “that life itself 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 those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. 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.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen 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.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know 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, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

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.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: 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 and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing 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.”

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is the King” Musings of a Flawed Man

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past year or so this site has picked up a good number of new subscribers and sadly most of us will never get a chance to sit back and enjoy good intellectual conversation over a good craft or German beer or a nice bottle of wine. So if you would sit back and over whatever your favorite beverage may be take the time to let me wax eloquently about how the writer that you follow here got to be what he is.

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he sometimes does the right thing for wrong reasons as well as the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts. I am also a career military officer who has been to war, come back from war different and hates it. But I also realize that as much of an evil as war is, that there are sometimes worse evils than war itself.  That being said I find the thought of someone, perhaps like President Trump launching the world into a nuclear war with North Korea to be opposed at all costs by anyone with at least half of a functioning brain. My loyalty to the Constitution and the American people far outweigh any need that I might have to ingratiate myself to any would be tyrant.

Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. I wasn’t always this way but it was my experience in Iraq that turned the tide and turned me into a progressive. Usually people get more conservative as they get older, that’s not me. I got liberal, started caring about civil rights for everyone, the growing economic inequity between the richest and everyone else, and rejected the theocratic leanings of some leaders of my former church. At a point in my life where I should by all means have become even more conservative based on my social status, education, and income, I went the opposite direction. I am not alone, I read an article that Tom Ricks wrote in 2014 in which he said very similar things to me. I personally know others who have made the same journey.

But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am certainly not a revolutionary. Thus unlike zealots who I might agree with I tend take the time to wrestle with the issue and not react out of emotion or illogic. Even if I agree with someone I hate it when they through emotion or illogic make stupid arguments that are all to easy to dissect or discredit; not because they are wrong on the issue but because they don’t argue their point well. Let me explain.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know because I make no pretense of being a saint. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. I live in a world of shades of gray.

I love trying to understand all sides of a position which of course makes me a terrible ideologue, and even worse I love the thrill when I embarrass an ideologue of any kind using reason, logic, and throwing in the appropriate emotional twist to make it sweet. I discovered this as a short, introverted, history nerd in high school and college. I found that in debate classes I could take the opposite side of what I really believed and shred the person advocating for the exact position that I really believed due to my then rather fundamentalist Christian worldview; like my support of pro-life position of being against abortion and for the death penalty at the same time. It was in arguing the opposite side that I discovered how intellectually incoherent those positions were. When I got to seminary after my first active duty tour in the Army I continued my antics in arguing against positions that I actually at the time believed in, with similar results. In fact a number of my fellow students asked me why I wasn’t in law school and it wasn’t a compliment; nonetheless I relished it.

But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zealots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved power, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Now as far as the President is concerned he is not a populist, nor an ideologue, and certainly not a revolutionary in the traditional understanding of the term.  The only thing that he believes in is himself; he is certainly a narcissist and he demonstrates daily that he is a paranoid sociopath. His bottom line is himself, everything and everyone else is fungible. He is intellectually lazy and the only time he tells the truth is when he inadvertently reveals who he really is in his Twitter meltdowns.

His most prominent supporters tend to be people who know the truth about the man but through a combination of a lust for temporal power, his conservative Christian base; or greed, the Ayn Rand type libertarian-conservatives whose social-Darwinian greed makes them use him to enrich themselves. The former believe that Trump will help them usher in a theocracy; the latter believe that he will give the government over to them in order to help their profit margin. None of them have any principles and are committed to their respective ideologies as contradictory as they may be. None of them have any courage, and none of them will ever stand for anything.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. He’s flawed and so am I. He does bad things. He is a manipulator; but he recognizes his moral and ethical shortcomings and wrestles with his  own shortcomings. He is not always successful but he does make the attempt. I look at his character and I realize that in a different world or maybe an alternate universe I could be him.

