Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity.
We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - Anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - Anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Frank Schaeffer - A Political Plea for Awareness, Homeschooling Abuse, and Other Issues

By way of a disclaimer, though I do pay attention to Frank and his writings, I do not necessarily subscribe to demonizing organizations, political parties, church associations and denominations, nor people by label and name. That is not my nature. However I do accept Frank in the vim-and-victim that he carries within his own breast as he writes of subjects near-and-dear to his heart.

Moreover I wish to subscribe to a more peaceful means of political cooperation between the citizen and state upon which American government has always been bourne. Hence, my view is one of working honestly and upfront within-and-without established structures without scheme, plot, or twist of fatalism or conspiracy theory.

Nor do I wish to start fashioning panic-laden attacks like so many critical social obliques that I read of everything-and-everyone around me just because someone disagrees with some unspecified fear or anxiety that they think they see or understand more than most.

Generally I subscribe to a kind of social behavior that requires a basic trust in people, the innate ability to speak to concerns with one another in a meaningful way, and to the process of listening patiently with one another. The goal would be one of seeking how a citizen might work with his or her government and private corporations in a manner that gives the greatest voice, liberty, and civil rights to all men and women everywhere.

Along this effort comes Frank's past religious experiences in all the black-and-whiteness that burdens his heart as one in love with Jesus and for any form of government or organization that uplifts liberty in all its many aspects. Frank is very much concerned with religious movements and groups that would make any form of government unjust in the name of its religious preferences - even that of the Christian faith when misunderstanding its center in Jesus and what that focus means for society at large in both a public and communal setting.

Yet, it is true that all forms of government hang in the balances between oppression and true freedom as fed in equal amounts by religious or political ideologies in conjunction with the people that support those organizations. Having as a nation historically witnessed Europe's past 1000 years of theocratic governmental oppression upon dissenting religious minorities it has not been the wish of the American Constitution - nor of this present American government - to return to the bad old days of Protestant or Catholic theocracy where religion rules with an injudicious iron fist. Thus the Magna Carta that preceded the United States Constitution of life, liberty, and equality for all.

As such, these new days demand a more democratic organ that is more pluralistic in legislature, more tolerant of all forms of belief, and more supportive of judicious civil rights set within communal cooperation. To that end let us listen to Mr. Schaeffer's historical review of America's more recent politico-religious past and try to discern how we might better contribute to a more gracious form of governance that respects all people while seeking as it can to right any oversights present in our corruptible systems.


R.E. Slater
January 28, 2015

Credit: ehrlif via Shutterstock

I helped start the religious right. This is how we sought to
undermine  secular America -- and build a theocracy

- Frank Schaeffer
January 20, 2015

As someone who participated in the rise of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s, I can tell you that you can’t understand the modern Republican Party and its hatred of government unless you understand the evangelical home-school movement. Nor can the Democrats hope to defeat the GOP in 2016 unless they grasp what I’ll be explaining here: religious war carried on by other means.

The Christian home-school movement drove the Evangelical school movement to the ever-harsher world-rejecting far right. The movement saw itself as separating from evil “secular” America. Therein lies the heart of the Tea Party, GOP and religious right’s paranoid view of the rest of us. And since my late father and evangelist Francis Schaeffer and I were instrumental in starting the religious right — I have since left the movement and recently wrote a book titled “Why I Am an Atheist who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace“ – believe me when I tell you that the evangelical schools and home school movement were, by design, founded to undermine a secular and free vision of America and replace it by stealth with a form of theocracy.

This happened because Evangelical home-schoolers were demanding ever-greater levels of “separation” from what they regarded as the Evil Secular World. It wasn’t enough just to reject the public schools. How could the Christian parent be sure that even the Evangelical schools were sufficiently pure? And so the Christian schools radicalized in order to not appear to be “compromising” with the world in the eyes of increasingly frightened and angry parents.

My account here of the rise of the home school movement
is not aimed at home-schooling, per se, but at parents who
want to indoctrinate, rather than educate.

The Evangelical home school movement was really founded by two people: Rousas Rushdoony, the extremist theologian, and Mary Pride, the “mother” of fundamentalist home-schoolers. I knew them both well.

Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn’t try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States. Even the most conservative Evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”

By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. [Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.]

I was [Mary] Pride’s agent and sold her first huge seller “The Way Home.” What, Pride asked, was the point of having all those children and then turning them over to secular public schools to be made into secular humanists and Jesus-hating pagans? The irony was that Pride preached a dogmatic, stay-at-home, follow-your man philosophy for other women while turning her lucrative home-schooling empire into a one-woman industry. And Pride’s successor in the Patriarchy Movement, the wealthy author/guru Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was also one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do best-selling career women doing high-paid speaking gigs while encouraging other women to stay home and submit to their men.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss happened to be the daughter of a former friend of my mother’s, Nancy DeMoss, who was instrumental in my parents’ rise to Evangelical superstardom. Nancy DeMoss was also pivotal in the role of facilitator and financier when it came to seamlessly merging Reconstructionist ideology with the “respectable” mainstream Evangelical community. I worked closely with Nancy on several projects. She generously supported my various Schaeffer-related anti-abortion movies, books and seminar tours. She also took “our” message much further on her own by underwriting a massive multimillion-dollar well-produced anti-abortion TV and print media ad campaign inspired by our work.

Soon after the death of her wealthy husband, Arthur DeMoss, Nancy DeMoss had become my mother’s friend and an ardent Schaeffer follower. She also took over her late husband’s foundation as CEO. Besides underwriting several Schaeffer projects, Nancy contributed millions to Republican and other far right causes (including $70,000 to start Newt Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC). She also helped the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a Reconstructionist-aligned group.

When Nancy’s daughter (the aforementioned Nancy Leigh DeMoss) took Pride’s ideas to a bigger audience than Pride could have imagined, she was just taking the next logical step begun by her mother. Like my sisters and I, the DeMoss siblings found themselves in their parents’ orbit. The DeMoss children became co-workers in the “cause,” much as I filled that role in my family. Nancy’s other daughter, Deborah, worked for Sen. Jesse Helms. Nancy’s son Mark worked for Jerry Falwell before founding the DeMoss Group, a P.R. firm used by the likes of Billy Graham’s son Franklin. But unlike the Schaeffers, the DeMoss clan had tens of millions of dollars with which to back its pet far-right schemes, one of which would be the Quiverfull Movement– a group dedicated to early marriage and huge families.

To plumb the depths of the tortured “reasoning” behind the Roman Catholic version of the anti-contraceptive Quiverfull Movement (they preach young marriage and huge families and wives’ obedience to husbands), consider the writing of Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. She’s a hero to today’s leading conservative Roman Catholics. She wrote passionately in defense of the papal prohibition of contraception:

In considering an action, we need always to judge several things about ourselves. First: is the sort of act we contemplate doing something that it’s all right to do? Second: are our further or surrounding intentions all right? Third: is the spirit in which we do it all right? Contraceptive intercourse fails on the first count; and to intend such an act is not to intend a marriage act at all, whether or no we’re married. An act of ordinary intercourse in marriage at an infertile time, though, is a perfectly ordinary act of married intercourse, and it will be bad, if it is bad, only on the second or third counts. If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference!

But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. If you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition. It’s this that makes the division between straightforward fornication or adultery and the wickedness of the sins against nature and of contraceptive intercourse. Hence contraceptive intercourse within marriage is a graver offence against chastity than is straightforward fornication or adultery.

