Category Archives: Politics

The Truth and Those Who Find It

The Dark Knight Rises

Rise

I haven’t written anything like this in a long time. I used to write about philosophical topics on a regular basis, and it seemed to flow naturally, but for some reason I lost that flow. Now I’m attempting to pick it up again, if just for this one post. What I’m about to write has come out of much thinking and first-hand experience. There were many factors that brought me to this realization, and I think I’ve let it stew quite long enough. I have to say, I feel like an athlete who hasn’t worked out in months, so forgive me if this reads like a torn ligament. Gee, I haven’t even really started yet.

How often have you heard of this business about relative truth? You know, the idea that there is no one absolute Truth (capital T) about life, therefore each of us is left to come up with our own truth (lower case t) based on our limited perceptions. I’ve heard it many times in my life, and I can share one instance with you now. In a college class I sat in a lecture hall with over 100 students. One day the professor asked, “Who out there believes in absolute Truth?” Of the 100 students, I counted 3 hands, including mine. Later on, during a smaller discussion class, I was asked to explain myself. I shared my beliefs about the world and God, and then I figured I got them when I said that everyone dies. Clearly it’s true that everyone dies! You’d think I would have converted the whole lot of them, but instead I ended up arguing with a girl who was offended by my truth claims. Isn’t that the way? Anyway, I want you to consider this concept and to accept that it is a real belief held by many. Maybe it’s not a fully formed belief, like a religious or political doctrine, but it appears to exist as a modern default perception about the world: at least for many. Remember, 97 out of 100 college students didn’t raise their hands.

Since the last presidential election, I have been experiencing a minor identity crisis. You see, I got pretty passionate about that election as I focused intensely on my own political perceptions about the world. I figuratively saw red, taking a steady dose of talk radio and Fox News. In the end, everyone I voted for lost and I went to bed physically ill. I had lost myself in politics, and it took crushing defeat to shake me loose again. Since then I have had to reflect on what it means to define myself as a conservative, and, more importantly, I have had to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. The experience makes me think of this scene in The Dark Knight Rises.

It’s the futile battle that I was fighting. Each punch(argument or way of reasoning) that I threw came back with greater force until I was inevitably knocked down and defeated by what had become the bane of my existence. I know this sounds very dramatic, but remember that I was so invested in politics that I literally developed a cold when Barack Obama won re-election. I perceived the world through a political lens that made it nearly impossible to see the truth of my situation. By the time I realized that I had made politics into an idol, I was flat on my back, wallowing in defeat. I found the truth, but only after I was broken.

The truth that I found came out of a more humble position. During the election cycle, I had become prideful of my “rightness” to the point where I lost sight of the truth of my folly. My folly was my obsession with politics, and particularly the faith I was misplacing in my conservative candidates. Certainly this must have been clear to those who knew me well, and I can say that at least one of my friends tried to show me the truth. Once again, I didn’t see things clearly until I was broken (humbled) by defeat.

The Bible is quite clear on this subject of pride and humility when it comes to one’s proximity to the truth. Wise King Solomon, who lived about three-thousand years ago, wrote down many proverbs that are recorded in the Bible. One of his most famous proverbs is:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:17)

This might seem like an odd thing to say, but at the heart of it is an understanding of pride and humility. To fear the Lord is to live with the perspective that you are not the highest authority in your life. Imagine if a child acted as if their parents didn’t exist. Do you see any way in which that child grows up healthy and well-adjusted? No, if a child chooses to go his or her own way, they will live with an ever-increasing pride that will blind them from any truths that don’t fit their particular desires or inflated self-image. It’s a child who views his or her parents with reverence, who acts with an understanding that they probably don’t know better than their mother or father, that learns to see the world outside of their desires. If you are your own best authority for truth, can’t you see how much harder it will be to see and accept any truth that challenges your pride? How much truth is outside of the small space between our heads? Solomon also wrote, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 21:2) The principle is simple, humility allows us to see the truth outside of ourselves, while pride keeps us stuck in ourselves, and limited to our own perceptions.

There are billions of truths (lower-case t) in the world, but there is only one Truth. What I have seen time and time again in my life is that the humble are usually much closer to Truth than the proud. The proud are slaves to themselves, and they can’t see past their own feelings and beliefs. The humble have learned, often through difficult circumstances, that they are not the greatest authority on what is true. They understand that the world is more than what they may feel, and the world is more than a canvas to be painted by their own experiences.

To apply this to politics in America, just ask yourself where you see pride. Is there pride on the far-left and the far right? is there pride in Washington? Is there pride on MSNBC and Fox News? Are people seeking to stroke their own egos by conflating faith and politics and forming an American identity based on pride? Where do you see humility? Where do you see it? Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is Pope Francis. He has defined the beginning of his time in the Catholic Church’s highest position by going low, focusing on service and poverty. He has denied himself many of the luxuries afforded by his office in order to connect with the people. That is humility. He is closer to the Truth, isn’t he?

