Speaking of Special Snowflakes

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This Makes No Sense to Me

There is this bizarre phenomena that I run into now and again where someone will respond to criticism of modern racism by pointing out that in the early to mid 20th century, the Democratic party, particularly in the south, was unabashedly racist and for a while even aligned itself with the Klan. Like I’ll bring up the fact that Trump was enthusiastically supported by white supremacists and someone will say, “the Democrats are the real racists. They were the ones who passed all the Jim Crow laws.” To which I respond . . . whaaaaaaa????

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history, it is quite true that the Democrats were, in the past, active proponents of racism and segregation. That all changed after the passage of the civil rights and voting rights acts in the 60s, of course. By the late 70s, Republican Ronald Reagan was campaigning using rhetoric about states rights and racist tropes about “young bucks” and “welfare queens” while Democrat Jimmy Carter was campaigning in African American churches. In the 1980 election, the people who used to vote for the racist Democratic party of the mid 20th century now voted Republican.

So what in the world do people who insist on responding to criticism of current racism by pointing to the Democrat’s history of racism think they are doing? What point do they think they are making? How exactly do they think I’m supposed to respond? I am deeply confused when people do this.

Do they imagine that I will be so shocked to hear that Democrats used to embrace racism that I will refuse to have anything to do with them and run into the arms of the party currently supported by racists in order to maintain my purity? Am I supposed to go easy on today’s racists because in the past they would have been Democrats?

I mean, back in the day, the Democrats were a big proponent of maintaining an agrarian society and distrusted paper money. The Republicans used to believe in a strong federal government and opposed states rights. Should we be trying to hold the parties to their original standards? Should I bring that history up when a Republican advocates for more control for states and a weaker federal government? If in 50 years, the Republicans are staunchly secular and the Democrats are highly religious, would it matter that in the past the parties were reversed? Does the label of Democrat and Republican have magic juju bound to it that transcends whatever the party is about in real time?

Can someone help me out here? I’ve tried asking these questions of the people who do this and, strangely, none of them have been able to come up with an answer that makes sense. And yet they keep doing it. I’m just trying to understand the logic here. Which, now that I think of it, is probably a mistake on my part. Sometimes the answer really is “because they’re morons.” It happens.

Let’s Be Real About What We’re Looking At Here

I didn’t mean to make this an all Trump Monday, but I suppose it’s appropriate given the electoral college vote this morning. Which I’ll probably have something more to say about tomorrow. But now that that’s done, we have a very serious issue to grapple with that I think we’d be fools not to take seriously. It boils down to three straight facts that probably 90% of American can agree are true:

  1. A white nationalist leader ran our president elect’s campaign and is acting as his personal adviser.
  2. People bought a shit ton of weapons over the last 8 years.
  3. We have seen the development of a branch of media which devotes serious time to explaining why people should distrust, fear and flat out hate libraturds, feminazis, black power movements, intellectuals, the media, educators, lgbt people, scientists and other sorts of people otherwise known as your neighbors and fellow countrymen.

There is such a thing as evil. And in other places when evil has shown its face, this is what it showed up looking like. Lots of weapons, hostility towards “the other” and a media campaign which stoked hatred and fear of “the other” has lead to massive blood shed more than once. I keep trying to think of examples where the above ingredients lead to something else, but none come to mind. Feel free to give me ideas in the comments, because there’s a lot of stuff to know and I can’t know everything. But my concern is that we already know the worst case scenerio and it’s ugly.

Now, this is certainly a dangerous situation – too dangerous to sit back and hope for the best about. There’s a very good reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil; people aren’t required to wait until it’s too late to respond to the appearance of evil. We have to be realistic about the fact that within living memory open white supremacists were in charge of the country. It’s foolish to think that their will to power disappeared so quickly or that they have developed morals and a respect for fair play over the last few decades.

While all of that is genuinely scary if we let ourselves think about it, we do have advantages that people in places where things have gone way south under these conditions didn’t have. Probably first and foremost, we have a history of freedom in this country. Even the most oppressed American feels free to say what the fuck they want on a regular basis. So we have voices. And not just one voice, but many different voices. The upside of our individualistic culture. Which means diversity, which is going to serve us well.

