Tag Archives: enlightenment

Here I Stand: The Reformation at 500 Years

Me at the site where Martin Luther made his stand in 1996

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was Reformation Sunday, the Sunday where many Protestants celebrate Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche on October 31st 1517.

For me it is one of those weird times. I am not Protestant, though Martin Luther is one of my heroes, nor am I Roman Catholic. I am a priest in a small communion that is most like the Dutch Old Catholics and the Utrecht Union. I live in the uncomfortable middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Thus I have to make my way between a variety of types of Protestants and Roman Catholics in order to survive have a good deal of appreciation for the historic faith of the undivided Catholic Church before the Great Schism of 1054, and Martin Luther’s expression of Protestantism which culminated in his break with Rome and excommunication when he defended himself before the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papal legates at the Diet of Worms where when demanded to recant his views he said:

“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

When I read Luther’s defense of his views before the princes and prelates at Worms in 1521 I still get a chill up my spine. It is hard to imagine anyone today daring to stand up to ruling powers unless they have the support of worldly powers greater than oppose.

What Luther did when he nailed his theses to the door of the Schlosskirche was to set into motion events that he could not dare to imagine. By kicking in the doors of the church to real dissent he opened the way to the secular and progressive views of the Enlightenment, without which there would have been no philosophical or political underpinning for the United States of America and the hallmark of our national ideal found in our Declaration of Independence which says “we hold these truth s to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Luther recovered the key to the Christian faith, that is faith in the Crucified God. As Lutheran theologian Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”

Because of that we owe the flawed and often troubled monk and theologian from Wittenberg a debt of gratitude. As for me, I know that I do. I may not always be right, nor to I claim to be, but as a matter of faith and politics I have to say “here I stand.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Obligation of Ideas

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

T.E. Lawrence wrote, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

I am an out of the box thinker and when I am allowed to pursue my ideas I do my best. When I feel constrained or force myself to “stay between” the lines in order to fit in I get frustrated. When I was younger this lead to instances where I got in trouble for too aggressively pushing my ideas.

However as I have matured I have become more patient. When my ideas are shunned or pushed aside I will stay within the lines of the system but work through back channels, finding people who will listen and hope that they will take up the ideas, even if I do not get credit. This is often frustrating in its own right but it allows me to continue to develop the ideas and to propagate them among people who will listen and possibly will in their own way help see those dreams to fruition.

Many times I have been order to stand down and stay in my lane and been taken to task on more than one occasion for pushing too hard. This has actually happened a number of times in my military career dating back to my time as an Army Lieutenant serving in Germany, even to the point of having that noted as a point of criticism in an Officer Evaluation Report.
So over the years I have learned that the direct approach to trying to propagate ideas that are considered out of the mainstream, or even dare I say radical when compared with conventional doctrines is not always the best case. The truth is that many people consider dreamers and outside the box thinkers to be arrogant and dangerous. It took me many years to discover this fact.

Thus I have taken to being more patient and using indirect approaches to get ideas across. Part of this is in taking the time to get to know myself. Lao Tzu said “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” When I was younger I often acted on impulse thinking that my ideas needed to be implemented and fought for right then and there. Now I am willing to take more time, allow them to germinate and take form and if necessary allow other people to take credit as long as the ideas find a home.

I am a dreamer, one who dreams with my eyes open. Admiral James Stavridis said: “overall, I think that’s an obligation to share your ideas. It’s how we move forward with innovation.”

I think both Lawrence and Admiral Stavridis are right. Innovation and dreams are the key to the future. Those trapped in outdated orthodoxies be they military, scientific, philosophical or religious will find that they will be left behind in history. One once said that the seven last words of the church were “We’ve never done it that way before.” That being said, those words are the last words of any organization or culture that refuses to dream or think outside the box. Eric Hoffer wrote “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

In an age of decreasing resources, rapid social and technological change and ever increasing challenges we must heed the words of Admiral Stavridis who said: “Because we’re in an era of declining resources, and I think we need to be unafraid of and embrace change. That means listening to more junior people, who often have the best ideas, trying new things…”

It also means listening to people from different disciplines or even cultures than our own, military from civilian, civilian from military, science from religion, religion from science and so on. It may be necessary to look to times than our own, delving into history to find answers to current challenges. Likewise it may prove wise to look to the dreamers who write science fiction for answers. It is important for the dreamers as well allow themselves and ideas to be questioned or challenged and to keep an open mind. Ideas developed in the vacuum of self seldom hold up over the course of time and stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction of one’s ideas and dreams come from a type of ego that is often as destructive to the self as it is to others.

