Thursday, April 27, 2017

NOminalism and the Benedict Option

What have I been saying for all this time?

"The Benedict Option” traces the decline of faith in the West all the way back to a fourteenth-century debate about the nature of God. God tells us how to be good—but are the things he deems good actually good in themselves, or good just because God says they are? According to one group, the “realists,” God is constrained by reality: the goodness toward which he points really exists in the world. According to the second group, the “nominalists,” God is totally free: simply by saying that something is good, he makes it so.

The nominalists thought they were doing God a favor, by recognizing his power. In fact, Dreher writes, they undermined him. Today, most people are nominalists. They doubt that entities like God, beauty, and evil are real in the same sense that the physical world is real. Even if they believe in God, they imagine a boundary between the transcendent plane, where God lives, and our material one. This boundary makes God abstract—a designer, a describer, a storyteller—rather than a concrete presence in our everyday life. By contrast, the early Christians were realists. They lived “sacramentally,” as though the world itself were charged with God’s presence. Last year, in a blog post called “Re-Sacramentalizing My Life,” Dreher wrote, “We won’t start to recover spiritually and morally until we begin to recover this ancient Christian vision to some significant degree—though how we Christians in postmodernity do so out of our own traditions is a very difficult question.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Doubt and Faith

Preparing the meditation on John 10:19-31, I chanced upon this excellent sermon by Donald Wacome, a lay preacher at St. George's Episcopal Church, Le Mars, Iowa, delivered  Trinity Sunday,  First Sunday After Pentecost, 6 June 1993:

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Matthew 28:16-20)
"...However we interpret Matthew's text, what's remarkable in it is Jesus' response to the doubters, whoever they were. At first he seems to ignore them. He immediately gives the disciples the 'great commission': "go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." It is quite easy for us to regard this as the sort of task appropriately given to faithful, confident worshipers, not to doubters. It seems natural for us to want to make sure our own doubts are resolved before going out to tell others. The great task of spreading the good news about Jesus seems one best reserved for those who are certain about it, for those whose worship has no shadow of doubtfulness. We assume proselytizing should be left to those who feel 100% confident about their message. To go out and preach when you're not totally sure about it seems like a good way to make a fool of yourself, or worse, a way to become a hypocrite and a charlatan.

Yet this doesn't appear to be the way Jesus sees it. His response to the doubters shows that what counts from his point of view -- and thus what counts in reality -- isn't having faith. As though faith were always and automatically a good thing. But this isn't true. Sometimes having faith in something or someone is a bad thing. It can be foolhardy, a manifestation of credulity or gullibility. It can be an evasion of personal responsibility for what one believes and does, a way to feel good about not making the effort to ask hard questions, listen to objections, or find reasons for what we believe. It can be an attempt to get certainty and security where there is none to be had. Think of the ill-fated followers of David Koresh. There was nothing laudable about their faith in him. It was only pathetic, not praiseworthy.

Faith in Jesus is at the center of Christianity, not because it is faith, but because it is faith in Jesus. What matters is not the strength or intensity of our faith but its object. Not that we trust, but who we trust. Our faith varies; it vacillates from being strong and confident, free of doubt, to being weak and doubtful, all depending on what we're feeling, on what we're experiencing from one day to the next. What is strong and reliable isn't what we do, but he in whom we trust, however shakily, however doubtfully. The weakest faith in the God revealed in the resurrected Jesus is greater than the strongest, most confident and certain faith in anything else. The answer to our doubt is not finally stronger faith on our part; it is the faithful one himself."

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Psalm for times of suffering, when healing doesn't happen

Sometimes all we have to hold on to
Is what we know is true of who You are
So when the heartache hits like a hurricane
That could never change who You are
And we trust in who You are
Even if the healing doesn’t come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn’t come
Lord we know Your ways are not our ways
So we set our faith in who You are
Even though You reign high above us
You tenderly love us
We know Your heart
And we rest in who You are
You’re still the Great and Mighty One
We trust You always
You’re working all things for our good
We’ll sing your praise

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: Augustine's legacy

I think this theory of atonement stems from Augustine's idea of original sin (in contrast to the Eastern church's idea of ancestral sin.) Original sin is actually original guilt; and where there is guilt, there is punishment. The Romans were experts at law and order; so it is no wonder that Augustine, who read only Latin, not Greek, should interpret Romans 5:12 in terms of guil, and pave the way for this theory.

