Archive for January, 2011

A Simple Faith or Faith for the Simple?

Monday, January 31st, 2011 by JEL

Nick Spencer wrote an interesting, provocative piece in The Guardian today called, “Christianity: A Faith for the Simple.” He cites some interesting statistics that show, among a pool of elite scientists, more are likely to be atheists than in the general population.

Does this mean that smart people don’t believe in God, but dumb people do? Some might make that leap, but Spencer states it might be wiser to keep your feet planted. Christianity, for one, was always intended as a faith for the simple:

“Odd as it may be to admit, there is some reason within the Christian tradition to think that Christian believers should, on average, be less intelligent, or at least less well-educated, than their opponents. Before atheists get too exited by this, it isn’t an admission that Christians are naturally stupid, though no doubt some will choose to read it that way.

Rather it is the recognition that there is a long-standing theme within Christian thought that sees the Christian message as having a particular appeal to the underclass, not only those socially and politically alienated, but also those the intellectually and educationally excluded.

Christ often remarked with particular relish, and disappointment, on the inability of the educated elite of his time to get what he was about.”

It’s a thought-provoking read; check it out.

Judging Ourselves

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by JEL

In Luke 6:37, Jesus makes it pretty clear that we are not to judge one another (lest we be judged ourselves). As such, He would probably not look favorably upon this list of the 50 Most Loathsome Americans.

Or would He?

Because the author, Ian Murphy, reserving the top spot for You (and me and all of us), is clearly willing to have ourselves be judged:

“Your brain’s been cobbled together over millions of years of blind evolution and it shows. You’re clumsy, stupid, weak and motivated by the basest of urges. Your MO is both grotesquely selfish and unquestionably deferential to questionable authority. You’re not in control of your life. You wear your ignorance like a badge of honor and gleefully submit to oppression, malfeasance and kleptocracy. You will buy anything. You will believe anything. You believe that evolution is a matter of belief. You likely scrolled down to #1, without reading the rest, because you’re an impatient, semi-literate Philistine who’s either unable or unwilling to digest more than 140 characters at a time. [...] You believe in American exceptionalism despite the contrary, compelling and overwhelming evidence. You tacitly partake in all manner of atrocity without batting a lash. You’re actively participating in our species’ extinction and you’re either in denial or you just don’t give a shit.”

Time for some self-reflection.

What Not to Believe

Monday, January 24th, 2011 by JEL

Martin Thielen wrote a book called “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most.” If you want a quick synopsis, you can check out this article. The opening is great:

“When I first met Danny, he said, ‘Preacher, you need to know that I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the Bible. I don’t like organized religion. And I can’t stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians.’

I liked him right away!”

They become friends, have lots of talks about faith, and slowly Danny moves from atheist to agnostic to reluctant Christian minimalist. When Danny asks him the question that became the title of the book, Thielen first listed things that Christians DON’T need to believe. I liked the list:

• God causes cancer, car wrecks and other catastrophes
• Good Christians don’t doubt
• True Christians can’t believe in evolution
• Woman can’t be preachers and must submit to men
• God cares about saving souls but not saving trees
• Bad people will be “left behind” and then fry in hell
• Jews won’t make it to heaven
• Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
• God loves straight people but not gay people
• It’s OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious

AOK Thursday: Bags Fly Free +

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by JEL

It’s been kind of a rough week in Christian news, don’t you think? The new Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, started off the week with this doozy of a quote:

“Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

He has since apologized, and as Jesus taught forgiveness, perhaps we’ll cut him a little slack. Then you’ve got Franklin Graham, son of Billy, complaining about the terrific Obama speech gave at the memorial for the Tucson shooting victims. Apparently there wasn’t enough Christian God in the text for Graham, so he made the gigantic leap to:

“They scoff at the name of Jesus Christ.”