Military historian and theorist B. H. Liddell-Hart wrote about using the indirect approach in the realm of though and ideas and not just military strategy or tactics:

“Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminished- by giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach. Avoid a frontal attack on a long established position; instead, seek to turn it by flank movement, so that a more penetrable side is exposed to the thrust of truth. But, in any such indirect approach, take care not to diverge from the truth- for nothing is more fatal to its real advancement than to lapse into untruth.”

But like Lawrence said, the dreamers must be the ones who dream with their eyes open in order to make those dreams possible. However, the dreamers need to know that their ideas may not be welcome and that patience the use of the indirect approach and willingness to let others receive credit in order to see those dreams fulfilled is essential. Truth matters over individual success or recognition and in a sense it alone is eternal while our lives on this earth are fleeting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Martin Luther and My Theological Formation: An Old Catholic Priest talks about Luther’s Influence on his Life

The Luther Rose: When they stand under the Cross Christian Hearts turn to Roses

“Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.” Martin Luther

When a young Priest and Theology Professor at the University of  Wittenberg named Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg it changed the course of Western as well as Church history.  He also changed mine.

Martin Luther was the first of a series of theologians that helped make me what I am now. When my Church History professor Dr. Doyle Young and Systematic Theology professor Dr. David Kirkpatrick introduced me to Luther’s writings and his “Theology of the Cross it was earth shaking.  It was his Theology of the Cross brought me to an incarnational understanding of the Christian faith because it is only through the Cross that we come to know God in a truly Christian sense of understanding.  For Luther the Cross was central to understanding the humanity’s relationship to the Trinity, and stands against Calvin whose understanding of God’s will and predestination from before time began tends minimize the Cross, for Calvin it is a mechanism but for Luther it is the most profound and personal revelation of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The incarnational and Trinitarian found in the Theology of the Cross also opened for me essential nature of the Eucharist to the Christian faith and which helping bring me to a catholic understanding of the faith.

The relational aspects of the Theology of the Cross were personalized in the Three Solas; Sola fides by faith alone, Sola Gratia by grace alone and Sola Scriptura by scripture alone. These became the hallmarks of the Reformation and without getting into the weeds to dissect all the ramifications for the Church and the world impact the way that many Christians practice and express their faith to the current day.

The Catholic in me tends to discount Sola Scriptura because Luther himself was such an imperfect practitioner of this. I find that the Anglican and Old Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason is a more Biblical way of understanding what we can understand of God as well as in bearing witness of the self revelation of God in Christ in our world than is Sola Scriptura.

The Reformation which began when Luther posted his “theses” on the door of the Schlosskirche broke the hold of the Roman Catholic Church on Europe brought about many changes. It was the watershed moment when western church unity was fractured forever. As the years passed this increasingly fractured and diverse church in the west and helped end the primacy of the Church over the State.  The Reformation was also essential to the future Enlightenment as educational institutions, philosophers, historians and scientists gained the freedom to operate free from the all pervasive reach of the Church.

In the beginning when he walked up to the Schlosskirche to post his theses Luther intended nothing more than reforming and curtailing abuses in the Catholic Church and how the Church saw grace, faith and scripture.  Instead he changed the course of history in ways that most modern people, especially conservative Christians fail to comprehend today.  If they did they would not be embracing such heresy as the Dominion movement and it’s Seven MountainsTheology.