Some Problems I Have With Penal Substitution Theology of Atonement

If penal substitution is true, God is not unlike other ancient, blood-thirsty god.
In church we often sing worship songs with themes and phrases that say, “there is none like you!” I believe those songs are beautiful, because it’s true– there is no God like our God.
But if penal substitution is true, God isn’t unique at all– God would be just like every other ancient god who had a thirst for blood. I mean, how is a god who needs a virgin thrown into the volcano any different than a god who needs a bloody human sacrifice on a cross? Both gods would functionally be the same. 

Thus, if penal substitution is true, all those things we sing about God’s holiness and uniqueness are completely false.

If penal substitution is true, God is a slave to his own anger.
One of the key, historic Christian beliefs, is the belief in God’s omnipotence– but if penal substitution is true, God is not all powerful and neither is he free. Instead, God is constrained by his wrath, unable to freely forgive those who have wronged him or misunderstood him without first getting his pound of flesh in.
Defenders of penal substitution will often say things like, “God cannot allow sin to go unpunished” or, “God cannot forgive without a payment.” These statements however, indicate a belief that God is limited and powerless over his own anger. It would be a divine case of the tail wagging the dog, and I have an issue with God being a slave to that.
If penal substitution is true, God cannot or will not do what he asks us to do: freely forgive.
Here’s a question: if penal substitution is true, wouldn’t that make God a hypocrite? After all, it would mean God either cannot or will not do the very thing he asks us to do: forgive without demanding something on the part of the one who offended us.
Jesus tells us we are to forgive over and over again. He tells us that we should be loving toward our enemies to emulate God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” He tells us we should walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and to freely give without expecting in return.
However, if God demanded a blood sacrifice and was unwilling or unable to extend forgiveness without it, God himself is unwilling to follow the teachings of Jesus. Furthermore, it would mean Jesus was wrong about God when he claimed that God was kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

I like how Greg Boyd puts it:
“If God the father needs someone to “pay the price” for sin, does the Father ever really forgive anyone? Think about it. If you owe me a hundred dollars and I hold you to it unless someone pays me the owed sum, did I really forgive your debt? It seems not, especially since the very concept of forgiveness is about releasing a debt — not collecting it from someone else.”
Surely, we don’t teach our children this idea of forgiveness. When someone says, “sorry” we teach them to respond with, “I forgive you.” We don’t teach them to say, “I will forgive you, but I have to punch you in the face first, or at least punch a substitute for you, before I can forgive you.”

If penal substitution is true, the atonement lacks true justice.
I affirm that Jesus, in some way that perhaps will never be fully understood, served as our substitute. However, where this breaks down is when you add the penal part of it all. How is penal substitution just? How does it even work?
For example, if someone robs a bank, how is justice served if an innocent person serves their prison term for them? Is not justice about more than punishment? Is not justice making sure those who have been wronged are made right, that the offender is rehabilitated and restored to life as God intended? If an innocent person serves the prison term while the offender is free to continue to harm others and harm him or herself, how is that justice? Wouldn’t such a scenario make the world more broken and unjust, instead of less?
If guilt and innocence can be so easily transferred, does not justice become deeply impersonal, lacking actual concern for the welfare and restoration of the parties involved? If this system of transferring guilt and innocence is so valid, why do we not use it in justice systems today?

If penal substitution is true, God’s primary method of resolving problems is the use of violence.
At the heart of penal substitution is the belief that God had to punish someone– that violence was the only solution to fallen humanity. This, of course, is highly problematic.
The problems with this concept could fill a book, but the biggest problem is that it is incredibly damaging to trinitarian theology. In orthodox trinitarian theology, the father and the son are one in essence. Jesus in fact claimed that “anyone who has seen me has seen the father” because he and the father “are one.”

Yet, penal substitution would divide them– they would not be one in essence, or in full harmony and agreement.

Jesus taught that we are to not use violence against our enemies– that violence is off limits, and that a commitment to nonviolent enemy love is a requirement of becoming a child of God. Time and time again, when Jesus was confronted with the option of using violence to either punish sin or solve problems, he rejected it and taught us a new way.

