Tag Archives: materialism

I’m a Black Friday Grinch

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yes the dreaded day has arrived again, at least officially. It is Black Friday, although I think it began at least two weeks ago, at least from the bombardment of advertisements I have had in my e-mail, on Facebook, and one every website I have visited.

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I know I may sound a bit like the Grinch right now, but trust me, I love Christmas and the holiday, everything about it. I love the religious significance, especially the humility and weakness of the incarnate Christ in a filthy manger, the child of poor people, away from home who end up having to flee to Egypt save their lives from a maniacal ruler. I guess that it’s a good thing that King Trump or Satrap Christie was were not in charge back then, but I digress…

I also love the secular part of Christmas. Unlike the Grinch who hated everything about Christmas, I love it all, the decorations, the music, even the Who Hash and the Roast Beast. But even more I like the good feelings that people tend to have for each other at this time of year.

But all that being said, there are times that the crass materialism and greed shown by retailers to entice people to buy things that they cannot afford bothers me. So does the Christmas and holiday advertising and store displays that show up even before Halloween, it is nuts. I’m sorry but displays of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Freddy Kruger bringing a turkey with all the trimming to the baby Jesus and his family just seem to demean the season. Somehow vast throngs of people running over each, fighting, and sometimes even killing, to get a bargain as barbaric and a sad commentary on who we are as a nation.

But there is more, to boost their profits that many major retailers are not just opening early on Friday, they are opening on Thanksgiving, the one day when no-matter what their religion that, that people can come together as family, as friends. The retailers who are doing this mock the very thing that they are using to boost their profits. But the fact is that most retail workers work long and often odd hours throughout the rest of the year, and sacrifice much time away from their families as it is. I wonder how anyone can justify taking that one day away from them.

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends. We prepared two turkeys, and all kinds of food, including some vegetarian dishes for one of our friends. It was a feast, and a joy as we sat down and fellowshipped with each other. Today we will pretty much hang out at home and continue to work in the house before going to our local version of the Cheers Bar, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, and again spend time eating and drinking with friends.

I am sure that we will do some shopping at some point, but as much as I love everything about Christmas and the holiday season, I am rather Grinch like when it comes to Black Friday and its intrusion on Thanksgiving.

I hope that your Thanksgiving was good and that you did have the opportunity to spend time with those that you love. And by the way, when you are out today, please be kind to the lowly store clerks and cashiers who maybe didn’t get the day off yesterday, and who are trying do deal with the feeding frenzy like atmosphere of Black Friday. The at least deserve kindness.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Impending Death of Thanksgiving as We Knew It: Black Thursday and the War on Thanksgiving

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“Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.” The Ferengi 6th Rule of Acquisition 

 I have written before about Black Friday. It is a custom that seems to destroy any meaning of a sacred holiday with greater abandon every passing year. In fact I have been very critical of the abject materialism of Black Friday which I think has its own God, the God of profit. 

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This year the festivities are starting early, in fact in some places people have been lined up since the weekend so they can be first to get the latest greatest gadgets that will be obsolete in less than a year. Not actually that they will be obsolete but rather that new and improved models of the same gadget will be on sale this time next year. The sad thing is that many of the same people who have been lined up since the weekend will be doing it again next year. `

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When it was just Black Friday it was bad enough, especially as Black Friday started encroaching on Thanksgiving. But now the last remaining line between Thanksgiving, the one holiday where getting together with family or friends regardless of your religious beliefs has been obliterated. Thanksgiving is now for all intents and purposes Black Thursday. It like Christmas before it has been sacrificed to the God of materialism and consumerism. It has been sacrificed for corporate profits and the individuals perceived need for stuff. It will be observed on the backs of retail workers making poor wages often with no benefits who will have to sacrifice time with family just to keep their jobs. 

Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation noted that “the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits.” He is absolutely correct in this, but churches in the United States, especially supposedly conservative ones say little. 

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I am sorry this is a war on Thanksgiving and a war on vulnerable workers. But then as the Ferengi 111th Rule of Acquisition says “Treat people in your debt like family … exploit them.”

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Religious conservatives and their media allies on Fox News rage about the supposed “War on Christmas” but for decades have sacrificed Christmas on the Godless altar of materialism and consumerism. Now they are throwing the last remaining holiday where families and friends can gather out the window, without saying a word about it. 