I did a lot of study on the Lutheran Reformation in and after seminary. In 1996 while stationed in Germany as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain had the privilege of organizing a series of Reformation tours to Wittenberg, Worms and Heidelberg.  We went to Wittenberg on Reformation day where we attended the Reformationstag service at the Schlosskirche.   I led a walking tour of the town that day.  One of the parishioners from the chapel asked me if I had been toWittenberg before because I seemed like I knew every place in the town.  I had to tell her that I had not been there in person but because of my study had imagined it so many times that I knew every place by heart.  When we went to Worms where Luther on trial before Charles V was told to recant his writings it as the same, except that in Worms the town hall where the Imperial Diet met was destroyed long ago.  However a stone in the pavement marks the spot where Luther concluding his defense before the Emperor Charles V and the assembled Princes and prelates with these immortal words:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is legend that Luther said the words “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!”  These words were probably only added later by someone else to make the story more interesting as they do not appear in the council notes.  Not that Luther would have objected.  The film version is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0tk_EvWXQQ&feature=player_embedded

Likewise Luther’s debate with Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburgcolloquy regarding points of doctrine was significant for me. It was held that they might unify their separate reform movements. They agreed on all points except the Eucharist where Luther enunciated a very catholic understanding of the “Real Presence.”  Zwingli argued it to be a symbolic memorial though he conceded that it might have some spiritual component.   Luther would not budge and to each of Zwingli’s arguments pulled back the tablecloth to reveal the words “This is my body, this is my blood” which he had carved on the table.  They departed without achieving unity, something that has plagued Protestants to this day and when Zwingli was killed in battle when leading the militia from Zurich to fight the approaching Catholic Army.  When Luther heard about the Zwingli’s death he commented Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matt. 26:52]. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.” (Table Talk #1451) When I visitedMarburg with my friend Gottfried in 1997 I stood in the room where the men met and standing at that table I imagined Luther arguing with Zwingli.

Martin Luther helped begin the journey to the Priest that I am now. Others similar to Luther, the Catholic theologian and reformer in his own right Father Hans Kung who was able to do what Luther couldn’t do, make a case for Luther’s theology as part of catholic theology.  Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann has brought Luther’s theology to the modern world and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who showed me an example of how to live out the incarnational message of theTheology of the Cross in a world gone mad.  Kung’s book On Being a Christian, Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and The Crucified God have being influential in my theological formation. Bonhoeffer’s contribution was how that theology is important in standing up to oppression in all forms, his writings including The Cost o Discipleship, Ethics Creation Fall and Temptation, Life Together and Letters and Papers from Prison.  All of these men helped me in my transition following seminary to a moderate Anglo-Catholic to an Old Catholic faith that places a high place to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Reason in interpreting and living out the faith.

Of course there are others that have influenced me, the early Church Fathers, Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, Henri Nouwen, Father Andrew Greely  and Bernard Häring to name but a few.  But even so I have always had a special place in my heart for Luther even with all of his flaws which were many.  Luther was earthy, spoke his mind often in a direct and coarse way and had no problem with having fun or good beer.  I relate to him a lot and am in his debt because he helped me become who I am today.

Peace

Padre Steve+


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The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America

I cannot and will not recant

We live in an era where religion and politics especially in conservative circles have become one just as they were in the days following Constantine’s granting of religious freedom to all in the Empire while making the Catholic Church the State religion which went from a persecuted Church to an Imperial Church overnight. The Church in the coming centuries became an arm of the State something that until the enlightenment it remained in many nations. Most of the English Colonies that became the United States had State Religions even after the Bill of Rights the last to disestablish its state religion being the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1833.  Most European State Churches remained until the fall of the Empires after the First World War but many countries in Europe still have State Churches which are not very vibrant now days.

The curious thing is that until the 18th and 19th Centuries the powers of State Churches were great and heavily benefited greatly through their allegiance to the State.  To disobey the Church was to disobey the State and to disobey the State was often tantamount to disobeying God since the State and the rulers thereof were not simply ordained by God but in fact God’s instruments. Unfortunately this led to many abuses of power by those in the Church as well as the State and thankfully we in the United States were able to for the most part break with that tradition which was and is repugnant to the Gospel as well as human freedom.

