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UPDATE: It Depends on What Your Definition of “Christian” Is…

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This article was updated Sunday 23 November to clear up some grammar issues, and in doing so I have provided some updates to let you know what is currently happening, and to better enhance my arguments.

My friends, last week I had something occur that was so troublesome that I had to report it to certain Federal law enforcement authorities as well as a nationally known advocate for religious liberty issues.

Since the Feds are still doing their investigation I have to wait to post the article. I spoke with and I am in contact with the head of that group. Like me he is waiting to see what the investigators report. As things stand right now I expect that it may be sometime in December before I can publish in any detail what happened.

Conceivably this could end up getting some media attention because it involves a military member, civilian or contractor working for a military command that deals with IT issues. It is an organization which has been accused of hacking people and organizations across the political spectrum. Stupidly the individual did not think that I could look up his IP address and in this case track it down to the exact base, command and building where it originated.

The individual used the government network to post demeaning and harassing posts about my religious beliefs on this site under a pseudonym. What they said,their pseudonym and e-mail moniker left no doubt that they are some kind of politically minded and motivated right wing Christian intent on shouting down their opposition.

I cannot go into any more detail but it is troubling. If the comments had come from a civilian network I would blow it off as the work of a crackpot. The person may be a crackpot, but I figure that based on where this message originated it was someone working for the military who has a Top Secret security clearance. Why such a person would be attacking me, a senior Navy Chaplain and combat vet about my religious beliefs from a military network is beyond me.

But then maybe It all depends on what your definition of being a “Christian” is, and based on the religious-political hyperbole of the Christian Right, I don’t think I am a Christian anymore. But then being a “Christian” really does depend on what your definition of being a Christian “is” to use the words of former President Bill Clinton.

I am not a Christian if it means…

Elevating your interpretation of the Bible over Jesus…

Using your interpretation of scripture to damn other people to Hell or anywhere else, including Mississippi, even if there are equally valid interpretations from other Christian sources…

Elevating partisan political issues above the commands of Jesus…

Being more concerned with maintaining your political power than caring about people…

Demonizing anyone that disagrees with whatever pet doctrine that you hold dear, even if that doctrine was condemned by other Christians throughout history to be heretical…

Accuse others of the most horrible, unbelievable and false conspiracies and then claim that God told you to do it…

Claim a right or privilege for yourself based on your Christian Faith, and the use the police power of the state to enforce it, all the while denying the same rights to others…

When you are criticized by the very people that you condemn to Hell, or use economic boycotts against, or use the power of the state to condemn claim that you are now the victim of persecution…

The funny thing this is not new.

Such behavior by Christians goes back over a millennium.

In 1054 the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox split over one word in the Nicene Creed that described the precedence of the Holy Spirit.

The Protestant Reformers elevated their interpretation of scripture over the Roman Catholic instance on scripture being interpreted through Church Tradition and the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

The Radical Reformers insisted on believer’s  or adult baptism over infant baptism…

Early Pentecostals, as well as some today, insisted that unless one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of “speaking in tongues” that you were not a Christian…

Sadly, the trend continues as every new Christian sect insists on its own version of “the truth” being absolute truth. History shows that nearly every time such religious absolutists gain control of a civil government that they either by legislation or fiat make their religious law the law of the land.

Among these various denominations and sects these doctrinal issues are still officially in place, even if many church members don’t understand. The only difference is now that many of these people, who I would say are sincere in their beliefs have come together under a political banner, condemning secularists, atheists, and other non-believers to ensure that the Christian franchise remains on top.

This was the whole intention of the Manhattan Declaration of a few years back. Throw aside centuries or actual theological and doctrinal differences in order to keep political power, yes that is the Christian way.

After the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the empire a theological dispute between Trinitarian and Arian Christians became political. Whenever an Arian Emperor was in charge Trinitarians were persecuted, and when Trinitarian emperors were in power the payback was hell.

The Cathars in France were exterminated in military crusades by the Roman Catholics.

The early reformation led by John Huss in Czecheslovkia was not only condemned theologically but led to a series of wars as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire sought to suppress it.

Martin Luther united with the “anti-Christ” Roman Catholic Church to exterminate the “enthusiasts” and Anabaptists during the Peasant’s Revolt.

Ulrich Zwingli executed his former students who had become Anabaptist and been re-baptized to demonstrate their new faith by “re-baptizing” them until they drowned in the Rhine River.

