Tag Archives: orthodoxy

Frantic Fanatics

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like yesterday just a short post that comes out of my reflections following for what was for me, a difficult Holy Week. As I was sorting through my own issues, and trying to make sense of what I was going through I remembered a saying by a Spanish (Basque) philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who lived in the late 1800s and during the Spanish Civil War, he noted that “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith,” and in that moment my mind was flooded with the examples of so many characters in the Bible, as well as those who have shaped what Christians believe for two millennia.

In turbulent times like those in which we live, many people seek some kind of religious certitude, and grasp for some kind of orthodox that they can cling. This is a universal condition which can be found in the lives of people of all religions. The great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote something that I think is a good point of reflection to close today’s thought, “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.” That is demonstrated daily by people who need to suppress, discriminate against, and even kill those whose existence threatens their certitude.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Wannabe Inquisitors: Christian Trolls

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a short post today, I have spent most of the day over at the Naval Medical Center, getting my initial evaluation for Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussive Syndrome and new hearing aids to help with Tinnitus and speech processing disorder.

But, another day, another religious troll. This one not the typical Evangelical, or even more traditionalist Roman or conservative Catholic type. This one claimed to be Eastern Orthodox and had to bluntly confront me on my heresy. Of course that had to do with women clergy and homosexuals, which seem to be for many of these guys, and for that matter all of my trolls have been guys, the big issue is that they always focus on these things when calling me a heretic. They never call me a heretic for the things that the Church Fathers all condemned as heretical, like my very orthodox doctrine of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Nor can they say that any of my beliefs conflict with the Creeds or Councils, or are not enunciated by at least some of the Church Fathers. Instead they jump on women in ministry and gays.

My personal feeling is that thought they cloak their reasons in their theology is the fact that they cannot handle women in any kind of authority position and that, and the issue of homosexuality makes them question their own manhood, or possibly lack thereof. I love what Barbara Tuchman wrote about male theologians. “Theology being the work of males, original sin was traced to the female.” That really is why male dominated, and often mysoginistic religions reject women as priests, bishops, ministers, Imams, or Rabbis.

After a couple of exchanges this gentleman referred to the statement that the “Orthodox Church IS the Church, is true and correct in EVERYTHING it teaches….” (His emphasis)

Such appeals to absolute truth being contained in any one religion or denomination neither impress or frighten me. I went through that stage of faith, and frankly it’s a free country. I know lots of other people  that would disagree with the man, including the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which still holds its 1054 excommunication of the Orthodox as binding, despite the good intentions of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. But if such certitude comforts this man, good on him.

What I don’t understand though is how this man and others like him have a compulsive need to troll the internet, find someone that they find lacking, call them a heretic and get upset when the person that they assaulted takes umbrage. I don’t get that. I have no need to go to anyone’s site just to tell them how wrong I think that are. But then maybe such people do this because they lack the official backing of the government to enforce their religious beliefs on others.

I have a live and let live attitude. I don’t think that anyone or any church, denomination, sect or religion has a monopoly on truth. I quite agree with the late Father Henri Nouwen who said:

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

I no longer make absolute truth claims. I believe, but I doubt and question, some days more the latter than the former. So when people like this come at me I try not to waste much time on them, though I did defend myself. This man proved again Eric Hoffer’s magnificent thoughts:

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

The good thing is that in this country, men like this are unable to enforce their doctrine on other citizens through the police power of the government. Such as the case in Russia where Vladimir Putin’s crusades against women, the LGBT community as well as other smaller Christian denominations and Jews are rooted in the state religion of Russian Orthodoxy. This is a fact and it is a reminder that such people and such systems do exist, and if they ever, in whatever form gained control of the government in this country they would do the same. We see this at the state level where a number of states are attempting to establish Christianity as the State religion, or at the minimum give Christianity precedence over any other religion.

These Wannabe American inquisitors love Putin, and many actually go to Russia to cheer on his actions.