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I wonder which is worse in the eyes of God, to give lip service to the religious aspects of the holiday? Or to mistreat and abuse the most vulnerable workers all while becoming indebted to the banks and corporations who have no regard for the real meaning of any holiday and only seek a greater profit? 

But then “greed is eternal.” So says the 10th Rule of Acquisition.

Goodbye Thanksgiving it was good to know you. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

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Rejecting the “God” of Black Friday

Yes my friends it is that most holy of occasions in American life, the annual celebration of Black Friday where others sane an rational people allow themselves to unleash their animal passions on the floors of our greatest retailers and on the internet.  We have observed the high holy day of Black Friday where Americans of all races and religious persuasions observe a day of sacrifice to the God of consumerism often spending days in preparation carefully hoarding their treasures in hopes of scoring the best deals at the nation’s leading retailers.

Today I can say that I have not even spent a penny on this Black Friday, not even online. I just can’t get into the whole mass psychology marketed by the retailers.  The thought of waiting hours just beat other people to buy some gadget made by salve laborers in China or some other despotic country is frightening. When one realizes that the retailers that cater to our greed not only profit off of slave labor, but also pay their workers low wages, offer few if any benefits for working obscene and often unpredictable hours to maximize their profits one has to wonder about the morality of it all.

In the good news of the day, our local news reports that no one has yet been shot, knifed or trampled to death in any of our local retailers. However I can imagine that customer number 201 in line for the 200 available the $199 HDTVs Wal-Mart or other retailers with a limited numbers of Black Friday “door buster” specials is feeling homicidal or suicidal or possibly both about now.

But I hear that in some places the holiday has been celebrated with much more aplomb than our sleepy city.  I have read about shootings inside and outside of different retailers, incidents where shoppers had to be tasered by police, pepper sprayed by store security officers or even better pepper strayed each other. In one location a lady ran someone down in a mall parking lot, distracted driving appears to be the case. I guess she got a text from another retailer with an unannounced special across town. There is a case where a man kept people in line by pulling out a gun, at least someone is keeping order. I can only image how fun that was for them as they wrestled for all of those really “hot” deals.

I do think that this celebration says something about us now, while many people around the world would be willing to die for a decent meal or freedom of speech we are willing to harm our neighbors because they might be the fist to get the latest gadget for a few dollars less than us.  It seems perverted don’t you think? I can’t imagine Jesus or Thomas Jefferson approving such behavior but it is part and parcel of the culture that we are very much a part of and participate in and that means Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street types and everyone in between because whether we like to admit it we like our stuff and we want it for the best possible price, not that there is anything wrong with that…especially if you are a follower of Ayn Rand’s banal philosophy.

But when we let the urges for stuff overcome our common sense and any sense of decency, decorum or love of our neighbor then maybe we have lost our way.

I guess the fact that after Iraq I am claustrophobic and get panicky in big crowds in enclosed areas now makes me less inclined even to try to go to a major retailer today.  Maybe that makes it easy for me to say these things with relative impunity since the thought of going out in such crowds petrifies me. I certainly am not trying to be judgmental but when I see people doing harm to each other to obtain things that are more than luxuries for most of the world I think that we need to just step back and look at ourselves.

I mean really….We have massive long term unemployment, our country is financially and politically broken, we are facing a “Fiscal Cliff,”  we have troops at war in Afghanistan while the rest of the Middle East is about to go up in flames and bring us even more heartache. So with all that going on we have people fighting each other and some people actually doing physical harm to others for gadgets made in China or Third World countries by what amounts to slave labor.

Even worse we have people in all levels of corporate America that promote this culture and make their living off of the people that are committing crimes to get a deal.  I think that says something about us and that troubles me.  But then I guess I don’t have enough faith in the God of Black Friday.

But why should I have faith in that God? The “God” of Black Friday caters to the darkest nature of self-centered greed and mocks the God who on the real Black Friday, offered himself for the life of the world. The “God” of this Black Friday is the no-God of Ayn Rand and her disciples who despise the crucified God in thought, word and deed.

