The Voice of the Non-Church-Going Evangelical

TheAtlantic
Courtesy, The Atlantic Monthly, April 2017

Maybe Peter Beinart’s article in the April 2017 edition of The Atlantic has finally answered my BIG question. What is my BIG question? It has to do with Donald Trump and the fundamentalist/evangelical tie-in.

I’ve never seen the rise of such a demagogue in connection with the tenets of Christianity in my life. In reality, many Christians end up following all manner of so-called Christian leaders. Televangelists would not exist without their ardent followers. Pat Robertson, James Hagee, Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen are just a few who come to mind. Yet, the rise of Donald Trump as a stand-in for a Christian leader has my brain literally hurting.

Now Beinart gives us a perspective on this political/religious phenomenon and it’s the only idea that even begins to make sense to me. In his article, Breaking Faith, Beinart introduces us to the non-church-going Christian.

Although he notes that the nation’s growing “Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization,” it is also leaving behind those more extreme conservatives in our country, “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal.”

These partisan clashes, notes Beinart, have, “contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism.”

Need more proof? According to the Pew Research Center poll in March 2016, “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.”

Beinart cites The University of Notre Dame American History professor Geoffrey C. Layman  as noting, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”

So Ted Cruz represented those institutionalized Christians whom you would normally see in church pews every Sunday. Apparently, Donald Trump represents a more disenfranchised Christian, who appears to have a more darker, much bleaker life.

Beinart suggests 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.”

Another trend could be responsible for this outcome, as Beinart notes:

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.”

In my opinion, this disengaged group of white, lower to middle class Americans are the danger to a progressive, liberal, tolerant and inclusive society. As Beinart writes, “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 this explains the rise of nationalism in our country. It explains why so many of our former highly-paid factory workers blame the loss of manufacturing jobs on the growth of multinational corporations and the immigrant population. It explains why it seems more important for the executive branch to build a wall and fund the military, keeping out those who do not conform to the 1950s ideal household–white, traditional, male/female, married, Christian. But what leads the white, working man and woman to want to “Make America Great Again” by wanting to set the clock back by decades?  Beinart notes that, “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 more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.”

Beinart also discusses the rise of Bernie Sanders among the most liberal non-religious group, as well as the rise of the new civil rights movement among African-Americans, known collectively as Black Lives Matter. and how that movement is upending the traditional Black church culture.

We are in the middle of a major ideological upheaval in which the dominant culture from 50-70 years ago is dissolving–white, working class, Christian, industrial. In its place, is the post-industrial, secular, scientific, global, multi-cultural world. But the old order will not go down without a fight.

Donald Trump has risen as the leader of the disenfranchised, middle American, caught up in a protectionist, nationalistic, anti-intellectual movement, looking inward away from progress, multiculturalism and secularism. Christianity is a mask the Luddite wears, which hides intolerance, anti-Semitism and racism. The pendulum swings…

 

 

The Vivid Phallus

I live a vivid life–a life of culture, travel and experience. Vivid does not have to be simply visual. A vivid life is one where you participate fully and accept the here and now–a mantra that I’m trying on a daily basis to understand and accept.

A vivid life necessitates moving out of one’s comfort zone. It necessitates a tolerance and an understanding of our world’s vast differences.

I was recently in Bhutan, a country of mystery and Gross National Happiness (GNH), and an infrastructure unprepared for the inevitable tourist onslaught. Our group descended one day into the village of Lobesa in the Punakha District of northwestern Bhutan. Pilgrims take a short trek to the Chimi Lhakhang or the Monastery of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529). This monk’s MO was absolutely out of the ordinary, even for his 16th century land-locked, mountain-locked followers. He espoused the greatest Tibetan Buddhist’s traditions, but he also might have been the earliest hippy, talking of free love–most specifically with him. Over the centuries, worship of the Divine Madman has evolved into a fertility cult. People, now from all around the world, come to pray at the Chimi Lhakhang for children–a pilgrimage to pray and meditate for the awarding of children in their lives. Our guide excitedly displayed a typical cheap, plastic notebook in the temple, showing us page after page of couples proudly posing with their newborns after visiting the monastery. This notebook is guarded by a large statue of a generic version of the Madman himself, while behind him sits the requisite giant statue of the Buddha, surrounded by many bodhisattvas–those humans who choose to not enter enlightenment, but decide to help their fellow human to reach the all enlightenment.

I have been in different places all around the world that celebrate fertility. We, as westerners, are used to depictions of female fertility, perhaps driven by the cults of Mother Earth to the Virgin Mary, all the while embracing and yet abhorring the phallus, which can impregnate with force and without our feminine consent. Society can then, socially and religiously, relegate the “promiscuous” woman to the status of adulterers and whores, while Donald Trump, the President of the United States, gets away with “locker room talk.”

This is what makes us comfortable. This is what makes abstinence-only sex education in the United States celebrated, yet ineffectual at curbing sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage.

But in Bhutan, sex is celebrated in its masculine form. Instead of seeing the very western-style paintings of beautiful, objectified and stylized nude women with their rounded, fecund stomachs and hairless genitalia, the Bhutanese present to us the fertile penis–the other part of the “it takes two to tango” catchphrase.

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A Fertility Shop in Punakha, copyright, SCH, 2017

This is what I would call a vivid projection of the male anatomy (no pun intended). So many homes had this happy penis painted on the sunbaked adobe. Still, I felt very uncomfortable. As I walked through the village to the monastery, we were greeted with kindness and gentleness. What is keeping me from embracing the happy penis without this feeling of impending doom?

Upon reflection, I can only conclude that my anxiety stems from a deeply rooted cultural belief within me. The source of this feeling might originate from my western, Puritanical background, which has set me up for the great joy as well as the great emotional pain of sex, within and without marriage. But for the Bhutanese people, even the children see that sex is natural, expected and celebrated. These images do not invite rape or unwanted sexual advances. Rather, they embrace the male and female together, the ying and the yang, the dual source of fertility…the vivid life of love and the vivid love of life.

For a description of the Bhutanese phallus worship, see Wanderlust: Penis Worship in Bhutan from Public Radio International.

via Daily Prompt: Vivid

Jesus is my Co-Pilot

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Courtesy, http://www.brandpowder.com/jesus-airlines

I am amazed at the lengths to which some people will go to justify their pomposity and entitlement as so-called “christian” leaders who exploit their congregants to service their self-aggrandizing egos.

Self-professed evangelical minister Jesse Duplantis carried on a conversation with Kenneth Copeland on the Believer’s Voice of Victory Network back in December 2015 about hearing voices–of Jesus (of course)–while flying on their private planes. They have so many places to be…so many people to convert all over the country, that Delta Airlines could not possibly get them to the needy people longing to hear the word of the lord. Yes, god gave Jesse a private airplane to criss-cross the country and bring you heathens to JEEEEEsus.

Besides, who wants to sit in coach in that “long tube with a bunch of demons?”

Here, have a listen, courtesy of YouTube:

If I had not heard and seen this clip with my own eyes and ears I don’t know that I would have believed it.

Look, believe your mythology if you want. It’s no skin off my nose. But if you are going to give your social security check to these clowns, just know that they are laughing all the way to the pulpit–and to the Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the private airport where Jesus’ Falcon 50 is kept in a private hanger out of the sun and rain on your nickel.

Additional Sources:

Pulpit and Pen

Patheos

 

 

We Agree to Disagree

Daily Prompt: Disagree

“Either you are right or I am right!”

“Well, then, I disagree with you!”

Disagree. Are you telling me that I am wrong? Do you not trust me? Are you insulting my intelligence?

In our minds, our opinions are solid, moral, grounded, and they make sense for us in our lives at that particular moment. But it is in disagreement that we grow.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently said, ““We as a society have not learned to disagree without being violently disagreeable.”

Unfortunately, his words still ring true and continue to resonate in the face of intractable opinion, masked in modern culture, rooted in religion, dogma and delusional thoughts of superiority.

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Courtesy, Dr. S. Venkatesan, WordPress.com

In the company of Maslow’s Hierarchy of NeedsPaul Graham gives us a roadmap on how to effectively argue your point. It does not mean that you will always win. In fact, it guarantees that if you do not have your facts and examples lined up to present, you can be outclassed with as little as name calling and ad hominem retorts.

Most of what I hear today in religion, civil war and politics rarely moves above the point of Contradiction on Graham’s scale. The art of disagreement comes with intelligence, empathy and knowledge.

 

Atheists Are So Hard-headed

I ran across this very interesting blog from Kevin Davis who writes for SecularVoices.org, which can be found on one of my favorite across-the-board spiritual websites, Patheos.com.

It looks like Billy Graham might be laying down his arsenal in this post by Davis, entitled, Billy Graham Says Christians Can Do Nothing to Convert Atheists. It’s a quick read. I found it enlightening. Here’s why:

Secularism, and, shall we say, REALITY continues to rear it’s rationally religious-rebuking ugly head more and more in the United States. Across the board, the fire-and-brimstone teachings of the past no longer resonate with people. Religion’s ability to scare individuals into believing has simply lost its strangle-hold on our conscience.

No organization knows this better than PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-profit group of highly-regarded researchers who’ve been reporting on the state of religion in America since 2009. For those god-loving peeps, the news is not good. The latest research paper from PRRI, published two days ago, is Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back. It seems that many of us are sick of hearing that our fellow LGBTQ friends and family are going to hell for their “lifestyles.” That we need to “love the sinner; hate the sin.” That we need to believe in miracles that are simply impossible on this earth: stigmata, virgin birth, raising from the dead, coming back to life…the same old diatribe designed to win you over emotionally, but asks you to surrender reality.

That being said, let’s get back to Reverend Billy and his Christian friend/Atheist friend scenario as brought to us by Kevin Davis. Growing up in the 1970s in Texas I was constantly told that I was going to hell because I was not a Southern Baptist. Never mind whether I had gone through the same giving up my life to Christ as a Methodist–that made no difference. It had to be done on the terms of the Southern Baptist Convention: you know, Billy’s group. So when I realized that we were suppose to believe in the same thing–that we were playing on the same team, but that my team was not good enough, well, that’s when I started questioning the whole situation. That’s right. Billy Graham’s team, the Southern Baptists, help me to decide that religion was really just a mythological scare tactic to keep me invested, and investing, in their cause.

Now we see that Billy is going soft on the atheists. Rather than attempting to pound us into submission, they can use the passive-aggressive move to pray for us and, perhaps occasionally interject that we will have no life after death and that no one can help us when things get bad, except praying to Jeeeeeesus. Number one: we Atheists don’t believe in heaven or the pearly gates or Dante’s nine circles of hell. There’s no proof. You either believe it or you don’t. I don’t. Number two: things will get bad and they do get bad. If you think that turning to religion is the only way to turn your life around, then you don’t get out enough. For those of us who are highly educated, travel extensively and know people from many different cultures, the narrow dogma of “you have to do what we say or all is lost”–well, that just doesn’t hold water. It never did and it never will.

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Courtesy, bornagainpagan.com 

So this was the original question on Billy Graham’s website:

My best friend and I enjoy each other’s company, but I’m a Christian and he says he’s an atheist. I’ve tried to argue with him, but he just laughs and says I ought to grow up and forget about God. How can I win him over?

The Reverend’s initial answer to the question is:

You can point him in the right direction—but to be honest, you can’t win him over by yourself (as you’ve discovered). He’s convinced that he is right—and even if he has secret doubts, his pride probably gets in the way.

The atheist is convinced that he is right because all evidence points him to the actual reality of life: not giving in to impossible, mythological beliefs inherent in all religion. What if you are wrong, Billy? Your pride must be equally great to not be able to see the ridiculous dogma of your beliefs.

I like Kevin’s answer to all of this pray-the-atheism-away: he suggests, “focus on enjoying the friendship and camaraderie you have with your atheist friend. Most of my friends and family are believers and don’t try to convince me to believe their dogma, just as I don’t try to burst their Bronze Age ideological bubble. It’s called respect. Once you stop showing that, you can say goodbye to your friendship altogether.”

Might I add to the Christian who wants to convert his/her friend: accept your Atheist friend as he/she is. As for your continued attempt at evangelizing to an Atheist, you might be safer just to stay in your religious bubble. Reality has its way of rearing it’s head around secularists. That might be too dangerous for a believer.