Hopefully things never come to that here. But you never know. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) said in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

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

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

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Friends, of Padre Steve’s World

It looks like it is time to piss off the Christian faithful again…, so here it goes…

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Last week the Senate released its report on the American use of torture.

It was a glaring indictment of the policies of the Bush administration which had for all practical intents had legitimized the use of torture, which Americans and our allies had long considered to be war crimes .

I had pretty much avoided commentary until I was asked by a fellow priest in my old denomination to link a post about war crimes to a thread that he had started which had brought a lot of comments. One of the commentators, a bishop of my former church from Africa made a comment that the “end of repentance justified the means.” I objected and claimed that such was the justification of every Christian from the Inquisition to the Puritans and beyond for the commissions of crimes against fellow believers. He most graciously understood what I was saying, but sadly all too many Christians in the country are willing to throw the actual love of God in Jesus to the wind to support criminal activities and crimes against humanity that defy the imagination.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, it seems that all too often that Conservative Christians, especially American Evangelicals and Catholics are decidedly in favor of torture and other actions that the United States has prosecuted others as war criminals for doing are now in vogue. The latest Pew Survey confirms these. Most Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics are okay with torture, in fact by overwhelming margins it seems that Christian conservatives are on board with criminal activity that our ancestors condemned and prosecuted the Germans and Japanese for doing and condemned the Chinese Communists and North Vietnamese captors of U.S. military personnel for using on U.S. military personnel.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans considered such activate to be war crimes?

No.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans tried as war criminals those who waged wars of aggression and committed war crimes on others?

No.

Sadly, besides the soulless former Vice President Dick Cheney and the American version of the infamous Nazi propaganda paper Der Sturmer aka Fox News, the strongest supporters of torture, war crimes and unjust, illegal and immoral wars are Conservative Christians. Sadly, if we applied the standards of the Nuremberg tribunals to former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a host of their advisors and aides most of them would have ended up on the gallows of Nuremberg.

Earlier in the year, former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, former half-term Governor of Alaska and failed reality TV star, and more damning, Evangelical Christian icon  and darling, Sarah Palin told the NRA national convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” In saying that, Palin equated one of the holiest and sacred of Christian sacraments with a war crime, and sadly few Christian pundits, preachers or politicians condemned her for it. Sadly they applauded her for it and in the process exposed themselves for the anti-Christs that they are in their heart of hearts.

But why should we be surprised? For over a millennia Christians and Christian leaders have advocated similar and horrible ideas.

Torture has been a preferred technique for Christians for over a millennia. In the days before the Great Schism of 1054 Christians persecuted and tortured as heretics those who did not agree with their theological definition of the Trinity or other theological questions. The fact is that if you did not agree with the “orthodox” position you were not just a heretic but a criminal against the state.

After the split of 1054 Christians in the East and the West used to power of the church and state to persecute, prosecute, torture and execute those who did not agree with their position.

After the Protestant Reformation things did not change. Lutherans and Catholics banded together in Germany to crush the Peasant’s revolt. John Calvin used the power of the sate to prosecute any deviation from his understanding. Ulrich Zwingli, drowned his former students in the Rhine River to make a point after they were “re-bapitized” in believers baptism. The Church of England persecuted Catholics, Separatists, Puritans and Baptists. In the new world the Puritans did the same to Baptists, Quakers and other dissenters. Later American Christians justified the extermination of native-Americans and the institution of slavery, of course using their interpretation of the Bible.

Torture? Wrong? Un-Christian? Of course not. Of course to all of these people it is justified. It is a part of all of them and almost always buttressed by a theology that said that anything was fair if it resulted in repentance. The most evil and un-Christian means ware justified for a theological and political end, the kind of end that would make it perfectly logical to kill Jesus to achieve.

Sadly most of today’s American Christians don’t even do that. They are just okay with torture because they have abandoned any semblance of empathy, care or love or for that matter any . It is no longer about Jesus. It is about unfettered political power buttressed by the blessing of the church. Gary Bauer, a long time political leads in the Christian right noted:

“We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.”

