14
Mar 17

My Babies

5 more Jewish community centers were targets of bomb threats this weekend. Since January there have been 154 bomb threats made against Jewish community centers and synagogues. There have been around 25 such threats made against mosques and Islamic community centers in the same time period. Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis have been vandalized, with over 250 graves disturbed.

Meanwhile across the country signs of hate are being posted and passed around.

In Upstate New York, the home of a Jewish man was spray-painted with swastikas. In Virginia, fliers were distributed in several neighborhoods with the words, “Make America WHITE again-and greatness will follow.” In Colorado, two typewritten notes that read “WERE GONNA BLOW UP ALL OF YOU REFUGEES,” were left at a community center serving mainly Muslim immigrants.

And in Dahlonega, Georgia a sign was posted in the town square saying "Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall." Resulting in chaos and fear that is tearing a little town apart.

Dahlonega is just a microcosm, however, of what is going on in America.

Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, tweeted support for a far-right Dutch politician with the words "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." David Duke replied "God bless Steve King!"

Fine Congressman, let's talk about MY babies. I am a white middle-aged male Protestant Christian from a semi-rural middle-class background. My babies have pale skin and red hair.

Let me tell you about the civilization my babies are going to build.

MY BABIES are going to build a civilization where it doesn't matter what color you are, what you believe, or who you love. They are going to build a civilization where you are respected for just being human. Where you really are treated the same no matter what and not just paid lip service. They are going to be ceiling busters and tent wideners and nazi-punchers. They are going to love learning, love faith, and love one another. My babies know hate is wrong. That making fun of people who are different is wrong. That different families have different rules and as long as no one is hurt that is OK. MY BABIES are going to build homes and welcoming places for everyone who needs them. MY BABIES are going to build a civilization that all you haters are going to hate.So enjoy this Renaissance of Hate while you can xenophobes. It will be short lived. Perfect Love drives out Fear. My BABIES love everyone. MY BABIES are coming.

And their mommy and daddy are going to cut them a path.

17
Feb 17

IANAL*

Search back through previous entries and you will see that I have long maintained that there are a lot of activities that people engage in that have a religious component (there are more). However, to use one of the great cries of any student of philosophy or religion, "DEFINE YOUR TERMS!"

What is Religion? I mean in a legal and Protected-by-the-first-amendment-sense.
*I am not a lawyer.

Turns out that religion is a lot like pornography, you are supposed to know it when you see it.

In 1890 the US Supreme Court said "“[T]he term ‘religion’ has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will.” in Davis v. Benson. However, this definition would change in recognition of non-theistic faiths. In 1961 the Court said that goverment could not aid “those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” In a footnote the Court clarified that this principle extended to “religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God … Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.” In 1965 when deciding on a conscientious objector status the Court asked whether "a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of their respective holders we cannot say that one is ‘in relation to a Supreme Being’ and the other is not.” Five years later it said individuals could be denied exemption only if “those beliefs are not deeply held and those whose objection to war does not rest at all upon moral, ethical, or religious principle but instead rests solely upon consideration of policy, pragmatism, or expediency.”

However, those rulings were very expansive, making possible - it would seem - religions of one. Thus in 1972, the majority opinion in Wisconsin v. Yoder indicated that the free-exercise clause applied only to “a ‘religious’ belief or practice,” and “the very concept of ordered liberty precludes allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests.”

The 1981 case Thomas v. Review Board Chief Justice Warren Burger cautiously stated, “[o]nly beliefs rooted in religion are given special protection to the exercise of religion.”

That is just to name a few cases in which the definition of religion comes into play. Not very helpful. The IRS, on the other hand, has a very clear set of criteria for what constitutes a church.

The IRS criteria are:
a distinct legal existence,
a recognized creed and form of worship,
a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government,
a formal code of doctrine and discipline
a distinct religious history,
a membership not associated with any other church or denomination,
an organization of ordained ministers,
ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies,
a literature of its own,
established places of worship,
regular congregations,
regular religious services,
Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young,
school for the preparation of its ministers.