Finally, I will return to the example I started with The Dark Knight Rises. After Bruce Wayne is broken by Bane, he is cast into a hopeless prison and doomed to watch the destruction of his city. He builds his body and tries desperately to climb out of the prison. Each time, he ties a rope around himself and can’t make the final jump onto a ledge that would lead to freedom. Lost in a dream, Bruce sees a time in his life where he fell down a well and his father came to lift him up. His father asks, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” He wakes up in a cold sweat and receives a word from a blind man in a nearby cell. The prisoner tells Bruce that he lacks the fear necessary to make the climb. He tells him he must climb “as the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.” Fear, in this case, and when it comes to the fear of the Lord, is about having a right perspective: a humble perspective. Without humility, the climb is impossible. Without becoming like a child, and recognizing the higher authority — the Truth outside yourself — you will be weighed down by your own pride. Bruce didn’t have to listen to the blind man. Climbing without a rope is probably suicide. But he was desperate to get out, and humbled by his inability to do so. He was ready to listen, and to begin the climb of faith.

It is possible to get closer to Truth, but it only begins with the letting go of pride. Difficult circumstances can forcefully strip us of pride, but it is up to us whether that is the beginning of our humble climb or the beginning of an endless search at the bottom of the pit for any shred of our former glory. The first step toward Truth is a step down.

Politics and the English Major

0119-OBAMA-INAUGURATION-BIBLES.jpg_full_600

 

Where can I rest my head?

Today we watched Barack Obama deliver his second inaugural address.  On the day that we honor Martin Luther King Jr. we watched our first black president begin his second term as commander-in-chief.  Many are elated and it truly is an important moment in American history.  If you’re an American you should feel some sense of pride in your president on a day like this.  This is the next step in the hard struggle for freedom for all Americans.  And certainly, I appreciate the historical significance of it all.   So why do I feel the way I do?  Why am I not thrilled?

Let me bring you up to speed.  For a significant portion of 2012 I was heavily invested in the presidential election.  I followed every story as it broke and I looked into the candidates that interested me.  Through research and discussion I chiseled away at my political positions until they hardened into bronze beliefs.  Fox News and talk radio washed over my being as I prepared for the great battle of our age between big government tax and spend  liberals and small government fiscally responsible conservatives.  Obama was an enemy to “freedom” and somehow hated the very core of what America was, and no matter who replaced him that person would be an improvement.  When it came to Romney, I found a way to like and support him as the better alternative.  After the first debate I really got excited about the prospect of a conservative victory and increased my political presence on Facebook.  Post after post I passionately made a plea for conservative principles.  Right before the election I started to get feedback from friends that I had become too zealous and my words were losing their power.  Even those who agreed with my politics were becoming annoyed.  Admittedly, I was swept up in it. And then, after months of passionate reasoning and arguing, came the election.  Oh, the election.  I can sum it up in nicely in five words: Everyone…I…Voted…For…Lost.

After months of investing myself in politics I felt the awesome pain of total defeat.  Seriously, even the little people I voted for lost.  And to top it all off, I came down with a bad cold amidst the slaughter.  Right before falling asleep, I spoke on the phone with my friend Steve who bet me a dozen Cadbury eggs that Obama would win.  Though he assured me that everything would be ok, I went to bed physically ill, emotionally exhausted, mentally strained, and spiritually shaken.  It was the sleep of a lost soul floating aimlessly in a hostile political sea.

So these past months have been a time of humble self-reflection.  But they have also been a time of unease.  You see, I’m truly struggling with my political identity.  I’m in the midst of an identity crisis, you could say.  If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve probably gathered that I have long wrestled with my conservative principles in an increasingly liberal culture.  For instance, today my president said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”  Alright, so all that talk about gay marriage must be over.  Now I’m the bad guy if I don’t compromise my beliefs about marriage and morality.  And at the same time I recognize that gays have been treated with a special disdain within my Christian conservative community, and it’s hard not to view my side as the aggressors who are in the wrong.  Why is homosexuality uniquely wretched while divorce is basically accepted?  Where does evolving culture end and timeless truth begin?

So I’ve described to you my current political state.  My party has become a national joke and lost its ability to speak with authority to the greater culture.  There’s no Republican version of Obama.   My core political beliefs don’t have a champion in the arena and so I’m left to wander for a while in the wilderness.  Meanwhile, I’m wrestling with what it means to be a Christian in America today.  It’s all quite humbling, and I believe in my heart that I will come out of it a better man.  I just wish, in the meantime, I had somewhere to rest my head.

If I Had Edited Clint Eastwood’s Speech at the RNC

I know this is old news by now.  The Democrats started their own convention this evening.  But I can’t help but dwell on the speech that Clint Eastwood gave at the Republican National Convention.  In it were moments of goodness and straight talking, but those moments were smothered by more moments of awkwardness.  I’m a conservative guy, and I’m a big fan of Clint, so I want to pretend for a moment  that I had the ability to edit his speech before he went out on stage.   Perhaps we can get to the heart of things by shaving off the distracting bits.

Let’s start by watching the actual speech.

It’s a little painful to watch.  Clint seems to stumble a bit and make some disrespectful jokes about the president.  At times he seems a little lost.  But once again you have to admit that there were parts worth keeping.

Now, here is the version of the speech that I would have approved.