Sadly it no longer matters for many Christians what is right or what is wrong when it comes to torture and war crimes.It does not matter that the justification which was used against their theological and ecclesiastical ancestors; especially torture is something that they now bless. It does not matter that wars that are condemned by historical Christian understanding of the Just War Theory, and which most recently were condemned by Pope John Paul II are vehemently defended by conservative American Christians. It does not matter that Christians support torture, murder and repression of people that they disagree with because by doing so they are “bringing people to repentance.” 

Sadly that was the excuse of the Inquisitors and every other supposed Christian who killed others, even those who were also Christians in the name of Christ.

The sad truth is that for Christians to bless, promote and make a mockery of their faith by supporting such actions is unconscionable. If to such “Christians” that say this means that I am not a Christian than I would rather not be; I would rather follow Jesus than them; be they Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, the hacks of the American Family Association, Christian Dominionists, or any other allegedly “Christian” group party or individual. If they are right about the character of God I would rather be damned to Hell than agree with them.

But I do not believe the they are and I will fight them until I die. I no longer care what they call me, or even if they physically threaten me, as some have.

I have a higher duty to God, the same kind of higher duty that William Lloyd Garrison and William Seward, Christian abolitionists, inflamed “Bible believing Christians” in the South and the North when they condemned the “Christian” defense of slavery in the ante-bellum United States.

War crimes are war crimes no matter who commits them. The fact that a sizable number of Conservative American Evangelical and Catholic Christians not only condone but approve of the practices demonstrate, at least to me, that the faith that they claim t defend is a sham. Their actions show that they approve of such activities because of their political beliefs with which they buttress and baptize with selective Bible quotes. Such cannot be equated with faith in Jesus, however it can be equated with the defense of Christendom.

The two are not the same, despite what the most ardent defenders claim, but for the most part conservative American Christians and their theological ancestors are wedded at the hip. Torture, the use of unjust wars to achieve political ends and the subjugation of peoples, races and those even within their faith who are demeaned to be heretics. The list of such deeds done in the name of Christ and Christendom is mind boggling and sickening, but still Christians not only defend them but claim biblical justification to do so.

What Sarah Palin and so many other “Christians” support and endorse is nothing more than the evil perpetuated by every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.

For those that support her, Dick Cheney and those like them, be warned; like the non-Nazi German conservatives who initially supported Hitler but later had second thoughts you too could considered a terrorist using the methods that Palin advocates against others today. You get what you vote for…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian and a martyr under the Nazis wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

A man that I know, a member of my former denomination and leader in the anti-abortion movement named Randall Terry said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” 

Yes, it is not the love of God which motivates many conservative Christians today, it is hate, hate in the name of righteousness.

As Martin Niemoller said after the fall of the Third Reich:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Of cours by saying this I will be condemned as something less than a Christian and American by those who are willing to bless all types of war crimes to defend. Sadly such Christians just don’t get it, and help forge a link in a chain of torture, injustice and inhumanity that will ultimately swallow them. Sadly most of them, convinced by the all consuming hatred of their political patrons will adjust their theology in order to enhance their position.

In the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard:

“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

When I read and watch the comments of so called “Conservative Christians” and their allies today I am convinced that should they ever gain the control of the franchise as they claim to want, that they will ensure the death of our republic.

If the United States is destroyed it will not be the fault of external forces. Nor will it be the fault of non-Christians, or “unbelievers.” It will be the fault of those who claim God’s mantle using the name of Jesus for their own political power and control and in the process invite the worst forms of violence and depredation against their fellow citizens.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Faith and Doubt

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Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without an element of despair even in thie consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God himself.” Miguel de Unanumo

The idea of God, any God is a wonderful idea. In fact when I read about the numbers of people in the United States who when polled say they they “believe in God,” or “believe the Bible” or claim to be Christian when answering poll questions I am always amazed. I say this because I am beginning to believe that what is being affirmed is not a belief in God, which presupposes all of the problems inherent in any real relationship.

If we truly believe in a personal God, or to use the Evangelical terminology to have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” such relationship cannot be reduced to mere intellectual assent or even fervent belief in impersonal dogma or fanatical orthodoxy.