I wonder what Jesus would do if he stumbled into a Christian book store on Black Friday and found people fighting over a special on WWJD junk or the latest greatest “study Bible” featuring the notes of some prosperity preacher. I don’t think that he would be very happy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Let’s Celebrate the Reason for the Season: Materialistic Consumerism

I love Christmas and after a week of relatively serious writing I felt the need to celebrate the reason for the season. That’s right, materialistic consumerism the religion with the most followers of any in the United States. Just look around and you will see that even before Halloween that Christmas paraphernalia is already filling the store shelves and if you go to one of those craft stores you might even see a manger scene complete with Freddy Krueger and the Pilgrims kneeling at the crèche surrounded by the Wise Men, shepherds, vampires and turkeys. I tell you it is a miracle to behold disparate holidays blended together as only marketing professionals can do.

I just find the holiday spirit something to behold don’t you?  I just love the solemnity of Black Friday where countless consumers spend like drunken sailors and fight like them too when they find out that Wal-Mart has run out of everything that was in the Black Friday special advertisement.  It is inspiriting I tell you to excitement and mayhem of the season.  I just love the soothing sounds of non-stop advertisements on television with happy people spending money on lavish gifts to the tune of popular holiday music celebrating Santa the Savior who has come from the North Pole to bring joy to the people showering them with gifts paid for by those little plastic cards that everyone carries in their wallet. Yes my friends it is a wondrous season where for a month following Thanksgiving we exhaust ourselves and spend ourselves into oblivion as the miracle that began on 34th Street gives us all a wonderful life.

Now of course as you might guess, Padre Steve is a Christian and like all Christians he knows that Jesus is the “reason for the season” because all the Christian stores that sell Jesus junk tell him so. Meanwhile hundreds, no verily thousands of Churches endeavor to fill the pews with new and exciting versions of the Christmas story, complete with Angel choirs made up of heavy metal bands, hip hop artists and digitally enhanced manger scenes in Dolby Surround sound and 3-D graphics complete with interactive menus. It is amazing and wondrous to behold especially when the offering plate comes round, joy to the world and pray that the church breaks even, if not take a second offering after all it’s better to receive than go broke.

You see it seems that even in matters of faith rampant consumerism and materialism has distorted the very simple message of the Gospel that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal, 4:4-5)

It is in that fullness of time in a humble stable that most of us would shy away from because of the stench that Jesus was born, born of a virgin. In that humble stable away from their home in Galilee a young couple found themselves with child while obeying the edict of Caesar to register in a census. In the fullness of time a child was born in an era of oppressive paranoid local leaders such as Herod as well as the ever wary and security conscious Romans.   He was born in an era of religious fervor where ordinary people hoped and prayed for a deliverer but where many religious leaders were more interested in keeping their power than in welcoming a Messiah, where religious leaders made money on the gifts and offerings of devout people and where a profit could be made by selling off less than perfect animals for the offering while keeping the best for the religious leaders.

Yes my friends it was a time not very different from our own.  Somehow I think that Jesus would scratch his head in bewilderment in he were to walk the mall, watch a little television and visit a church or two and see just how he is marketed but allegedly Christian people. It’s funny how little things change in 2000 years.  I wonder if Jesus would get one of those WWJD bracelets or perhaps a few copies of The Prayer of Jabez? I wonder if he would turn over the tables in the Jesus junk stores and foyers of churches. I wonder if he would shed tears over the constant bombardment of advertisements telling people who are losing their homes to spend more money and of the rich passing the poor by on the streets.  I wonder if he would bless the practice of usury that undergirds our economy while impoverishing debtors that so many of his people support as being good for the economy.  I wonder about so much more including if Jesus would support the way that we celebrate him.  Somehow I think that he would be more upset about the way that his people treat him than those that are of other religious faiths or those that have left churches because of any number of abuses by both clergy and lay people.

Maybe I just wonder too much, but don’t you?