EASTWOOD:  Thank you very much.   Thank you.  Thank you
very much.  Save a little for Mitt.
(APPLAUSE)
I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking, what’s a
movie tradesman doing out here?  You know they are all left
wingers out there, left of Lenin.  At least that is what people
think.  That is not really the case.  There are a lot of
conservative people, a lot of moderate people, Republicans,
Democrats, in Hollywood.  It is just that the conservative
people by the nature of the word itself play closer to the vest.
They do not go around hot dogging it.
(APPLAUSE)
   So — but they are there, believe me, they are there.  I
just think, in fact, some of them around town, I saw John Voigt,
a lot of people around.
   (APPLAUSE)
   John’s here, an academy award winner.  A terrific guy.
These people are all like-minded, like all of us.
So I — so I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here.  And he’s — I
was going to ask him a couple of questions.  But — you know
about — I remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama
won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was
watching that night when he was having that thing and they were
talking about hope and change and they were talking about, yes
we can, and it was dark outdoors, and it was nice, and people
were lighting candles.
They were saying, I just thought, this was great.
Everybody is trying, Oprah was crying.

I was even crying.  And then finally — and I
haven’t
cried that hard since I found out that there is [are] 23 million
unemployed
people in this country.
(APPLAUSE)
Now that is something to cry for because that is a
disgrace, a
national disgrace, and we haven’t done enough, obviously — this
administration hasn’t done enough to cure that.  Whenever
interest
they have is not strong enough, and I think possibly now it may
be
time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.
(APPLAUSE)
So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have
made
when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?
I mean, what do you say to people?  Do you just — you know
— I
know — people were wondering — you don’t — handle that OK.
Well, I
know even people in your own party were very disappointed when
you
didn’t close Gitmo.  And I thought, well closing Gitmo — why
close
that, we spent so much money on it.  But, I thought maybe as an
excuse
— what do you mean shut up?
   (LAUGHTER)
   OK, I thought maybe it was just because somebody had the
stupid
idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City.
   (APPLAUSE)
   I’ve got to to hand it to you.  I have to give credit where
credit is due.  You did finally overrule that finally.  And
that’s —
now we are moving onward.  I know you were against the war in
Iraq,
and that’s okay.  But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK.
You
know, I mean — you thought that was something worth doing.  We
didn’t
check with the Russians to see how did it — they did there for
10
years.
   (APPLAUSE)
   But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and
I
think that, when we get to maybe — I think you’ve  mentioned
something about having a target date for bringing everybody
home.  You
gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only
sensible
question, you know, he says, “Why are you giving the date out
now?
Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?”
   (APPLAUSE)
   And I thought — I thought, yeah — I am not going to shut
up, it
is my turn.
   (LAUGHTER)
   So anyway, we’re going to have — we’re going to have to
have a
little chat about that.  And then, I just wondered, all these
promises
— I wondered about when the — what do you want me to tell
Romney?  I
can’t tell him to do that.  I can’t tell him to do that to
himself.
   (APPLAUSE)
   You’re crazy, you’re absolutely crazy.  You’re getting as
bad as
Biden.
   (APPLAUSE)
   Of course we all now Biden is the intellect of the
Democratic
party.
   (LAUGHTER)
   Kind of a grin with a body behind it.
   (LAUGHTER)
  But I just think that there is so much to be done, and I
think
that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are two guys that can come along.
See, I
never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president,
anyway.
(APPLAUSE)
I think attorneys are so busy — you know they’re
always taught to argue everything, always weigh everything,
weigh both sides.
EASTWOOD:  They are always devil’s advocating this and
bifurcating this and bifurcating that.  You know all that stuff.
But, I think it is maybe time — what do you think — for maybe
a businessman.  How about that?
(APPLAUSE)
A stellar businessman.  Quote, unquote, “a stellar
businessman.”
And I think it’s that time.  And I think if you just step
aside and Mr. Romney can kind of take over.  You can maybe still
use a plane.
   (APPLAUSE)
   Though maybe a smaller one.  Not that big gas guzzler you
are going around to colleges and talking about student loans and
stuff like that.
   (APPLAUSE)
   You are an — an ecological man.  Why would you want to
drive that around?
   OK, well anyway.  All right, I’m sorry.  I can’t do that to
myself either.
   (APPLAUSE)
   I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important.  It is that, you, we
— we own this country.
(APPLAUSE)
   We — we own it.  It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it.  Politicians are employees of ours.
(APPLAUSE)
   And  — so — they are just going to come around and beg
for votes every few years.  It is the same old deal.  But I just
think it is important that you realize , that you’re the best in
the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether
you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best.  And we should
not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we
got to let them go.
(APPLAUSE)

   Okay, just remember that.  And I’m speaking out for
everybody out there.  It doesn’t hurt, we don’t have to be
   (AUDIENCE MEMBER):  (inaudible)
   (LAUGHTER)
   I do not say that word anymore.  Well, maybe one last time.
   (LAUGHTER)
   We don’t have to be — what I’m saying, we do not have to
be metal (ph) masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t
really even want in office just because they seem to be nice
guys or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the
recent ads going out there, I don’t know.
   (APPLAUSE)
   But OK.  You want to make my day?
   (APPLAUSE)
   All right.  I started, you finish it.  Go ahead.
   AUDIENCE:  Make my day!
EASTWOOD:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

See, there was a good speech in there.