All that being said, I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell for being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is; and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As for you my readers I do thank you and hope that one day we may sit back and enjoy a drink together, possibly even toasting the “Immortal Lord Nelson.” But until that time thank you for taking time out of your day to read what I write and for your comments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion

Saturday Night Special: Deny Liberty to God’s Enemies

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am so worn out by some that call themselves Christians who seem to me to do their damnedest to ensure that anyone that they deem to be an enemy of God has no rights. This is an older post that I am simply throwing up again with a few edits because I just want to because for me the subject never gets old, especially when almost every single one of the Republican party’s clown car of potential presidential candidates for 2016 use their supposed “Christian” faith as a bludgeon against anyone who would dare criticize them and stand up for those that truthfully they, in their heart of hearts hate, Gays, women, Moslems, progressives, liberals and even little old me. For me this is not a matter of partisan politics at all, but it is a matter of my Christian faith and my belief in the principles of those who founded our country who opposed any form of state entanglement in religion. But I digress…

On to the article…

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

“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.” Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

I expect that this article and subject might make some people uncomfortable but it is something that I need to return to yet again. I fear what is happening to our country, and the agenda of the politically motivated Christian Right and its leaders, especially those who are using what is known as Seven Mountains or Dominionist theology to implement laws at local and state level. These laws damage the fabric of society and encourage discrimination in order to solidify the political power of a minority of conservative Christians.

It is interesting that conservative icon Barry Goldwater both warned us and opposed the these people. Goldwater said:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Decades before Goldwater,  Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg issued a similar warning:

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

Thus, like Goldwater and Jackson before me, I get very frustrated and tired of the way many leaders of the American Religious Right, that political animal that only thinks of itself, have worked so fervently to poison any sense of unity and community that we might have as Americans regardless of our religious faith, or lack of faith. Back in the 1940’s through the 1970’s that was unity was referred to as “American Civil Religion.” Robert Bellah defined it “at best” as a “genuine apprehension on universal and religious reality as seen in, or as one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people.” (Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We? America’s Great Debate p.103) While I do have a lot of issues with the concept of American Civil Religion, and h0w it has been used to justify some pretty horrible actions undertaken by leaders of this country, as well as some harmful myths as to our system of government and God’s blessing of our actions, even the immoral ones, it did provide some positives in regard to how Americans of different faiths treated each other with respect in the public square. As Huntington noted: “America’s civil religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common.” (Huntington p.104)

In the decades since the United States has undergone a seismic transformation in terms of religious makeup, and while those faith traditions who dominated the religious history of our first two hundred years are still dominant in many ways, they are in decline, especially in terms of the fastest growing segment of the population, those who identify themselves as The Nones those with no religious preference. In response the more conservative and politically minded Christians of the Christian Right have launched a culture war to ensure their dominance in all areas of society. Known as Christian Dominionism, Reconstructionism, or the Seven Mountains theology it is a blatant attempt to legislate a particular type of Christianity as the law of the land. As Gary North, an adviser to Ron and Rand Paul as well as other conservative Christian political leaders wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

You can see the influence of this theology in many of the state legislatures of what are called Red States where laws specifically intended to solidify conservative Christian dominance of government which allow for legal discrimination against others, by public officials and private businesses are becoming law. Likewise, such legislatures pass laws which crush the ability of local communities to pass non-discrimination ordinances against gays. This has happened in both Arkansas and West Virginia and similar proposals are being put forth in other states.

One of the leading proponents of this theology is Dr. C. Peter Wagner who wrote a number of influential books on evangelism used in many conservative evangelical seminaries and churches. Wagner is credited with beginning what is called the New Apostolic Reformation and taught at Fuller Seminary until his retirement from teaching in 2001. Wagner has written:

“Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Letter dated 31 May 2007

I am a Christian, albeit one with many doubts and concerns. I am a Priest and I am a Navy Chaplain, I have grown up and seen this transformation of our society, especially over the last twenty years as a chaplain in both the Army and the Navy, I have concerns in the trends I see but mostly I am concerned about this radical theology that has helped turn faith into a war zone and is destroying the fabric of American life. In fact if you wonder why so many of these “Christians” are doing their best to disenfranchise voters and supporting policies that have turned this country from a republic that functioned on the basis of democracy, to an oligarchy controlled by a few one only has to look to the words of the original Dominionist, the father in law of Gary North, R.J. Rushdooney:

“One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100)

That being said, with all the change in the composition of the population of this country I really don’t fear that change. But for the most part I fear these politically minded Christians who are bent on imposing their form of Christianity on the people of this country. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others; their own wounded as well as non-believers, the political machinations of pastors and “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries. Wagner once said:

“See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.”

This is radical, for it is the basis of theocracy. Franklin Graham, son of Billy used words of fear to motivate his base saying at the Liberty Counsel Awakening Conference “But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t win in this next election – and we only have this next election, I think for our voice to be heard.” I think that it is pathetic that Graham has to resort to such fear and loathing in order to galvanize people to fight against the rights of others not to be discriminated against.