So, I need a little reminder that there is some kindness and sanity in this world. For that, I’ll turn to the Southwest Airlines pilot who purposely delayed the departure of a flight so that one of his late-arriving passengers could make the trip to say goodbye to a dying grandson. When the passenger finally boarded, the pilot was there to greet him:

“They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

Summer in Connecticut

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011 by JEL

As a college student back in 1944, Martin Luther King Jr. spent a summer picking tobacco in Simsbury, a small suburb of Hartford. Apparently, what he saw and what he was allowed to do had a profound effect on him. All the pickers lived in a dorm at the edge of the fields and his fellow Morehouse College bunkmates elected him their religious leader…setting him on the path to becoming a minister.

In Simsbury, he got to go to the same church as white people. He played baseball with whites. On the weekends, he went to Hartford and ate in the same restaurants and saw the same shows as whites.

“After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation. I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

While all this may be mildly interesting to you, it’s hugely interesting to me. Simsbury is my hometown, and I know those tobacco fields well. I never picked leaves in the 100+ degrees under the netting, but friends and I would sometimes lie on top of the nets on a weekend night pondering the universe. This is the first I’ve ever heard of MLK in Simsbury. Civic pride.


Monday, January 17th, 2011 by JEL

They say people don’t read anymore. Well, maybe nothing beyond 140 characters. We’ve got smartphones and iPads, and video trumps the written word. I’m not sure I buy that. Just in case, I’m going to give you two helpings of Martin Luther King, Jr. today:

  1. For the readers among us, take a few quiet moments and wrap yourself around “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It is so fantastic they should make everyone getting the day off read it.
  2. And if you’d rather just watch, immerse yourself in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Both are from 1963.

“The Church Has Always Been Late”

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by JEL

Cathleen Falsani’s latest piece, “Is Evangelical Christianity Having a Great Gay Awakening?,” touches on a small, but growing movement among Evangelicals to be more welcoming to gays. Or at least stop throwing them on the eternal fire pits of Hades. She talks about her own encounters with friends who “came out:”

“According to biblical accounts, Jesus said very little, if anything, about homosexuality. But he spent loads of time talking, preaching, teaching and issuing commandments about love.

That was my answer: Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions.

I wasn’t sure whether homosexuality actually was a sin. But I was certain I was commanded to love.”

She then talks to Jay Bakker (son of Jim) who’s the pastor of Revolution NYC, a bar-based congregation in Brooklyn:

“The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal. Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.

“The church has always been late. We were late on slavery. We were late on civil rights. And now we’re late on this.”

Bakker also talks about  what he and other believe are incorrect translations of the original Greek in the Bible. Instead of “homosexuality” he feels the correct translation is about male prostitution and the men who solicit them.

Which, to me, is kind of beside the point. Just read the quote above again. That’s the crux. It also brought back all sorts of wonderful memories of the following clip. It might have been the first time my jaw literally hit the floor while watching TV.

The American Paradox

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by JEL

We’ve written many times in this blog about the competing forces of Christianity and capitalism, particularly in this country. I stumbled across this piece by Cahir O’Doherty and I couldn’t agree more. He talks about our war on a national healthcare system and our inherent disgust with helping poor people who get sick:

“Screw that, says America, toss ‘em out on the street instead. Don’t give us any of your bleeding heart liberal compassion about our fellow citizens. It’s sink or swim here, and it always was, and it always will be, and just why should it be any other way? No one helped me, I’m helping no one.”

That’s really the crux of the matter, isn’t it? We Yanks believe in pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and if you don’t have any bootstraps to begin with, well, tough luck. Problem is, so many in our midst call our country a Christian Nation, founded on Christian principles. Hence the paradox.

The solution? Look no further than Stephen Colbert:

“If this is gonna be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition – and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Happy (Short?) New Year!

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 by JEL

Happy New Year, everyone. I love this time of year. You start a fresh new calendar, and everything seems possible. Resolutions are made and, hopefully, the soil is loose enough for them to take root. New goals to achieve, personal records to break, and new persons (kinder? more patient and tolerant? more willing to help?) to become.

Leave it to people like Marie Exley and Harold Camping to burst my bubble. Based on Camping’s reading of the Bible, they and the rest of Family Radio Worldwide are convinced that the Judgement Day is soon to be upon us:

“Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment.” – Harold Camping

Believers will go to heaven on that day, and the rest of us will be left down here on Earth in torment until October when the leaves change the end of time comes.