In fact the United States has been the foremost proponent of religious freedom and tolerance of any nation in history. It was something that we enshrined, the right of all people to worship according to their faith. Now we haven’t been perfect practitioners of our ideal as there have been plenty of religious based prejudice and persecution in this country dating to colonial times, especially of religions outside the mainstream of Protestant Christianity, it took nearly 150 years for Catholics to become part of mainstream America and longer for others especially religions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Despite those instances our experiment of religious liberty has been an amazing success in which many denominations have prospered.

All that being said I fear we are entering a stage where authoritarian religious groups closely allied with the rich and the powerful are on the ascendant in the United States just as radicals in other religions, particularly Islam but not limited to Islam are on the rise. Frankly I expect that people who are either living in a culture that still believes that the world is like it was back in the 13th Century and those that have become fantastically rich and enamored with the technology of the West to be that way. Let us face facts most of the counties in the Middle East lack the centuries of related social, political, philosophic or religious development that is part of Western culture and we still screw things up. The Islamic World has not experienced anything like the Renaissance, Reformation or Enlightenment. There is a chance that it might amid the pro-democracy and freedom protests that are occurring throughout the Middle East even as radical Islamists dream of a new Caliphate, something that seems to be anathema to many of the young protestors in Egypt and other Arab Nations.

In the United States the movement to religious authoritarian systems closely allied with politicians and the State to do their bidding comes from conservative circles, particularly conservative and fundamental Evangelical Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Church which since the reforms of Vatican Two has retreated into its old Ultramontanistic self.

That being said I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  I am a moderate and I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society where most to our left or right despise us for actually deviating from the established dogmas of the left or the right.

To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left an intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that in today’s Tea Party charged environment I would be called a liberal.  But I am a moderate and I will not give up the middle ground simply because others have adopted a scorched earth policy in faith and politics where “if you ain’t for us you’re against us” is the norm. In fact I think that Jesus stood against that kind of thought process, if you don’t believe me look at Mark 9:38-40 where Jesus says something different when the disciples confront him about others casting out demons in his name “he who is not against us is for us.”

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry or acting disrespectfully just because I can.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly those of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one with supposed political conservatives. As such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war in which only one side can win and in which there is no room for compromise or dialogue.

In doing so these religious leaders have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about the welfare of their opponents, they are in a sense like the Taliban. They frequently demonize their opponents or for that matter anyone, even other Christians that might disagree with their understanding of the Christian faith.

That is why I say that many have become like the Taliban. If you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith proclaimed by Jesus.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals.  Such a message is anathema to the Gospel and its redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to coerce non-believers into compliance through the police power of the government.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in the world of baptized unbridled capitalism are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations.

This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.  While none of these goals of themselves are anti-Christian the linkage to the causes often over the Gospel has hurt progressive Christianity.

On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party. They were led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the political spokesman and was an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Conservative religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.  Conservative Christians now stand at the center of the Tea Party movement and are a force that no Republican politician can ignore if he or she wants to keep their job.

Despite what I have said I am not saying that people’s faith should not play an important part of their political viewpoint.  Churches and influential pastors have been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.

Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.

I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names or prays the “imprecatory Psalms” against their opponents.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party, or political faction where they are just another interest group even an important one. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.

My view is that if you build relationships with people by loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith in the Kingdom of God which was proclaimed by Jesus which that comes to us from the Apostles.