Relationships are inherently messy. They involve risk and vulnerability and they evolve over time. That includes the relationship of the believer to God. The Christian and Jewish scriptures are full of the accounts of people, reckoned according to the various authors of scripture to be been found faithful or righteous by God. Doubts, faith, disappointment and anguish are shown to go both ways in the relationship of God to his people, individually and collectively. The Bible is actually quite an earthy book when it comes to these relationships. Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, Job, David, Peter, Paul and so many others and even God himself according to Scripture are shown to deal with disappointment, doubt and anguish in their relationships with one another.

Likewise there are numerous instances in the Old Testament of God’s stated disappointment and anger with his people, and even regret for delivering them from Egypt and other oppressors. The fact that Moses more than once has to talk God out of destroying the Israelites in the wilderness is evidence enough. But add to this the various times of national apostasy where God is claimed to have given Israel over to her enemies as punishment for rejecting him. Then consider the story of the prophet Hosea who is told to marry a harlot as a symbol of how God feels about his people and you get the point. If we as Christians believe our own Scriptures it is apparent that they record an often volatile relationship between God and his people. They record the story of a God who doubts and often regrets his own choices. I don’t think that I have heard anyone preach on that lately. Maybe God is admitting in this that he too makes mistakes and has doubts but in the end his love and grace prevail over his anger and wrath. I think that should give us some hope and consolation.

Some of the great Christian writers and thinkers echo this. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” Paul Tillich correctly noted that “doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” I think that it is a pity that so many Christians as well as other religious people regard doubt as a sin, weakness or failing, when in fact the entire narrative of God’s people found in the Bible testifies that it is both normal and quite often an element of faith’s triumph.

This has been the case in my own life. I can safely say in my life that when I was a younger Priest and more cocksure about things I would write often fiery polemics mostly condemning the errors of others. I had studied scripture, the Church Fathers, knew the Creeds and Councils, historical and systematic theology, philosophy and was well schooled in history, including Church History. I was even published in a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review. I wrote with a bombastic certitude and since the church that I had been ordained in was going through its own theological conflicts, conflicts which eventually tore that church apart, I was willing to turn my guns on others in the church in defense of the institution.

When I eventually went through my own crisis of faith resulting from my time in Iraq and struggle with PTSD I found that the certitude with which I could enunciate my faith was not enough. As I went through that valley of dark despair in which I could safely say that I wasn’t even sure of the existence of God for nearly two years, years where working as a critical care chaplain in ICUs and dealt with death every day I had to re-discover faith. In my sea of doubt I had to be present with other people, all walking through their own “valley of the shadow of death.”

It was in that time that faith returned and when it did it was not the bombastic faith of one who fervently believed the dogmas of the faith but as one who had experienced the grace of God in that dark valley. Looking back I can see the wisdom of God to allow me this experience. I believe that my previous faith, the faith of a man consumed with such certainty that I felt compelled to attack or counterattack those that did not believe correctly was a compensation for my own doubts. I think that Reinhold Niebuhr made an accurate assessment of that kind of faith when he wrote that frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but doubt.”

I have come to believe that faith is incomplete unless there is a corresponding doubt, because absolute faith is not really faith at all because it can only be faith in an idea, not in a relationship. In fact the late American Existential Psychologist Rollo May noted that the “relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. Relationships be they with people or the Divine are dynamic or they are dead. There is a give an take in any relationship. The accounts in the Christian and Jewish scriptures attest to this time after time.

As I wrote in my previous essay Belief and Unbeliefthat some people substitute an absolute belief in an ‘orthodoxy’ of some movement…and cling to it with unbridled fanaticism,” as a substitute for their lack of belief in either themselves or the God that they cannot see. While this is seen most often among religious people non-believers as well can become fanatical in their commitment to other “orthodoxies” especially political and economic theories that they believe will usher in a new order. Communism, Fascism, Socialism and Capitalism are examples of such ideologies which when embraced with the fervor and certitude of a religious movement rapidly become intolerant of dissent and persecute those who disagree.

