Tag Archives: church history

The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism

Note: I felt the need to republish this article in light of so many of the controversies that have been in the news lately, especially because some of the visceral reactions that I see from so many people about them. I just hope that people take the time to try to get as much of each story and controversy possible, examine them in the light of history and reason before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. The fact is that many of us do precisely this and that is in large part due to how terribly divided we are. However, that being said there is seldom any issue that is totally clear, most actually are quite opaque and clouded in the fog of many shades of gray, and what history teaches us is that we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty. So, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.” Adlai Stevenson – A Call to Greatness (1954)

I had a Church History professor in seminary who was known for his attention to detail and his expectation that his students would master the subject.  His method was quite simple. A fellow student asked him during review for a mid-term exam “what do we need to study for the test?”  His answer was simple “everything.” The student restated his question “what do we really need to know?”  My professor paused and made a comment that did not make the student very happy.  He said something that I paraphrase here “it is the details that enable you to see the big picture, without the details you know nothing.”

A good number of my fellow students did not appreciate the fact that he was deadly serious.  It was not simply the ability to remember names and dates and events but to be able to connect them and see what was really important.  Many did not take him seriously and when the test came many failed it.  In fact some continued to fail every exam because they could not reconcile that details were important. The attitude of a good number of my classmates was that history, philosophy or even systematic theology were not important especially if they involved study of people or ideas that they did not agree with.

Unfortunately we now live in an age of anti-intellectualism and anti-historicism. Instead of trying to figure out what is really important and studying the details of the great questions of our day we have become lazy. We simply fall back on the dogmas presented by the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers that cater to our ideology for reassurance.  And they are quite good at co. If you listen to talk radio or are a devoted fan of any particular cable news pundit you can see this on display daily and even more so by our political leaders and those seeking political power. What is presented by the Unholy Trinity is at best half-truth sprinkled with deadly venom of hatred to make the half-truth an absolute truth.  In such a world facts are only important if the “true believer” can use them buttress his ideological bias even if he has to take the completely out of context to in order to do so.  It is so much easier to call an opponent a Communist or Nazi, Fascist or Imperialist, Unbeliever or Heretic and connect them to the evil we want to demonize them as than it is to actually,  engage in a truthful debate and to see things in their historical context. Likewise when we use such labels against those that disagree with us we dehumanize our opponents thereby justifying any evil that we use to silence them.

It seems that we presume that if we repeat what we believe enough, even if it is unsound or erroneous that it will become truth.  As individuals, governments, institutions and businesses we settle for the easy answers that agree with our presuppositions and dismiss opposing views as heresy.  We allow people of little learning but great charm and salesmanship ability sell us myth in place of fact and this happens across the political, social, economic and theological spectrum.

The past few days I have been talking about the study of history as well as ways of learning.  The little things do matter, and the study of history, philosophy, theology, the sciences, economics in fact anything of any importance is based on understanding details, and things like precedent and context.  It is not enough to string together a series of quotations or citations if they are taken out of context, altered or intentionally misused to fit our ideology or doctrine.

This may comfort the true believer in whatever cause and even make them feel superior to those that disagree but such thinking. But it blind them to reality and not conscious of their own envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. The “wall of words” that flow so easily from the mouths and pens of the members of the Unholy Trinity that the faithful are unable to separate them from reality, truth from fiction, opinion from fact.  This “wall of words” serves as their protection against any thought, fact, presumption or doctrine that contradicts them.  John F Kennedy said “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

In such times it is important to take the time to learn from history, not just generalities that mix fact and myth but the little details that make up history and for that matter the sciences, philosophy, sociology, political thought and theology.  As a society we have ceased to do this and until we take the time to return to such study, dialogue and put aside our blinders we will be doomed to remain as we are no matter what political party is in power or ideology dominates the airwaves and cyber space.

There is a prayer that neatly sums up what I desire for me and for our society:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth
From the laziness that is contented with half truth
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s what You learn after You know it All that Count’s: Padre Steve’s Advice for those contemplating the Ordained Ministry

Yesterday evening I had a dear friend of our call me to ask me about serving as a spiritual director as she began to seriously explore the call to the Episcopal Priesthood. As a Navy chaplain and Army Chaplain before that I have had many young men and some young women approach me about spiritual direction or advice as they contemplated preparing for the ordained ministry. These men and women have come from many Christian traditions as well as some from non-Christian religions. I consider this to be a privilege especially because almost all come from traditions different formerly Anglo-Catholic and now Old Catholic tradition.  Thus I feel honored to be able to participant in each of these individuals journey.

I do not take this responsibility lightly; the journey that these men and women are embarking is often fraught with risk and often painful.  Thus I really try to listen to their story listening carefully to their individual experience of God as well as how that experience relates to life, other people and their faith community.  The reason I do this is because I have had so many friends be chewed up and their ministries ruined by unscrupulous people and uncaring religious organizations while attempting to follow what they feel is God’s will for their life.

Since I believe in truth in advertising I make no bones about what I believe but also respect and hold holy what people bring to me. Thus I am careful to listen to them and be as helpful as possible without pushing them in any direction.  I have seen too many people manipulate others when they are in such a state and the results are seldom good. Since I know I don’t have all the answers that such decisions should not be entered into quickly and without the input of the person’s own faith community.  So I encourage them to work with their local church or faith community as well as denomination and work to help them make those contacts.