Padre Steve+

 

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Anne Rice and the Exodus

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There is an exodus occurring in American Christianity.  This is not new. George Barna has reported a lot about disturbing trends in American Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity.  These trends span denominational lines and having watched them and seen a lot of anecdotal evidence myself over the past 20 or so years I believe that they are now having a cascade effect with visible effects.  Before the effects were covered over as mega-churches, seeker-friendly churches, the so-called “church growth movement” carved out rather large chunks out of denominational churches of all types.  The common charge leveled against “traditional” denominational churches by the new non-denominational start-ups was that they were out of touch with people, hypocritical, immersed in promoting “boring” doctrine and not keeping up with the times in their worship style, preaching or service format.  The new churches more often than not minimized the major doctrines of Christian orthodoxy, for all practical purposes reduced the Bible to a pop-psychology manual that Christians were to use to get all they wanted from God, particularly health and wealth but also self-esteem and just plain old feeling good.  Those that taught anything that deviated back toward orthodoxy usually focus on things like eschatology or on moral issues, the “culture war” and align themselves closely with political movements and parties, sometimes becoming more focused on winning the political war  than actually proclaiming the Gospel.

As a result much of the Christian landscape is dominated by churches that understand little of the Christian faith, no longer see value in practicing things like Baptism or Holy Communion and while they preach about “Biblical absolutes” in regard to abortion, an admittedly abhorrent practice and homosexuality they seem to gloss over other many moral issues including divorce, sex outside of marriage, materialism, greed and avarice, so long as those practicing them are on “our side.” Likewise they are prone to give people who actually oppose the Christian faith a pass if they fall on the same side of the political aisle.  We are simple selective literalists.

As Barna’s studies have shown Evangelical Christians have worse rates of divorce, teenage sex outside of marriage and other moral problems than those that do not claim to be Christians.  Likewise the lifestyles of many of the leaders of the Evangelical movement are prone to gross material excess and every year we see some Evangelical leader or leaders involved in some kind of sexual, financial or sometimes criminal activity.  To me it seems that American Christianity is doctrinally impoverished, politically intolerant and morally bankrupt.

So Anne Rice announces that she is leaving Christianity but not Jesus and catalogued a list of things that she found that she could not live with inside the church.  Since she announced this she has been the talk of the town. To those cynical to organized religion, though why we call any religion in America organized is beyond me, this is a boon.  For those defending the faith it is also a boon as they have an identifiable “traitor to the faith” to go after rather than some amorphous concept or idea.  Real heretics are so much more fun to go after.  I have been amazed but not surprised at the number of articles condemning Rice.  Most even if they don’t say it in the article they basically articulate the same thing that many of the early Church Fathers stated in regard to heretics and schismatics that left the church for the various heresies of the day almost all of which denied the nature of Christ, either his deity or humanity.

Rice has not done that. She has not denied the deity or humanity of Christ, his message of salvation or anything. She has protested and repudiated the outward actions of Christians and the institutional Church.  Now whether one agrees with her assessment is another matter but she has not necessarily denied Christ.  Her story is not yet completed, she may reconcile again with the Catholic Church or another Church.  To condemn her at this point would be similar to condemn Francis of Assisi when he walked out of the church.

In fact to condemn Ms Rice at this point is to miss the point of her protest.  Her protest is that the Church does not live the Gospel.  Her critics almost universally attack her for her support of homosexuals.  However a large part of that support is because her son is homosexual and to condemn her as a mother to that has lost one child at the age of 6 and is widowed for protesting the treatment that her son and other homosexuals have received from Christians is unfair to her and to them regardless of what one believes about homosexuality.  It seems to me that homosexuality is about the only unpardonable sin to many American Christians and that is the biggest criticism that I see in what her critics have written. They may talk about her separating herself from the Church and thus Christ but it really seems more to be about why she did so.   We Christians will tolerate about every sort of perversion and unfaithful action of people in the church to include leaders so long as it is not homosexuality. Divorce, no problem; gluttony, not an issue; murder, as long as it is state sanctioned; materialistic greed as long as we can link it to our own and the church’s prosperity; discrimination against people based on gender, race or religion, no problem so long as it is the name of national security or in the interest of our political party or church organization.  The argument against her is a red herring to divert people from the real issue which is the dismal state of the church, in belief and practice in the United States.

You see the argument used against Ms. Rice that by separating herself from the Church that she has separated herself from Christ and is “in schism” itself is disingenuous.  Every church body in this country can be accused of being in schism from someone and that includes the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox who to this day believe the other to be in schism.  Likewise for Protestants, especially those in independent churches to call her into question is hypocritical, many of those churches were born in schism and have few discernible beliefs or practices that link them to historic Christianity except that they “believe in Jesus.”  Protestantism itself is a “protest” against the Church and its practices, the Catholic Church to be sure but nonetheless at its heart a protest that is little different from that of Ms. Rice.