Jesus thwarted a public execution. He rebuked his best friend for using violence in self defense. Even at his trial he argued that the hallmark of his kingdom is the refusal to use violence to solve problems.
If penal substitution is true, God the father and Jesus the son radically disagree on the use of violence to punish and solve problems– one sees it the only way, and one sees it as the only option that needs to be immediately taken off the table. Thus, in my mind, penal substitution is at odds with orthodox trinitarian theology because Jesus and the father would not be one in essence and agreement.
I grew up believing in penal substitution, and it was to be unquestioned. No one told me it was a new theology, born largely out of the reformation, and often articulated by European theologians who had previously been lawyers– making sense of the fact they’d understand the cross by way of strict legal terms.

The reality is, penal substitution has a lot of problems– and thankfully, more and more Christians are recognizing that.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Ideas Have Consequences, or How to Resist Trump/GOP

Ideas have consequences!  As GK Chesterton wrote, "the men writing books are throwing bombs."

Alternative Worlds and the Words that Dismantle Them

A Philosophy of Rhetoric
A few years ago, I wrote an essay describing my philosophy of rhetoric. It was a required component of my coursework toward my PhD in rhetoric and writing.
I think it was my favorite assignment of all time.
I start off my philosophy of rhetoric with the following description of my favorite Heschel quote:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a theologian, author, teacher, and active participant in the civil rights movement. In a telegram to President John F. Kennedy, Heschel urged the president to declare a state of “moral emergency” regarding the treatment of African Americans, noting that “the hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” (Heschel vii). A famous photo from a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 reveals Rabbi Heschel on the front lines with Martin Luther King, Jr., separated from King by just one person. King himself called Heschel “one of the truly great men of our age” (Parachin 48).
Approximately 20 years after his death, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter Susannah edited and published a collection of her father’s essays, titling them Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity in honor of that letter to JFK. In her introduction to the collection, she writes of her father:
Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness—or evil—into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds, he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue. (viii-ix)
This excerpt illustrates the power of language—both for good and for evil. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, language is the source of creation for the entire universe (“in the beginning was the Word”[1]): God spoke, and there was. The Genesis story doesn’t begin with God thinking; it begins with a depiction of a formless void, and God’s first action (beside hovering over the waters) is to speak. God creates the world through the use of words. Words are the source of life.
But I begin with this quote from Heschel because it is referring to more than the physical world in which we live. Heschel was speaking of the intangible worlds we create by the power of our words, worlds of ideology that construct multiple lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena—worlds of ideology that can, at their very worst, justify genocide. In The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, Wayne Booth makes a similar assertion, declaring that “rhetoric makes realities, however temporary” (16). Heschel witnessed Hitler’s ascent to power beginning with the influence of his words, recognizing the evil that can be spoken into the world and the realities that negative rhetoric could create. But he also recognized the potential of rhetoric to have the same influence for good. His faith and theological training reminded him that words carried the power of positive creation, and he put that power to use during the civil rights movement. Heschel’s experiences remind us that the words we choose have awesome power, particularly when in the hands of a “good man speaking well” (Quintilian 12.1.1.). Martin Luther King, Jr. described Heschel as not just a good man, but a great man—and many would say the same of King (I would, certainly).
These men illustrate the potential of rhetoric—when paired with an ethical person—to act as a positive force of creation. We construct so much of our reality by the use (and misuse) of words that attention to those words becomes an incredibly important endeavor. This is the realm of rhetoric.
[1] John 1:1
My essay continues to flesh out the idea of maintaining an ethical component in the teaching and use of rhetoric. But the basis for my ethical argument is this: Words have power. Words create worlds.
Possible Worlds
Above, I describe the “intangible worlds we create by the power of our words, worlds of ideology that construct multiple lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena.” I am, to an extent, describing my own abstract interpretation of David Lewis’s “possible worlds” theory. This theory uses counterfactuals to propose nearby possible worlds; for example, if I were to say, “if it were raining, I would have brought my umbrella,” this creates a nearby possible world in which everything is the same except it is raining and I have an umbrella. This is a way-oversimplified explanation of this theory, and I may have slightly botched it. But the basic idea is this: language creates other worlds in which proposed ideas are reality.