Unfortunately I believe that Christians thinking that they are more influential than they are have marginalized themselves.  This is because many have compromised the faith by allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

 

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Life’s Tough…It’s Tougher When You’re Stupid- The Peril of Misusing Principles, Attributes and Quotations Out of Context

sgt striker

I am cursed with having been born with a logical and analytical mind.  As such it is a cross that I bear.  This may sound pompous and even arrogant but unfortunately it is true.  I am confronted every day with people, some of who that I love and adore who use principles and attributes badly and make themselves look foolish.  Sometimes even bordering on being stupid. Often this involves personal hurts where because of something that was said or done a person makes a quantum leap intol illogical absurdity.  For example, “My boss yelled at me thus my career is over.”  That may or may not be true but it is not a foregone conclusion.  Likewise something like this: “My friend did not call me back, they  must hate me.”   What is worse for hurt people is when they find a quote taken out of context and use it in an illogical manner.  I had a dear friend do this the other day.  I cannot break any confidence but I basically told my friend that if someone was wrong in something they said about my friend that my friend should tell them to go to hell.  I also told my friend that if what the other person was true then that he needed to deal with it and make whatever corrections necessary.

I find that the use of principles and attributes as a lazy way for people to try to look intelligent. A person who uses them in such manner as a way to prove a point neither understand the principles or attributes of what they think that they understand.  If physicians or scientists approached life in that manner we would be in big trouble. Yet we see it all the time in religion, popular philosophy, pop-psychology, popular leadership and management programs.

My friend made a comment on a social networking website regarding assumptions.  It was a bad use of a bad quote, probably taken out of context, unless the person quoted was an idiot, which after reading stuff about him I believe that he is.  The quote was by Don Miguel Ruiz and said: “The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth”   There is a big problem with this.  Good Old Don Mike is an idiot.  Assumptions are how logical people begin the process of discovery through inductive and deductive reasoning.  The problem with Don Mike is that he assumes that people who assume use assumptions in ignorance.  You see Don Miguel is a “spiritual” teacher, and as a spiritual man of course he operates above logic. He lives in the world of unreality and illogic, however it looks like he makes good money doing it.  Guys like this are actually dangerous because they say things that sound neat, but are absolutely idiotic.  Now can we make bad assumptions about ourselves or others? Definitely.  Crap I do it all the time, however that does not lessen the value of making and acting on assumptions.   If the assumption is wrong, you re-assess and move forward.  If someone makes an assumption about you which is wrong you don’t throw out the value of making informed decisions based on evidence and from that evidence making assumptions about how to proceed in the future. This can be in personal, financial, career, spiritual or any other dimension of life.  We all make assumptions about ourselves and others and based on those assumptions live our lives.

Let’s take this quote about assumptions.  Every month that we work we assume that we will get paid.  It is part of the deal. We sign a contract or have a set pay scale and pay days.  In the military we get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month.  I assume that when I read my pay advisement that that money will be in my bank account on the date the advisement says that it will.  I operate on the assumption that I will be paid.  If I am unemployed and have run out of unemployment benefits this may not be so.  I should make the assumption that unless I get a job that I will not be able to buy my dog Milk Bones.  True, Molly would not be happy about this but I would be a fool to assume that I will have money.  This may happen. I may get a job or someone may help me out but I do not assume this to be the case.

One of the worst ways I see this is with religious people.  Some of my fellow Christians for whatever reason believe that somehow God owes them.  This of course comes from the “name it claim it, grab it stab it, God owes me because” heresy of the prosperity preachers.  Unfortunately this crass, insipid and idiotic “theology” is not based on the assumption that God cares about them.  It is however the presumption that because I did something that God is contractually bound to do it.  It assumes wrongly that the Bible, believe a particular doctrine, give my money to the church or a ministry, or pray a certain way that God is obligated to do things the way that I want.   This is an error of presumption as well as a theological heresy.  It “cherry picks” scripture, something called “proof texting.”  This is simply lifting the part of scripture that we like from its historical, cultural and theological context and arbitrarily determine that it means what we want it to mean. God loves us and cares for us but does not owe anyone anything.  The Deity Herself assures me of this.  The way I see it is that God is no respecter of persons, even me.  Thus, I cannot presume on God.

Moving back to the topic of the misuse of principles and attributes by those who presume to be intelligent or spiritual:  Principles and attributes have to be understood in context in order to be used correctly. Context includes the meaning of the writer or the person quoted. The context matters if we are to correctly interpret principles of life made by any individual.  The Enlightenment Philosophers and Theologians called is the “situation in life, or Sitz im Leben. Things do not occur in a vacuum and how people arrive at their conclusions is as much a part of their environment and experience as the end product.