Here is how far right instigator and personal best friend of Antonin Scalia Robert George of Princeton (described by the New York Times as one of the most powerful ultra-conservative instigators in America) lauded this insane “argument” in his gushing Anscombe obituary:

In 1968, when much of the rest of the Catholic intellectual world reacted with shock and anger to Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of Catholic teaching regarding the immorality of contraception, the Geach-Anscombe family toasted the announcement with champagne. Her defense of the teaching in the essay “Contraception and Chastity” is an all-too-rare example of rigorous philosophical argumentation on matters of sexual ethics. Catholics who demand the liberalization of their Church’s teachings have yet to come to terms with Anscombe’s arguments.

Another far-right Roman Catholic ideologue (and also an academic) even wrote a book calling on Christians, Jews and Muslims to join together in a jihad against the secular West. In “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” a former friend of mine, Peter Kreeft (a professor of philosophy at Boston College), called for “ecumenical jihad.” ”Ecumenical Jihad” was dedicated to Richard John Neuhaus, the late Roman Catholic convert priest, and to the late Charles Colson (who later teamed up with George to author the “Manhattan Declaration”). Neuhaus and I often talked on the phone when he was about to launch his far-fight First Things journal. Neuhaus asked me to contribute articles, which I did. According to what Neuhaus told me, First Things was supposed to be the pro-life version of Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary. “To fill a gap,” as Neuhaus put it to me.

Podhoretz, who at first was friendly with Neuhaus, told me he broke with him over his “extremist anti-American views,” as Podhoretz put it. This was just after Neuhaus had started describing the U.S. government as an illegitimate “regime.” As the Washington Post noted:

In an essay he wrote for First Things, [Neuhaus] likened the legal right to abortion to state-sponsored murder under the Nazi regime. “Law, as it is presently made by the judiciary, has declared its independence from morality,” he wrote. “America is not and, please God, will never become Nazi Germany, but it is only blind hubris that denies it can happen here and, in peculiarly American ways, may be happening here.” The polemical rhetoric offended many Jewish conservatives in particular and threatened to shatter the bonds that had united them.Father Neuhaus played a central role in forging an alliance between evangelicalProtestants and Catholics and in bringing conservative Christians into the Republican conservative coalition in the 1980s and 1990s.

The groups Kreeft, Colson and Neuhaus had in mind to “bring together” in an ecumenical jihad were alienated Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and conservative Roman Catholics, to which Kreeft added Muslims (not that any actually signed on to his program as far as I know). These groups did not share each other’s theology, but had a deeper link: anger at the “victimhood” imposed on them by modernity.

Kreeft and Neuhaus were calling abortion murder. Thus, the logic of their argument was that of my father’s, too: The U.S. government was enabling murder and was thus disparaged as a “regime,” even a “counterfeit state,” that needed to be overthrown. George and Colson and the others who wrote and then signed the “Manhattan Declaration” (like Kreeft) also called for fundamentalists to unite if need be for civil disobedience to stop the U.S. government from doing its worst—in other words, to pass laws that did not comply with their religious “values.”

So if the U.S. government legalizes gay marriage and thus “compels” all Americans (including church groups) to recognize gay men and women’s civil rights, the government need no longer be obeyed when those laws affect religious people who disagree with them. The “Manhattan Declaration” called believers to “not comply.” And just as Neuhaus dismissed the U.S. government as a “regime”—and my father did the same when saying the government was a “counterfeit state”—George and his co-signers also used dismissive and demeaning language about the U.S. government.

The “Manhattan Declaration” called laws with which its signers disagreed “edicts,” thereby conjuring up images of dictators handing down oppressive rules, rather than legitimately elected democratic bodies passing legislation. In other words, when the right loses in the democratic process, “other means,” like civil disobedience, are encouraged. In fact, George, who authored the “declaration,” then headed up the group that successfully won on the Hobby Lobby case and also won the Evangelical Wheaton College suit to allow them to not cover contraception for women.

Neoconservative intellectuals like Neuhaus helped set the stage for the Quiverfull and Patriarchy movements. They gave a gloss of intellectual respectability to what was nothing more than a theocratic, far right wish list. “Thinkers” like Neuhaus contributed to what I’ll call the ideological background noise accompanying the rise of post-Roe demagogy.

Ironically, at the very same time as Evangelicals like Dad, Mary Pride and I were thrusting ourselves into bare-knuckle politics, we were also retreating to what amounted to virtual walled compounds. In other words we lashed out at “godless America” and demanded political change—say, the reintroduction of prayer into public schools—and yet also urged our followers to pull their own children out of the public schools and home-school them.

The rejection of public schools by Evangelical Protestants was a harbinger of virtual civil war carried on by other means. Protestants had once been the public schools’ most ardent defenders. For instance, in the 1840s when Roman Catholics asked for tax relief for their private schools, Protestants said no and stood against anything they thought might undermine the public schools that they believed were the backbone of moral virtue, community spirit and egalitarian good citizenship.

The Evangelical’s abandonment of the country they called home (while simultaneously demanding change in that society) went far beyond alternative schools or home-schooling. In the 1970s and 1980s thousands of Christian bookstores opened, countless new Evangelical radio programs flourished, and new TV stations went on the air. Even a “Christian Yellow Pages” (a guide to Evangelical tradesmen) was published advertising “Christ-centered plumbers,” accountants, and the like who “honor Jesus.”

New Evangelical universities and even new law schools appeared, seemingly overnight, with a clearly defined mission to “take back” each and every profession—including law and politics—”for Christ.” For instance, Liberty University’s Law School was a dream come true for my old friend Jerry Falwell, who (when I was speaking at his school in 1983 to the entire student body for the second time) gleefully told me of his vision for Liberty’s programs: “Frank, we’re going to train a new generation of judges to change America!” This was the same Jerry Falwell who wrote in “America Can Be Saved,” “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools.”

Recently, Gordon College asked President Obama to exempt them from laws protecting gay civil rights. To understand why the old-fashioned conservative mantra “Big government doesn’t work,” the newly radicalized Evangelicals (and their Roman Catholic co-belligerents) added, “The U.S. government is evil!” And the very same community—Protestant American Evangelicals—who had once been the bedrock supporters of public education, and voted for such moderate and reasonable men as President Dwight Eisenhower, became the enemies of not only the public schools but also of anything in the (nonmilitary) public sphere “run by the government.”

In the minds of Evangelicals, they were re-creating the Puritan’s self-exile from England by looking for a purer and better place, this time not a geographical “place” but a sanctuary within their minds (and in inward-looking schools and churches) undisturbed by facts. Like the Puritans, the post-Roe Evangelicals (and many other conservative Christians) withdrew from the mainstream not because they were forced to but because the society around them was, in their view, fatally sinful and, worse, addicted to facts rather than to faith. And yet having “dropped out” (to use a 1960s phrase), the Evangelicals nevertheless kept on demanding that regarding “moral” and “family” matters the society they’d renounced nonetheless had to conform to their beliefs.

In the first decade of the 21st century the Evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic (and Mormon) outsider victim “approach” to public policy was perfected on a heretofore-undreamed-of scale by Sarah Palin. She was the ultimate holier-than-thou Evangelical. What my mother had represented (in her unreconstructed fundamentalist heyday) to a chalet full of young gullible women and later to tens of thousands of readers, Palin became for tens of millions of alienated, angry, white lower-middle-class men and women convinced that an educated “elite” was out to get them.

Palin was first inflicted on the American public by Sen. John McCain, who chose her as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election for at least one big reason: He needed to shore up flagging support from the Evangelical Republican antiabortion base. McCain wanted to prove that he was fully in line with the “social issues” agenda that Dad, Koop and I had foisted on our country more than 30 years before. Palin lost the election for McCain but “won” her war for fame and fortune.