We also have a solid contingent of people who are committed to love, peace, non-violent resistance, organizing, solidarity and the like who are already activated and networking owing to the BLM and Standing Rock movements. I am consistently impressed with the quality of leadership behind BLM. They have studied the history of various protest movements through out history and have been learning from what worked and what didn’t. The fact that the movement’s still a movement even after everything that’s happened ought to tell you something.

And the Standing Rock movement is not just tapping into, but grounding itself in a deep, deep spirituality. I have friends who have been to the Oceti Sakowin Camp and they say there is just prayer room after prayer room after prayer gathering going on. These people are praying without ceasing. Literally. And I don’t care if you’re a believer or not, religion is a powerful, driving force in human affairs. And the people involved in both of these movements are training people constantly.  So there’s this network under the surface already of people committed to activism and resistance.

And we have technology. Social media. I have a friend who actually marched with Dr. King against the wishes of her very racist family. She was active for years in social justice issues and has been disappointed to see that we’re apparently not nearly as far from where we started as we ought to be by now. But when I asked her what sort of difference it would have made to have had access to today’s technology and she got excited at the very idea of it.

Now, it would be wonderful if Trump turns out to be merely incompetent and not the president who tries to unleash the wrath of hell on us. But those three basic facts mean we need to be fighting now, before things have a chance to start going south fast like they have in other places. I truly believe that whatever happens, we the people of the United States of America and our friends around the world can make it better. And we can do it without returning hate for hate or violence for violence. I’ll talk more about all of this over the next few days and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re brainstorming about what you can do from where you are and with the voice you have. Because I’m just having a hard time seeing a path forward that isn’t going to require us to fight. And, while I hate to be an I told you so, this situation is exactly what I was warning was coming way back in 2014. So don’t be too quick to write me off here, k? This is not a drill, peeps.

 

Christian Tattoo ~ 700 AD Edition

I thought this was cool. A woman whose mummified remains were found in Sudan a few years back, had a Christian symbol tattooed on her inner thigh. The symbol is a picture made from the letters of the name Michael, presumably for the arch angel. The symbol has been found in churches and other decorations made by ancient Christians in the area. This tattoo was the first tattoo found from this era. You can read the story here.

Researchers theorize that it may have been meant for protection. For all we know, they were common. Or the tattoo could have had spiritual meaning for the woman. That’s why I and a lot of other Christians have tattooed today.

One of these days, I’ll have to write a post on these ancient churches in Africa that we in the west know almost nothing about. They have some fascinating, but often hard to accept stories. One group in Southern Africa claims to have possession of a drum that has some connection with Jesus’ crucifixion. I can’t remember at the moment and I’m too lazy to look it up. But if you know anything about very old African churches, please feel free to pass it on! It’s something I always have an interest in.

Consciousness and Genesis 1

I want to write about my personal theory on the story of creation told in Genesis 1 today, but I can’t think of any interesting or clever way to start the post. So I thought maybe I could find a good joke about creation to use. After looking for awhile I found this little gem:

A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot.
They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake.
Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and
jumped in the water.

Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying
their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come
along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in
time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi
covered his face while they ran for cover.

After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the
minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather
than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in
MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”

Of course that joke has nothing to do with creation, but it’s funny so in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided that’s what counts. Now . . . moving on to the story of creation.

One of the oddities of the story of creation in Genesis 1 is that the order in which things were created makes no sense. First there’s day and night and then later, after there was land and plants, but before there were animals, the sun, moon and stars get made. Water was apparently pre-existing and had to be separated from air to make the sky. So on and so forth.

For creationists, none of this matters because somehow that’s just how God did it. For people who run a wee bit deeper and wider than that, both logic and science say that it couldn’t have happened like that. Those who reject religion say the creation story is just something people made up to explain the world and really means nothing. Christians who don’t blasphemously reject the evidence of God’s own creation in favor of man’s understanding of scripture figure the point of the story is that God made everything, he made it with purpose and it is good.