Now, Lewis believed these worlds actually existed.* That is not what I am proposing; instead, I believe that we should apply Heschel’s idea that “words create worlds” to the psychological worlds in which we live—those “lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena,” and keep in mind how real those worlds feel to the people living within them. The words we use can create an entire worldview through which we filter all events, opinions, and facts. Allow me to provide an example…
Growing up, I was often called “stupid.” It didn’t take long for that idea to gain a foothold in my brain, and I began to believe it in spite of any evidence to the contrary. I was an excellent student; however, I believed that it was just because I worked really really hard (surely the smart kids didn’t take that long to get there). Or, in some cases, I assumed I had somehow duped people into *thinking* I’m smart. (Which is an interesting juxtaposition, if you think about it—I’m not actually smart, but I’m crafty enough to dupe people into thinking I’m smart? How does that work?) It took me clear until graduate school to finally think of myself as an intelligent person.
For most of my life, the words others spoke to me created my own little world—a bubble around me through which I interpreted everything. I lived in a world where the reality was “Tana is stupid.” How people spoke to me, how people interacted with me, the value they placed on the things I said or did—these were all filtered through that lens. Anything less than an “A” was unacceptable to me, because it would just be proof that I’m stupid. Any joking insult to my intelligence was a slap in the face. Every mistake I made was not simply a mistake; it was more proof of my stupidity.
I know that many other people live in such worlds. They view everything through the lens of being stupid, or worthless, or “trouble,” or “less than,” or any number of other labels. But it is important to note that it affects not only their perception of themselves or how they view others; it also affects the decisions they make. There is a ripple effect for everyone who lives in an altered world built of someone else’s false and hurtful words; it doesn’t merely stop with them, but it affects us all. And that makes it our collective responsibility to carefully consider the words we speak to and about others. Our words build other people’s worlds.
And this is where I think the concreteness of Lewis’s proposal has some merit. Because viewpoints affect actions, and actions affect more than just the one who acts.
Alternative Worlds
In a sense, we are seeing Lewis’s theory play out quite potently with the current occupant of the White House.** Both political parties attempt to create “worlds” for their members…we paint the world, its occupants, and their actions in a particular light in order to gain their adherence to the party platform. Once we are politically affiliated, we begin to interpret everything else—particularly what the opposite party does—through our cultivated lens. Trump took this idea to the max, taking existing ideas and shaping them into an extreme worldview that warps reality. In Trump’s world, the “other” is so unbelievably scary that we must institute bans and build walls, regardless of what statistics tell us (or how extreme the vetting process already is, for example). His language is harsh and unforgiving; his tolerance for dissent practically nonexistent. Trump’s ascent began with “uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.” He essentially created an alternative world for his followers, and at this point they can’t seem to find their way out of it (nor do they seem to want to).
What is most concerning about these alternative worlds is that they are built on “alternative facts,” not just evil words or defamation. My world was built on others’ opinions of me—the harsh and harmful words they said to me. Though I would argue that the statements they made were untrue, they were more “perspectives” than facts the speakers were trying to offer up and defend. But we now have a leader and administration who propose “alternative facts” that contribute to the building of these worlds. And I fear these lies make this alternative world that much stronger.
I was reading through a comment thread on a friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, and my friend made the comment that Trump lost the popular vote in the election. One of the commenters said, “well that’s debatable.” My friend responded, “No, that’s math.” This is an example of the kinds of ideas that are coming from the alternative worldview: objective facts are now up for debate. Some folks—and this happens on the left as well—are so entrenched in their worldview that they can’t admit to anything that might threaten it at all. For people living in Trump’s alternative world, the danger is even more pressing: these “alternative facts” are the very building blocks of their world; denying them means their world starts to crumble. And that’s a scary thought.
Every false utterance, every “alternative fact” that comes from the White House continues to build and strengthen Trump’s alternative world, and with each building block, objective facts and reality become increasingly warped. I dismantled my altered world by adding up facts: I did well in school, I graduated summa cum laude from college, I got into graduate school. But in Trump’s alternative world, facts are not concrete; they are fluid, squishy, and, in some cases, “fake news.” To combat a world built on alternative facts with actual facts is just not possible.