These groups have turned the Chaplain Corps into a political football. I once found the chaplain ministry to be the epitome of how ministers of various denominations or religions should be able to work together for the benefit of others. Some of the Chaplains that I served with from across the denominational and religious spectrum helped ingrain a respect and care for others that I would never had received working in a civilian parish. While I can do this with some chaplains even today they are few and far between. The highly politicized environment is destroying the effectiveness and community of the Chaplain Corps. As a result I plan on retiring without seeking a promotion to Captain, which I would be eligible for the promotion boards in 2016. While I may help other priests and ministers in their parishes I have no desire to work in any other form of chaplaincy when I retire.

I have been worn down by all of this and sadly the controversies are now unavoidable. As a result I have experienced a lot of pain, heartache and rejection at the hand of many Christians, some of whom I had counted as close friends, and many of whom are pastors, priests or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people that you thought were friends is very hard, especially when that at one time you trusted them implicitly to care for you. However to be rejected by those that you trusted “in the name of God, ” or rather because you violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God is frightening.

It seems to me that with many Christians and churches that the “unconditional” love of God that they proclaim not really unconditional. It is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.

For those that do not know me or my story I am a career military officer with over 30 years of service between the Army and Navy. I have been a chaplain since 1992 and served in the National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army and the Navy. I am a trained hospital chaplain; I have a great academic background. I went to Iraq in 2007 and came home with a terrible case of severe chronic PTSD. I still suffer from some anxiety, depression and plenty of insomnia. I find mental health care hard to get in my new assignment and I realize how woefully unprepared that our medical system, military, VA and civilian is to care for that vast numbers of veterans like me.

After Iraq I suffered a collapse of my faith and for close to two years was a practical agnostic. Only my deep sense of call and vocation kept me going and there were times that I wondered if I would be better off dead.

When faith returned through what I call my Christmas miracle it was different. I totally relate to author Anne Rice who said:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

I have always questioned a lot that is taught by the church, but after my crisis of faith I really began to see through the bullshit. I began to not only question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general and tolerance for those different than us including gays and Moslems who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love. As such I openly support the LGBT community, American Moslems and Arabs in general, as well as those who adhere to other non-Christian religions, are agnostic, or even atheist when they are attacked in the media, or by supposedly Christian politicians, preachers and pundits.

After Iraq I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. Men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against “enemies” of American, or promote a culture war even against other Christians that they do not like or agree with. Of course this is all done in “Jesus name.”

Likewise I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the mega-churches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement about how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who despite repeated scandals treat them as the voice of God.

Along with the that I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien and the outcasts among us. This actually comes from baptizing capitalism and objectivist philosophy as Christian and leaving the Gospel behind.

All of that got me thrown out of a church that I had served 14 years a priest and chaplain back in 2010. I thought I had a lot of friends in that church. I still have some that keep in contact with me but after my dismissal most abandoned me. That hurts worse than anything.

In fact when I came home from Iraq in crisis and falling apart the first person who asked about how I was doing with God was not clergy. It was my first shrink. I was asked by a commanding officer after Iraq “where does a chaplain go for help?” I told him “not to other chaplains.” The sad thing is that man who did care about me suffered untreated terrible PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and committed suicide in January 2014.

I have had a few experiences the past few weeks that have opened that wound again and reminded me of why I am afraid of many that call themselves Christians. I have shared some of those so I will not belabor them here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

That being said I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds and some chaplains who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics or favorite baseball team.

That being said with the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin I am mostly terrified of being around conservative Christians.

Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus. I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast.

I would like to think that we have come so far in our understanding of people, and of civil rights. But as Jean Luc Picard said, it is threatening to happen again.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

I Want to Believe this Easter

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“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…” Alfred North Whitehead 

Sometimes Holy Week can be a downer and I can understand why people who doubt, or who have been abused by Christians, either in the church or as outsiders find this to be so. I am a Christian, a priest, a Navy Chaplain. By all estimates I should be on the “inside” so to speak, but in the current religious and political climate I am an outsider. My crime to the “true believers” is that I question their certitude, and I reject the hateful ideas of an American Christian theocracy preached by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right.

As for me, this year, Holy Week has been a bit of a downer. I believe, but I don’t. For a while I wondered if it was my post-Iraq agnosticism returning, but after spending some time meditating and thinking on it I realized that was not the case. I do still believe, or at least I want to, but my doubt and unbelief now mainly comes from of my experience with Christians, not so much God.