She presented herself as called by God and thus cast in the Old Testament mold of Queen Esther, one chosen by God to save her people. Palin perfected the Jesus Victim “art” of Evangelical self-banishment and then took victimhood to new levels of “success” by cashing in on white lower-middle-class resentment of America’s elites.

Palin made a fortune by simultaneously proclaiming her Evangelical faith, denouncing liberals and claiming that she would help the good God-fearing folks out there “take back” their country. This “Esther” lacked seriousness. But born-again insiders knew that the “wisdom of men” wasn’t the point. Why should the new Queen Esther bother to actually finish her work governing Alaska? God had chosen her to confound the wise!

So she became a media star and quit as governor of Alaska. Then she battled “Them”—the “lamestream media” (as she labeled any media outlets outside of the Far Right subculture)—in the name of standing up for “Real Americans.” Palin used the alternative communication network that had its roots deeply embedded in those pioneering 1970s and 1980s Evangelical TV shows and radio shows that I used to be on just about every other day. She did this to avoid being questioned by people who didn’t agree with her. By not actually governing or doing the job she’d been elected by Alaskans to do, and by using the alternative media networks as an “outsider”—all the while reacting to and demanding attention from the actual (theoretically hated) media—Palin also made buckets of money.

In the scorched-earth post-Roe era of the “healthcare reform debates” of 2009 and beyond, Evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren’t the evil government. The right even decided that it was “normal” for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies—even for military operations (“contractors”), prisons, healthcare, public transport and all the rest.

The religious right/far right et al. favored private “facts,” too. They claimed that global warming wasn’t real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!

“Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!”

“Amtrak must make a profit!”

Even the word “infrastructure” lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges and trains.

In denial of the West’s civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, Evangelicals (and the rest of the right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God’s creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals. The price for the religious right’s wholesale idolatry of private everything was that Christ’s reputation was tied to a cynical political party “owned” by billionaires. It only remained for a far right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns—anonymously—in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the super wealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party.

The Evangelical foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their “stand” against government had played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the 21st century, people were still out in the rain holding an “Abortion Is Murder!” sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in a mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corp., Exxon and Halliburton who were laughing. As for the likes of the Quiverfull people — the Koch brothers weren’t having babies or not educating their daughters … but they found the religious right useful.

And that is what the Koch brothers know and most Americans don’t: the religious right have been useful pawns. And that is why there is a Republican majority in both houses of government: They have tapped into the energy of the religious right and their hatred of “sinful” America exemplified by the paranoia of the home-schoolers. Taken together the GOP and the religious right are still fighting a religious war against their own country.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Related Article -

The Right's Home School Conspiracy

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

CRHE Fundraising Appeal

Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HIC) shines a light on the dark side of homeschooling, where a lack of outside protections for homeschooled children has led to some horrifying consequences. Homeschooling can be a useful educational tool in the hands of the right parents, but when it falls into the hands of the wrong parents the results can be disastrous, and it is the children who suffer.

HIC documents and archives cases where homeschooling was not in the best interest of the child and was instead used as a means to isolate, abuse, and neglect, resulting in exceedingly harmful or fatal outcomes. This is for Lydia, Hana, Nubia, the children of the Gravelles and Kluths, and those whose stories we may never hear.

HIC operates under the oversight of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). The two organizations support a common goal, that of safeguarding and protecting the wellbeing of homeschooled children. CRHE works to educate the public, policymakers, and other constituencies, and to promote the need for adequate safeguards for at-risk children who are homeschooled.

Warning: This site’s content includes mention of severe child abuse, torture,
and untimely death and contains pictures of children who died under such conditions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Steampunking a Generation of Theology with New Music and Airs

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States - and there has always been.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way
through our political and cultural life nurtured by the false notion that
democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

- Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov

The Difficulty of Writing a Contemporary Theology

I apologize ahead of time for the noticeable absence that I've given to this reference site. During this absence I have been editing and updating past blog articles within the site itself; writing and editing poems on my poetry site; and generally have personally been resting from my labors over the past five years of creating each site's compositions. This has been no small effort and has required nearly every waking hour to create without completely falling off the cliff.

Within the compositions of Relevancy22 I have been hosting internal debates as to how much I wish to add to subject matter that has already been written in both a pervasive and directional style. For instance, the topic of Christian evolution has been thoroughly examined though I've used then current sources and organizations in the examination of those topics. Still, these organizations have now become dated over the past several years and might perhaps require newer sources of example and interplay. Even so, the directional content written on the biblical topic at hand should withstand many generations of readers as science and research continue apace fleshing out theological observations previously made here on this site.

There is also the problem of writing a theology that might overcome the ravages of time-and-event when lesser voices come along to pick a scrap from its bones and proclaim a lesser vision of the God we have envisioned here in the world of men. For myself, the fear is that such "timely voices" may lead to less expansive ideas, less helpful directions, and a generally poorer direction for a pervasive theology from the one contemplated here. And it is ever a caution to believer and non-believer alike to consider your sources of inspiration when reading or disputing theologies - and especially your background and prejudices - before making assumptions, critiques, and evaluations. A little humility goes a long ways to protecting others from misrepresentation, error, and faulty thinking.

Too, there is the problem of writing on a subject matter such as theology that it remain broad enough to be relevant to societal turmoil while specific enough to be of help to those caught within the vexations of life itself. Even as I and others have attempted to uplift orthodox Christianity beyond its medieval / enlightened settings from the past recent centuries of debate there still is the problem of persistent stubborn voices and movements which will not admit to this approach and lavish on the past legacies of Christian orthodoxy unhelpful comments and beliefs. Thus and thus, there is the problem of teaching readers to think and not simply to fly to every new word or theological argument because it sounds good in the main, even as it rots from within itself on the tree of life that it clings.


How Has the Church Changed?

Over the past several years of writing I began this site in reaction to an evangelical Christianity I could no longer submit to, had become unable to support, and generally disagreed personally with its harshness and ineffectiveness to the telling of the gospel of Jesus. After about 6 months or so of writing and publishing on this website I decided on a new direction that would tell of an emergent style of Christianity that was being birthed on the very doorstep of evangelicalism's sterility. And so I did, for the next 12 months or so, by describing a bible and a God that led out with grace over fear, doubt over certainty, an embrace of humanity over discrimination, and an equality of church structure meant for all and not some.

This more contemporary direction then helped to set the tone for the next 18 months of theological commitment in examining new ideas, new words, and important theological movements within a post-modern, post-Christian world that denied everything Christian in its agnosticism and atheism. Here, not only did I write, or comment, to the church-at-large, but to an opposing world view with its own ragged belief structures, in attempts to create a more holistic theology that might bind both together using sounder doctrinal structures and approaches than I was seeing from either the church or the world-at-large in its froth and foam.

In so doing, I wished to help newer Christians untrained in theology to reconsider how to read their bibles from a more enlightened - and less mystical - perspective than what the mainstream church was presently teaching. While also allowing a more profane world's desire for spirituality to be re-absorbed into a more formal setting centering on Jesus and not the church, the bible (so to say), or the Christian religion represented by so many less attuned Christian faiths. And so, in the effort to re-center this radically newer approach to "orthodox theology" the trick to it all was to re-align the church, the bible, and the Christian faith with Jesus Himself so that all fell aright and not wrong. Which was a harder task to accomplish than initially thought.

And to a large extend I believe this was done during a very tumultuous time within the church (1980s to this present era) as it failed to leap beyond itself with its older trajectories, theologies, and mindsets gained from the voices of the saints of the past; their present religious traditions and dogmas; and the veritable succession of thoroughly written formulaic doctrinal statements so unbendable and exasperating to the Christian life of faith itself apprehended from the mindset of the enlightenment so many long years ago (from the 1800s onwards).