So what are we to do?
Create worlds.
My two examples of world-building were negative. But positive worlds can be built as well. In my philosophy of rhetoric essay, I create my own definition of rhetoric:
Rhetoric is the epistemic process through which we develop, communicate,
exchange ideas in pursuit of the common good.
I describe this definition a little bit more fully in the essay, but the basis of it (besides the incredibly crucial fact that rhetoric [and writing] is epistemic, which is another post for another time) is the idea that rhetoric should be rooted in ethics. I close my essay by saying:
Rhetoric can be—and should be—a power for good. If we, as scholars and teachers of rhetoric, seek to instill a positive ethos in our students, we can work to create a cultural value of discourse as that which is positive, productive, and works toward the common good. I would argue that in many ways, the discipline of rhetoric as a whole has lost sight of Quintilian’s definition of rhetoric as the “good man speaking well,” and that the time has come to restore the teaching of ethics to the discipline of rhetoric. It is time that we use rhetoric to work toward the common good.
It is time to restore the art of the (excuse my paraphrase and update of Quintilian) “good person speaking well” to the realm of rhetoric. But how do we do this? Surely, facts are part of speaking well; truth is a positive value. It is good. But if facts aren’t working, then what?
We need artistic proofs.
Artistic Proofs
In his philosophy of rhetoric, Aristotle described the use of artistic and inartistic proofs. Inartistic proofs were pieces of evidence that could be supplied outside of the speaker—a legal document, for example. Artistic proofs required the creativity and ingenuity of the speaker—the modes of persuasion labeled ethos, logos, and pathos. These were Aristotle’s building blocks for rhetoric, and he seemed to prefer them to inartistic proofs because of the skill they require. It’s easy to see how Aristotle’s theories could be extended and warped for evil: the modes of persuasion can be used to move the audience toward wrong instead of right, evil instead of good.  And this is what we see not only in Trump but in many other circumstances: rhetoric is used to arouse suspicions, instill fear, and stoke hatred.
But it can be used for good, too.
It is clear that Trump’s alternative world cannot be dismantled with inartistic proofs (facts). So we need to take a page out of his book and use artistic proofs. That doesn’t mean I think we should start inventing our own “alternative facts”; it means that if facts are not being accepted, then we need to turn to the creativity of language. We need to use our words to work toward the common good.
We need to create worlds.
What does that look like? That’s a good question—one that I am wrestling with, and I invite you to wrestle with, too.
How do we create good worlds?
Though I am still wrestling with how to use my words to build worlds that work toward the common good, here are some conclusions I have come to:
It is important to abstain from using our words to insult Trump just for the sake of insulting Trump (i.e., calling him names that make fun of his hair, “orangeness,” size, etc.). Those words are not helpful; they do not work toward building worlds in which good reigns. Criticize his policies? Yes. Point out that his behavior is unacceptable? Absolutely. Protest? YES! But body-shaming him is not acceptable; we shouldn’t reduce ourselves to that which, until now, we have criticized others for doing.
And this is not just for Trump: we should avoid ad hominems in arguments/conversations with all people.
So, does this mean we should only speak in glowing, positive tones, free from any substantive—or perhaps even harsh—critique? Heavens no! Working toward the common good doesn’t always mean our language will be all marshmallow fluff and Laffy Taffy; it simply means that we root our language in reality and respect for others. Passion is a necessary part of the process.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for the dignity of all humankind.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for the value of human life.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for honoring the people who lived in “America” before we colonized it.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for helping those in need.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for reforming the criminal justice system.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments against racism, xenophobia, queerphobia, and misogyny.
We need to artfully use our words to create worlds in which we are working toward the common good. Passionate, compelling, and strong words will create some amazing worlds. When we create these worlds, we create spaces in which people can imagine a world that is different, good, and productive. If we work hard enough, those worlds will become reality.
Speaking Well
I invite you to create artistic proofs that begin to dismantle Trump’s alternative world(s). But more than that, I invite you to not only dismantle but to create. Use your words to create good worlds. Explore the power of language to build sanctuary worlds for those fleeing Trump’s alternative world. Play with language. Test its limits. Fight for rhetoric as the art of the “good person speaking well.”
Yes, these times call for action—I’m not denying or ignoring that by writing this essay. But this all started with words, and we need to remember that words are part of the good fight. Now is the hour for “high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
It is time to create worlds.