You see that is the problem with American Christianity. We want to selectively apply scripture and the teachings of the early Church to other Christians that we don’t agree with and that is something that we all do to one degree or another and it does not matter if we are conservatives or liberals, Catholics or Protestants, seeker friendly or traditionalist. No matter who we are or what our theological stance we all somehow ensure that we exclude someone else or some group from the Kingdom of God and to make it more fun we can all find something in Scripture or tradition to buttress our position.  As much as we want it to be the issue is not belief or doctrine, but practice and just who we allow the grace of God to extend to.

I don’t think that it is right to single Ms. Rice out after all let’s be truthful if a person has left a church for any issue including doctrine they are in schism.  If a person has been part of a church split at the local or the denominational level where they have left their “mother church” they too are in schism.  If someone leaves their church for a season or forever they have done the same thing that Ms Rice has done and I don’t see anyone out there making this point or going after all of us that are in schism from someone.

Let’s face it there are in the United States alone anywhere from 25,000-40,000 distinct denominational groups depending on your source. David Barrett lists 34,000 separate faith groups in the world that consider themselves to be Christian (David B. Barrett, et al., “World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,” Oxford University Press, (2001)) In fact, many consider themselves alone to be the only “true” Christian church. Now if you ask me that sounds like a whole lot of schism going on and just looking at the numbers there are a lot of people outside the walls of someone else’s church and therefore outside of the grace of God.

So with all of this in place I have to go back to some of my original statements of how we got to where we are and why Ms. Rice’s “defection” is symptomatic of a far bigger problem for American Christianity. We have over the past 40 years or so since the societal revolt of the 1960s been collectively as Christians been laying turds in our own punchbowl. We have renounced any semblance of coherent doctrine because “doctrine is boring.” Thus when we look at the most popular preachers in the country we see that one, T.D. Jakes holds a position on the Godhead (Jesus only modalism) which has been condemned by the church for like 1700 years or so. The there is Joel Osteen who seems like a nice guy but seems to have no recognizable Christian doctrine in his preaching, except that God loves us. I have no problem with that but that isn’t all that there is. Of course there is Rick Warren and before him Bill Hybels both of whom have taken the non-denominational identification to new heights.  I won’t even go into morality as I mentioned that in a recent post about the marital problems of another big time preacher, Benny Hinn who has promulgated more heresy than I can list.  On the Catholic side we have a church that despite official statements seems to still be protecting criminals and sexual predators and silencing those in the Church who raise their voices in protest to include the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For better or worse the church in the United States has become the “Church of What’s Happening Now.”  We have tossed out the riches of 2000 years of faith, replaced them with religious mumbo jumbo that most closely aligns with our special interest and when people go from church to church or drop the faith completely we wonder why?

As a military Chaplain I have had a unique perspective on the state of Christianity in this country. My experience of how people classify themselves religiously nearly mirrors what is seen in the work of the Barna Research Group and the American Religious Identification Surveys of 2001 and 2008, by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. What I have seen in almost 20 years of being a chaplain is both a decline in those that identify themselves as Christians and those that while they identify themselves as Christians have no consistent practice or identification with any particular denomination or group. The numbers claiming “No Religious Preference” and “Christian No Denomination” seem to go up every year.  Likewise the numbers identifying themselves as Wiccan or any number of other more earth based or eastern religions is increasing.  Many of these young men and women were raised as Christians or had some kind of “Christian” experience before going off to what they are now.

Barna notes that “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.” (“Annual study reveals America is spiritually stagnant,” Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/) and that “evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994….less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.” (“Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America’s Religious Beliefs and Practices,” The Barna Group, 2005-APR-11, at:http://www.barna.org/ )

The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 notes other troubling facts for American Christianity.  Among them:

The percentage of American adults that identify themselves with a specific religion dropped from 89.5% to 79.9%:

Americans who identify themselves as Christian dropped from 86.2 to 76.0 — a loss of 10.2 percentage points in 18 years — about 0.6 percentage points per year.

Americans identifying themselves as Protestant dropped from 60.0 to 50.9%.