This effort took not a little undoing. It required moving the goal posts if not the entire playing field itself by addressing the very things that held this enlightened church formation together for so many long centuries. Starting with Kant I chose to go with Hegel's line of thought of German Idealism that has now blossomed into what is known as Continental Philosophy to rid theology of its structured Western logistical arguments treating the Christian faith like so many theological syllogisms and scientific statements bereft of skin and tenon. (Here we have followed in part relational-process theology, some forms of radical theology, a few philosophers, and philosopher-theologians).

Additionally, it required removing the unhelpfulness found in Calvinism's dogmaticisms written on the back of the Church's enlightened Reformation movement that would show Reformed Christianity's paucity at the very center of its arguments for the "sovereignty of God" when played out against the Dutch Remonstrance movement of Arminianism (today known as Wesleyanism) as a more natural (and gracious) counterweight in explaining God's very sovereignty to the church and humanity. (To help with this effort we've followed the writings of Dr. Roger Olson and Dr. Thomas Oord, both friends to myself).

It required the re-writing of God's grace in a way that would re-position the dogma of God's holiness so that divine holiness itself was re-interpreted within the definition of God's grace lest it be cast upon the harsh Calvinistic rocks of ungracious election and its following concept of the "perseverance of the saints." To understand the speciousness of Calvinism's argument when pretending God to be more holy than He is gracious. And to allow for the uplifting of God's fearsome holiness to be mollified within His great love for us as shown to us through Jesus' sacrifice of redemption (sic, N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and a host of other progressive writers).

To understand that God created the worlds out of grace - and not through a perverse desire as tyrant and judge to control very life itself as if it were a Greek tragedy vying between the gods, fate, and earthly uprisings. That this Creator-God is ever present and journeys with us in this sin-whacked world where evil persists to the freedoms allowed it by God's very system of creation He had made. Not as an unwise enterprise - but as wise-and-good creative order - in giving to us the freedom to be, to will, to want, and need. And in the giving of this world to understand freedom's opposite counterweight had likewise arisen to abuse the very freedom God has decreed to this world. An imbalance which we describe as sin and evil in so many of its wicked forms and aberrations, injuries and injustices.

That our future is open and not doomed to apocalyptic failure (sic, open theology). That a God-filled kingdom can-and-will be reborn on the backs of those saints who submit to the golden rule of "doing unto others" what is necessary and good (kingdom theology). That war and hate makes nothing good but all evil and worse. That peace and goodwill are the very attributes of God's love lived through us as His people, His bride, and church. That the church must be committed to these very attributes of color-blindness, gender-blindness, and its corollary hegemony of cultural pluralism in order to purse peace and goodwill with all men everywhere (sic, missional pluralism). That God's love demands us to love against what we were taught to cling to such as nationalism, patriotism, and the old oligarchies of social class and world order.

This kind of theology requires us to be better students of God's Word (sic, hermeneutics, linguistics, cultural anthropologies). More insightful, mature, and understanding of God's people both now in our day (historical theology and ecclesiology) as well as in the days of more ancient times when God revealed Himself to men in more savage economies unprotected by today's literacy, education and technology. To read His word not as a magician's holy book where every word and sentence is enforced by our own personal prejudices and speculations (sic, existentialism, psychoanalytics, sociology), but with a humble heart more willing to unlearn its words and sentences with a greater wisdom than when we first came to it as vibrant youths eager to defend its God  - as if the very God of the universe needed defending!

That the bible is a weighty book requiring us to understand that "simple grammatical literalism" won't work in the reading of its literary histories. Nor will mere allegory or systematic theologies built on logic and syllogism. But that it be approached as any age of man might be approached with a variety of questions and examinations seeking to recover the lost narratives of men who themselves were attempting to explain a God they did not understand and failed to represent when left to their own thoughts and devices (narrative theology). Even so we do the same when latching onto particular biblical approaches that purport to "explain" God's word better than God's own word would do when left freer of these approaches. Clinging to biblical (or systematic) approaches of theology that would protect the church's "dogma, doctrine, and folklores" rather than opening the church up to examining its need for such dogmas and doctrines in the first place (sic, missional outreach and cultural examination).

What is the Gospel of Jesus?

And here I will submit the simple idea that our central need for legitimacy in the eyes of God is no less profane in our new-found Christian faith as it was in our previous pagan existence before the Spirit of God enlivened our lives. Even as Adam and Eve were driven to qualify themselves before the God they feared so too do we do the same when clothing ourselves with all else except God Himself through His grace, mercy, incarnation and resurrection in Jesus.

Hence, good dogmas and doctrines must be built upon the rocky crags of divine love and not the sandy shoals of fear which too many churches seem to emphasize when preaching of God's judgment upon sinners and its consequences of heaven and hell, fire and brimstone. Jesus' gospel is a gospel of the peace and love that God has provided to all men everywhere and not for some certain religious few who happen to follow the "right" doctrines or go to the "right" church or fellowship with the "right" people.

Nay, Jesus's gospel is one that preaches salvation to the sinner - and when preaching judgment more often than not it is to the religious scribe or Pharisee unwilling to humble their hearts because of the religious pride they carry within themselves. This kind of gospel doesn't lessen the truth of sin, nor the need for belief to be measured by good works. But it is also a gospel of reversals whenever we see Jesus seeking the unwanted and despised. Who, when placed in the house of religious leaders, is publicly condemned and thrown out for his mercy shown to the prostitute who would wash His feet.

As such, though God is holy, His holiness means nothing to us as sinners without it first leading out with His grace in a gospel of grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace. For it is God's grace that imputes to us God's holiness through Jesus our Savior and not our own ragged works and prideful heart. And this is all the difference between "doctrines and dogmas" built upon the attribute of God's holiness rather than first leading out with God's grace.

And it is to this God we worship who does not look on the outside of man's works but on the inside of his heart. Who is not honored by building more ornate churches with taller spires and gilded windows. Nor by false shepherds who would place more fearsome "spiritual" chains placed upon their congregants even as they would do upon themselves. By preaching works-righteousness that divides this good world into spaces that are more holy than others. Churches for instance. Or monasteries. Or certain religious schools. Or pet beliefs. Or preaching dogmas that God loves skinnier people who don't smoke or curse or dance. Or that God is more pleased with those who kneel before church altars and pray all day lighting candles while turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the needs of people outside the church's walls.

Wherever, may I ask, do we read of Jesus praying inside ancient Jewish temples and lighting candles? Nay, never. When reading of Jesus we see His divine presence consorting within the thick of humanity - and most usually with the unwanted remnants of mankind deemed cursed of God by those more religious or holy or good than their contemporaries. Nay, let not this mindset be found within God's church!

To understand that church high-calendar seasons of Advent and Lent are not there to make us more holy by denying food and drink but that regardless of food or drink (or a sundry of other such denials) God seeks us alone stripped of any efforts to bring us closer to Himself except by His own grace accepting us as we are through Christ our Saviour. That it is we are ourselves He desires when stripped naked of everything that would vindicate us before God. That when we are the most vulnerable in our nakedness and vulnerability God is the nearer to us by His grace, faithfulness, and goodness.

That religion is a curse upon men as much as our words can be upon others. That a Spirit-less faith holding to church traditions and teachings is as far from God as a man or woman can be. That the nearest thing to God's heart is a heart that cries out to Him in the darkness stripped of itself and earthly ornaments that would pretend to bring us to our God with fleshly worth and identity. The foolishness of doctrine, of very theology itself, is to adorn it with more than it was meant to bear. Dressing it up when perhaps it is better torn down so that we might see God aright more clearly than when we first begun our spiritual journey.