Truthfully I wonder. I wonder if God is the God whose Son reconciled the world to himself, how those that claim to be his most devout followers seem more intent preaching a message of alienation and rejection rather than reconciliation. I wonder how people who claim to be the disciples of the Prince of Peace seem far more intent on conducting a jihad like culture war than the message of peace and reconciliation. I wonder how such people who claim to be God’s elect and anointed can so maltreat the very people who Jesus would have gone out of his way to care for, and in fact died and rose again in order to save. But I am not alone in this.

Rachel Held Evans wrote in a CNN religion blog yesterday:

“This is the tragic irony of the culture wars: The casualties tend to be the very people Jesus went out of his way to serve: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the outcasts, the people ostracized and deemed “sinners” by the religious elite. And when the world sees Christians hurting rather than helping such people in the name of political gain, our testimony is profoundly diminished.” 

I fully understand what she is saying. Personally I am tired of the abuse of people who in the name of their culture warrior political Christian elite must resort to the most loathsome methods to demonize people who do not agree with them, including me. Sadly, in addition to people who don’t know me from Adam who do this I have experienced it from so called “Christian” friends. If it wan’t for people, including conservative Christians who have stood by me through thick and thin, even when they disagree with me, I probably would just chuck Christianity and the church.

But I cannot do that if I believe in the message of Jesus. I cannot do that if I actually even somewhat believe message of Jesus. A message that reaches out even to the same people who seem to loath me and others like me with a hate stronger than life itself.

When when a person like me struggles to believe in the first place, and at the same time is rejected by those who loudly proclaim to be the disciples of Jesus it does get old. Way too old.

Since it is Holy Week and I am struggling I have decided to not get involved with any discussions this week with the supposed followers of Jesus on any social media that denigrate those who Jesus died to save. If I am to preserve any sort of faith I have to do this.

Sadly, that can and does include things not even connected with the actual Christian faith, mostly the politics of the supposedly “Christian Right.”  A couple of days ago I dared to state the truth that a certain Republican Presidential candidate espoused the same theocratic views as his Christian Dominionist preacher father. That got me attacked by a number of so called Christians including one whose Facebook avatar picture was a soldier wearing a death’s head mask with a pistol pointed directly at me. That man called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I told that man that I had a feeling that I knew what he would do if he actually met me. I picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to revealing attitudes of the heart.

Personally, between the rejection and abuse I have experienced from Christians that I thought were friends, as well as those who are no better than hateful trolls on social media I am pretty much done with all things remotely considered Christian by most Americans today. I find it no wonder that people are fleeing the church, and have no doubts as to why why every poll and trend shows that people increasingly want nothing to do with the those that call themselves Christian or the church.

But I stay, and the the only reason I remain now I think is that I believe in the Jesus of Good Friday, the Jesus who is rejected by all the theologians of glory and Christian Dominionists, the crucified God. I believe in the Jesus whose death was considered a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. If I am to believe this is the Jesus that I have to believe in, not the God of the “theologians of glory” or the Dominionists who seek to establish their kingdom on earth with a thin veneer of faith. It as as Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“The God of freedom, the true God, is… not recognized by his power and glory in the history of the world, but through his helplessness and his death on the scandal of the cross of Jesus”

Theologian Paul Tillich, who served as a U.S. Army Chaplain wrote “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  

In light of my belief in the scandal of the Cross, something that certainly is offensive to those that seek the power and glory of God even if it means trampling those that Jesus most identified, is a mission that I can subscribe.  Most of the people I deal with are those marginalized and rejected by the Christian pharisees, or what I call the “Christian Taliban.”  Personally I am tired of being associated with people who treat the poor, the alien, the different, the sinful and the afflicted as less than human, or less than worthy of God’s love and grace.  I am tired of being associated with people who claim to be pro-life so long as it only applies to life in the womb, who have no problem blessing war without end and the merciless killing of innocents abroad. I am tired of people who scream “let them die” at Presidential debates referring of course to the the poor and uninsured being the voice of Christianity in this county. People who have so discredited themselves and the faith as to make no one want to have anything to do with Jesus.