John Calvin ran a religious theocracy in Geneva where any dissent was punishable as heresy. and his government routinely executed “heretics” who did not hold his truth.

The Roman Catholic Church ran the Inquisition in conjunction with with the Spanish crown, as well as other Catholic monarchies, condemning anyone who strayed from the Catholic faith to persecution, imprisonment and often death.

Of course there was the Thirty Years War in which nations with state religions, Protest or Catholic launched wars of brutal extermination against each other, wars which devastated Germany and which the ruins of castles along the Rhine testify to even today.

The Anglican Church in conjunction with the British crown made Catholicism an act punishable by death, and persecuted other dissenters from the state church including early English Baptists, and the Calvinist dissenters who eventually came to the new colonies as the Pilgrims and Puritans….

The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had the exclusive rights to the franchise, and persecuted early Baptists and Quakers often executing them, and in the case of female dissenters accusing them of witchcraft…

Sadly many in the Christian Right under the sway of a Neo-Calvinist political theology called “Seven Mountains” or Christian Dominionism are working at the local, state and federal level in this country to institute a theocracy in this country, with them, like their Puritan and Genevan ancestors having the franchise….

I could go on as there are plenty of other examples that I will not cite here. However, forgetting doctrine and even forgetting Jesus to keep power is nothing new for Christians.

Be assured that if all the groups that the now supposedly politically unified Christians now oppose were wiped out and no longer existed, that these same people would start fighting each other again to gain the exclusive franchise of a state religion. That is the unalterable nature of humanity. That is the unalterable nature of religion, that is the unalterable nature of life.

If you are a “true believer” in any of these Christian traditions you may disagree with me. But in your heart you know that I am right because you know that you are right, and if you are right then no one else is. Thus your power and status must be maintained regardless of the cost. That my friends is the nature of the political Christianity which is more grounded in politics and power than it is in Jesus. Eric Hoffer wrote about people that he called the “True Believers”:

“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.”

Disagree with with me if you want, but since I paid a lot more attention to church history, systematic theology and philosophy in seminary than most people do I can whip this stuff out without even looking at my notes.

The fact is that once an external enemy is defeated, those within the politically motivated Christian churches turn on themselves. Christians of different denominations or are different must also be defeated, humiliated and destroyed.

That my friends is the truth of history. That is the ever present witness of supposed Christians who value their political power, their economic position, and their place and status above all others. Alliances between various Christian sects are almost always temporary, never once have Christian sects who have united to face down what they think is an existential threat to themselves  have maintained their unity after the threat is eliminated.

And so it is… For such people it is not about a truth, nor is it about really about faith, nor is it about love. Those are ruses used to justify the naked brutal power and domination that they strive to achieve. Power and domination that is only satisfied when the ones seeking it have eliminated all opposition, even that of former allies.

That is why I say that it is all about “what your definition of Christian is.” 

So if my belief and trust in Jesus is not enough for the true believers… I am okay with that.

If the fact that I am baptized, confirmed and even ordained is not enough for the true believers… I am okay with that.

If the fact that I have had a “born again” experience where faith in Christ became real is not enough… I am okay with that.

If my belief which is grounded in scripture, tradition and reason is not enough for the true believers is not enough… I am okay with that.

If I do not use the name of Jesus to bludgeon non-believers and  if I do not ally myself to the Christian true believers who seek their political power and are willing to make temporary alliances with  those that they despise in the process…. I am okay with that.

If all of that means that I am not a Christian…

Then I am not… and I am okay with that.

I guess that if valuing the rights of Christians above all others and forcing others to follow whatever version of the Christianity is allowed by the state means to some to be a Christian then I am not a Christian… and I am okay with that.

If being a hateful, self righteous person who despise all that do not believe like them,mor do not meet their slitmus test of what it is to be a Christian then I am not a Christian… and I am okay with that too.

If those are the things that are now what are the marks of being a Christian, then I do not want to be one… I am okay with that.  I would rather follow Jesus than be labeled that kind of Christian.

After all, in the end it is about what God thinks, and not what your definition , or my definition of what being a Christian is.

I guess that Bill Clinton was really on target when he said that it all “depends on what your definition of is is” especially for politically minded Christians. People who have sold their souls to maintain political power but who don’t give a wit Jesus. Who don’t care about what their churches actually teach until they eliminate external opposition; and who then can concentrate on eliminating  the “heretical” Christians who were at one time their allies.