Doubt and faith. Belief and unbelief. Eric Hoffer wrote that it is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.” I think that is equally amazing how much doubt is necessary to make real faith possible.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Belief and Unbelief

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“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep.” Frederick Buechner

I have always found that the story of the man who asks Jesus to heal his daughter in Mark 9:24 to resonate with me. The man cries out to Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief.”This has been part of my faith journey for decades. I think that it is one of the truest declarations of faith ever recorded. I know many people, believers of different faiths and unbelievers alike who believe with unrequited certitude. They outwardly proclaim what they believe as absolute and those who do mot believe like them are to be pitied or maybe even despised. While many will make that kind of proclamation I wonder how many believe with the certitude of their public statements be they a “believer” or an unbeliever.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury wrote “Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe to understand.”

I confess that as much as I believe that I often doubt. Not that I doubt God, but rather that I doubt humanity’s capacity to truly understand the infinite possibilities of God or of human existence. I actually think that means that I believe in a pretty infinite kind of God. For me I have taken Anselm’s understanding of faith as any of us who profess to believe in God or something else as the closest thing to truth we will know in this present life. Our lives, our existence is shrouded in understanding that is at best “seen through a mirror darkly” in the words of Paul the Apostle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “Man no longer lives in the beginning -he has lost the beginning. Now he finds himself in the middle, knowing neither the end or the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going toward the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them.

I love what some refer to as the Anglican Triad of belief, that the Christian faith is interpreted through Scripture, Tradition and Reason. But I also think that we as Christians also need to interpret it through our experience and humbly acknowledge that we do live in that “uncomfortable middle” neither knowing the beginning or the end.

This makes many if not most people uncomfortable. We want certainty. We want to be in control. However many no longer believe in themselves, much less a God that they cannot see and substitute an absolute belief in an “orthodoxy” of some movement, be it religious, philosophical, political or scientific and cling to it with unbridled fanaticism. That spirit is the genus of every mass movement and often the root of great evil. One only has to look at history to understand the truth of this.

Eric Hoffer wrote that “Even the sober desire for progress is sustained by faith- faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature and the omnipotence of science. It is a defiant and blasphemous faith, not unlike that held by the men who set out to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach into heaven” and who believed that “nothing will be restrained to them, which they imagined to do.”

Faith is important but regardless of what we put our faith in, God, humanity, science or materialism we have to own the limitations of our faith simply because of our existence in this uncomfortable middle. For me this limitation means that I believe in order to understand. My faith seeks understanding but understands that in this life I will not understand even the remotest amount of the vastness of creation, the spiritual aspects of life or even why there is the designated hitter rule, bats made of anything other than wood or artificial turf on a baseball diamond. But I digress…

My faith as it is as a Christian is in Jesus the Christ. It is stated in the Creeds and testified to in Scripture, tradition and history, but even those accounts are incomplete, John the Apostle says as much at the end of his Gospel as does Paul in Corinthians. Thus I believe that if Christians believe that we must honestly acknowledge the limitations that we have in understanding even what we claim to believe. We have to believe that there is in light of this limitation that we do not know “all truth” or even that we fully understand the limited amount that we actually can study or observe, or for that matter that we even correctly interpret those strongly held beliefs, be they religious, political, scientific or philosophical. That goes for the Christian, any other religious person, as well as the Pagan or the Atheist. Harry Callahan once said “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

Such a life does not lend itself to triumphalism of any kind, but rather in humility. Real faith in whatever we determine is truth is also is best demonstrated in our doubts and the honesty to admit our limitations. There is a prayer from Kenya that I found many years ago which says from the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, good Lord deliver us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited

Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now. I make no claims to be correct on everything and I am much more apt to err on the side of grace, although I have a lot of difficulty with those that use the Christian faith as a weapon to subjugate others and to deny civil and religious rights and human dignity to those that believe differently than they do.  This is why I write today.