We see this in a number of ways.  I love reading amateur historians, political or military pundits do this with the great military thinkers. I particularly get a kick out of people who quote Sun Tzu or Clausewitz out of context to make some point.  I see this often.  You can go to any bookstore and pick up a book of quotes or principles derived from some philosopher, theologian, military, business or political leader.  They are usually entitled something like this: The Leadership Principles of __________. On occasion you might find a book of quotes, again usually out of context called ____________ Rules for Success in Life. Abe Lincoln and Winston Churchill are two of the most quoted in this manner. People love to do this with quotes of Jesus taken from the Gospels, of course who would argue with God incarnate.  The problem is that the quotes are usually taken out of context and not congruent with the basics of the Christian faith.  Even Scripture is abused in this manner.  This is not assumption, it is presumption.

I remember a book entitled The Attributes of God which I read back in college.  The problem with the book, from a Christian perspective, and the author was a Christian; was not that it’s assumptions about certain characteristics or attributes of God was wrong, it was the fact that God was approached through attributes rather than from the Cross.  One does not know God simply through studying his attributes.  If you are a Christian you know God through Christ who you know through the Cross, not just sayings of Jesus taken out of context.  A person is not the sum of their attributes.

The same is true with those who quote various philosophers, theologians, political or military leaders out of context.  People love to do this with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz.  I have lost count of the books I have seen published in recent years that do this.  To understand Clausewitz one has to understand the Enlightenment, Classic German Liberalism including the Philosophy of Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard as well as the theology of theologians such as Scheilermacher.  Clausewitz properly understood is more than a political-military philosopher but a man who understands the human condition.  To reduce his work to cool quotes is to miss the point.  Since most people can’t spell or correctly pronounce “Scheilermacher” I am sure that they have not read him.  Same is true with Kant, Hegel and Kiekegaard. Without understanding this or Prussia’s defeat and and occupation by Napoleon’s Army and the subsequent recovery, one does not understand Clausewitz.  Clausewitz deals with the human condition as amuch as he deals with political and military philosophy.

Now of course I chose the historical, military and religious examples because that is my academic background.   However, to do this one uses all the facts that one has, analyzes them, evaluates them and uses deductive reasoning to determine the “truth” based on the facts on hand.  However we have to understand that we never have all the facts, and that even “facts” that we have might not withstand the test of time or further examination.  This is true in history and the sciences.   It also has some basis in faith, which is why I prefer the historic Anglican-Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason versus a Scripture alone or Scripture and Tradition basis for faith.  Will I always be right? No, but I will use my errors to discover truth and not be content to remain in them.  To plan we make assumptions about the future.  Those assumptions must be tested as the situation develops.  In Medicine physicians when diagnosing a condition make a differential diagnosis.  It is a manner of testing our assumptions based on the facts on hand.  The military uses a planning process in which assumptions are tested.  Assumptions based on the evidence that we have are essential to planning for the future.  Again this goes for personal matters as well.  To quote MCDP-5 Planning, the Marine Corps Planning Process:

the defining features of the planning challenge are uncertainty and time. More than anything else, considerations of time and uncertainty dictate our approach to planning. All planning is based on imperfect knowledge and involves assumptions about the future. All planning by definition is future-oriented, and the future by nature is uncertain. No matter how determined we are to be fully prepared for a situation, there are finite limits to our ability to plan for the future. The more certain the future is, the easier it is to plan.”

This is not easy, but making assumptions and planning for an uncertain future is far better than quoting people out of context to make it look like we have things figured out when we have never seriously studied them.  As Sergeant Striker (John Wayne) said in the Sands of Iwo Jima: “Life’s tough, it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”   Living life based on unstudied principles and attempting to determine the nature of someone by their attributes is not logical or rational.  We have to be careful.  This may not seem to be too spiritual but as Jesus said “Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  Or as a Trekkie might say: Be as crafty as a Romulan but peaceful as a Vulcan.

Peace,

Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion