According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
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)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Abandoning God in a Socio-Political Era of Pagan Nationalism

Whose message is the more real? Our own - about God and the world's end?
Or Jesus' - when laying down His life as an example to us all of how the world
must end if it is to live?

In a new assessment of "cultural secularity" found in the post-postmodern era that is currently being experienced in the developing 21st century has come the revelation that it's racial discriminations and injustices is harder, broader, and wider than its forebearer of the 20th century. During the modern era these attitudes were somewhat ameliorated by the efforts of the church to bring peace and love to all mankind irrespective of the human differences of race, class, status, and so on. But with the passing of the postmodern era with its core messages of globalization, pluralism, tolerance, respect, and cooperation throughout all world cultures, has now come a much harsher view of life and human responsibility.

As hindsight, the 20th century's foray through secular modernism was marked by political destabilization of economies (civil and regional wars), capitalistic greed (corporate monopolies), and nationalistic interests to the exclusion of foreign national interests (applicable to all expansionist countries) which had shown its bankruptcy in healing the world's ills. It had been hoped in the late 20th century and early 21st century's reaction to these harmful affects of secularism that a kinder, gentler era would be ushered in. One promising goodwill, peace, and respect as found in postmodernism's reaction away from secular modernism. But this worldwide response seems to have only lasted a brief while as it collapsed under the impending weight of sin and evil.

Consequently, in place of a secular modernistic era we have sped through a brief postmodernistic era into its evil twin, a post-postmodernism era (PPM), which rejects both previous eras with equal disdain unparalled in its ferocious behavior and disregard to the sanctity of life. Now, nations are speeding towards an unkind protectionistic stance of national/cultural sovereignty over all else as each regress backwards away from Christian teachings of love and goodwill, peace and forgiveness, towards a more pagan identity of brutal disinterest to all racial/cultural groups but their own. Not only in America but across the world this PPM trend is rapidly disengaging nation-states from one another in trade, commerce, communication, and education.

Policies which were once outward looking are now vulgarly introspective bristling with rising police and military regimes to enforce whatever nationalistic policies seems to best advantage a nation's more politically and economically empowered classes. This extreme is made all the worse by the willful refusal to heed Christianity's call:

  • to look away from oneself and unto the other's need;
  • to serve those in need less fortunate than yourself;
  • to forbear with one another showing mercy and forgiveness; and,
  • in all aspects, live and behave in the love of God which reconciles all men and women to His grace.

These are clear clarion calls of the Christian faith made invalid whenever "Christian" nations refuse these commands, cheat and harm one another, refuse justice to the needy, and conduct domestic or international warfare on all those it refuses to help or recognize as the children of God.

Nor has today's churches made these tasks of godly living any easier when preaching virulent forms of heathen nationalism under the guises of patriotism. Or refusing to receive unto its fellowships those broken souls seeking refuge and strength. Or willfully excluding from its folds those people groups it prefers to label and hate. Rather than acting like Jesus, paganized Christians and unholy Christian churches are acting like Jesus' enemies and thus abandoning the world from any form of Christian role model to follow.

These are the dark times of both the church and ungodly nations and it is difficult to see a more hopeful future where God is honor through our live's conduct and work. Mostly, "the Christian faithful" wish to abandon both this world and each other by praying down God's "judgment" upon everyone-and-everything thinking a hellish Tribulation and fiery Armageddon is the healing God would give to a wicked world of sin.

But what if those end-time doctrines have read God's Word and Will incorrectly? What if we are to redeem creation with good environmental practises and loving relationships with one another? What if our impending judgment is that we kill i) both this earth we depend upon, ii) along with ourselves, so eager we are to see God's warlike hand descend upon this world to end it? How is it then that a great God of goodness and love is turned into a savage beast like ourselves? Whose message is the more real? Our own - about God and the world's end? Or Jesus' - when laying down His life as an example to us all of how the world must end if it is to live? That it is only by sacrificial atonement and reconciliation that this world may ultimately be redeemed rather than by judgment and fire?

This, it seems, is the truer of the visions and teachings of God rather than the church's more miserable depiction of giving up and waiting for God to end it all. Perhaps we are the more cowardly for waiting and praying in this fashion than being the more willing to give up our lives for the welfare of our communities? Perhaps we are the more prideful for refusing to repent from our wicked ways, thoughts, and attitudes than to pretend the rightness of our ungodlike beliefs? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

And perhaps it is easier to say, "Forgive us dear God for presuming upon your great love and diminishing it unto the filthy rags of sin and evil by refusing to love those whom you love." I think, my friends, this later is really the only choice we have: To repent. To forgive. And to love. If not, anarchy and chaos will continue to rule over human hearts of hate and sin regardless of its political eras. In hindsight, 

a heart which cannot reconcile the world has itself
become irreconcilable to its God and Savior.

This is a truism no less true than the proverbs we read of in the bible. Let us pray then for hearts of repentance, peace, and goodwill. Amen.

R.E. Slater
March 15, 2017

* * * * * * * * * * *

Photo Credit: Edmon De Haro

Breaking Faith

The culture war over religious morality has faded;
in its place is something much worse. - Edmon De Haro

by Peter Beinart
April 2017 Issue

Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent.