Catholics declined from 26.2% to 25.1%

The Catholic population in the Northeast fell: From 1900 to 2008, it went from 50% in New England to 36%, and from 44% to 37% in New York state. Apparently to immigration, it rose during the same interval from 29% to 37% in California, and 23% to 32% in Texas.

Religious Jews declined from1.8% to 1.2%

The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is Wicca. According to Religion Link “Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.”

Finally 15.0% (14.1%) do not follow any organized religion. There are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans combined. (Cathy Grossman, “Charting the unchurched in America,” USA Today, 2002-MAR-7, at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/dcovthu.htm)

The ARIS survey noted the following about those that left or switched churches:

About 16% of adults have changed their identification.

For the largest group, the change was abandoning all religion.

Baptists picked up the largest number of any religion: 4.4 million. But they also lost 4.6 million.

Roman Catholics lost the greatest number, 9.5 million. However, they also picked up 4.3 million.

Those are just the numbers. To look within we have to look at behaviors and we find that American Christians on the whole are very similar to those with no religion whatsoever. Rates of divorce, teenage pregnancy and other social indicators often show that American Christians differ little from and sometimes are in worse shape than their non-Christian neighbors.

If we look at reasons for people leaving the faith Barna has the answer. To put it in Padre Steve terminology “we don’t treat people well.”  Barna notes: “Based on past studies of those who avoid Christian churches, one of the driving forces behind such behavior is the painful experiences endured within the local church context. In fact, one Barna study among unchurched adults shows that nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.” (http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/362-millions-of-unchurched-adults-are-christians-hurt-by-churches-but-can-be-healed-of-the-pain)

Instead of condemning Anne Rice maybe we as Christians, Churches and Church leaders need to get over defending ourselves and get ourselves and our churches right with God, one another and our neighbors. Maybe Anne Rice is a prophet and we should thank her even if we don’t agree with all that she says. Maybe we should stop referring to her as a traitor to her faith.

Maybe Dietrich Bonhoeffer had it right when he wrote from prison:

Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a “secular” life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. He may live a “secular” life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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More Thoughts on Religious Freedom: By Job I think that Christians might actually be Under Attack, but not like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity say that they are

Once again I the defender of religious liberty find that even in the elucidation of my thoughts of said subject that I remain a woefully misunderstood man.  Religious freedom is a sticky wicket, everyone wants it, everyone claims it but few want to give it to those that they disagree with or find to be against whatever their particular creed is. Now I am basically a moderate Anglo-Catholic which means that I am a Catholic with Anglican tendencies or Catholic slightly more independent and Anglican tendencies.  My faith is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils of the Church, it comes from 2000 years of Christian experience, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative the human and the Divine.  I stand firmly in the tradition of the Christian faith certainly not a heretic or unbeliever but when I question actions of fellow Christians I am viewed with suspicion. In fact a lady from my denomination told me to “don’t watch it if I don’t agree with it” when I asked hard questions about something she said on a social networking site.  Now I know that this woman is both sincere and passionate in her beliefs, but her beliefs while firmly within the mainstream of modern American Evangelical Christian thought actually have little to do with the Christian faith but rather a defense of beliefs that many Christians in the United States as well as the world would find distinctly un-Christian.

You see my friend is symptomatic of the myopia typical of modern American Evangelicals, or for that matter many “conservative” Christians regardless of their tradition proclaim.  You see many American Christians do have legitimate and compelling reasons to be concerned, the society is becoming much more secular, much more religiously and culturally diverse and in many places individual Christians and even churches seem to be the targets of a plethora of lawsuits, attacks on the symbols of their faith as well as many of the values that they hold dear from groups on the left.  Likewise there are Christians from more liberal or “social Gospel” minded traditions that would likewise see their faith under attack from conservative secularists, those in positions of great financial advantage and Libertarians and others that believe the their faith should not be allowed a place in the public forum, especially when they champion the rights of those that are economically disadvantaged or that are not in the mainstream of American life.    Seems that no matter what your point of view that being a Christian is not a particularly popular thing to be in the United States now days, my goodness well how can it not be?  First there were the televangelists, and then the pedophile priests, and then the financial and political scandals involving various clergymen of both the left and the right, and clergymen and churches that demand special status and privilege from government agencies simply because they are “religious” who would blame the secularists and even believers from being skeptical?