This is important because people that feel called to ministry can be vulnerable to many unscrupulous people regardless of their faith group.  There are some groups that will gladly ordain people for a substantial financial remittance and continued financial servitude. Of course such organizations will provide an “ordination” certificate or a “license” to preach many times without ever having met the individual.  Some groups have “seminaries” which issue “Divinity” degrees. Unfortunately many of these “church” schools are unaccredited degree mills.  Most provide no real theological training or preparation for the demands of ministry. The ordination certificate may provide some covering to the aspiring minister so they can perform weddings and have an IRS 501.3.c tax exemption.  Some might get to pastor a church under the umbrella of the “ordaining” organization.  However many times the degree is not worth the paper that it is printed on and the ordination is no more than a means to extract money from them.  Unfortunately I have lost count of the ministers that I have met who have had this kind of experience.

Even worse are the times that well meaning and sincere people end up being spiritual and sometimes physically or sexually abused by those in spiritual authority. This happens across the theological spectrum and is not simply isolated in the “fly by night” ministries that operate on a “for prophet” basis. Many men that trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood over the past half century have recounted many horrible experiences of abuse at the hands of their superiors in major and minor seminaries and sometimes even after ordination.  Many of these cases are recounted in excruciating detail in the media and in court cases.

Thus when a man or woman approaches me for advice or even spiritual direction I am careful to know the responsibility that they place in my hands and am careful to hold their trust as if it were a baseball bat personally autographed by Babe Ruth or Willie Mays.  Some people might say as if were a Faberge Egg or the Pink Panther Diamond, but I know what is really valuable.

My advice to those that come to me is always given with great caution. Since I have a great amount of experience serving with people of many faiths in addition to my own unique spiritual pilgrimage I value those that I have worked with and their faith, some have even helped save me from myself.  One in man in particular helped save my career when I was a young Army Chaplain.  Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley, a chaplain from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints saved my military career when I really lost control of my temper at the Army Chaplain School. I could list many more that helped me through good times and bad, seminary professors and chaplains almost all of which were of different denominations than me. They were men and sometimes women who cared about me who held my faith holy and who interceded for me sometimes with people and often to God.

As such I am careful to do the same for those that seek my counsel regardless of their beliefs.  I am fortunate. I have seen a number of these people go on to successful careers as military chaplains or in civilian ministry within their denominations.  I have also advised those that like me had grown beyond their denominational background or ha a progressive shift in their beliefs that cause them to feel that they must move to a new denomination. In those cases I am extra careful because I never want to even give the appearance of prostylizing, or for those unfamiliar with the term stealing sheep from someone else’s flock.

My advice to people seeking to enter the ministry, especially the chaplain ministry can be boiled down to these points.

* Take your time to discern the call. Many people rush into ministry only to find that it is not for them and in the process often end up hurt and disillusioned.

* Rely on trusted advisors that are willing to spend the time and walk with you during the discernment process. Don’t rely on pastors or others that promise to support you but in reality are too busy to take the time.

* Don’t rely on “cheerleaders” who simply tell you what you want to hear, and there are a lot of these people out there.

* Find people in your denomination that have experience in the type of ministry that you feel called that are not from you local church who can be objective.

* Seek out people from other traditions who have experience in the type of ministry that you want to enter. Often the latter provide more objective advice than those close to you and by getting to know them you can also get to know the kind of people that you will work with in your desired field of ministry, especially if you want to serve as a chaplain.

* Try to attend a resident seminary. I admit that it is possible to get a good academic theological or Biblical education in non-resident or online programs provided that they are rigorous and accredited by a real accrediting agency with actual standards. There are numerous “accrediting” organizations that are simply fraudulent and many “Bible Schools and Seminaries” claim such accreditation.

* Find a program that actually works with you and your faith group to provide spiritual formation.  In fact the formation aspect is often lacking in many well accredited resident seminaries but is most often absent in non-resident or online programs.

* Find a spiritual director that will walk with you through your education and formation. Some denominations will help you in this but many smaller churches are either unable or unwilling to do so, particularly those from the Evangelical tradition which focuses more on preaching.

* Make sure that your academic program is balanced between Bible, Theology, Church History Pastoral Care, and Homiletics.  Practical courses like evangelism and program management change with the wind and are often more about the marketing and packaging of a product. I had a friend in seminary who claimed that his Master of Divinity had a shelf life of 5 years. Of course if you focus on transitory method driven courses you will have a dated education because someone else will come up with something new a few years from now. If you focus on the balance that I talk about your education will never become dated. In fact it is those can be built upon where the others, well you’ll find those books in what you give to Salvation Army or Goodwill in a few years.

* Take the time to reflect on what you learn and what you experience.

* Finally do the basics. Study your faith, its scriptures, theology and traditions. Pray and maintain relationships with fellow students as others preparing for ministry.

And when all is said and done remember that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

One more thing. you need to really love ministry and the people that you serve. If you are in it for money, fame or to make a name for yourself you will suffer shipwreck. If you don’t have love and joy nothing else I have said here will help you.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Heretic: Padre Steve Critiques the Christian Sub-Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

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