Those criteria can be destroyed by any one with the smallest bit of legal insight. For example the very Pilgrims we venerate in our Thanksgiving plays, the Plymouth Brethren, "oppose formalism in worship and have no liturgy." In fact I would argue that the definitions given here "favor large, well-established, high or formal churches and discriminate against small, new, unconventional, informal or low churches." To the point of being worthless.

This all comes up, of course, because of the so-called War on Religion that certain elements in the US claim is going on. When in reality they feel that there cultural definitions are being tested and they do not like it.

Government, law, and religion are poor bedfellows. Attempting to use the law to give your religious beliefs protection is a bad idea. Any definitions you give to protect yourself short of out right religious tests or oaths of allegiance can be circumvented to allow the very thing you are trying to prevent. Mandating religious tests and oaths of allegiance by a government gives it the power to define faith and its practice. Religion ceases to be about faith, spirituality, morality, or anything else and becomes merely a tool for control.

Then again, those who advocate such are often merely tools themselves.

3
Feb 17

1st Amendment and other Refugees

OK, so the First Amendment isn't dead yet, but it smells the way the wind is blowing and was looking to get out of the country for a while last time we talked. Maybe move to Canada. I asked it not to go, but it said it wasn't safe around here anymore. I had to agree it certainly seems that way.

Our friend the 1st says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Silly Founders, thinking that only the acts of congress might be considered the law of the land.

So what has our Friend First so upset? Lots. But given this is a blog about religion lets stick to that first clause.

There is the draft of a so-called "Religious Freedom" Executive Order. It essentially neuters anti-discrimination laws in the name of religious liberty. It does exactly the opposite. By allowing people to discriminate the White House is essentially allowing one perspective on religion to trump, no pun intended, all others. My religious belief that all people are equal, loved by God, and deserving of love and respect is being violated by an executive order that says "it is OK to hate." Hate is not OK and should not be protected, especially in the name of Religion.

There is the ban that is not a ban. The humanitarian and moral issues here are huge, no pun intended, but not what I want to get at. This is effectively a religious test for Muslims seeking to enter the country. Although, let's be clear, it is a ban on Muslims who do not give the President money. Not all Muslims, not even Muslims from countries whose citizens have actually committed terrorist acts in the US, just those from the poorest countries in the middle east. It is not a ban on Muslims, but it is intended to be seen as such to fulfill campaign promises. Which makes it just as bad or worse. It encourages the perception that Muslims are the enemy, while not actually doing anything to curtail terrorist activity. Quite the opposite in that it plays into the jihadist narrative that the US is at war with Islam. Something that I would once argue was not true.

There is the failure to recognize the plight of the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day. How does that relate to the First Amendment? It is one step away from holocaust denial, a favorite of white supremacists and jihadists alike to deny Jewish identity, heritage, and legitimacy. It is away of minimizing the worst, let's not argue that point, persecution based on race and religion in history and in doing so helps to legitimize other persecution based on race and religion. If not an attack, it is clearly an insult to the free practice of religion.

Then we have the remarks by the POTUS at the National Prayer Breakfast. I'm not entirely sure a president should even go to a National Prayer Breakfast in a pluralist society, but that is beside the point. He used the occasion to plug Celebrity Apprentice. Denying the solemnity of the occasion. This even after 800 Christian leaders denounced his actions and called upon him to act upon the faith he professes ahead of the event.

Worst of all is Trump's plan to destroy the ban on political speech in churches. Something that would make churches subservient to politics and erode any possibility of separation of church and state. Political speech in churches is bad for churches. It is bad for faith. It ties religious identity to political identity, making idols of politics. It is the single most dangerous threat to religious freedom I can think of short of an out right ban on religion.

Let's not even get started on crazy pants Steve Bannon who is possibly the most dangerous man in the country and the Red Skull in disguise.

Maybe not everything here is an attack on the First Amendment. But it does cause those of us in the faith community to cringe and worry. Maybe you think I am being political.

To bad. This is God's Mote. I look for the mote in the eye of those who claim to speak for God. I try to explain the real meaning and context of religious issues. I will defend my faith and your faith, what ever it may or may not be, from threats both foreign and domestic.