I personally have my own pet theory about why the order of creation is all jumbled up in Genesis 1. Continue reading

Is Reading Scriptures Literally, Literally Wrong?*

I came across a blog post by Father Stephen, an Orthodox priest about the problems with taking scriptures literally. On this blog, I have tended to focus on how insisting on taking scriptures literally leaves us vulnerable to being unable or unwilling to deal with reality or to losing our faith altogether when our literal understanding comes into conflict with reality. Father Stephen points out another, probably more important problem with a literal approach to scriptures: it engenders a shallow reading of scripture. From his post:

The Scriptures, particularly those of the Old Testament, are frequently misread (from a classical Christian point of view) in a literal manner, on the simple evidence that the New Testament does not read the Old Testament in such a manner. Rather, as is clearly taught by Christ Himself, the Old Testament is “re-read” from a Christological point-of-view. Thus Jonah-in-the-belly-of-the-whale is read by the Church as Christ in Hades. The first Adam in the Garden is but a shadow and antitype of the Second Adam – the One who truly fulfills existence in the “image and likeness” of God. The Passover and the deliverance from Egypt are read as icons of the true Passover, Christ’s Pascha and the deliverance of all creation from its bondage to death and decay. Such a list could be lengthened until the whole of the Old Testament is retold in meanings that reveal Christ, or rather are revealed by Christ in His coming. . .

A “literal” reading of the Old Testament would never yield such a treasure. Instead, it becomes flattened, and rewoven into an historical rendering of Christ’s story in which creative inventions such as “Dispensationalism” are required in order to make all the pieces fit into a single, literal narrative. Such a rendering has created as well a cardboard target for modern historical-critical studies, which delights itself only in poking holes in absurdities created by such a flattened reading.”

Now, I do know that it is possible to see the deeper Christological meaning of the scripture stories while also maintaining a belief that these things are literally historical events, recorded in scriptures. And certainly there are certain things which we need to be literally true. For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

However, I think that Father Stephen is right that by seeing much of scripture as a record of events which can be shaped into a literal narrative, there is a strong tendency to “flatten” scriptures into nothing more than an account of historical events. Continue reading

An Argument In Support of an Angry God

One of the modern criticisms of Christianity is that God seems different in the Old Testament than in the New.  In the Old Testament, God is wrathful, commits genocide, is angry, etc, etc.  Then in the New Testament he shows up and says, “love!”  I have long held that it was the people who changed, not God.  Maybe people were more civilized by the time of Jesus. After all, apparently they weren’t regularly stoning adulterers, although the practice hadn’t ever been renounced.  Or maybe they had turned over the messy business of putting people to death to the Roman Empire.  But even that was compromising with their own laws.  At any rate, it has always seemed likely to me that human civilization was in different places in the OT and the NT and that God adjusted tone accordingly.

Then last week, a slightly different theory struck me.  You seem I read the outstanding book Ideas that Changed the World by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto last week.  In it he points out something I have heard from other sources as well; that the ancient Hebrews were the source of the idea of a loving deity:

The idea that God should take an abiding interest in creation and especially in some particular part of it seems rashly speculative.  Most Greek thinkers of the Classical era ignored or repudiated it.  . .  The starting point of the thinking that led to the idea of a God of love was raised by the ancient Jewish doctrine of creation.  If God created the world, what was in it for him?  The Old Testament compilers had no obvious answer, but they did postulate a special relationship between God and his “choosen people.”  Occassionally, they called this “faithful, everlasting love” and likened it to the feelings of a mother for a child at the breast. . . The identification of God with love, which was enthusiastically taken up by Christ and his followers, was emotionally satisfying – a powerful, spiritual, creative emotion, known to everyone from experience.  By making God’s love universally embracing, rather than favoring a chosen race, Christianity acquired universal appeal.

I have heard it argued that all of the wrath, war and judgement of the Old Testament were the reaction of a righteous God to a sinful people.  However, what if there was a lot more at stake?  What if it was this particular idea – that God is loving – that motivated God to be so wrathful and willing to send people off to war?