If the Nation Were a Person

Imagine that the United States of America was a person.  It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.  Culture is sort of like personality and habit.  Politics is like an individual’s worldview or perspective on things.  Both a nation and a person can become demoralized by internal and external forces.  And, just as a person has a soul, a nation seems to have a deeper core that defines and guides it.  It means something to be an American; it means something to be America.

So you have this image in your head of America, the person.  I would be curious to know what you see.  What is America wearing, if anything, and what posture does he or she have?   Let me tell you what I see.

I see a man who can’t stop looking side to side.  He goes from left to right, and each time he turns his head it puts more strain on his neck as he turns it a little more.  At the same time his eyes are looking down at the ground.  For a brief moment, every now and then, he peeks up at the heavens, but it is only for a moment.  His clothes are very stylish, and very expensive, but in his breast pocket is a notice saying that all of his possessions will soon be repossessed if he doesn’t pay his creditors.  His heart is experiencing palpitations due to the stress of a serious identity crisis.  He was raised a Christian, but has started to doubt its significance now that he is more mature and well off.  His daughter wants to have an abortion and he’s equally torn by his love for her freedom to choose and his love for her unborn child.  His son is gay, and he doesn’t know whether to kick him out of the house or celebrate with a parade.  He carries a small document in his hand that begs him not to forget where he comes from and who he is, but his hand is so clenched around it that he hasn’t read it in years.  This man has seen better days.  But not all hope is lost.

Inside the man is an indomitable spirit.  Despite his identity crisis and crippling debt and all forms of adversity, he carries within him a tested spirit.  A spirit that has passed through many fires.  A spirit that burns brightest when the world seems darkest.  This man has suffered many hardships and come out stronger in the end, and for that reason, for the spirit within that transcends the baggage and the vitriol and the pettiness, he has real hope for a better life ahead.  But as long as he carries the pride of his own self-importance, and refuses to acknowledge the Creator that made him in word and deed, he will continue to be a divided man with a sore neck.

Conflict of Interest: Media, the Untrustworthy Narrator

Have you noticed that newspapers, magazines, and cable news networks have a political bias?  For many it is obvious that Fox News is conservative, and anyone who has watched MSNBC should understand that their bias is liberal.  The New York Times and The Boston Globe are liberal.  The Weekly Standard magazine and much of talk radio is conservative.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are liberal.  The Huffington Post and Bill Maher are extremely liberal.  Breitbart.com and Glenn Beck are extremely conservative.  Hollywood is slanted far to the left.  The media in this country, largely liberal with some conservative outlets, makes a living of “telling us how it is.”  Believe it or not, I’m not going to write about how dangerous this political bias is, though it certainly is a critical issue.  What I am going to look at today is an issue that goes a step beyond the political bias and includes both liberal and conservative media.  It is something that any good narrator understands when telling a story.   The media feeds on it, nurtures it, sells it, and shapes  it.  I am talking about conflict.  Conflict is a problem.

Do you recall the issue with Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut?  Well, before that issue was another issue, which was actually far more important.  I am referring to the federal mandate imposed by the Obama administration that would require all health plans to offer FDA approved contraceptives.  The conflict that arose from this came when the Catholic Church challenged that the mandate would compromise their doctrine that opposed contraception.  Catholic institutions, such as universities and hospitals, would be required under the mandate to provide contraception in their health insurance plans.  This was a legitimate conflict between religious freedom and the rule of government.  I do not discredit the media for focusing on this.  But, when a more emotional conflict arose, the Limbaugh/Fluke incident, the media bent over backwards to fan the flames.

Suddenly the issue shifted to the Republican “War on Women” and Limbaugh was chewed out and demonized.  The media now had a victim and an attacker to hone in on, and the red herring was effectively placed.  Fox News hosts suggested that perhaps Fluke was strategically placed to draw out criticism from conservatives, which would make conservatives look bad.  Liberal outlets glorified Fluke and demonized Limbaugh, and used the issue to talk about how bad conservatism is for women’s health.  The bottom line is, a more emotional and inflammatory conflict arose, and the media shifted the narrative accordingly.

How many people know that eventually the mandate was changed to include exemptions for religious institutions?

More recently we saw the media use the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman to revitalize the emotional issue of racism.  NBC’s Today Show aired the 911 tape between Zimmerman and a dispatcher.  What they did was selectively edit it to make it appear that Zimmerman had voluntarily mentioned Trayvon’s race.  This implied that Zimmerman was driven by a fear or hatred of blacks.  Al Sharpton, ever the one to capitalize on racial conflict, rushed to judgment and declared Zimmerman a racist.  When he was questioned about rushing to judgment and fanning the flames of racial conflict he had this response:

Trayvon Martin committed no crime,” he said. “He had no weapon and he had every legal right to be where he was. The rush to judgment was those that moved against him, said he was suspicious, and took his life. So to lecture us about rushing to judgment, we’re a victim of a rush to judgment in this case. Let’s be real clear on that.

Sharpton’s rush to judgement mirrored that of the national media, which sought to make this conflict more interesting by assuming that Zimmerman was a racist.  So, what the people of America got was more conflict and hate.  In this case, like in many cases, the conflict was exaggerated and unethically presented for the sake of capturing viewers.

I would encourage you to step back and investigate the narrative that is told to you by the media.  Consider what this storm of conflict does for an already divided America.  Conflict is interesting, and we tune in when stories strike an emotional chord.  We are influenced by what we see and hear.

Will you buy the narrative?

Two Truths and a Lie: Andrew Sullivan’s Christianity

Andrew Sullivan,  blogger from TheDailyBeast.com, recently wrote an article for Newsweek that made the front page.  It is called, “Forget the Church: Follow Jesus”, and on his blog it falls under the heading, Christianity in Crisis.  I have read it three times through, and some paragraphs more than that, with the intention of discerning his main points of contention with Christianity in America.  Anyone who reads my blog knows that this is a topic that I like to focus on.  As a Christian living in America, I want to better understand both the culture that I inhabit and the faith that I profess.  So, I can’t help but read  Sullivan’s article with great interest and scrutiny.  In my analysis, his article hits on some major truths about the troubled state of the Christian faith in America, but it also declares something that is completely contrary to historical and biblical Christianity.

The first truth that I found in Sullivan’s article was the issue of using Christianity as a tool to acquire more political and worldly power.  He writes, “What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?”  This is an excellent and timely point.  In a post I wrote recently, “On Gay Marriage” I identified the problem of Christians treating America like a church and trying to make those outside the body of Christ adopt their values.  It is foolish to look to the state of the world in the hope that it will reflect the truth of Jesus Christ.  What you get is a highly politicized religion that focuses on particular issues more than on living humans.  What you get is greater polarization.  Instead of Jesus being the central polarizing figure in the interactions between Christians and unbelievers, you have issues marking the divide.  And these issues do much to enrage people.  Now, let me wrap up this point by stating that I believe Christians should stand up for the issues that best reflect their values.  It’s a hard sell to say that abortion and gay marriage are condoned in the bible, so Christians shouldn’t pretend that they agree with them in the name of political correctness.  But, and this is important, Christians cannot alienate themselves from those who are on the wrong side of their politics.  If anything, Christians have to swallow their pride and lay down their judgement as an act of love toward one who lives in a way that is contrary to theirs.

The second truth of Sullivan’s article is simple, that Christians must practice what they preach.  He writes a great deal about Francis of Assisi, who lived as an “example of humility, service, and sanctity.”

A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his postwar conversion as an outgrowth of posttraumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy. To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.

Sullivan believes, as I and most Christians do, that it is essential to live according to what Christ taught.  In the Book of James it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:19-20.  It is not enough to just know what is right.  You must live according to it.  Follow the example of Jesus who didn’t seek worldly power and who didn’t seek revenge against those who hated him.  Unfortunately, Christians in America look very similar to the rest of society.  For example, the divorce rate is the same as non-Christians, which makes it hard to have authority in the gay marriage debate.  Jesus spoke harshly against divorce.  We also embrace, in large part, the entertainment, materialism, and quest for health, wealth, and influence.  Not to say that there are not many individuals who rise above these things by living more in accordance with Christ’s humility, charity, and righteousness.  I mean not to condemn all Christians, including myself, just a large portion of us who are either Christians in name only or living out a lukewarm existence defined by half-hearted commitment to God’s will.  It is apparent that it is harder to live a righteous life in the lap of luxury than it is in lowly poverty.  But in each case what is required is submission to God’s spirit and the constant renunciation of pride and power.

Christians in America must repent and submit to God, and not put the majority of their energy into fights for more political influence, since the former is the true way to see lives transformed.

Now, I have said a lot of good about Sullivan’s article.  But he gets something very wrong.  I saw it from the very beginning when he lifted up Thomas Jefferson’s gutting of the Bible as an example of a man who was searching for, “the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death.”  Jefferson removed anything that didn’t fit his understanding of who Jesus was.  That included many of the supernatural claims and large portions of the New Testament.  In short, he was choosing which parts of the scriptures he wanted to accept.  And Sullivan doesn’t denounce this as heretical.  That’s a problem.

This type of radical redefining is something that I have seen before from current Christian leaders like Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell. (I have written on both men and you can find those articles, The Biblical Buffet of Brian Mclaren and What the Hell Bell? by clicking on the links)  In response to the pressures of modern society they have attempted to redefine what Christianity has been throughout history.  Mclaren throws the God of the Old Testament completely under the bus, and Bell throws out the doctrines of hell and diminishes the truth of God’s righteous wrath against sin.  Both shy away from the truth of Christ being the exclusive way to God, and therefore Heaven.  It sounds so judgmental and harsh.  But just because something in the Bible doesn’t feel right to you, it doesn’t give you the authority to toss it out or redefine it.  That is so arrogant and I see it as the result of a radically individualistic society.

Sullivan, as far as I’ve gathered, is a man who believes himself to be the “truer” version of both conservative and Christian.  He distances himself from the standard institutions, believing that they have left him, and not the other way around.  He believes the Christian church has abandoned the true teachings of Jesus, and that is why he included the “Forget the Church” in his title.  But though the church of Jesus Christ is imperfect, it is the body of Christ on Earth.  We are meant to live alongside other believers in a community setting.  Sullivan isn’t telling Christians to stop working together to spread the good news of Jesus, but I am confident that he is undermining the established church and its  doctrines.

In a society that is becoming more and more Bible illiterate, I do not see how undermining the authority of scripture and two-thousand years of church teaching is a positive step forward.  If anything, these modern tendencies toward rebelling against longstanding authority and shrinking from any uncomfortable Biblical truths are a sign of a people turned inward.  Andrew Sullivan says many good things about what needs to change with Christians living in America, but he has chosen to diminish the sacredness of scripture in the name of shaping Christianity to fit his mold.

5 Grams From Justice: Join the Fight to Restore the Full-Sized Cadbury Egg

English 39g on left. "American" 34g on right.

I received yet another precious gift of Cadbury eggs today.  Thank you to those who have responded to the cause.  (See My Cadbury Egg Campaign and The Far-Reaching Consequences of a Shrinking Egg)   The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  That step was awareness, and we will continue to spread it, but now we must prepare to move forward.  Now is the time for action!

If you’ve been following my posts you will know that Cadbury is not actually to blame for the shrinking of their egg.  In England, the home of Cadbury, the egg has remained 39g and will likely stay that size.  The true culprit is The Hershey Corporation, who makes and distributes Cadbury products in the United States.  In 2006 Hershey decided to drop 5g off of the classic 39g egg, and they had the audacity to mock the American people with the line, “They haven’t gotten smaller, you’ve gotten bigger.”  Clearly this was a shot at the growing obesity epidemic.  What monsters.

Though Kraft Foods bought out Cadbury a few years back, I still believe that the brunt of the blame rests with Hershey.  And who can blame them for selling a reduced-size product at the same (or increased) price when the public still eats it up?  They believe that we won’t care enough to notice, and we certainly won’t care enough to stop buying their product!  That is why my mission has always been to get the word out.  I believe many people simply don’t realize that they’re being swindled, and if they saw the truth perhaps more and more would rise to resist.

When Netflix threatened to raise their prices, people spoke out in large numbers and the giant was forced to retreat.

When Bank of America threatened to charge $5 a month for simply having a debit account, the people spoke out in large numbers and the giant retreated.

We forget that they need us.  If we exercised a little power in numbers I am sure that we could get their attention.

We can change the world.

Don’t be discouraged by the fact that 6 years has already passed since the change in size was made.  Consider all of the injustices that people of the past stomached for decades or centuries before they couldn’t take it anymore.

Change happens when the people decide it must happen.

Join us by complaining to Hershey.  Contact them here   Tell them that you are not satisfied with the 34g egg and you will no longer purchase their product for any reasons I listed or that you come up with.

When you speak out, please comment or like this post so others can see strength in numbers and decide to act.

We’ve been 5 Grams From Justice for too long…

Why is Gay Marriage a Big Deal?

In my last post, On Gay Marriage, I described that everyone has the freedom to express their views in this gay marriage debate.  Whether you are for or against, no one should stop you from speaking your mind.  Furthermore, I expressed my desire for Christians to not dread when the culture shifts away from biblical values.  Instead, Christians must recognize that they are a people set apart,  and cannot demand that the world submit to their beliefs.  Nevertheless, both Christian and non-Christian Americans are compelled to enter into the political arena with the goal of shaping policies which reflect their core values.  Are any of those ideas radical?  I don’t believe they are.

I now want to take this a step further.  I want to address something that I have read numerous times in the past year.  Many have asked something along the lines of, “What does it matter to you if gay couples get married?  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.”  What they’re suggesting is, gay people getting married doesn’t have anything to do with you.  If they want to get married, why stop them?  Aren’t you just imposing your own beliefs on them, and therefore limiting their freedom to live as they wish?  It’s an important question.

We live in a country.  This country is made up of millions of citizens.  Each citizen plays a part in shaping the culture.  Some have a substantial influence (celebrities, political and religious leaders, authors, directors) and most have a small influence.  Regardless of the scope that one’s influence has on the overarching culture, who could deny that everyone has at least a portion to contribute?  If we can accept that each of us plays a role in shaping the world around us, we can then accept that our actions have consequences for the larger society.

Consider again the question of, “What does it matter to you if a gay couple gets married?”  It has very little to do with me.  If two people decide to marry each other, and I don’t even know them, it has an immeasurably small effect on my life.  If one hundred people marry one hundred other people, and they live in California, it probably won’t matter much to me.  I’ll just keep living my life as if nothing happened.  Does it seem like I’m saying two different things?  A paragraph earlier I claimed that each person has a portion of influence within our society, and now I’m telling you that when a gay couple gets married it doesn’t really affect me.  Bear with me a little, and I will show you the way that this gay marriage issue, when taken in full, does in fact have a significant effect on me and everyone else in this country.