I remember as a teenager going to a pretty conservative church which in many ways was basically an evangelical Christian subculture that looked out at the world as if it were the enemy and “non-Christians” as if they were lesser people because they were not “saved.”  In fact if you mentioned that you knew someone that was not a member of the church people almost invariably would ask if the person was “saved.”  This subcultural attitude which is actually quite prejudicial even if it is well intentioned pervades much of contemporary Evangelicalism and when some Evangelical leaders suggest dialogue and relationships with the “unsaved” which are respectful to non-Christians they are often labeled as “liberals” or “heretics.”

This has happened to me in the past couple of years since returning from Iraq and having to leave the Church that I served for 14 years as a Priest and Canon.  I wrote an article called Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian in September of 2010 which detailed the journey that I have been on. When I left the church I wrote another article that was picked up on another blog which was entitled The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church.  A number of people made comments on that article either positive or handled with grace and love but one anonymous person posted a comment which showed the extreme ugliness of some “Christian” conservatives who are quite willing to use character assassination, sound bites and absolute lies to smear another Christian brother who happens to disagree with them.  The moderator of that blog took down the comment because it was so off base and offered his apologies to me having been a target of people in our former church when he left years ago. Though the post was anonymous it had to be someone that knew me because it was very personal couched in “religious piety” but filled with lies and distortions. So much for Christian love….

But back to the Star Trek theme which believe it or not weaves its way through this saga. It seems to me that a lot of Christians talk big but act like they are afraid of the big bad world and if criticized fall into the litany of how bad things are, how the world hates Christians and hunker down into a fortress mentality.  Others keep the fortress but decide that it is high time that they as Christians “kick some liberal ass” and declare “war” on those not like them.  Some couch this in more moderate terms but others like the bomb-throwing activist Randall Terry show the dark side of this mentality:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” The continued twisted “Christian”  message of Randall Terry (Life Magazine)


The quote is nearly 18 years old but the attitude is quite common today as “Christians” gird themselves for war.  If you ask me the attitude is not Christian at all, but something out of the Middle Eastern mindset of the Old Testament which found its way into some parts of the Christian faith especially the Calvinism espoused by the Puritans who initially settled New England which is used as a pattern by Christian “Reconstructionists” and others of similar thinking. It seems to me to represent all that Jesus condemned many of his religious contemporaries for doing.  Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was at hand and for people to repent, however his harshest warnings and condemnations came not on the people that the religious considered the “unsaved” the Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners but at the smug religious people that ruled that ruled their countrymen with a religious law often more draconian than that of the oppressive Romans especially in the way that it treated others outside the fold.

The attitude is actually quite poisonous when you look at it in light of history and the effect that such an approach to life and others.  I can go to historic examples galore since we as Christians often have a sordid record when it comes to treating those that Christ gave his life for with any kind of love, charity or compassion often engaging in wars, pogroms, persecution, the Inquisition and state/church sanctioned mass murder even against fellow Christians that don’t agree with are particular line of thought.  But if I do that it strikes some as if I am trying to be unfair, so I will go to a Star Trek example which I used a while back in another post on a different subject but it fits.

The example comes from the Star Trek TNG episode called “The Drumhead” The episode involves a suspected case of sabotage and spying on the Enterprise and a retired Admiral is sent to investigate. Though evidence leads away from this conclusion the Admiral and her aid drive home the point and widen the investigation for any suspicious acts. Soon the loyalty of anyone that raises a voice to question the premise of the investigation is suspect to include the Captain, Jean Luc Picard.

The Admiral is a true believer in the Federation, actually a Zealot who describes a life that is quite similar to modern Zealots of religious and non-religious varieties in conservative and liberal thought in this and other countries. Zealots tend to surround themselves with others like them and often live lonely isolated existences in which they are on a mission to make sure that the edicts of their faith are obeyed and enforced by whatever religious or governmental structures will accommodate them.  Admiral Satie, the investigator details her life to Picard: “Captain, may I tell you how I spent the past four years? From planet to starbase to planet. I have no home. I live on starships and shuttlecraft. I haven’t seen a family member in years. I have no friends. But I have a purpose. My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket, that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this… extraordinary union be preserved.” Simply substitute the “United States of America” or “Christianity” for the United Federation of Planets and the picture paints a picture of us today.