Some people would reject outright that this idea of a loving God could ever justify the crimes of the OT.  God is too good and loving, they believe, to ever actually co-sign, much like advocate violence and war.  A God of love and a God of war are mutually incompatible.  I would likely have agreed with this perspective some time ago.  However, a while back, I spent a substantial amount of time meditating on what it says about God that we live in a world where animals eat each other.  Not only to they eat each other, but if you have ever seen a carnivore consume its prey, it does it with an almost startling ruthlessness.  Its prey may not even be dead before the hunter starts to rip into its flesh.  Most meat eaters chew their meat while just looking around, unconcerned about much of anything.  From our human perspective, the whole thing is quite unseemly.  After spending a couple of years meditating on what this set-up is telling us about God, I came to the conclusion that it reflects a certain ruthlessness that God has when it comes to re-establishing his relationship with humanity.  The same God that would command his people to war allowed his own son to be put to death.  Every saint testifies that their intimate relationship with God came out of suffering of the most intense sort.  And they all say it was worth it.

Perhaps in the end, it all comes down to what it is that God was fighting for.  There is a great deal of truth to the idea that such measures were needed for the Hebrew people to survive in their rather brutal world.  However, is that actually an important enough for God to dirty himself with all that wrath and war?  A particular people, worship, even recognition as the ruler of the universe all seem too petty to justify the carnage to both Hebrews and their neighbors. But does it change things if what God was actually fighting for was this idea: that He is a loving God?

We should not underestimate the importance of this idea.  If the gods are petty, warring, immoral and power hungry, then the humans who follow them have a particular model of the proper structure of a society, the behavior of rulers from kings to fathers.  Human rights as we understand them could never come from a society ruled by the gods of ancient Sumer.  A God of love recasts all of our relationships both with each other and the divine.  Love is one of the only things really worthy of dying for.  The protection of this idea and the demonstration of what love looks like with this one group of people would have been a massively compelling reason for God to dirty his hands with our barbaric ways. If the Hebrews needed to survive in order for this idea to move forward and out into the whole of the world for the redemption of mankind, then God’s willingness to resort to what were probably necessary extremes seems a bit more understandable.

Anyhow, just some ideas?  What do you think?  Can God be both the God of love and have a hand in the violence of the O.T.?  Is love a good enough reason?  Or are love and war so mutually incompatible that God cannot or would not watch over both?

Anyhow, just some thoughts.

Is Reading Scriptures Literally, Literally Wrong?

I came across a blog post today by Father Stephen, an Orthodox priest about the problems with taking scriptures literally. On this blog, I have tended to focus on how insisting on taking scriptures literally leaves us vulnerable to being unable or unwilling to deal with reality or to losing our faith altogether when our literal understanding comes into conflict with reality. Father Stephen points out another, probably more important problem with a literal approach to scriptures: it engenders a shallow reading of scripture. From his post:

The Scriptures, particularly those of the Old Testament, are frequently misread (from a classical Christian point of view) in a literal manner, on the simple evidence that the New Testament does not read the Old Testament in such a manner. Rather, as is clearly taught by Christ Himself, the Old Testament is “re-read” from a Christological point-of-view. Thus Jonah-in-the-belly-of-the-whale is read by the Church as Christ in Hades. The first Adam in the Garden is but a shadow and antitype of the Second Adam – the One who truly fulfills existence in the “image and likeness” of God. The Passover and the deliverance from Egypt are read as icons of the true Passover, Christ’s Pascha and the deliverance of all creation from its bondage to death and decay. Such a list could be lengthened until the whole of the Old Testament is retold in meanings that reveal Christ, or rather are revealed by Christ in His coming. . .

A “literal” reading of the Old Testament would never yield such a treasure. Instead, it becomes flattened, and rewoven into an historical rendering of Christ’s story in which creative inventions such as “Dispensationalism” are required in order to make all the pieces fit into a single, literal narrative. Such a rendering has created as well a cardboard target for modern historical-critical studies, which delights itself only in poking holes in absurdities created by such a flattened reading.”

Now, I do know that it is possible to see the deeper Christological meaning of the scripture stories while also maintaining a belief that these things are literally historical events, recorded in scriptures. And certainly there are certain things which we need to be literally true. For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Continue reading