Friday, April 29, 2016

If Not Trump, What?

David Brooks APRIL 29, 2016

Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?

Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.

The better course for all of us — Republican, Democrat and independent — is to step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that . . . 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The UnChristian Quest for a Christian America

04/21/2016 10:09 am ET
Lee C. CampHost of, Professor of Theology, Lipscomb Univ.

Love of Country

I do love America.

How could one not love the forests of Maine; the gorges of the Cumberland plateau in Tennessee; the mesquite trees of west Texas; the ragged coastline of California? All of it like a hymn of praise, a song of thanksgiving for so much abundance and goodness.

And being a grateful citizen of Music City, I must stop there a moment: how could one not love the prophetic consciousness of Johnny Cash, the mesmerizing cadences of Don Williams, the angelic strains of Alison Krauss?

Or considering socio-political greats: how could one not admire the virtues of industry and wit in Benjamin Franklin; the democratic impulses of the nineteenth-century religious reformers; the cry for justice in the words of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the humility suffusing Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address; or the persistence and sheer human courage seen in the likes of the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, and Chuck Yeager?—all like paeans to the human spirit.

One could go on and on, in all good faith, with more accounts of beauty and courage.

Christian Nation

Here in the Bible Belt at least, this rather honorable love for land and neighbor, however, gets conflated with another, less helpful construct: the myth of the Christian nation. “Conflated” is a word too little used or appreciated: the melding or melting of two ideas into one.

I am rather convinced that to conflate love of country with the myth—or the pursuit of—a Christian nation is bad news: bad for the country and bad for Christianity. To claim that the United States once was a “Christian nation,” or to seek to recover some supposedly lost “Christian nation” status, is bad news because it is historically false; misunderstands basic Christian theology and practice; and contends for a strategy that is sure to back-fire into resentment and hostility.

1. Historically false


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wright and Torrance: Different Framings of the Gospel

December 18, 2013

In the video below, N. T. Wright discusses his new book on Paul’s theology. He strongly asserts that the ministry and death of Jesus Christ have to be understood within the history of Israel and the promises God made to Abraham, Christ himself being the fulfillment of those promises, the righteous Israel that restores humanity and thereby creation in light of the primeval fall. That much I think ought to be noncontroversial. Have a look.

What is wonky about this is the unapologetic plan-B-ness of Wright’s understanding of Abraham, the nation of Israel that comes from him and therefore Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s intentions with that nation.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

                                       George Monbiot

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

Inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Fix Politics

David Brooks

In the middle of this depressing presidential campaign I sometimes wonder, How could we make our politics better?

It’s possible to imagine an elite solution. The next president could get together with the leaders of both parties in Congress and say: “We’re going to change the way we do business in Washington. We’re going to deliberate and negotiate. We’ll disagree and wrangle, but we will not treat this as good-versus-evil blood sport.” That kind of leadership might trickle down.

But it’s increasingly clear that the roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If there’s truly going to be improvement, there has to be improvement in the social context politics is embedded in.

In healthy societies, people live their lives within a galaxy of warm places. They are members of a family, neighborhood, school, civic organization, hobby group, company, faith, regional culture, nation, continent and world. Each layer of life is nestled in the others to form a varied but coherent whole.

What to do about ISIS

What might it mean to follow Jesus"put your sword away" in a world where groups like ISIS exist? Richard Beck reflects, controversially to be sure, but in a solid Christian way.

Of course, I don't have the answers to these questions. But what follows is a bit of my answer to Mike.

First, I said, we are creatures that live within history and we have to appreciate the tragic nature of history.

If, for example, we bomb ISIS that's not something to cheer about. It's horribly tragic. Plus, that bombing will simply create more violence as those affected by the bombing will most likely become radicalized and come to hate the US. Bombing, even if you think it's "the right thing to do," is tragic and just leads to the next round of violence within history.

And if we don't bomb and ISIS goes into a village, beheading and raping, that's also tragic.

It's tragic all the way around. Use the sword and it's tragic. Put your sword away, especially in a world of violent and evil men, and that is also tragic.

All that to say, I shared with Mike, no matter how we as Christians might feel about the use of violence to restrain evil in the world, Jesus' command "put your sword away" forces us to accept all violence as tragic. We must lament violence, even violence we feel is "justified."

That's what upsets me about crowds cheering and thrilling to calls to bomb ISIS, so-called "Christians" who are viewing violence triumphalistically rather than tragically.

Because Jesus said "put your sword away" Christians can never cheer violence. We must only grieve it.

And what if we take Jesus' command seriously and decide to "put the sword away," what if we renounce violence and embrace pacifism? How are we to view the pacifist?