That is the ugly truth of “Christian” history.

Condemn me if you want. But before you do please take a look at history, especially the history of other Christians who once they eliminated external threats persecuted other Christians that did not believe just like them.

As far as me, I am now no longer on the defensive. I am taking the offensive against people who value their privilege, power and place in society more than they do the simple command of Jesus. That command of Jesus, to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself matters more than political power.

As far as me, I will fight and protect the rights of the same people that condemn me to Hell. I do this  because as an American who believes deeply in the ethos of our Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal” and because of my office and oath to the Constitution that am demands that I defend them.

I am obligated to give them the protections and freedom that they refuse to give others. That being said, when they decide to mock me, attack me or threaten me using government equipment on taxpayer time, I will not play the victim. I will use every legal and moral option available to me to expose those that do for what they are.

So I cannot say anymore about what is happening regarding what I mentioned up front, but I will update you when I can.

You cannot believe how much that I want to expose those that attack me using the freedom that I by my service and oath strive to protect. But at some point I will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Truth of Faith and Wisdom of Doubt

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“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”  St Thomas Aquinas 

I am always amazed at Christians, of any denomination or people of other religions rush to proclaim belief as absolute dogma, even when it is contradicted by science and new learning. I think that such attitudes are based more on fear that somehow God is not big enough to withstand scrutiny and that if God cannot withstand scrutiny that what they believe is threatened.

Somehow I do not think that God in his wisdom determined that our faith as Christians was to remain unscrutinized and frozen in the time and culture of the ancient near east. I think that was part of St Thomas’ attraction to Aristotelian philosophy. For his day Thomas was a modern thinker, and from reading his works I cannot imagine him being afraid of any advance in science, nor being afraid to hold Christian, or Catholic dogma up to the lens of scientific scrutiny.    

I guess that is why I am not afraid of science, scientific advances, archeological or literary discoveries that shed new light on what we as Christians believe. Somehow I think that God is bigger than any paradigm that I or for that matter that we as human beings can describe or imagine. 

I am convinced that we have been given the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils as steps to understanding the revelation of God in Christ. That being said I cannot imagine that God has stopped revealing himself to people in various ways over the 2000 years of the Church, or that his spirt has not given men and women insight into both the Divine and human aspects of faith and life, to include the physical, the spiritual and the intellectual. 

When I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the multitude of stars and planets I cannot help but imagine that God is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us can explain in any number of volumes of theology or Biblical commentary. Nor do I believe that any one person, or for that matter any church as a certain point in time knows all truth. I know that doesn’t sound like a safe way to do “faith” but when was faith, or attempting to follow God in faith ever safe or belief completely certain? That is not the case with those that followed God whose accounts are in recorded in the canonized books of the Christian Bible, much less stories recorded the non-canonical books not included in the Bible or the writings of Jewish and early Christian writers that recorded the history and lives of the faithful as well as interpreted the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  

In fact I believe that God allows us to navigate an often unsafe universe as we live and evolve as his people and that in our walk, in our faith, in our search for truth that God does not mind allowing us to get a bloody nose sometimes. That doesn’t mean that God does not love us, but like the people that we read about in our Scriptures, that none of us knows all truth and all of us are capable of misreading the mind of God. I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation where the being known as “Q” chastises Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise after their initial encounter with the Borg: “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you oughtta go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.” I think in his great mercy God also allows us to get a bloody nose once in a while as we attempt to navigate this life of faith.

Doubt and faith are inexorably linked, faith without doubt is not faith. Faith and belief always has to be held up under the scrutiny of the new knowledge that is acquired as human being explore the universe and human condition with instruments undreamed of by the writers of Scripture or those who came after them. I think that is what St Thomas meant when he wrote the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this little article. I think that is a key to having a living faith, not that we know everything now or even are sure that we have interpreted what has been handed to us by tens of generations of the faithful. I think when we approach God we must do so with the utmost of humility knowing that we can never fully understand all of God, the human condition or the universe. 