In the movie Joyeux Noel a priest and chaplain serving with a Scottish regiment during the Christmas truce of 1914 tells the Bishop who is sending him home: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.” Of course the bishop is a man who heartily subscribes to a war without mercy, just as so  many who call themselves Christians do today. When the priest questioned the bishop about being relieved of his duties, the bishop, in a manner similar to what I have experienced tells the priest: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

I have experienced such comments too much. So regardless of the cost, even the cost to myself I will chose to believe and serve the Crucified God, the God who is not the God of the theocrats of the “Christian” right, but the Crucified God who stands against them. The God who in humility and weakness  proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world and who stands against those who fraudulent attempt to establish their kingdoms in his name. People that often do so upon the bodies of those that they kill, and the lives of those that they despise. If this means that I am not suitable to “remain in the house of the Lord” than I would rather be an outcast on my own Golgotha this Holy Week than in that house.

Frankly, I don’t know what this Holy Week will bring for me. I am struggling. I want to believe, but sometimes I get so discouraged as one of those wounded by such people that I need to create some safe space if I am to find some solace.

I am opposed to the conservative Christian “Culture Wars” that so many of my friends and others have, and sadly still embrace. I see the “”Culture Wars” as antithetical to the Gospel. I see them as vain attempts to establish a state religion, an American Theocracy that would crush and destroy any that dare oppose it.

That being said I want to remain open to any who seek God. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

My journey this Holy Week is one of hope. I do want to believe. Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

That is my journey this week, a journey from my own Golgotha to the Easter Alleluia. To do so I cannot give up hope. I probably won’t do very well at it,this week or any other, but that is my journey.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but somehow, it does make sense to me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, Religion

Deny the Liberty of the Enemies of God: Christian Politics

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“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.” Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

I expect that this article and subject might make some people uncomfortable but it is something that I need to return to yet again.  I fear what is happening to our country, and the agenda of the politically motivated Christian Right and its leaders, especially those who are using what is known as Seven Mountains or Dominionist theology to implement laws at local and state level. These laws damage the fabric of society and encourage discrimination in order to solidify the political power of a minority of conservative Christians.

I get very frustrated and tired of the way many leaders of the American Religious Right, that political animal that only thinks of itself have worked so fervently to poison any sense of unity and community that we might have as Americans regardless of our religious faith, or lack of faith. Back in the 1940’s through the 1970’s that was unity was referred to as “American Civil Religion.” Robert Bellah defined it “at best” as a “genuine apprehension on universal and religious reality as seen in, or as one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people.” (Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We? America’s Great Debate p.103) While I do have a lot of issues with the concept of American Civil Religion, and h0w it has been used to justify some pretty horrible actions undertaken by leaders of this country, as well as some harmful myths as to our system of government and God’s blessing of our actions, even the immoral ones, it did provide some positives in regard to how Americans of different faiths treated each other with respect in the public square. As Huntington noted: “America’s civil religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common.” (Huntington p.104)

In the decades since the United States has undergone a seismic transformation in terms of religious makeup, and while those faith traditions who dominated the religious history of our first two hundred years are still dominant in many ways, they are in decline, especially in terms of the fastest growing segment of the population, those who identify themselves as The Nones those with no religious preference. In response the more conservative and politically minded Christians of the Christian Right have launched a culture war to ensure their dominance in all areas of society. Known as Christian Dominionism, Reconstructionism, or the Seven Mountains theology it is a blatant attempt to legislate a particular type of Christianity as the law of the land. As Gary North, an adviser to Ron and Rand Paul as well as other conservative Christian political leaders wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

You can see the influence of this theology in many of the state legislatures of what are called Red States where laws specifically intended to solidify conservative Christian dominance of government which allow for legal discrimination against others, by public officials and private businesses are becoming law. Likewise, such legislatures pass laws which crush the ability of local communities to pass non-discrimination ordinances against gays. This has happened in both Arkansas and West Virginia and similar proposals are being put forth in other states.

One of the leading proponents of this theology is Dr. C. Peter Wagner who wrote a number of influential books on evangelism used in many conservative evangelical seminaries and churches. Wagner is credited with beginning what is called the New Apostolic Reformation and taught at Fuller Seminary until his retirement from teaching in 2001. Wagner has written:

“Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Letter dated 31 May 2007

I am a Christian, albeit one with many doubts and concerns. I am a Priest and I am a Navy Chaplain, I have grown up and seen this transformation of our society, especially over the last twenty years as a chaplain in both the Army and the Navy, I have concerns in the trends I see but mostly I am concerned about this radical theology that has helped turn faith into a war zone and is destroying the fabric of American life.  In fact if you wonder why so  many of these “Christians” are doing their best to disenfranchise voters and supporting policies that have turned this country from a republic that functioned on the basis of democracy, to an oligarchy controlled by a few one only has to look to the words of the original Dominionist, the father in law of Gary North, R.J. Rushdooney:

“One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100)

That being said, with all the change in the composition of the population of this country I really don’t fear that change. But for the most part I fear these politically minded Christians who are bent on imposing their form of Christianity on the people of this country. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others; their own wounded as well as non-believers, the political machinations of pastors and “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries. Wagner once said:

“See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.”