"Moral Politics" : The Hermeneutic of Authoritarianism vs. Nurturant Parenting

The whole chapter is worth reading.

An excerpt from

Moral Politics
How Liberals and Conservatives Think
George Lakoff
Chapter Two
The Worldview Problem for American Politics

The Basic Claim
To date, I have found only one pair of models for conservative and liberal worldviews that meets all three adequacy," conditions, a pair that (1) explains why certain stands on issues go together (e.g., gun control goes with social programs goes with pro-choice goes with environmentalism); (2) explains why the puzzles for liberals are not puzzles for conservatives, and conversely; and (3) explains topic choice, word choice, and forms of reasoning in conservative and liberal discourse. Those worldviews center on two opposing models of the family.
At the center of the conservative worldview is a Strict Father model.
This model posits a traditional nuclear family, with the father having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall policy, to set strict rules for the behavior of children, and to enforce the rules. The mother has the day-to-day responsibility for the care of the house, raising the children, and upholding the father's authority. Children must respect and obey their parents; by doing so they build character, that is, self-discipline and self-reliance. Love and nurturance are, of course, a vital part of family life but can never outweigh parental authority, which is itself an expression of love and nurturance—tough love. Self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority are the crucial things that children must learn. Once children are mature, they are on their own and must depend on their acquired self-discipline to survive. Their self-reliance gives them authority over their own destinies, and parents are not to meddle in their lives.
The liberal worldview centers on a very different ideal of family life, the Nurturant Parent model:
Love, empathy, and nurturance are primary, and children become responsible, self-disciplined and 'self-reliant through being cared for, respected, and caring for others, both in their family and in their community. Support and protection are part of nurturance, and they require strength and courage on the part of parents. The obedience of children comes out of their love and respect for their parents and their community, not out of the fear of punishment. Good communication is crucial. If their authority is to be legitimate, parents must explain why their decisions serve the cause of protection and nurturance. Questioning by children is seen as positive, since children need to learn why their parents do what they do and since children often have good ideas that should be taken seriously. Ultimately, of course, responsible parents have to make the decisions, and that must be clear. The principal goal of nurturance is for children to be fulfilled and happy in their lives. A fulfilling life is assumed to be, in significant part, a nurturant life—one committed to family and community responsibility. What children need to learn most is empathy for others, the capacity for nurturance, and the maintenance of social ties, which cannot be done without the strength, respect, self-discipline, and self-reliance that comes through being cared for. Raising a child to be fulfilled also requires helping that child develop his or her potential for achievement and enjoyment. That requires respecting the child's own values and allowing the child to explore the range of ideas and options that the world offers.
When children are respected, nurtured, and communicated with from birth, they gradually enter into a lifetime relationship of mutual respect, communication, and caring with their parents.
Each model of the family induces a set of moral priorities. As we shall see below, these systems use the same moral principles but give them opposing priorities. The resulting moral systems, put together out of the same elements, but in different order, are radically opposed. Strict Father morality assigns highest priorities to such things as moral strength (the self-control and self-discipline to stand up to external and internal evils), respect for and obedience to authority, the setting and following of strict guidelines and behavioral norms, and so on. Moral self-interest says that if everyone is free to pursue their self-interest, the overall self-interests of all will be maximized. In conservatism, the pursuit of self-interest is seen as a way of using self-discipline to achieve self-reliance.
Nurturant Parent morality has a different set of priorities. Moral nurturance requires empathy for others and the helping of those who need help. To help others, one must take care of oneself and nurture social ties. And one must be happy and fulfilled in oneself, or one will have little empathy for others. The moral pursuit of self-interest only makes sense within these priorities.
The moral principles that have priority in each model appear in the other model, but with lesser priorities. Those lesser priorities drastically change the effect of those principles. For example, moral strength appears in the nurturance model, but it functions not for its own sake, but rather in the service of nurturance. Moral authority, in the nurturance model, functions as a consequence of nurturance. Moral guidelines are defined by empathy and nurturance. Similarly, in the Strict Father model, empathy and nurturance are present and important, but they never override authority and moral strength. Indeed, authority and strength are seen as expressions of nurturance.
What we have here are two different forms of family-based morality. What links them to politics is a common understanding of the nation as a family, with the government as parent. Thus, it is natural for liberals to see it as the function of the government to help people in need and hence to sup-port social programs, while it is equally natural for conservatives to see the function of the government as requiring citizens to be self-disciplined and self-reliant and, therefore, to help themselves.
This is just a mere hint of the analysis of the conservative and liberal worldviews. The details of the family models and the moral systems are far more complex and subtle and, correspondingly, so are the details of the political analysis. This overview is also too brief to discuss variations on the conservative and liberal positions. The full-blown analysis requires a lot more, beginning with a detailed account of our moral conceptual system.