St Anselm of Canterbury prayed “My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness…” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Day for All Saints even those at the Mendoza Line

Mario Mendoza (above) and St Rita of Cassia the Patron Saint of Baseball

Today is the Feast of All Saints.  This is one of my favorite Feasts in the Liturgical year and one that is  The feast is celebrated in both the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, certain Lutheran Churches, as well as some Wesleyans and Methodist. The feast is celebrated on the First Sunday after Pentecost in the East and on November 1st in the West.  In the Eastern expression it is celebrated in honor of all the Saints, known and unknown while in the West, Particularly the Roman Catholic Church it is dedicated to the Saints who have attained the beatific vision of heaven, kind of like being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame instead of just being a great baseball player.

As a baseball fan I believe that the Orthodox position which honor saints known and unknown is the more accurate of the two because just like baseball some of the most wonderful Saints get to the Hall of Fame.  Even so the sentiments that I have about this feast are unaffected by any such minor differences, the remembrance of those that have gone before me is much greater than any nuance of theology.  After all what would baseball be without Mario Mendoza?* and where would Baseball be without its Patron Saint, St.Rita of Cassia?

But I digress…

When we celebrate All Saints it is the life of the people of God that we celebrate; the small and the great, the pious, the brilliant, the heroic and the chaste among them and us.  Yes we celebrate those faithful yet fallible and all too human people the litter the calendar of saints and those that never got on anyone’s calendar.  While some may have been models of piety many were not going right back to Saint Peter himself.  The men and women that we call Saints were human and despite the efforts of hagiographers to portray them as something more than that they remain human.  They had virtues and vices.   They were sometimes cranky, ill humored and dour and jealous of coworkers and sometimes even petty.  But those are the facts and they demonstrate the great love of God toward his people.

St Paul set the standard for the persecution of Christians prior to his conversion and sometimes had rocky relationships with his co-workers as both Barnabas and Timothy could attest.  St Peter denied Jesus not one, not two but three times and enjoyed some pork with some Gentiles until he got caught earning Paul’s well deserved scorn.  St Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin was a rather ill-tempered man and St Thomas Aquinas whose theological brilliance is echoed today in the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church was to put it mildly rather well fed, so much so that legend has it that he had a semi-circle cut at his place in the dinning room table to allow him to be closer to his food.  St Ignatius of Loyola the founder of the Jesuits was hauled before the Inquisition several times, while St Francis in his early life was a playboy soldier.  Mary Magdalene is believed to have been a woman of ill repute and St Augustine, the Father of Western Theology was such a sexual reprobate before his conversion that he made sure that everyone after him, even the married ones have to feel bad about having sex unless it is or the purpose of procreation with the expressed written intent of Major League Baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

My point is not to mock piety or those that do good works or give their lives for the faith, God and their fellow people.  In fact I celebrate those that do such works of heroism, charity and self sacrifice because they inspire me to do better.  I admire them because of their humanness and not because the Church for reasons noble or base chose to elevate their stories above others that never made the official calendar of Saints. In fact the vast majority of those considered by others to be Saints would be embarrassed at such attention being called to them and if they read some of the works that were given the “official” seal of the Church would probably blush in embarrassment.

I am inspired by them because of how the grace and love of God was shown through their lives, actions and even their imperfections.  When I see and read of their lives I know that there is hope because of Christ for someone like me.  I don’t ever hope to match the piety, holiness and genuine goodness of the vast majority of the saints.  I know that they are in the Hall of Fame I am on the Mendoza Line mostly still lucky to be on the team.

We know some of these men and women through history.  But for the most part the Saints are those whose memories that are known only to God and the lives of the men, women and children that they touched in ways ordinary and extraordinary.  I think that we all know a few precious Saints that touched our lives. The beautiful thing is that though they are no longer with us in the flesh they still intercede in heaven for us.

That is the wonder of All Saints Day, that God in Christ who reconciled the world to himself didn’t hold their sins against them.  Such is proof of the amazing grace of God in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Even more amazing is that God somehow uses all of us warts an all to touch others with his love.   Even guys like me that that are lucky to make the Mendoza Line.

Saint Rita pray for us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza is the namesake of the “Mendoza line” which is a batting average of .200 below which you are likely not going to playing baseball in the Major Leagues for very long. http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/article_cff05af5-032e-5a29-b5a8-ecc9216b0c02.html

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A Tangled Web of Friends

“I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
– Benjamin Franklin

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”
~ Mark Twain

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.
-Shirley MacLaine

We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.  ~Abraham Lincoln

It is interesting when you have traveled a fair amount and lived in quite a few places you get to know a lot of people from across the social, political, racial and religious spectrum.  In fact my friends are among the most diverse collection of people that anyone that I know.  I was looking on my Facebook.com page recently after a post and noted the diversity of my friends. What was interesting was that they often are very passionate about their particular point of view be it religious, social or political.  After a recent post I realized that in some cases it would not be a good thing to have some of them in the same room as each other as there might be bloodshed.