We live under the authority of our government.  Yes, the government is of, by, and for the people, but at the end of the day we submit to the power of local, state, and federal authority. Whether you like it or not, our government has the authority to make laws, enact policies, and take the money we earn.  The government said slavery was legal.  The same government made it illegal.  It also refused women the right to vote.  Then it made voting a right for women and African-Americans.  Before 1973 it was illegal to get an abortion.  After Roe v. Wade our government made it legal for women to have abortions.  One year the United States says abortion is illegal and wrong.  The next year it says abortion is legal and permissible.  My point in all of this is, the government has incredible authority to shape our society.  It makes a free man a slave and a slave free.  It makes a fetus a life and a life a fetus.  And it defines the institution of marriage as the joining together of husband and wife.  I know this because, except for in a few states, same-sex marriage is illegal.
The people who didn’t really have an effect on me a few paragraphs ago now have the ability to push for a change in the law.  As the debate rages on, supporters of legalizing gay marriage take steps to persuade the American public that it is wrong to limit freedom and make moral judgments against homosexuals.  Opponents of legalizing gay marriage take steps to persuade the American public that the institution of marriage is sacred, the foundation of any civilization, and to lift up same-sex marriage alongside it would be essentially and practically destructive.  Both are fighting for a spot in the political arena because both understand the significance of obtaining the approval of the government.

Shape policy, and you eventually shape society.   Beliefs change the world.

Some of you may be thinking that it isn’t this simple.  Of course it isn’t.  Politics is fed by an ever-evolving culture within America.  The culture as a whole has grown more accepting of the idea of gay marriage.  And, since this is the case, the legalization of it is likely a foregone conclusion.  Nevertheless, opponents of gay marriage must not forsake their view on the matter.  Speak plainly and fearlessly the convictions of your conscience.  Understand that your belief shapes your action, which shapes policy, which shapes the very world in which you live.

Why is gay marriage a big deal?

You tell me.

On Gay Marriage

On two occasions I have written about abortion (An Inflammatory Issue: Abortion & Speaking for the Victims of Progress).  For each of those postings I took great care to control my emotions and also the language that I used.  It is too easy to slip into a righteous rant, and I wanted my thoughts to shine clearly.  I bring this up because I am now about to dive into another volatile topic: gay marriage.  Truthfully, I have avoided this issue because of how challenging it is to discuss.  This is the hot button issue of our day, exposing our deepest beliefs regarding freedom, morality, religion, family, society, sexuality, and love.  Like abortion, it is an issue that often defines a political position.  And, also like abortion, it defies many attempts to discuss with a cool head.  Though I can’t promise that I won’t offend, I can promise a most sincere effort to proceed with clarity and compassion.  Here we go.

I’m interested in what is behind an opinion, or a value, or a belief.  What is the primary force inside of you and me that shapes our characters and the nature of our thoughts and wills?  To tackle the topic of gay marriage, I think it is most helpful to try to identify the primary forces at work in both parties, for and against.  You may think I am being too ambitious or resorting to too much personal opinion, and perhaps that is the case.  All I ask is that you consider what’s to follow and ask yourself if I’m completely nuts or if I have a leg to stand on.

The popular liberal position on gay marriage is that it’s good, natural, and nobody’s business.  They see society as advancing in tolerance, freedom, and reason as more states legalize same-sex marriage.  Legalized gay marriage is viewed as a victory for progress.  Furthermore, those who oppose this movement are viewed as having out of touch beliefs that are largely informed by outdated values.  Many who oppose gay marriage are influenced by their religions.  Those influenced by religion are in large part viewed as religious fundamentalists, which means they interpret their holy book literally.  Each of the three major world religions condemn homosexual lifestyles, so the opposition either takes a more liberal stance on their religion (allowing for the acceptance of homosexual behavior) or they dig in their heels and quote their ancient texts.  Many liberals are critical of conservative Christians especially, calling them bigots, homophobes, and haters.  Society as a whole is growing more tolerant of gays and gay marriage, and this is good for those people who have lived in fear of judgment.  There are many cases of teen suicide related to bullying, and many of these are hate crimes linked to anti-gay sentiments.   Accepting same-sex marriage paves the way for gays to live more freely and securely in a society that is just now shaking off its puritanical roots.

If you represent the position I just described, please feel free to critique or condemn what I just wrote.  I’m sure there are elements I am missing or glossing over.  I’m attempting to sum up a position that isn’t my own so it would be better if someone who supports gay marriage had input.

The popular conservative position is that gay marriage is bad, unnatural, and nobody’s business.  They believe that family is the foundation of society and marriage is the foundation of family.  Many conservatives are informed by traditional values, which are informed by religious values.  They point to a long history of civilization, but mainly to the short history of America for evidence of the time-tested legitimacy for heterosexual marriage.  They view their opponents as possessing a worldly morality, that is one formed by the trends and passions of modern society.  These liberals are governed by their own passions and desire for personal freedom, and pay no respect to a higher standard of right and wrong.  Freedom is their god, and they recklessly sacrifice traditional values on its altar.  To many conservative Christians, liberals who favor gay marriage are attempting to redefine marriage and pass legislation that will shift our society’s standards further away from the standards of God and traditional American values.

Once again I am fitting these beliefs into a nutshell.  There’s much more to say on both sides of the issue.  But for now I want to leave them be and move onto my own beliefs on this matter.

 

I ask myself, what is the role of the Christian church in shaping America’s policies?  It is one thing to view a particular way of life as sinful, but it is another to influence secular society by fighting for political power.  Should Christians be able to speak about their critical views on homosexual behavior, absolutely.  This wouldn’t be America if people couldn’t express their beliefs openly.  Open expression doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  It just means that the government doesn’t snuff it out of the public square.  I think all reasonable people can agree that civil discourse on this and any other issue is essential.