After a lengthy opening the Admiral throws this at Picard: “I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!”

Picard dares to reply with a quote from the Admiral’s father, a noted jurist: “You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

The Admiral becomes furious and turns her wrath against Picard: “How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”

One only has to look at other Zealots of the Reconstructionist theology to see where this is going: Gary North one of the long time leaders of this movement said: “So let us be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), p. 25

Another important leader of the Christian right noted “We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.” — Gary Bauer, Family Research Council.

Unfortunately the leaders of this particular view of Christianity are not much different than the fictitious Admiral Satie and I do expect that their crusade will not be done anytime soon.  I know the character of such people having been their target.  Based on the words of my critic who totally twisted what I said and believe in this pejorative and frankly distorted screed:

From his writings on his blog, it’s quite clear that he is the one who’s taking a new direction away from Scripture and the ancient faith, which is the basis for his departure. Fr. Steve has changed his beliefs to now accept women priests, gay “saints”, Muslim “saints”, etc. I might call the acceptance of women priests “liberal”, but the other two are really just heresy – though I’m certain many (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) readers would lump women priests into the heresy category as well. Didn’t Jesus really die on the Cross to reconcile us to God teaching us that He is the only way to the Father? Yet Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God….I will pray for Fr. Steve, that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to him and bring him back to the true faith whether that’s with the CEC or another communion.”

The person that wrote this was anonymous and posed as an administrator on the other site using the name “admin.” What bothers me is the disingenuousness of the statement and the manner in which my beliefs were twisted to include implying that I had denied the “true faith” were bandied about by this person who as I said had to know me especially since my former church is a very small communion which has been shrinking for years due to its own internal problems. I have my suspicions of who the writer might be but cannot prove it beyond a doubt and the fact that he hid his identity is telling, only cowards that have no honor make such attacks from the shadows rather than speaking to a brother in person as the words of Scripture command.

The sad thing is that everything that I wrote is backed by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council and I never denied the Creeds, Councils and my Scriptural hermeneutics (not the way they were twisted) were within the bounds of the Christian faith in belief that the love and grace of God triumph over sin and unbelief and that we cannot earn that grace.  But according to my critic I am an apostate who has left the faith and my words are twisted beyond belief to “prove” his point.  This is the kind of person that uses the Creeds and Scripture not as means to faith and expressions of a living faith based on the mercy grace and love of God but as means of ecclesiastical control, not much different from that of the Medieval Catholic Church which I am sure that he would condemn since he refuses to be reconciled to Rome. It is funny to be criticized as a heretic by someone who would qualify as such if judged he were by Rome or even Orthodoxy.

Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, my anonymous critic and others represent the nature of the Admiral Satie in our universe and time-space continuum as opposed to the hypothetical future of Star Trek.  Just watch their behavior in the coming months and years. The war is afoot and woe betides anyone that stands in their way.  At the end of the Drumhead episode when Satie’s and her investigation are discredited Captain Picard and his Security Chief Lieutenant Worf a Klingon, gives us final word of warning about the Satie’s of this world:

Lieutenant Worf: [referring to Admiral Satie] I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

I guess that is why God still speaks to me through Star Trek; sometimes the words are pretty prophetic and speak to us in ways that those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on God’s side in a social, political and cultural war ever will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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New Year’s Resolutions and the Problem of Forgiveness

 

“New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”  Mark Twain

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions well.  Usually mine are not worth the time to make them. However this year I am resolving the make a couple of resolutions that actually are resolvable it real time which I actually stand a chance at keeping.  Well….at least I hope that I can keep most of them, one will be tougher than the others.

The first of these resolutions is to make sure that I am within my weight and body fat standards for the Navy. This is doable and if I don’t do it I could get put out of the Navy and never see the rank of Commander that I worked so hard to be selected. The big test of this is the middle of April and I will make sure this happens and once I meet the standards in April the goal is to keep them and get in even better shape the rest of the year.  Thus I resolve to lose the weight and body fat while keeping it off and getting in great shape. P-90X here I come.