As such, writing theology can be a house of cards too easily blown down if not centered upon the very God it would pretend to write about. Thus my journey through my own personal lands of Christianity as it was, and had become, and now is. May this same journey adorn your life and thoughts and deeds. And may this journey be of some help to your own journey in the mystery of life held in the all gracious and sovereign hands of our Redeemer Creator.

Let us steampunk a generation of worthless theology not with the apocalypcisms of 
our fears and vaunted moralities. But with a soaring theology allowing new music
and symphonic airs be heard beyond the tomes of our religious past. - r.e. slater


R.E. Slater
January 27, 2014

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The 12 worst ideas religion
has unleashed on the world

by Valerie Tarico, Alternet
January 24, 2015

God is seldom great. These dubious concepts promote
conflict, cruelty and suffering rather than love and peace.

(Credit: Wikimedia)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Some of humanity’s technological innovations are things we would have been better off without: the medieval rack, the atomic bomb and powdered lead potions come to mind. Religions tend to invent ideas or concepts rather than technologies, but like every other creative human enterprise, they produce some really bad ones along with the good.

I’ve previously highlighted some of humanity’s best moral and spiritual concepts, our shared moral core. Here, by way of contrast, are some of the worst. These twelve dubious concepts promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, "They belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there."

Chosen People –The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept. The New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones. Calvinists talk about “God’s elect,” believing that they themselves are the special few who were chosen before the beginning of time. Jehovah’s witnesses believe that 144,000 souls will get a special place in the afterlife. In many cultures certain privileged and powerful bloodlines were thought to be descended directly from gods (in contrast to everyone else).

Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer. “Gang symbols” like special haircuts, attire, hand signals and jargon differentiate insiders from outsiders and subtly (or not so subtly) convey to both that insiders are inherently superior.

Heretics – Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human. In the Torah, slaves taken from among outsiders don’t merit the same protections as Hebrew slaves. Those who don’t believe in a god are corrupt, doers of abominable deeds. “There is none [among them] who does good,” says the Psalmist.

Islam teaches the concept of “dhimmitude” and provides special rules for the subjugation of religious minorities, with monotheists getting better treatment than polytheists. Christianity blurs together the concepts of unbeliever and evildoer. Ultimately, heretics are a threat that needs to be neutralized by conversion, conquest, isolation, domination, or—in worst cases—mass murder.

Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes. The medieval Roman Catholic Church conducted a twenty year campaign of extermination against heretical Cathar Christians in the south of France, promising their land and possessions to real Christians who signed on as crusaders. Sunni and Shia Muslims have slaughtered each other for centuries. The Hebrew scriptures recount battle after battle in which their war God, Yahweh, helps them to not only defeat but also exterminate the shepherding cultures that occupy their “Promised Land.” As in later holy wars, like the modern rise of ISIS, divine sanction let them kill the elderly and children, burn orchards, and take virgin females as sexual slaves—all while retaining a sense of moral superiority.

Blasphemy – Blasphemy is the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even question. By definition, criticism of these ideas is an outrage, and it is precisely this emotion–outrage–that the crime of blasphemy evokes in believers. The Bible prescribes death for blasphemers; the Quran does not, but death-to-blasphemers became part of Shariah during medieval times.

The idea that blasphemy must be prevented or avenged has caused millions of murders over the centuries and countless other horrors. As I write, blogger Raif Badawi awaits round after round of flogging in Saudi Arabia—1000 lashes in batches of 50—while his wife and children plead from Canada for the international community to do something.

Glorified suffering – Picture secret societies of monks flogging their own backs. The image that comes to mind is probably from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the idea isn’t one he made up. A core premise of Christianity is that righteous torture—if it’s just intense and prolonged enough–can somehow fix the damage done by evil, sinful behavior. Millions of crucifixes litter the world as testaments to this belief. Shia Muslims beat themselves with lashes and chains during Aashura, a form of sanctified suffering called Matam that commemorates the death of the martyr Hussein. Self-denial in the form of asceticism and fasting is a part of both Eastern and Western religions, not only because deprivation induces altered states but also because people believe suffering somehow brings us closer to divinity.

Our ancestors lived in a world in which pain came unbidden, and people had very little power to control it. An aspirin or heating pad would have been a miracle to the writers of the Bible, Quran, or Gita. Faced with uncontrollable suffering, the best advice religion could offer was to lean in or make meaning of it. The problem, of course is that glorifying suffering—turning it into a spiritual good—has made people more willing to inflict it on not only themselves and their enemies but also those who are helpless, including the ill or dying (as in the case of Mother Teresa and the American Bishops) and children (as in the child beating Patriarchy movement).

Genital mutilation – Primitive people have used scarification and other body modifications to define tribal membership for as long as history records. But genital mutilation allowed our ancestors several additional perks—if you want to call them that. Infant circumcision in Judaism serves as a sign of tribal membership, but circumcision also serves to test the commitment of adult converts. In one Bible story, a chieftain agrees to convert and submit his clan to the procedure as a show of commitment to a peace treaty. (While the men lie incapacitated, the whole town is then slain by the Israelites.)

In Islam, painful male circumcision serves as a rite of passage into manhood, initiation into a powerful club. By contrast, in some Muslim cultures cutting away or burning the female clitoris and labia ritually establishes the submission of women by reducing sexual arousal and agency. An estimated 2 million girls annually are subjected to the procedure, with consequences including hemorrhage, infection, painful urination and death.

Blood sacrifice – In the list of religion’s worst ideas, this is the only one that appears to be in its final stages. Only Hindus continue toritually hack and slaughter sacrificial animals on a mass scale.

When our ancient ancestors slit the throats on humans and animals or cut out their hearts or sent the smoke of sacrifices heavenward, many believed that they were literally feeding supernatural beings. In time, in most religions, the rationale changed—the gods didn’t need feeding so much as they needed signs of devotion and penance. The residual child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible (yes it is there) typically has this function. Christianity’s persistent focus on blood atonement—the notion of Jesus as the be-all-end-all lamb without blemish, the final “propitiation” for human sin—is hopefully the last iteration of humanity’s long fascination with blood sacrifice.

Hell – Whether we are talking about Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, an afterlife filled with demons, monsters, and eternal torture was the worst suffering the Iron Age minds could conceive and medieval minds could elaborate. Invented, perhaps, as a means to satisfy the human desire for justice, the concept of Hell quickly devolved into a tool for coercing behavior and belief.

Most Buddhists see hell as a metaphor, a journey into the evil inside the self, but the descriptions of torturing monsters and levels of hell can be quite explicit. Likewise, many Muslims and Christians hasten to assure that it is a real place, full of fire and the anguish of non-believers. Some Christians have gone so far as to insist that the screams of the damned can be heard from the center of the Earth or that observing their anguish from afar will be one of the pleasures of paradise.

Karma – Like hell, the concept of karma offers a selfish incentive for good behavior—it’ll come back at you later—but it has enormous costs. Chief among these is a tremendous weight of cultural passivity in the face of harm and suffering. Secondarily, the idea of karmasanctifies the broad human practice of blaming the victim. If what goes around comes around, then the disabled child or cancer patient or untouchable poor (or the hungry rabbit or mangy dog) must have done something in either this life or a past one to bring their position on themselves.

Eternal Life – To our weary and unwashed ancestors, the idea of gem encrusted walls, streets of gold, the fountain of youth, or an eternity of angelic chorus (or sex with virgins) may have seemed like sheer bliss. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realize how quickly eternal paradise would become hellish—an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect).

