Monday, January 21, 2019

Donald Trump and Mike Pence visited the Martin Luther King Jr. monument today (for 2 minutes). This photo speaks volumes about the greatness and historical stature of Dr. King in comparison to these two interlopers who haven't a clue what MLK was about.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

I've been pondering for several years about what makes one religion better than others, or one sect within a religion better than others. Of course, the lazy fundamantalist answer is "because they're wrong and we're right!" But seriously, what is the criteria?

Is it truth? To make a claim that our religion or sect has "the truth" is to position ourselves as being able to discern the truth where most others fail. That seems the height of hubris. Plus, the fundamentalist wing of every religion claims that they alone have the truth. ISIS adherents claim that they do. White Nationalist Christians claim that they do. Whack-a-doodle religion cults claim that they do. Etc., etc.

Is it meaning or purpose? Is that what makes a religion or sect better than others--that it imparts meaning to life? The problem with that is that, once again, followers of ISIS and White Nationalist Christianity and whacky cults derive a great deal of meaning and purpose from their religion. And many people with no religious beliefs whatsoever lead meaningful, purposeful lives.

Is it doctrine? In other words, how faithfully a sect adheres to "correct doctrine"? Of course, every religion and sect has a different opinion on what exactly "correct doctrine" is. If you look at the faith statement of Westboro Baptist Church, the doctrine they espouse is very traditional boilerplate Christian stuff (Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.). Yet most Christians shun Westboro Baptist Church for the egregious way they live out their doctrine.

And I think this gets us closer to the best answer I've been able to come up with for what makes one religion (or sect) better than others. It is morality--by which I mean how we live out the "Golden Rule" of treating others the way we would want to be treated (and avoid treating others the way we would not want to be treated). In other words, how does a religion (or religious sect) foster a lifestyle of intentionally seeking to avoid or minimize harm to others. How does it promote and orientation and actions of compassion, mercy, grace, inclusion, fairness, philanthropy, care, empathy, etc. Perhaps that's why the "Golden Rule" has been ubiquitous throughout history across religions and cultures. This is the core rubric of what makes a religion of value: Do the teachings and practices of a religion cause its adherents to be more moral in their intentions and actions, in the "Golden Rule" sense?

William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, wrote that, "True religion does not draw men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it." This "true religion" that Penn wrote about has no name. It is universal and perrenial and primordial. It can be found, in varying degrees, within or without any other religion or sect. I suppose the degree to which there is (or isn't) evidence of it is the degree to which any given religion/sect is better or worse than others.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

In Memoriam [Ring out, wild bells]
Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809 - 1892

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Beware the leaven...

When I was a fundamentalist Christian, I often heard it said or implied that morality was impossible apart from God (and specifically, Jesus).  Therefore, folks such as atheists and Buddhists could not be moral or ethical because they didn't believe in God.  Or, if they were moral, it was a fluke or was God at work in them despite their unbelief.  When I say "moral" I mean having a strong  internal sense of what's right and what's wrong, whereas "ethical" implies following an external code of behavior--both are important and ought to reinforce each other. 

In the years since I left fundamentalism, I've found that some of the most ethical, moral people I've met have been Buddhists and atheists.  Conversely, I've witnessed all sorts of immoral and unethical behavior among Christians, including Christian leaders.  My take-away is that within any religion or philosophy we can find examples of both great success and abject failure when it comes to fostering moral and ethical excellence.

In his book, Mere Morality, which is a response to C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, former pastor (now atheist) Dan Barker suggests that the simple measure of morality is the principle of doing no harm.  In other words, the way to be good/moral/ethical is "to act with the intention of minimizing harm" (aka The Golden Rule).  Note that Barker uses the word "act," since it is only by actions that morality can be assessed.  It is not beliefs that indicate morality, it is the things we do and say.  

In 2016, 81% of white conservative Evangelical Christians very publicly demonstrated the nature of their collective morality by voting for (and in many cases actively supporting) Donald Trump, a man who not only lacked the experience, qualifications and temperament for the job of United States President, but who had a long track record of immoral actions: crude, mean-spirited; a serial adulterer, a sexual predator, a pathological liar, a tax cheat, a business fraud, a rip-off artist, a thin-skinned revenge-driven narcissist prone to casting insults, and a promoter of greed and racism and torture and misogyny and xenophobia and homophobia and religious discrimination and mob violence. 

81% of white Evangelical Christians chose a man whose words and deeds were not simply un-Christian, but were anti-Christian; antithetical to the teachings and actions and values of Jesus.  Most white Evangelical Christians continue to support Trump even though his gross immorality (and incompetence) has become more apparent over the last two years.  In doing so they have discredited their witness of Christianity to this generation and to generations to come.  

The world watched and took note: Evangelical Christian's claim to morality and truth and discernment was put to the test and failed miserably.  The result is that, rather than making disciples as Jesus commanded, they have made more atheists (who value morality, truth and discernment).  As the Trump presidency continues to unravel in 2019 the grave self-inflicted damage to Evangelicalism will become more and more apparent.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus is depicted as warning those who came to him to, "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."  Leaven (yeast) spreads throughout a lump of dough and changes it (we might even say, infects it).  The Pharisees and Sadducees are portrayed in the New Testament as preaching about the necessity for holiness but engaging in all sorts of immoral and unethical and unjust behaviors.  Jesus, their outspoken critic, said that they "strained out a gnat, but swallowed a camel" and gave pious religious tithes even out of their spices, while neglecting "the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness."  The Pharisees and Sadducess are cast in the New Testament as satisfying themselves with a legalistic holiness that made them blind to their own immorality and caused them to become hypocritical and exclusionary and tribal.  

Their most damning action was to conspire against the Messiah because his teachings and examples of acting out one's faith through compassion, inclusion, and fairness posed a threat to their position of civic power.  Though excessively religious, it turned out that their real gods were power and prestige and control.  They chose to align themselves with Herod's and Rome's injustices and abuses of power, in order to protect their own position and impose their influence upon others.  The early Christians believed that the seige of Jerusalem by the Romans in 68 AD, with the resulting slaughter of its inhabitants and destruction of the temple, was a display of God's judgment against the old system of religion married to civic power.

Of course, it didn't take long for the same pattern to manifest within Christianity (particularly post-Constantine).  History shows us that although the power-base of the Pharisees and Sadducess was destroyed in 70 AD (and again in 135 AD), the "leaven" of religiousity in thrall to temporal power (and the resulting hypocrisy) has remained. 

Perhaps, in the not-to-distant future, the cautionary tale of the great destruction Evangelicals did to their movement by embracing Trump will take its place alongside the tragic tale of the Pharisees and Sadducees.