The pacifist, I said to Mike, is living an eschatological existence within history. The pacifist--as sign, sacrament and foretaste of the coming kingdom--is putting the sword away within history, in a world still full of evil and violent men.

Living an eschatological existence within history creates a radical rupture and break with the world. In the face of evil the non-violence of the kingdom appears naive, immoral and irresponsible. Within history the pacifist is outrageous. The pacifist only makes sense from an eschatological perspective.

But this isn't an indictment of the pacifist or the kingdom of God. Our outrage at the pacifist isn't an indictment of the pacifist. It's an indictment of history. The pacifist is sane. It's the world that has gone mad.

We've misplaced our anger when we rage at the pacifist. We shouldn't be outraged at the kingdom but at the world.

Living as an eschatological person within history the pacifist deepens the contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. In this the pacifist is a prophetic witness, an indictment. But rather than repenting of our violence we throw the stones at the pacifist, accusing him or her of madness, naivete and irresponsibility.

I understand, I said to Mike, that it seems insane and irresponsible to put the sword away within history, but that's not an indictment of the kingdom, that's an indictment of history.

To conclude, I ended with Mike, while Christians debate the ethics of using the sword within history I think we all have to agree with this. When Jesus said "put your sword away" he excluded the sword from the kingdom. That is, we can never, ever, identify the sword with the kingdom.

You might argue that violence is necessary--many do make that argument for good and valid reasons--but violence can never be good or righteous. Or cheered.

You can never say violence is Christian. If the sword is out the kingdom is not there.

Violence is only ever a failure, a loss, a lesser evil, an eclipse of the kingdom.

A tragedy.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Believing in God Non-Defensively

Richard Beck Posted on 4.05.2016

This week with an interlocutor I was describing the relationship between my books The Authenticity of Faith and The Slavery of Death. Specifically, I see those two books as my attempt to address, for myself, what I've always struggled with as a central question my own faith journey: How can my belief in God be held non-defensively, non-neurotically and non-violently?

Pulling from my books, last spring I summarized my answer to that question in a post, but I want to share that summary again for both my conversation partner and because what follows is, in a condensed form, my best answer to what I consider to be one of the most pressing questions facing people of faith and faith communities: How can our beliefs in God can be held non-defensively, non-neurotically and non-violently?


Monday, April 4, 2016

Why the Christian Right and Progressives Disagree

          We need to start at the beginning with a confession. We’re all liberals – conservatives, republicans, libertarians, democrats, tea partiers, et al. Different kinds of liberals to be sure. Out liberalism is shared at such a deep level that we think we’re really different. But not so much.

          We are liberals because we have been nurtured by the western liberal tradition beginning with the Renaissance all the way to post-modernity or wherever we are today. And at the heart of this tradition is the notion freedom, individualistically conceived, with choice as its primary good.

          The right and left (of whatever stripe) do disagree and argue with each other – a lot! But what they argue about is freedom of choice. Who gets it and who is being deprived of it. That’s what we primarily fight about. Some are mad at the 1% who exercise their choice to amass as much wealth for themselves as they can. The 1%, on the other hand, argue that they are simply exercising their freedom to do what they want to do. On an emotional level it’s easy to argue against them but on a rational level there is no reason they should act otherwise given our thoroughgoing commitment to liberalism.

          Christians should not be committed to this liberal notion of freedom. But we are. And we, none of us liberals, can imagine another way that life could be negotiated. So we just keep fighting. And will as long as we are committed to the liberal ideal of freedom of choice above all else.

          Brian Walsh, in his book Subversive Christianity, puts it this way: as long as we believe:

“that the primary role of government is to enhance economic growth, that the world will always consist of haves and have-nots, that schooling has to do with discipline, skill and the acquiring of information, that the ultimate issue in the abortion debate is the conflict of women’s and fetal rights, that there is something normal about what we see on television, and that good business has to do with making the right connections in order to maximise profits— then the very presence of those assumptions in our daily living and our essential inability really to imagine that all of this might be abnormal, a profound distortion of our lives, is an indication that our imaginations have been taken captive by the dominant consciousness. We can’t really imagine life being any other way.”

And that’s why we’re all liberals. And why we disagree without possible resolution. We’re mirror images of each other not alternatives. We think within the same box from different places in that box. But we can’t imagine a different box. Perhaps one that Christian faith points us to. And because we can’t that faith seldom finds authentic embodiment in that liberal box. As Walsh says, “our imaginations have been taken captive by the dominant consciousness. We can’t really imagine life being any other way.”