This is radical, for it is the basis of theocracy. Franklin Graham, son of Billy used words of fear to motivate his base saying at the Liberty Counsel Awakening Conference  “But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t win in this next election – and we only have this next election, I think for our voice to be heard.”  I think that it is pathetic that Graham has to resort to such fear and loathing in order to galvanize people to fight against the rights of others not to be discriminated against.

These groups have turned the Chaplain Corps into a political football. I once found the chaplain ministry to be the epitome of how ministers of various denominations or religions should be able to work together for the benefit of others. Some of the Chaplains that I served with from across the denominational and religious spectrum helped ingrain a respect and care for others that I would never had received working in a civilian parish. While I can do this with some chaplains even today they are few and far between.  The highly politicized environment is destroying the effectiveness and community of the Chaplain Corps. As a result I plan on retiring without seeking a promotion to Captain, which I would be eligible for the promotion boards in 2016. While I may help other priests and ministers in their parishes I have no desire to work in any other form of chaplaincy when I retire.

I have been worn down by all of this and sadly the controversies are now unavoidable. As a result I have experienced a lot of pain, heartache and rejection at the hand of many Christians, some of whom I had counted as close friends, and  many of whom are pastors, priests or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people that you thought were friends is very hard, especially when that at one time you trusted them implicitly to care for you. However to be rejected by those that you trusted “in the name of God, ” or rather because you violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God is frightening.

It seems to me that with many Christians and churches that the “unconditional” love of God that they proclaim not really unconditional. It is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.

For those that do not know me or my story I am a career military officer with over 30 years of service between the Army and Navy. I have been a chaplain since 1992 and served in the National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army and the Navy. I am a trained hospital chaplain; I have a great academic background. I went to Iraq in 2007 and came home with a terrible case of severe chronic PTSD. I still suffer from some anxiety, depression and plenty of insomnia. I find mental health care hard to get in my new assignment and I realize how woefully unprepared that our medical system, military, VA and civilian is to care for that vast numbers of veterans like me.

After Iraq I suffered a collapse of my faith and for close to two years was a practical agnostic. Only my deep sense of call and vocation kept me going and there were times that I wondered if I would be better off dead.

When faith returned through what I call my Christmas miracle it was different. I totally relate to author Anne Rice who said:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

I have always questioned a lot that is taught by the church, but after my crisis of faith I really began to see through the bullshit. I began to not only question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general and tolerance for those different than us including gays and Moslems who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love. As such I openly support the LGBT community, American Moslems and Arabs in general, as well as those who adhere to other non-Christian religions, are agnostic, or even atheist when they are attacked in the media, or by supposedly Christian politicians, preachers and pundits.

After Iraq I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. Men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against “enemies” of American, or promote a culture war even against other Christians that they do not like or agree with. Of course this is all done in “Jesus name.”

Likewise I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the mega-churches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement about how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who despite repeated scandals treat them as the voice of God.

Along with the that I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien and the outcasts among us. This actually comes from baptizing capitalism and objectivist philosophy as Christian and leaving the Gospel behind.

All of that got me thrown out of a church that I had served 14 years a priest and chaplain back in 2010. I thought I had a lot of friends in that church. I still have some that keep in contact with me but after my dismissal most abandoned me. That hurts worse than anything.

In fact when I came home from Iraq in crisis and falling apart the first person who asked about how I was doing with God was not clergy. It was my first shrink. I was asked by a commanding officer after Iraq “where does a chaplain go for help?” I told him “not to other chaplains.”  The sad thing is that man who did care about me suffered untreated terrible PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and committed suicide in January 2014.

I have had a few experiences the past few weeks that have opened that wound again and reminded me of why I am afraid of many that call themselves Christians. I have shared some of those so I will not belabor them here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

That being said I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds and some chaplains who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics or favorite baseball team.

That being said with the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin I am mostly terrified of being around conservative Christians.

Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus.  I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast.

I would like to think that we have come so far in our understanding of people, and of civil rights. But as Jean Luc Picard said, it is threatening to happen again.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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