Some observers predicted that this new secularism would ease cultural conflict, as the country settled into a near-consensus on issues such as gay marriage. After Barack Obama took office, a Center for American Progress report declared that “demographic change,” led by secular, tolerant young people, was “undermining the culture wars.” In 2015, the conservative writer David Brooks, noting Americans’ growing detachment from religious institutions, urged social conservatives to “put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations.

Why did religiously unaffiliated Republicans
embrace Trump’s bleak view of America?

That was naive. Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal. And it has contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism. As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

When pundits describe the Americans who sleep in on Sundays, they often conjure left-leaning hipsters. But religious attendance is down among Republicans, too. According to data assembled for me by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990. This shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. During the campaign, commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals. But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Why did these religiously unaffiliated Republicans embrace Trump’s bleak view of America more readily than their churchgoing peers? Has the absence of church made their lives worse? Or are people with troubled lives more likely to stop attending services in the first place? Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

The worse Americans fare in their own lives, the darker their view of the country. According to PRRI, white Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

But non-churchgoing conservatives didn’t flock to Trump only because he articulated their despair. He also articulated their resentments. For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways.

Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church
are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re [also]
more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.

In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were. (This may be true in Europe as well. A recent thesis at Sweden’s Uppsala University, by an undergraduate named Ludvig Bromé, compared supporters of the far-right Swedish Democrats with people who voted for mainstream candidates. The former were less likely to attend church, or belong to any other community organization.)

How might religious nonattendance lead to intolerance? Although American churches are heavily segregated, it’s possible that the modest level of integration they provide promotes cross-racial bonds. In their book, Religion and Politics in the United States, Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown reference a different theory: that the most-committed members of a church are more likely than those who are casually involved to let its message of universal love erode their prejudices.

Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.

So is the alt-right. Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Photo Credit: Edmon De Haro

Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative non-attenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Sanders, like Trump, appealed to secular voters because he reflected their discontent. White Democrats who are disconnected from organized religion are substantially more likely than other white Democrats to call the American dream a myth. Secularism may not be the cause of this dissatisfaction, of course: It’s possible that losing faith in America’s political and economic system leads one to lose faith in organized religion. But either way, in 2016, the least religiously affiliated white Democrats—like the least religiously affiliated white Republicans—were the ones most likely to back candidates promising revolutionary change.

The decline of traditional religious authority is contributing to a more revolutionary mood within black politics as well. Although African Americans remain more likely than whites to attend church, religious disengagement is growing in the black community. African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders. Brittney Cooper, who teaches women’s and gender studies as well as Africana studies at Rutgers, writes that the black Church “has been abandoned as the leadership model for this generation.” As Jamal Bryant, a minister at an AME church in Baltimore, told The Atlantic’s Emma Green, “The difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil-rights movement is that the civil-rights movement, by and large, was first out of the Church.”

Black Lives Matter activists sometimes accuse the black Church of sexism, homophobia, and complacency in the face of racial injustice. For instance, Patrisse Cullors, one of the movement’s founders, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness but says she became alienated by the fact that the elders were “all men.” In a move that faintly echoes the way some in the alt-right have traded Christianity for religious traditions rooted in pagan Europe, Cullors has embraced the Nigerian religion of Ifa. To be sure, her motivations are diametrically opposed to the alt-right’s. Cullors wants a spiritual foundation on which to challenge white, male supremacy; the pagans of the alt-right are looking for a spiritual basis on which to fortify it. But both [black and white secularists] are seeking religions rooted in racial ancestry [pagan (European or African)] and disengaging from Christianity—which, although profoundly implicated in America’s apartheid history, has provided some common vocabulary across the color line.

Critics say Black Lives Matter’s failure to employ Christian idiom undermines its ability to persuade white Americans. “The 1960s movement … had an innate respectability because our leaders often were heads of the black church,” Barbara Reynolds, a civil-rights activist and former journalist, wrote in The Washington Post.

“Unfortunately, church and spirituality are not high priorities for Black Lives Matter, and the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that empowered black leaders such as King and Nelson Mandela in their successful quests to win over their oppressors are missing from this movement.”

As evidence of “the power of the spiritual approach,” she cited the way family members of the parishioners murdered at Charleston’s Emanuel AME church forgave Dylann Roof for the crime, and thus helped persuade local politicians to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol grounds.

Black Lives Matter’s defenders respond that they are not interested in making themselves “respectable” to white America, whether by talking about Jesus or wearing ties. (Of course, not everyone in the civil-rights movement was interested in respectability either.) That’s understandable. Reformists focus on persuading and forgiving those in power. Revolutionaries don’t.

Black Lives Matter activists may be justified in spurning an insufficiently militant Church. But when you combine their post-Christian perspective with the post-Christian perspective growing inside the GOP, it’s easy to imagine American politics becoming more and more vicious.

In his book Twilight of the Elites, the MSNBC host Chris Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core. The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, [the] more ferociously national and racial [the] culture war that [follows is making it] worse.

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