The second resolution is to do everything that I can as a supervisory chaplain to set my co-laborers up for success and to care for the spiritual and human needs our hospital staff as well the Marines, Sailors and their families that come to our hospital for their medical care. I am blessed to have a great staff and a supportive administration so this should be a pretty resolvable resolution.

My third resolution is to continue to rebuild my spiritual life both in daily spiritual disciples and in relationships with God and all the people that God puts in my path.  The past few years have taken a lot out of me and the past year has been a year in which faith returned after living life as for all practical matters an agnostic after I returned from Iraq.

At the same time I still have issues that I struggle with. One of those is on forgiveness. However when people make nasty attacks on me I struggle to forgive. I am rather earthy and certainly cannot be mistaken for a real saint as I have far too many rough edges to think too much of myself in regard to “how good of Christian I am.”  I have to leave that to judgment God and others.  I remember my first confession when I asked the Priest hearing the confession “if they deserved it is it still a sin?” I was told that my actions were still sins even if they deserved it although there might be some mitigation.  I think that my response was “damn.”

A rather nasty attack on me occurred on a website run by people that have left the CEC that had posted my essay about leaving the CEC on their site.  The comment has since been removed as the site administrator.  When I contacted this person he was shocked that was on the site and removed it and apologized to me a number of times and provided me the text of the offending comment.  The weird thing is was that I would have never read the comment if a CEC Bishop had not asked me to go to the site to defend him when the attack was on me.

The comments made about me were typical of much of my experience in the denomination. The person who was quite obviously a CEC clergyman twisted my words and accused me being an apostate. He accused me of “posturing” and denying need for the work of Christ to forgive the sins of humankind especially in regard to homosexuals and Moslems.

In fact these are some of his words: “Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God.” My crime is to believe that the grace of God can extend to anyone and the Blood of Christ is sufficient to save anyone.

To put my beliefs and words about this I quote from one of the keynote documents of the Second Vatican Council.  It is a long quote but obviously my critic is clueless and readers unfamiliar with my writings could take what he wrote at face value and agree with him thus I quote from The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium paragraph 16:

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, (130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

I may be a moderate to liberal on some social issues and be more inclined to err of the side of the grace of God when it comes to people that many conservative Christians demean and damn to hell but I don’t deny the Creeds and my beliefs are those espoused in the documents of Vatican II and the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II.  Personally I think that puts me in some pretty good company as far as my orthodoxy and Catholicity are concerned but there are some in the CEC that like to twist words and beliefs to demonize those that have left that church.  In fact when I was in the church I was attacked and even silenced for being “too Catholic.”  At the same time I was one of the most stalwart defenders of the CEC Church leadership despite how I had been treated by some Church leaders and not defended by others that should have defended me. I understand the pathological needs of those that make such spurious and cowardly attacks under the cloak of anonymity I have a terrible time forgiving them.  I don’t hide who I am or what I believe I expect that anyone that claims to be a Christian minister would have the decency to contact me personally rather than take the low road and do a drive by hit on me on another site. This process will be terribly hard and I will endeavor to forgive and get beyond it but I know my nature.  I am one of those old fashioned people that believe in honest and open dialogue and have a concept of personal honor.  This will require a lot of work and prayer and I will need your prayers to do this.

So there they are. As you can see some resolutions will take some work but I should be able to accomplish them. The last resolution regarding forgiveness will probably take a lot of struggle. Since I presume that the aforementioned coward and those like him will take other pot shots at me my wound will probably remain fresh as much as I want to leave it this part of my life behind.

I appreciate your prayers for me in the coming year. So many people have been so encouraging to me on this website in so many ways since I began the site in February of 2009.  I am so grateful for all of you and give thanks to God for all the love and care that so many readers have shown to me over the past two years.  I pray that you will know the love, peace and blessing of the Incarnate God in the coming year and covet your prayers that I will be able to do the same.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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