But I would argue that many good Christians from various traditions in all sincerity and devotion to their beliefs as well as the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and with no malice whatsoever feel attacked.  And why should they not feel attacked?  Their faith is mocked in the media, their symbols protested or outlawed, their beliefs ridiculed and the values that they want and earnestly seek to teach their children thrown back at them at every chance.  You see whether the issue is the rights of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage for conservatives or the right to same sex marriage espoused by liberals or the rights of illegal or undocumented workers, the needs of the poor and destitute there is always someone in power that wants to shut these people down and most always the issue is power and money where corporations, local and state governments and even individuals use the law to squash out dissent by churches or other religious bodies and individuals at every turn. Who can blame these people from feeling attacked?  Who can blame them for rallying to the cry of those that would take up their cause even if those people have ulterior motivations from religious or secular groups from the right or from the left?

This brings me back on point, I do not condemn men and women of faith that live their life with virtue and seek to serve both God and their neighbor in love.  In fact I would dare say that many Christian and Churches in good conscience believe that they are attempting to do well and see their efforts maligned in the press and in the media and attacked by politicians with something to gain from attacking various Christian Churches and their activities which quite often are grounded in nothing more than the mandate to love Goad and love their neighbor.  No matter if it is a Church that holds prolife or anti-abortion beliefs or those that give sanctuary to undocumented workers or those that care for others that are the cast offs of American society it seems that there is no shortage of those willing to file lawsuits or initiate criminal proceedings for even the most preposterous of offenses be it holding a Bible study in a residential area, operating a soup kitchen from the back of a truck or simply displaying the symbol of their faith in a public place or even upon their bodies.

Now I am not one of those going about screaming that Christians are being systematically persecuted but what reasonable person would not feel attacked if the very signs, symbols, sacraments and actions that were central to their faith were ridiculed day in and day out? Nor am I one that proclaims that the United States has some manifold destiny wrought by God or that the Founding Fathers were great believers in the Christian religion, not by far.  I am a defender of religious liberty and firm advocate for the separation of Church, or Mosque or Synagogue or even Wiccan bonfire and State. This is something that this robustly moderate Anglo-Catholic learned in a Southern Baptist seminary, before the Fundamentalist takeover, that our religious freedom is to be guarded and the rights of all religions safeguarded against the designs of a predominately secular and materialist state and corporate culture if there is to be any religious freedom for anyone.

In response there are extremist who take legitimate fear and turn it into anger and paranoia even as they collect vast amounts of money from people desperate for someone to take their side.  But despite all of the “herculean” efforts of these worldly “saviors” nothing ever changes even as they grow rich at the expense of the people the purport to serve all the while accomplishing nothing and further alienating their charges from the rest of society.  Yes persecuted Christian send your $20, $50, $200 or $1000 gift to our ministry and by God our lawyers will eventual defeat those that persecute you. By God give our candidates money so they can go to Washington and make things right again and protect your values even while they engage in marital infidelity at taxpayer expense, Governor Sanford thank you for the ammunition, ditto to you Senator Ensign and my goodness how can I forget you Vice President Gore? You see I am an equal opportunity pundit when politicians and preachers fleece the flock of God and then convince them that they need to give more for their efforts.  I love America.

That’s what they all say isn’t it? “Give me your money and or your vote and I will get results for you.”  But they don’t despite the hundreds of millions, maybe even the billions of dollars that have been donated to fill their coffers. Mass marketing mailings and e-mails targeted by groups that play upon the worst fears of believers which keep these people on edge and anxious about everything when I think it was the Lord that told his disciples to “be anxious for nothing” or maybe it was Saint Paul, but whoever it was it’s in the Bible, you can look it up.

I think I will continue this series as I believe that religious liberty is under threat in a thousand different ways, well maybe not a thousand I haven’t counted lately but at least I am sure in a number of ways some more insidious than others.  I do not believe that this threat should only alarm Christians but that people of any faith that take it serious should be concerned.  I am not asking or desirous of governmental favors for religious groups because that only leads to tyranny as religious people and groups prostitute their faith for special status. That is the nature of the beast, maybe even like the Beast in the Book of Revelation which had a political, religious and economic nature.  However I do think that it is high time that people of good intent and real faith regardless of what it is start looking out for each other otherwise no one’s faith will be safe.

To be continued….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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