Friday, February 03, 2017

"That Day In Bowling Green" by Dave Stinton

As one commenter wrote, "What percentage of Trumpanzees won't recognize the satire ? (-; "

Friday, January 27, 2017

Stanely Hauerwas on Donald Trump

Stanley preaches it. Simple, clear, to the point. This is right up there with his Reformation Day sermon, in my book.

Christians, don’t be fooled: Trump has deep religious convictions

Many Americans appear ready to give President Trump a pass when it comes to his lack of religious knowledge, sensibilities or behavior, but I think that’s a mistake.
Trump is quite pious and his religious convictions run dangerously deep. But his piety is not a reflection of a Christian faith. His piety is formed by his understanding of what makes America a country like no other.

Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim — taken on faith — that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.

There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped.
Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry. Idolatry, of course, can be a quite impressive form of devotion. The only difficulty is idolaters usually end up killing someone for calling into question their “god.”

Trump’s inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. His statement — “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” — is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.

Christians believe that only God demands “total allegiance.” Otherwise we run the risk, as Trump exemplifies, of making an idol out of some human enterprise.
The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests that we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Quoting the Bible, he even suggests we will learn to live together in unity.

But history tells us people experience repressive politics for challenging such “oneness.” It is difficult to imagine those who have faced slavery and genocide can be in solidarity with those who believe we can let bygones be bygones.

Consider Trump’s use of the phrase “the people” in his inaugural address. “The people” have borne the cost. “The people” now own, rule and control the government. “The people” have not shared in the wealth of the country but now they will. “The people” will have their jobs restored.
To which one can only wonder: Who are these people? The answer must be that they are Trump’s people who now wait for his call to action, that is, to make America great again. Trump, in his mind, is not just the president of the United States. He is the savior.

Trump identifies as a Presbyterian. However, he has said he does not need a prayer for confession of sins because he has done nothing that requires forgiveness, one signal that he does not believe in a basic Christian tenet. He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy. Christianity in Peale’s hands was closer to a set of beliefs a follower could make up to suit their desires. Trump has adopted this strategy and applied it to the country.

Christians must call his profound and mistaken faith what it is: idolatry. Christianity in America is declining if not dying, which makes it difficult to call Trump to task. Trump has taken advantage of Christian Americans who have long lived as if God and country are joined at the hip. I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.
Christians have a church made up of people from around the globe. That global interconnectedness might just produce a people with the resources to tell Trump “no.” At the very least, Christians in the United States have little to lose by beginning to reject our long love affair with American pretension.

Stanley Hauerwas’s most recent book is “The Work of Theology” (Eerdmans). He is retired from the Divinity School of Duke University. Most recently he was chair in ethics at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Resistance as a Spiritual Practice

Insofar as promoting truth, beauty, goodness and holiness is a spiritual practice, I think non-violent resistance to lies, ugliness, and evil is a spiritual practice.