Regarding the political fight to shape legislation, or to prevent legislation, I am less confident about my role.  It is one thing to establish a common morality within the church, and it is another to try to establish one in the world.

Is it our place to fight for the highest seats of power?  Is it our place to expect the same way of life from those who don’t know Jesus Christ? I think it is damaging for people to treat America like a church, as if everyone used to be Christian and we just have to knock some sense into them.  I see many people like myself dreading the changes in society as if society is meant to reflect the status of the Christian church.  Society as a whole is a part of the world, and even though we live in it and shape it, we can’t look to it like we would look to the body of Christ.  The church is called to be set apart from the ways of the world.  What happens when the church judges someone outside of it as if that person were a member?  Is that what Jesus wants us to do?  Or does he ask us to live for Him and model a righteous life?  Maybe then we would appear as bright lights to a dark world.

To sum up my position,,,

I believe that those on both sides of the gay marriage issue should speak openly and courageously.  We as Americans shape the world around us based on our values.  Christians like myself should vote for those people who most closely reflect their values just as anyone else should.  But when society shifts further away from biblical values, Christians are not meant to panic and dread as if the church itself were crumbling.  The church is a people set apart, and cannot demand of the world that it live in submission to its principles.  That doesn’t mean that we curl into a ball and die.  It simply means that we expect one thing from the church and another from society.  Since Americans have the freedom to shape their government, and as a result their society as a whole, every individual also shares in the responsibility of the result.  For that reason religious and non-religious alike should take an active role in politics.  But the Christian doesn’t look to a worldly nation for his or her spiritual affirmation.  They look to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Advertising: The Second Flood

Sometimes something is so obvious and ever-present that we forget it is there, like the sound of the fan inside your computer, or the socks you’re wearing. Like so much white noise, advertising is our barely-noticed constant companion. When you turn on your television, or use the internet, or open a magazine, or move the radio dial, or drive on the highway, or put on a branded piece of clothing, or walk in the city you are taking a bath in the storm of advertising that is soaking the world like a Second Flood. And like the First, it is making it harder to breathe the free air.

There are plenty of people who are more qualified than me when it comes to the issue of advertising as it relates to our society. That being said, I believe I am still able to assess the situation. A lifetime of perpetual exposure to the message of advertising juxtaposed with a well-developed counter-worldview informed by my Christian faith gives me, I am confident, the perspective needed to thoughtfully address this topic.

 We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC are the three major network news channels. Each also has a presence on the internet. Every day they compile stories to report, experts to analyze, and commentators to express opinions. FOX News is slanted to the right, MSNBC is slanted to the left, and CNN is center-left. These political biases attract different audiences. Each network is aware of their audience and tailors programming to attract more viewers. They are concerned with their ratings. Each day offers a fresh chance to expand their numbers. So, considering the political bias of their audience and the issues that cause people to “stay tuned”, these networks turn to vitriolic speech, violence, and the things that excite the ignoble side of our natures. Anything for the sponsors.

 News and advertising should be like oil and water. The news is supposed to report true and relevant information, while advertising is supposed to get you to buy something by manipulating you on some level. News tells you how it is, and advertising tells you how they want you to see it. Unfortunately, news and advertising have bonded together, creating a monster that threatens our true perception of the world. Stories about murderers, rapists, pedophiles, alarming studies, and marital infidelity work to gather up viewers so that when the commercials role, the sponsors have an audience to preach to. On top of this choice selection of mankind’s worst deeds, the networks also infuse an unhealthy dose of political opinion. Talking about how Obama is an anti-American socialist (Glenn Beck) really gets the blood of conservatives going, just like talking about how Scott Brown is a “homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees”(Keith Olbermann) gets the liberals fired up. All of this hate speech serves to further divide an already divided America. Instead of reaching out and attempting to understand those who believe an opposing ideology, we are being conditioned to view them as the enemy who seeks to destroy our way of life. And this is because it is good for ratings.

Watch this, and then watch specifically at 8:40.  What does the host tell Jon Stewart? Then pay attention to the items Wolf Blitzer brings up during the commercial. 

Advertising is about showing people that they need the product that you’re selling.  You do this by convincing them that they will be happier, healthier, or prettier once they have made the purchase.  The Christian idea of being content with what you have, and not comparing yourself to other people, or envying their status or worldly possessions is not compatible with most forms of advertising (Unless you’re selling a book to Christians).  Advertisements tell you that you should not be satisfied until you have more X, or better Y.  You’ve heard the saying, “keeping up with the Jones’.”  Advertising depends on you feeling inadequate next to your neighbor.  Now, consider the daily onslaught that we endure from advertisements.  Don’t you think day after day, year after year of this message has a significant effect on our perception of ourselves and the world?  I know we all like to think that we’re too clever to be fooled by ads, but this kind of incessant indoctrination has to shape our minds, at least somewhat.  We look at a country like North Korea with all of its government propaganda and we feel disgusted, but how do we feel about the corporate propaganda that has infiltrated every corner of our lives? 

I’m not about to prescribe a cure for virulent advertising.  It serves a necessary function in our society.  I simply want to address the reality of it, and cause you to think about its presence in our daily lives.  What does it do to the integrity of the news?  What does it do to our understanding of the world?  How does it play into our basest natures? 

How will you ride out this storm?