“To know someone here or there
with whom you can feel
there is understanding
in spite of distances or
thoughts expressed
That can make life a garden.”
~ Goethe

Friendship… is not something you learn in school.But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.
Muhammad Ali

One doesn’t know, till one is a bit at odds with the world, how much one’s friends who believe in one rather generously, mean to one.  ~D.H. Lawrence

The interesting thing is that somehow the lives of this very diverse group of friends somehow intersect mine.  I guess that is part of the life of a moderate.  Now I’m sure in their hearts that some on the Left think that I’m a fundamentalist right fascist with militarist tendencies who is too concerned with the concerns of those on the political right, to which I will admit the militarist tendencies. Some on the right think that I am a leftist, agnostic socialist with militarist tendencies who is far too concerned with the concerns of those on the political left, to which I will admit my militaristic tendencies. However in the case of all my absolute concern with the rights of people on all sides of the political, social and religious spectrum that is the United States of America overrides about everything. While I may have strong opinions on various issues or may not have an opinion whatsoever depending on the issue I do not believe that political, religious or social views should keep me from being friends with anyone. There are some who will disagree with that and a decent number of people that have ended relationships with me over issues that I think are extraneous to friendship but what the hell these is no accounting for taste.  At the same time I have been an ass at times and blown away relationships that should have been cultivated, but there is no accounting for my bad form.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
~ Abraham Lincoln

I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.
-Plutarch

A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked. ~Author Unknown

Despite all of this somehow I stand in the intersection of all of these wonderful people who are my friends going back to childhood.   I guess one thing I’ve learned, often the hard way, is that you can have friendships and care about people even when you have disagreements with them, even serious disagreements because respect and love are more important than necessarily having to agree.  Thus in an era of polarization I believe that as Americans that we need to find ways to get along.  Thus when those on the left suggested leaving the country or persuading the military to lead a coup when George Bush was President and those on the right who advocate the same about President Obama I wonder what the hell they all are thinking.  Now I know that many of my friends are extremely passionate about what they believe regardless of the viewpoint and that those views are very important to them I know that somehow we must find a way to as Rodney King once said “to get along.”  Maybe it is my inner Anglican speaking but somehow I think that we need to find an American Via Media or middle way.

“There is no hope of joy except in human relations.”
~ Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Albert Schweitzer

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival ~C.S. Lewis

My friends include political conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents.  They include Christians from across the spectrum, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical, Social Gospel and Fundamental, Charismatic and anti-Charismatic, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals, Particular Baptists, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Premillenial Dispensationalists and Amillenialists.  Likewise they include Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans and Wiccans and I think even a few believers in the Klingon God Kahless. Also represented are heterosexuals and homosexuals, anti-homosexual activist and pro-homosexual activists, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, militarists and pacifists, capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, industrialists; progressives, traditionalists, white, black, Asian and Hispanic, people from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Korea, Japan and China, India, and Central America, Mississippi and Manhattan, California and Carolina, Dallas and Detroit.   Doctors, lawyers, priests, rabbis and imams; Protestant ministers, labor leaders, teachers, preachers, pundits, poets, politicians, professors and prosecutors; nurses, doctors, scientists; actors, musicians and artists; bureaucrats, technocrats, kleptocrats; geeks, freaks, sailors, jailers, whalers, runners, gunners, fighters, riders, sky divers, scuba divers, truck drivers; guitar players, ball players, naysayers; free thinkers, beer drinkers,  thrill seekers and Methodists.  I have to admit that I stole the Methodist line from Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles.

“There is nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends.”
~ Hillaire Belloc

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
Saint Thomas Aquinas

In all of this, each one of this diverse  including you all in your own way are my friend, some closer than others, but friends none the less. We have shared good times and bad, encouraged each other prayed for each other, laughed together, cried together and even shared some good beer with each other.   We’ve agreed and disagreed, and agreed to disagree.  Yet we are all friends and each of you has added something to my life.  I think Jesus said it well, when he said, “I no longer call you strangers but friends.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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