20
Jan 17

Prosperity for who?

Today America swears in a new President and two of the six ministers who pray during Inauguration Day ceremonies, Wayne T. Jackson and Paula White, are advocates of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel.

So what is the Prosperity Gospel and why is it so utterly wrong as to be almost anti-Christian? (Just so we are clear on what I think up front.)

Prosperity Theology began in the late 19th and early 20th century in the US. It is founded on the ideals of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility. Many point to the sermon "Acres of Diamonds" given by Russel Conwell (founder of temple University) in the 1890s as one of the early examples of the movement. In it he says

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is our duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” That is the reason.

And later:

Some men say, “Don’t you sympathize with the poor people?” of course I do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I wont give in but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than we help those who are deserving. While we should sympathize with God’s poor-that is, those who cannot help themselves-let us remember that is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of some one else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow.

This idea took root in America and bloomed first in the post-war revivals of the 40s and 50s and then with Televangelism in the 60s and 70s. A 2006 poll by Time reported "17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money."

Notable works include:
Oral Roberts; Montgomery, G. H. (1966). God's Formula for Success and Prosperity.
Gordon Lindsay (1960). God's Master Key to Prosperity. Christ For The Nations.
Bruce Wilkinson; Kopp, David (2000). The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.

Prominent adherents include: E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Mike Murdock, Reverend Ike and Kenneth Hagin.

Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.Wealth is interpreted in prosperity theology as a blessing from God, obtained through a spiritual law of positive confession, visualization, and donations. While the movement often funds social work, poverty is viewed as a sin or the results of sin.

The vast majority of Christian theology has labeled Prosperity Theology as deeply flawed if not heretical. While undoubtedly the movement has done some good, it has done so as a secondary effect and not its actual goal. While I do not agree with everything he says, I will let John Piper articulate:

My main objections to Prosperity Theology can be summarized:
- The movement focuses on self aggrandizement contrary to Christ's example.
- Prayer is seen as an almost spell like action that forces God into action on behalf of the believer. Turning God into a wish granting genie, or into a devil with a contract.
- It views people who are suffering as deserving of their suffering. Denying Christ's identification with the poor and downtrodden.
- It equates holiness with wealth. Therefore if someone is rich they are probably holy and if someone is poor then they are obviously sinful. Ever read Job?

None of that is consistent with the Bible. A vast majority of what is contemptible in American culture today is embodied in the Prosperity Gospel,and has its roots in it as well.

If you were wondering how we got here, there you go.

13
Jan 17

Not in Our Country

I am still considering a change, or perhaps even an end to God's Mote as it. Feedback is not only welcome but eagerly desired.
However, I saw this and felt it deserved a post.

Russian Yoga Teacher Detained on Charges of Terrorism.

Simply put a Russian law makes illegal any missionary activity from what they consider non-traditional beliefs. Similar laws also require clear labeling of anything that might be considered religious literature. These are part of a suite of so called anti-extremist laws designed, in theory, to tamp down on the rise of domestic terrorism.

>emotionally charged expletive redacted< No. These laws are deliberately vague excuses for law enforcement to harass anyone and anything outside of the desired cultural norm. They are not new in Russia, nor anywhere else in the world. Want to stop the Salvation Army? They are, after all, a radical Christian sect that does not even observe baptism or communion nor any official clergy. Destroy their Bibles for failure to be approved as religious literature, as happened in Vladivostok in December. In America the thought of harassing the Salvation Army seems ridiculous; but they are a deviation from the norm and that is enough for some to see them as a danger. As they see anyone who is not just like them to be a danger. In the US there was a fringe movement in the 70s and 80s that got labeled "Dominionism", although they do not like that term and so I will use it all I can. On occasion I choose to violate my "call people what they ask to be called" rule but I save it for people like this and Alister Crowley. The name comes from the KJV reading of Genesis 1:28 where man is told to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. They go by things like Calvinist Christian Reconstructionism, Charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology, New Apostolic Reformation and others. Basically this group would like to eliminate the separation of Church and State in favor of what they consider to be a nation governed by Biblical laws. Rousas Rushdoony, wrote in The Institutes of Biblical Law that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society and he advocates the reinstatement of the Mosaic law's penal sanctions. Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which carried a death sentence would include homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one's virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case. He wrote "Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies", and he said elsewhere that "Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy," and characterized democracy as "the great love of the failures and cowards of life".