The real reason that the notion of eternal life is such a bad invention, though, is the degree to which it diminishes and degrades existence on this earthly plane. With eyes lifted heavenward, we can’t see the intricate beauty beneath our feet. Devout believers put their spiritual energy into preparing for a world to come rather than cherishing and stewarding the one wild and precious world we have been given.

Male Ownership of Female Fertility – The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs.

As we approach the limits of our planetary life support system and stare dystopia in the face, defining women as breeders and children as assets becomes ever more costly. We now know that resource scarcity is a conflict trigger and that demand for water and arable land is growing even as both resources decline. And yet, a pope who claims to care about the desperate poor lectures them against contraceptionwhile Muslim leaders ban vasectomies in a drive to outbreed their enemies.

Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship) – Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition, and they made objects of stone and wood, idols, to channel their devotion. Their notions of what was good and what was Real and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry.

“Because the faith of Islam is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the religion,” says one young Muslim explaining his faith online. His statement betrays a naïve lack of information about the origins of his own dogmas. But more broadly, it sums up the challenge all religions face moving forward. Imagine if a physicist said, “Because our understanding of physics is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the field.”

Adherents who think their faith is perfect, are not just naïve or ill informed. They are developmentally arrested, and in the case of the world’s major religions, they are anchored to the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, desperation and early death.

Ironically, the mindset that our sacred texts are perfect betrays the very quest that drove our ancestors to write those texts. Each of the men who wrote part of the Bible, Quran, or Gita took his received tradition, revised it, and offered his own best articulation of what is good and real. We can honor the quest of our spiritual ancestors, or we can honor their answers, but we cannot do both.

Religious apologists often try to deny, minimize, or explain away the sins of scripture and the evils of religious history. “It wasn’t really slavery.” “That’s just the Old Testament.” “He didn’t mean it that way.” “You have to understand how bad their enemies were.” “Those people who did harm in the name of God weren’t real [Christians/Jews/Muslims].” Such platitudes may offer comfort, but denying problems doesn’t solve them. Quite the opposite, in fact. Change comes with introspection and insight, a willingness to acknowledge our faults and flaws while still embracing our strengths and potential for growth.

In a world that is teeming with humanity, armed with pipe bombs and machine guns and nuclear weapons and drones, we don’t need defenders of religion’s status quo—we need real reformation, as radical as that of the 16th Century and much, much broader. It is only by acknowledging religion’s worst ideas that we have any hope of embracing the best.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Terrorism Is Wrong; So Is Ridiculing People’s Faiths

Roger Olson
January 17, 2015

I agree with Pope Francis. Terrorism is bad, wrong, evil, condemnable. But viciously ridiculing people’s sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions and life forms is also bad and, while violence is not a justified response to it, some kind of reaction is predictable.

Satire is one thing; ridicule is something else. But the line between them is thin. But here’s one line between that people might consider respecting: It’s okay to satirize beliefs and practices that are abhorrent to common humanity (such as terrorism, abuse, “holy war,” etc.) and not okay to ridicule innocent people who do not engage in such–even if their beliefs are odd in comparison to “mainstream” beliefs. It’s also not okay to hold up for ridicule people’s holy relics, shrines, symbols, etc.

Years ago I read this maxim: “Do not blaspheme the sacrament you do not understand.” Amen.

Having said that, I will add that I think it demonstrates a certain amount of insecurity about one’s own religion to get very worked up about unbelievers’ ridiculing of it. If the ridicule could lead to persecution and oppression, that’s one thing. That needs to be pointed out and strongly opposed. However, if the ridicule (which I never endorse or defend) is aimed at a powerful, strong religion that tends to enforce its particular beliefs and practices on others, well, the adherents of that religion ought to consider whether they brought the ridicule on themselves.

I grew up in a religious form of life that was widely ridiculed by others–so much so that anyone who would publicly identify with it could count on being considered a “holy roller,” religious fanatic, probably ignorant, stupid and maybe crazy. I suffered much religious ridicule and even persecution for reading my Bible during “study hall” and for handing out “The Four Spiritual Laws” (a tract) to classmates. It made me very sensitive to ridicule and persecution of others. Today, when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door I always speak kindly to them, congratulate them for taking time to share their faith with others and say to them “We ought to be doing more of that.” And I apologize for any of my neighbors who might slam the door in their faces.

None of that means I don’t criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs; I do. But it means no matter how much I may disagree, I must treat them respectfully as persons.

Ridicule has no place in religious discourse except in the rare instances where a religion is simply invented for profit and/or engages in abuse (sexual, physical or spiritual). But in those cases it is the leaders, not the poor, benighted followers, who ought to be ridiculed. But, in my opinion, it is never appropriate to ridicule an entire religious tradition and when it happens a strong reaction is predictable even if violence is never justified.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Peril of Living in the Past in the 21st Century's Age of Global Pluralism, Inclusion, and Ethics

Today's series of articles could well be entitled:

"The Occident and the Orient:
Europe's Sociological Identity Meets the Fears of its Past"


"Identifying Our Perceptual Reality to the Historical Actuality
of What Constitutes Societal Freedom."


"Let Common Sense Apply"

Behind each idea lie the supposition of what a nation, a country, or a people will consider the kind of identity that determines who they are. And to this identity is eschewed any attempts to remove its caricatures of itself from its formed necessity of what we deem as us.

The terrorism that inhabits our world are the result of our formed societal identities clashing against an "opposing invading culture with its own ethos and needs." To the Muslim, the need for a rigorous society built upon presupposed religious values drives all other efforts towards nation building. But so too can this be said of the Christian civilizations attempting the same under its own set of rules and laws.

Each has its own ideas of God, of reality, of community. To the West the need for individualized human freedoms outweigh many other factors. To the East freedom is subservient to the greater need of the Oriental society to be in submission to perceived individual roles and values. One gives greater credence to individual freedoms. The other to individual submission to societal forms and factors.

As a consequence, the clash or divide has lasted as long as the Roman Empire had met the Persian Empires. Or, the Ottoman Empire the Christian Church. In its long eras of schism a sharp division has been created between what a Greek or Roman law of civilization might look like as compared with one that has become known as Shariah law. One is a pagan code of conduct that later was Christianized whereas the other is moral law that has become based upon the Muslim religion:

Wikipedia - Sharia Law is a significant source of legislation in various Muslim countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Brunei, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In those countries, harsh physical punishments such as flogging and stoning are said to be legally-acceptable according to Sharia. There are two primary sources of sharia law: the precepts set forth in theQuranic verses (ayahs), and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Where it has official status, sharia is interpreted by Islamic judges (qadis) with varying responsibilities for the religious leaders (imams). For questions not directly addressed in the primary sources, the application of sharia is extended through consensus of the religious scholars (ulama) thought to embody the consensus of the Muslim Community (ijma). Islamic jurisprudence will also sometimes incorporate analogies from the Quran and Sunnah through qiyas, though many scholars also prefer reasoning ('aql) to analogy.

Each perceives the rules of conduct between people and society from its own philosophical and religious base of morals and ethics wrapped around its own idea of regional identity. Each is as respectively harsh as the other - or was, with Western law lately ceding to less stringent public punishments and judgments (much belated in this author's opinion):

Wikipedia - The introduction of Sharia is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements globally, including in Western countries, but attempts to impose sharia have been accompanied by controversy, violence, and even warfare. Most countries do not recognize sharia; however, some countries in Asia, Africa and Europe recognize sharia and use it as the basis for divorce, inheritance and other personal affairs of their Islamic population. In Britain, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal makes use of sharia family law to settle disputes, and this limited adoption of sharia is controversial.

