Monday, August 30, 2010

A few more prophetic licks

Johnny Cash on San Quentin

Public Enemy's Fight the Power

Rage Against The Machine - Vietnow

This is what we would call 'Protestant' theology...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Religious Revival?

August 28, 2010

Glenn Beck addressed three hundred thousand, and perhaps as many as a half million or as few as ninety thousand, like-minded souls today to issue a call to revival. Get back to God, he said. Restore the core values of America! Beck, who once claimed that Barack Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," chose the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech to issue the call to revival. This is worthy of our attention.

Let's define revival as a return to God--a turning away from images of, or surrogates for, God's reality.

Let's define as a false prophet one who proposes a 'return to God' that leads instead to renewed commitment to false images of the divine.

Let's admit that discerning these matters is tricky business. Glenn Beck on the one side and Al Sharpton on the other see matters quite differently, yet both invoke God. And maybe the good Lord is glad to have them both over for tea.

Religious texts are filled with supremely confident calls upon God as if it is certain that God will ratify our wishes and denounce those of our enemies, but whence the certainity that the God who comes will share our views and grant our desires?

Abraham, a favorite of God's, once was called upon to sacrifice Isaac, his son of promise. Might not a revival lead to a similarly deep sacrifice? The Hebrew text contains an antidote to theological wish fulfillment. True revival would seem to be predicated upon an awareness that God may see things differently than we do.

If God is beyond our containments, then humility would signal awareness of God's presence, and such humility would qualify our claims about God's intentions. On the other side--here I am dependent on Reinhold Niebuhr--self-debasement would not signal God's presence. So what to think?

Does God prefer tax cuts, small government, and American exceptionalism more than concern for the poor, unemployed, and the increasingly sick ecosystem? Does God view governmental attempts to reduce misery as a malignancy? Does God want another deep tax cut?

Wonder what Isaac's view would be?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Recipe for a new world

One cup of Islamic revelation.
One cup of Jesus' love.
One cup of Moses' staring down the Pharaoh.
One cup of the Buddha's compassion.
One cup of Chuang Tzu's wit.
One cup of Confucius' virtues.
One cup of Krishna-Vishnu's true form.

My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Religious Violence

Christian girl burned during nationalist Hindu Orissa violence in 2008
Members of every religion have from time to time engaged in acts of violence. The religious literature of the world is remarkably candid about this. Yet when someone claims to be motivated by a religious view to act violently, we moderns tend to rush in with the 'the religion is not violent; this is a distortion of its meaning' defense. This defense, however well intended, misunderstands the power of religions to shape human life. The other modern voice, that religions should be banished or will wither in due course, misunderstands this power in equal, or greater, measure.

Religions are here to stay, for they articulate the deepest sensibilities of individuals and groups. Our task is not to seek the elimination of religion, nor to prepare for a world without it. Our task is to shape religions so as to minimize violence in the long run. This less lofty version of engaging religions may not satisfy our sense of sanctimony, but it more adequately grapples with our affinity with the brutes. We are more akin to the chimpanzee than angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God, usages

God is the word we use when we are unsure.

God is the word we use when we are certain.

God is the word we use when we have absolutely no idea.

Is the same God being called upon?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love and Hate

Love and hate are the strongest emotions, and both are in relationship to fear.

The author of 1 John put it this way: "There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear...".

Hate is consumed by fear.

Join me at for a discussion related to fear and hate....

Monday, August 9, 2010

I feel good

Join me at for a reflection on politics, economy, and culture entitled "I feel good."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Sun

St. Paul claimed in the Letter to the Romans that God's power is everywhere manifest; he also claimed that it goes unrecognized.

The summer sun, the flower, the sweet drizzling rain...

A traffic jam, a murder, a terror attack...

The winter solstice, the owl at night, snowflakes in Manhattan...

An act of vengeance, a harmful word, a deliberate malice...

God is everywhere and nowhere, everywhere we look and nowhere to be found.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reinhold Niebuhr, we need you

Reinhold Niebuhr argued in The Nature and Destiny of Man that human beings are constantly tempted to prideful self-assertion or sensuous debasement. That is, either we demand too much for ourselves or claim too little. Niebuhr applied this insight (and his many others) to key issues in public life and politics.

Niebuhr's insights guided key public figures in the early and middle part of the twentieth century. Since that time no theologian of public life has filled his shoes. Reinhold Niebuhr, we miss you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Norms, Self, and Unity

Every religion teaches norms of some kind, whether they are doctrinal, theological, philosophical, cultural, or ethical.

No human being can adhere completely to group-made norms, and very few can adhere to self-established norms (since we evolving bipeds tend to be a 'house of cards' held together with shaky but imperious norms). A saint might adhere to all of his or her true self energies, but only a fool adheres to all of a group's edicts.**

It remains a question whether divine agency can bridge these multiples and unify the self, and beyond that (in a bewildering multiple of multiples) bind groups that are tearing the world asunder. In the Christian religion, this question is answered in the affirmative under the designation Holy Spirit. Other religions also identify a ground of unity.

In philosophy, Hegel tried to articulate the unity of reason and worldly becoming. Having not lived to the end of history, I am unsure of the Christian hypothesis; having not read to end of Hegel, I am unsure of the success of his endeavor.

I dispositionally prefer Jamesean pluralism, but pluralism may be best guaranteed by a truly transcendent God. Mark Heim, a theologian at Andover Newton Theological School, argues that it is.

**A vague memory tells me that a variation on this idea was first said by someone else, but who it was, I know not.


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