Sometimes a distinction is made between "Soft" Dominionist theology ("America is a Christian Nation") and "Hard" Dominionist Theology ("America's laws need to be Bible based.") Either way, what was once a fringe movement has grown in prominence in the last twenty to thirty years. It does not take long to see elements of Dominionist theology in the avowed beliefs of many leaders on the political Right, some extending the label to Mike Pence and Ted Cruz. Personally, I am not satisfied with what I have found to apply those labels myself to individuals, but I do believe they have been influenced by the movement. Dominionist theology is certainly evident in the creeds of numerous militia groups in the so-called Christian Patriot movement.

What does this mean? If you are not a Christian then it should scare you death. If you are a Christian it should scare you to death. It means that a narrow segment of society decides what is and is not God's Will and has the power of law to enforce it. They decide what is normal and acceptable and what is not. Contradicting them or correcting with them is to thwart the will of God.

>emotionally charged expletive redacted< Do you think Muslims should register? Do you think that America's laws should be based on the Old Testament? Do you think creationism and not evolution should be taught in schools? Do you think Israel should be supported no matter what they do? You might be a dominonist. You might be responsible for putting them in power. You had better be prepared to tow the party line or you might wind up on a list of undesirables yourself. As for me I believe in democracy, I believe in the separation of church and state, and I believe in God - but you don't get to dictate to me or my children what that means. And if some registry of undesirables -be they Muslim or gay or whatever - gets made law I am signing up. I will stand with the persecuted, the imprisoned, and the outcast. I will oppose the enforcement of someone's idea of religion on others in every way possible. Why? Because that is what Jesus would do.

8
Dec 16

Mixed Messages

Let's talk about hate. Let's talk about you and me and all the horrible things we can be.

We see lots about hate in the media these days; or at least we see a lot of hate. This hate is a bi-product of fear. Fear of what is different, fear of a loss of identity, fear of a loss of control, and fear of change.

To quote a wise puppet: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering.
To quote a wiser man who I also happen to believe was God: Perfect Love drives away Fear.

So let's look at two different responses to the growing climate of hate and fear, not just in America but in the Western world.

First we have a man who was so afraid of people who held a different set of political beliefs that he was willing to swallow the most outrageous stories. In this case 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C. went into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington DC with a gun to "self investigate" (his words) if the claims that the establishment was a front for a child sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton were true. These claims were the creation of 4chan users and led to a 20,000 member Reddit group. These claims were then spread all over the internet in groups that already had reasons to dislike Sec. Clinton. Fortunately no one was injured and the police were able to resolve the matter. Unfortunately Pizzagate still has idiots and people of ill will sharing it. See my post about Fake News from last week.

Next let's go the opposite direction. Religious fears have lead to violence all over the world. The Muslim community in the US has been the subject of growing fears. Unfortunately many people seem to not understand that the more persecuted a group is, the more marginalized, the more likely it is to develop radical elements. Fortunately there are people like 53-year-old Justin Normand of Texas. Normand has taken to standing outside Islamic Centers with signs saying "You Belong" and pictures of him doing so have gone viral. This is what he said about what he had done:

It wasn’t about demonstrating my outrage to right-wing drivers driving down Esters Road in front of the mosque. I can never, and will never, change any of the haters. It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here. This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.

So what was the difference?

Two men faced with the potential other. The scary thing we do not understand. One chose to read social media and react with potential violence. One chose to read the Bible and act with a simple message of compassion. One chose to buy into his peer group's ideology and one chose to reject the culture's prevailing message. One is in jail, the other is lauded.

There is a lesson here. A message that I continue to preach. Reason. Dialogue. Compassion. These are what change the world. We all know it. We have just let our fears tell us something different.