The concept of crime, judicial process, justice and punishment embodied in sharia is different from that of secular law. The differences between sharia and secular laws have led to an ongoing controversy as to whether sharia is compatible with secular forms of government, the human right "freedom of thought," and in general "women's rights."

In secular jurisprudence, sharia is classified as religious law, which is one of the three major categories that individual legal systems generally fall under, alongside civil law andcommon law.

Consequently, today's articles reflect upon this cultural clash between the East and the West and how each wishes to conduct its own laws in the lands of the other. In many ways, it is not unlike what had formed the necessity of the English Magna Carta as it finally ceded warfare between European states and said, "When in Rome do as the Romans." Or, when in another country respect the laws of that country without attempt to reform or incursion. Perhaps its time that the Magna Carta is resurrected in the 500th year of its enactment and we take it to heart again.

R.E. Slater
January 13, 2015

* * * * * * * * * * * *

What Is Behind Europe's Rising Islamophobia?

by Alexander Görlach, Found and publisher of The European
January 5, 2015

BERLIN -- Recent arson attacks on mosques in Germany and Sweden, along with the emergence of a movement called the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident," prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to deliver a "never again" New Year's message to her compatriots in anticipation of Monday's demonstrations in Dresden. Warning against supporting PEGIDA, she said "their hearts are cold, often full of prejudice and even hate."

What is behind this most recent aggressive burst of anti-Islamic sentiment? How should we view it?

The landmass of the Occident spans the territory of many countries; its meaning becomes apparent only in juxtaposition to its counterpart, the Orient. It has more frequently perished in countless texts, speeches and films than all actually existing empires throughout human history combined. In short: The Occident is a fiction -- and that quality has always made it a powerful canvas for the projection of human fears and desires.

The Occident lies towards the Western sunset. Its lands are those of nightfall: heavy, full of melancholy, straining for the final rays of daylight, and hesitantly expecting the pale light of the rising moon. During the Middle Ages, stone-carved creatures of the imagination flanked the walls of Europe's cathedrals and conjured up images of nightly evils: When night falls, darkness envelops the souls of men and threatens them with extinction. The hour of sunset signals the advent of corporeal and spiritual danger. It takes tremendous power to hold demons at bay and to weather the temptations of the night. Two paradigms thus help to map the terrain of the Occident: the fear of darkness, and the belief in the divine light.

Christian churches are built with East-facing chancel windows; on Easter Sunday, the first daylight enters through the colored glass and bathes the barren nave in celebratory light. The organ intones, and the church bells ring out: He Has Risen. Indeed, the liturgy of Easter Sunday presents us with the most condensed enactment of the Occidental yearning for light, for another day, and for triumph over the demons of darkness. Ex oriente lux -- the sun rises in the East. That's why Europeans have always looked longingly beyond their horizon: Towards the East, towards Jerusalem.

The Occident became conscious of itself as a unified entity when Jerusalem fell to Islamic conquest. The longing for Jerusalem was thus also a longing for order and unity at home: One emperor, one pope, one center and one horizon that provided order to the world. At that time, the Occident was still being formed from the rubble of the Roman Empire, and forged during the tumultuous centuries of the migration of the peoples. "Alemannic" -- which is the etymological ancestor of the term "German" in romance languages -- simply means "all men." The longing for Jerusalem unified the Occident's diverse cultures for the first time.

Once again, we can look towards medieval cathedrals for architectural indicators of shared cultural sentiments: The domes of Europe's great cathedrals were shaped to resemble the imagined cityscape of worldly Jerusalem; their spires pointed towards heavenly Jerusalem. Christianity became the unifying identity of the Occident.


But unity remained fragile. New dangers lurked nearby, especially at the borders. From the South, Muslim armies threatened the continent. From the North, Normans invaded. Later came the Huns, then the Turks (whose conquest was only stopped at the gates of Vienna). Southern Spain remained in Muslim hands for centuries. Rome, the caput mundi [= the capital of the world], continued to be an attractive target for invaders from the Orient. The Occidental fears became manifest -- sometimes obsessively so -- in fears of Islam. For centuries, the religious competitor to the East robbed European emperors and popes of their sleep. Over time, Islamophobia became part of the collective consciousness of the Occident.

What is feared today is not the loss of any particular country to foreign conquest, but the loss of an imagined entity that binds us together. The Occident is a central piece of our mental maps and our cultural inventory. That's one reason why seemingly everyone from "the Old World" has at least an instinctual opinion about it. People harbor within themselves a sense of shared meaning -- the semantic sediments of the Occident.

When those opinions are voiced, they often fall short by the standards of reason and academic science. They are instead informed, in a very visceral sense, by fears of decline and by memories of cultural blossoming. Those fears culminate in the belief that our cathedrals will eventually turn into mosques, that their bells will fall silent and will be replaced by the cries of the muezzin. But fears lead to hyperbole. Let us remember that foreign conquests have failed for many centuries (and not for lack of trying!), and thus proclaim with conviction that danger can be averted again.

Fear of decline, and the celebration of an imagined unity: Those are the parameters that govern contemporary discourses about the Occident -- not as arguments but as discursive foundations. Indeed, the Occident is as much a fiction as the Orient. Both terms reflect the wishes, dreams and aspirations of our forefathers. They were shaped in earlier epochs over the course of generations and centuries.

The history of the Occident is not unlike the history of a cathedral: Every generation has tinkered with the structure and amended it. The foundations were set down during the time of Charlemagne, the aisles were added during Romanticism, a new spire was built during the Gothic period, ornate chapels appeared during the Baroque era. When fire struck, it was rebuilt. It had to be: How could a city exist without its central reference point?

The time of dusk: Fever, madness, gloriole [ = a halo, nimbus, or aureole ], hyperbole. Death appears imminent until the rise of dawn. In old hymns, sleep is recast as the antechamber of death. No wonder, then, that religious pathologies and political and religious ideologies have repeatedly swept across the continent. Their danger remains acute. But to the arsonists I say: The Occident has never been able to sustain itself. It always required the light of the Orient as inspiration and external reference point.

"The Occident has never been able to sustain itself.
It always required the light of the Orient as
inspiration and external reference point."

During the Middle Ages, a veritable cult developed around the "three wise men" who came from the Orient and whose earthly remains are said to be contained in relics at the cathedral in Cologne. Ex oriente lux [ = light from the east ]-- or, as the gospel of Matthew puts it: "We have His star when it rose, and have come to worship Him." In old paintings, the three wise men resemble representatives from late antiquity's three known continents: One European, one African, one Asian.

Thinkers like Erasmus of Rotterdam turned Christian traditions into undogmatic humanism, bent on eradicating the denominational borders within Christianity. Their effort proved to be a quick flicker: The fanaticism of the Reformation and fights over the correct interpretation of Christian dogma put an end to it. The Occident descended into centuries of spiritual and intellectual darkness. At the end of the 20th century, and after two World Wars, it is in the process of reinventing itself.

As Christianity teaches us, the dead have a way of rising again. Today's discussions remind us that the Occident is not finished yet. But we must not fool ourselves: The legacy of the term is a double-edged sword that can mean nothing and everything at the same time. It was born of emotion and shaped by the highs and lows of history. It is useless as an analytical reference point and cannot supply answers to concrete political questions.

Both the community of Christendom and the unity of the Occident were political ideas. The cost of their realization was paid in blood. But what is the Occident today? It is the community of peoples who have sustained the term in their collective consciousness and have continually amended its meaning.