Read the original post on Answers, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

 

Daily Post: Dramatic, a Craving Transformed

Dramatic

 

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Courtesy, http://www.davidmichalek.net

Growing up in a stifling, lower middle-class family in the oil fields of west Texas, our only emotional outlet was not in the home-where it should have been safe-but in the church. I have written about the uncontained emotion that I often exhibited in this congregation when the Lay Witness “missionaries” would come to town once a year, transporting the normally deadpan, distant group of midcentury, working-class WASPS into an evangelical dramafest: hands extended to Jesus, crying for mercy, for forgiveness of unknown sins…all with the theatrical ending of “Jesus will save you,” “Expect a miracle,” and the people in the crowd would silently cry. Down to the altar many went–giving their life to Christ. “Miracles are alive today,” cried the missionaries. More soldiers for Christ! Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war…

But after all of the “missionaries” packed up and left to another equally, dry, dusty, tumbleweed-infested Podunk, Texas church, nothing had changed. The next Sunday, the same old tired sermons, the same old stoic, boring mythology and the same old little infighting, based on myth, legend and created drama. “I’m more holy than you because I have the holy spirit in me. Jesus has given ME the ability to speak in tongues.” All it takes is a little education to realize that all this miracle about the holy spirit giving you the ability to “speak in tongues” is absolute bullshit. It’s one thing to speak and pray in another language. It’s another thing to spew out a shitload of jibberish and let all of the uneducated around you tell you you’re speaking in tongues. Dramatic fakery, was my take on the whole situation.

Robert Tilton, speaking in “tongues,” courtesy, YouTube.

What did make sense to me, though, was acting in plays at the small, notable community theater in town. The dramatic plays that came and went in our community spoke of real emotions, real life. These plays were not based on myths about superheroes who could save you eternally if you just believed in the unbelievable. No, these were real stories, real dramas, based on the everyday life of just plain folks who are caught up in the daily struggle of life, of death, of trying to make a living, of trying to find love and purpose, the pursuit of happiness in its purest form. Real. Dramatic. Life.

I thought that what I needed to be was an actor. This was my calling. It was the only thing that made sense to me. Insisting that I get out of all of that fake-church drama and pursue the art of drama in my teenage years did one thing for me. It saved me from the world of religious fantasy that was forced upon me. An acting career was, alas–and dramatically–not for me. That takes complete commitment to the craft and unbridled commitment to myself. However, I craved the blessing of my family. I was not given that confidence as a child, but rather, it was clear to me that I was to be seen and not heard. My opinion and my dreams do not matter. Shut up. Stop being so dramatic. Actors are whores. So that was the end of my dramatic dreams.

Fast forward half of a century later on the opposite side of Texas. As my husband and I were going through marriage counseling toward the inevitable end of our marriage, our very wise, very perceptive counselor mentioned how early Greek dramatic plays helped people deal with their pain and their fears long before the advent of psychology and psychotherapy.

Suddenly, the lightbulb turned on. I got it. The dramatic world that I craved as a child was not that of the stage, but that of reality. Not the drama of the religious dogma, but the dramatic playing-out of real life, real emotions, a safe place where I could release my emotions and become the person that I really was. Not a drama queen but a person with real, dramatic feelings. The stage was the one place where I could be a real person, not a follower of a 2,000-year-old superhero who was born of a virgin, performed miracles and will guarantee me “eternal life” if I only believed. No, that’s not the dramatic life that I want.

I want the dramatic life of reality.

Dramatic

The Daily Post: Admire-French to English

Admire

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Courtesy, YouTube, French Lessons for Children

To admire. Easily done in the context of a celebrity-crazed culture. Admire an actor, an artist, a politician, an activist, a leader, a family member, foreign or domestic, straight, gay, bi, trans–we all have those we admire in our lives.

When I saw the Daily Post for the day, all I could think of was not whom or what I admire: rather, I saw French. The word admire is from Middle French, admirer, which has not lost its original meaning: to marvel at.

When I began taking French lessons at the Alliance Francaise, my instructor told us very early in our classes that English is 40% French. I never really thought about English having so much French influence, especially since our language certainly does not sound French.

The French language entered the English lexicon in 1066. Every English historian knows the date. William, Duke of Normandy crossed the English Channel–or La Manche (the sleeve, in French)–and killed the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. It was all about politics and land grabs. William, who also went by the moniker of William the Bastard added another title to his name, William the Conqueror.

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The Death of King Harold from the Bayeux Tapestry, http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk

Norman French became the official language of the British Monarchy for 200+ years. So many of our french words are almost unrecognizable to our ears when we speak English. If you have ever heard a Texan or a Michigander say “admire,” you know that. Yet, French lives on in our writing, especially in our weird rule-breaking spelling.

In this case, I admire the evolution of our language from Norman French to modern English.