Following Jesus in the Age of Trump: Resistance as a Spiritual Practice

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

“Religion is the opiate of the people.”
― Karl Marx
Trump, at some point in his bid for Presidency, recognized the reality of those two statements. Then seemingly out of nowhere, never having been a particularly religious person himself, he “found God.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think Christianity is very important to Trump. Just read what he had to say at the Republican National Convention:
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I’ll tell you what. Because the support they’ve given me, and I’m not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing. And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true.
― Donald Trump
Yes, Christianity is very important to Trump. Being Christian, however? Well, that’s a different story.
Christianity is important to him for the very reasons Napoléon and Karl Marx named it as a helpful tool. Like Trump said, the support of the evangelical religious community was a “big reason” that he eventually became the Republican candidate for President. You better believe Christianity is important to him.
But how do I justify saying that being a Christian is not that important to him?
I could give you example after example, but let’s just look at “the Wall.”
Ok, there’s not actually a wall – yet, but as campaign promises go, “the Wall” was one of Trump’s biggest – both figuratively and possibly literally. Ask yourself, is that a Christian thing to do? Do we have biblical examples of Jesus demanding that people stay in unhealthy situations? Examples of Jesus denying people a better future? Does actively working to keep people in a oppressive situation seem like something the God of Exodus would prefer?
Obviously, not.
I say obviously not, but unfortunately, for some people it is not so obvious. Which makes it all the more important that those who see that most of Trumps actions thus far are clearly un-Christian not only be willing, but actively resilient in confronting Trump and his administration every time they make morally repugnant moves. Honestly, it’s the only Christian thing to do.
Yes, you read that right, confronting Trump when he makes moral repugnant moves is the Christian thing to do. You see, when Jesus was confronting the Sadducee and Pharisees, he wasn’t just confronting religious leaders; they were also representatives of the government. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was a super awesome guy that quietly went around asking people to please be nice to each other. Jesus was crucified because the Roman authorities of the day saw him as a real threat to the state, a threat to political order, and most importantly, a threat to those in power. He was a threat because he directly and, at times, aggressively confronted the powers that be when they took advantage of their power at the expense of “the least of these.” As the “Cleansing of the Temple” story shows us, this was particularly true when they used religion to do it.
There are those who will try to argue that Jesus wasn’t political. Frequently, they will be the very same people who want a Christian nation (their personal brand of Christianity, of course). The biblical reality is that it is laughable to say that Jesus wasn’t political. If you call yourself a Christian and you value the teachings of Jesus you have no other option but to confront a morally corrupt government.
After only a few days in office, Trump has placed gag orders on the EPA, CDC and USDA to withhold data from the public – data that is funded by the tax dollars of the very people the information is being withheld from. A very troubling move considering that each department’s work and the information they produce are essential in maintaining and improving the health of the nation.
He has signed executive orders to push through the Dakota Access pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline in spite of recent public outrage and resistance to the projects which will create massive environmental risk the could ultimately and severely impact the access to clean water. On top of that, Trump owns stocks that will benefit from the orders, bringing further into question his already questionable morals as well as questioning how much the public can trust that his choices are in the nation’s best interest when he has a personal conflict of interest.
He’s signed an order that will begin destabilizing the funding of ACA/Obamacare and still has not offered a viable replacement. His administration has presented lies as truths to the press, as they did with the attendance size of his inauguration, and then said their “intention is to never lie” to the press. Trump himself has repeated the blatant lie that there was massive voter fraud in the Presidential election to the tune of 3 million people or more.
The list of morally reprehensible actions is certainly longer than this and it is undoubtedly going to grow longer and longer.
The actions that this new administration have already taken should be a call to arms for Christians who wish to truly follow the life and teachings of Jesus. For that matter, some of the actions of the Obama administration should have been as well.
Given what we know of Trump and his administration, I believe that we must start seeing resistance as a spiritual practice. It must be a daily practice. It is our spiritual responsibility to stay informed. It is our faithful duty to stay vigilant. It is our moral obligation to make our voices heard and to share with those most in need the access that our places of privilege offers. We must stand up not only for our own rights and interest but for the rights and interests of others. We must promote equality, justice, and love in our every action, but not fall victim to the false perspective that to do so means we do so timidly and with trepidation.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
  • Contact your representatives on a daily basis. Let them know your position on current issues and encourage them to support their constituents rather than Big Business and Big Oil.
  • Speak out public on issues on injustice. Blog, write lop-eds for local papers, or make social media posts promoting better ways forward and encouraging others to join in making resistance a daily practice.
  • Volunteer locally and particularly at agencies that may have their funding cut under the new administration.
  • Do not become complacent in the face of “alternative facts.” Confront them actively.
  • Share resources like and widely.
  • Be aware of where you get your news. Focus on reputable news sources.
  • As much as possible avoid the lazy approach of littering the presentation of your position with name calling. In doing so you are only appealing to to those who already agree with you and distancing those who might have been convinced otherwise.
  • Contribute to organizations and even individuals who are working to aid the resistance , as well as organizations like PBS and NPR who may be losing their funding.
  • Attend every march and demonstration you can.
  • Promote and lift up those who are putting themselves, their careers, and quite possibly their personal welfare on the line for the sake of stopping draconian legislature and executive orders.
  • Share articles (like this one), meme’s, relevant quotes, and other social media content that moves the conversation forward as widely and as frequently as you can.
Feel free to use the comment section of this article to add to this list your own suggestion for how to resist. Do be warned however, those trolling the comment section will have your comments deleted in order to help keep it a usable list.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice. Repeat that to yourself. On a daily basis.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
Now go and do likewise.