The Occident extends beyond Christendom and beyond Europe. The term only works if it avoids self-enclosure and remains perpetually open towards the outside -- towards the Orient, Africa and Asia -- as indeed it used to be. Its contemporary potential lies in continuing the work of Erasmus of Rotterdam: The formulation of global, humanistic and inclusive ethics.

Charlie Hebdo | Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Image

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Police hunt three Frenchmen after
12 killed in Paris attack

January 7, 2015

(Reuters) - Police are hunting three French nationals, including two brothers from the Paris region, after suspected Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at a satirical magazine on Wednesday, a police official and government source said.

The hooded attackers stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly known for lampooning Islam and other religions, in the most deadly militant attack on French soil in decades.

French police staged a huge manhunt for the attackers who escaped by car after shooting dead some of France's top cartoonists as well as two police officers. About 800 soldiers were brought in to shore up security across the capital.

Police issued a document to forces across the region saying the three men were being sought for murder in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The document, reviewed by a Reuters correspondent, named them as Said Kouachi, born in 1980, Cherif Kouachi, born in 1982, and Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996.

The police source said one of them had been identified by his identity card which had been left in the getaway car.

The Kouachi brothers were from the Paris region while Mourad was from the area of the northeastern city of Reims, the government source told Reuters.

Anti-terrorism police were preparing an operation in Reims, the police source said, declining to give more details.

The police source said one of the brothers had previously been tried on terrorism charges.

Cherif Kouachi was charged with criminal association related to a terrorist enterprise in 2005 after he had been arrested before leaving for Iraq to join Islamist militants. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008, according to French media.

During the attack, one of the assailants was captured on video outside the building shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest) as shots rang out. Another walked over to a police officer lying wounded on the street and shot him point-blank with an assault rifle, before the two calmly climbed into a black car and drove off.

A police union official said there were fears of further attacks, and described the scene in the offices as carnage, with a further four wounded fighting for their lives.

Tens of thousands joined impromptu rallies across France in memory of the victims and support for freedom of expression. The government declared the highest state of alert, tightening security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and department stores as the search for the assailants got under way.

Some Parisians expressed fears about the effect of the attack on community relations in France, which has Europe's biggest Muslim population.

"This is bad for everyone - particularly for Muslims despite the fact that Islam is a fine religion. It risks making a bad situation worse," Cecile Electon, an arts worker who described herself as an atheist, told Reuters at a vigil on Paris's Place de la Republique attended by 35,000 people.

Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders of all faiths and has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. Jihadists online repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its ridicule.

The last tweet on its account mocked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State, which has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and called for "lone wolf" attacks on French soil.

There was no claim of responsibility. However, a witness quoted by 20 Minutes daily newspaper said one of the assailants cried out before getting into his car: "Tell the media that it is al Qaeda in Yemen!"

Supporters of Islamic State and other jihadist groups hailed the attack on Internet sites. Governments throughout Europe have expressed fear that fighters returning from Iraq or Syria could launch attacks in their home countries and may now review their own security.

"Today the French Republic as a whole was the target," President Francois Hollande said in a prime-time evening TV address, declaring a national day of mourning on Thursday.

An amateur video broadcast by French television stations shows two hooded men all in black outside the building. One of them spots a wounded policeman lying on the ground, hurries over to him and shoots him dead at point-blank range with a rifle.

In another clip on Television station iTELE, the men are heard shouting in French: "We have killed Charlie Hebdo. We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad."


Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailants killed a man at the entrance of the building to force entry. They then headed to the second floor and opened fire on an editorial meeting attended by eight journalists, a policeman tasked with protecting the magazine's editorial director and a guest.

"What we saw was a massacre. Many of the victims had been executed, most of them with wounds to the head and chest," Patrick Hertgen, an emergencies services medic called out to treat the injured, told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter saw groups of armed policeman patrolling around department stores in the shopping district and there was an armed gendarme presence outside the Arc de Triomphe.

"There is a possibility of other attacks and other sites are being secured," police union official Rocco Contento said.

U.S. President Barack Obama described the attack as cowardly and evil, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among European leaders condemning the shooting.

The dead included co-founder Jean "Cabu" Cabut and editor-in-chief Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier. A firebomb attack had already gutted the old headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in November 2011 after it put an image of the Prophet Mohammad on its cover in what it described as a Shariah edition.

France last year reinforced its anti-terrorism laws and was on alert after calls from Islamist militants to attack its citizens and interests in reprisal for French military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa.

Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council of the Muslim faith (CFCM), condemned an "immensely barbaric act also against democracy and freedom of the press" and said its perpetrators could not claim to be true Muslims.

Rico, a friend of Cabut, who joined the Paris vigil, said his friend had paid for people misunderstanding his humour.

"These attacks are only going to get worse. It's like a tsunami, it won't stop and what's happening today will probably feed the National Front," he told Reuters.

The far-right National Front has won support on discontent over immigration to France. Some fear Wednesday's attack could be used to feed anti-Islamic agitation.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen said it was too early to draw political conclusions but added: "The increased terror threat linked to Islamic fundamentalism is a simple fact."

Germany's new anti-immigration movement said the attack highlighted the threat of Islamist violence. Merkel has condemned the PEGIDA movement, which drew a record crowd of 18,000 to its latest rally on Monday in Dresden.

The last major attack in Paris was in the mid-1990s when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) carried out a spate of attacks, including the bombing of a commuter train in 1995 which killed eight people and injured 150. A series of bombings of Parisian shops by Lebanese extremists in 1986 claimed 12 lives.

France's deadliest attack was in 1961 after a French dissident paramilitary organization opposed to France's withdrawal from Algeria blew up a train killing 28 people.

(Additional reporting By Brian Love, Sophie Louet, Ingrid Melander, Gerard Bon, Dominique Rodriguez and Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; Writing by John Irish and Mark John; Editing by Ralph Boulton and David Stamp)


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French citizens gather in Paris to denounce the terrorist attack against magazine
Charlie Hebdo and to rally in defense of free speech. (AP)

Muslim Cleric Defends Paris Terrorist Attack

January 8, 2015

In the wake of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirist paper Charlie Hebdo, one Muslim cleric justified the murders under Islamic law.

USA today published a column by avowed “radical Muslim cleric” Anjem Choudary. The piece titled “People know the consequences” asks why France would allow the paper to mock Islam, and further excused the systematic murders as justified under Islamic law:

“Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them
than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be
an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime
under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic
State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, "Whoever insults a
Prophet kill him.

However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims
want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.”

The contention that mass murder is in any way an appropriate response to being personally offended is a dangerous slope on which to tread. There is no doubt that some of these cartoons can be seen as offensive to certain people, but that same sentiment can be asserted on nearly any form of speech, especially in politics. Hence, the reasoning behind and the sanctity of the Constitution’s first amendment.

Choudary then reversed the blame for the attack away from the three terrorists themselves and onto the French government:

“So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo
to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?”

This kind of blame shifting is also intellectually perilous. Placing the onus of speech on the any secular government is asking for abuse. But, if Choudary had his way, the government of the Islamic State would tightly control speech and punish transgressions with death.

Choudary’s entire argument excusing the Paris attack reveals the fundamental disconnect between views of civilizations. Radical Islamists have no intention of assimilating into their respective cultures or contributing to any kind of meaningful dialogue about religion and free speech. They are intent on terrorizing western citizens out of exerting their rights. Their plan of terrorism and intimidation, with the ultimate goal of imposing their religion on others is fundamentally anti-American, [anti-Constitution, and anti-basic human freedoms and liberties]. It is not meant for the 21st century.