In Praise of the Media

In this political season, one theme I heard over and over was the “dishonest liberal media.” Now, I will emphasize that I am not partisan and would vote for a good candidate if they were a Democrat, Republican or Independent. While most of this rhetoric has come from the Trump people, I did hear some of the same kind of grumblings coming from some Democrats.

I am not naive to think that the media is without its bias. I, intentionally, will switch back and forth between Fox News and MSNBC, just to see the profound spins on the same topic. Most media outlets are in the profit business and they will present the side that will keep them popular with their watchers.

With that said, the true, objective journalist (and there are plenty of them) are doing God’s work. If God is there, and I believe that he is, then he dwells within reality. The more in touch we are with truth, real truth, the more in touch with God we can be.  The more we engage in baseless conspiracy theories, the more cloudy God’s face becomes.

We live in a fallen and broken world. It is a dark place. The good journalists are the ones with the flashlights, washing away patches of darkness here and there. We need them.Those who blame or hate the media, are usually those with the most to hide.

The Journalist as a Prophet-type

 From Luke 1, Zechariah prophesizes about John the Baptist in the following:

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

The modern day journalist is a type of prophet (imperfect prophet), whom God uses to bring light to this fallen world.  Of course, they cannot all be trusted, but surely they should not be hated. It is an honorable profession that any good woman or man could aspire to.

For many years I was a card-carrying Evangelical. Like most evangelicals, I was a Republican through and through as we were taught that was the only party God likes. I watched only Fox news and listened to Rush. I often heard within my church comments about the liberal media being out to destroy Christianity and  inject their humanistic agenda. My leaving Evangelism was a long and hard process (I tell that story in explicit terms in my upcoming book, Butterflies in the Belfy, Serpents in the Cellar).

Regarding my view of the media, one turning event was when a local Christian family caused the death of their adopted daughter. They were home-schoolers who followed the Dobson and Bill Gothard views of child rearing. To punish their daughter for wetting her bed, they forced her to lay on in their yard, in the snow, only in her underwear. She died an hour later from exposure.

I began to hear from my Christian friends that this dear Christian family were being persecuted by the liberal media. I heard this over and over until one day a light went off in my brain. Would I ever put one of my five children out in the snow in their panties? Of course not! This was insane, child abuse at least and murder at most. The media were the ones getting it right and the local pastors were the ones wanting to turn off the light and keep the darkness . . . well, dark.

Thank God for the media. They are doing God’s work. Those who shun the media and hate them are those, I believe, are the ones  infatuated with darkness.

Mike

The Moral Freedom for Christians to Vote for Hillary Clinton

I was driving through Lynden, WA on my way to Vancouver, BC on Saturday, October, 29th.  I was punching through the radio preset buttons (in Denise’s car), trying to keep listening to a program on NPR. As you approach Vancouver, those stations start to fade, being replaced by Canadian stations. However, one button that I pushed was a popular Christian radio station in that area. Lynden happens to be the most evangelical small town in Washington State. It was also, no coincidence, was the location of a huge Trump rally a couple of months ago.

When I crossed the station on the dial, there was a syndicated preacher giving a loud and sometimes, blusterous message about how a real Christian has only one choice in this election and that is to vote for Donald Trump. To do otherwise would be turning you back on God and his Church. I felt an uncomfortable chill go up my spine when I heard that, even though I hear such rhetoric from other sources daily.

I must first describe my personal political perspective. I do not claim any political party orientation or support. I am listed as an independent. I used to be a Republican because I was led to believe—like many others—that was the only party that a good Christian could belong to. It is not. God doesn’t have a party.

We live in a very partisan age in America. I honestly believe that we are at a point where the only thing that matters in politics anymore is seeing that their party wins. Winning at all cost and no holds barred is the political mantra. Doing what is best for the people in this democracy is second, at best. There is widespread corruption on both sides of the political aisle and one side does not have a monopoly on morality.

My personal view on this specific election is that, before now, Hillary was one of my least favorite politicians. While I think she is smart, (I heard her speak once in person once and was very impressed with her command of the topic), I do believe that the Clintons have an attitude of elitists. This has influenced some of their bad choices, such as having a server at her house. Elitists see themselves above the law, which is meant for the little people. The Republicans have grossly exaggerated the criminality and motive behind this server use because they want to demonize Hillary as much as they can so that their party can win the election. I do think that her being a woman has something to do with this hatred as well.

Then came Donald Trump

I certainly understand some of the passion for Donald Trump. As I just alluded to, the bicameral nature of our present system has left most of us in a state of frustration and disgust. Nothing gets done in Washington anymore because of blind ambition invites corruption on both sides. If the real concern was what is best for the country, they would compromise and get things done.  But this—our side must-win—attitude means that both sides seek failure and the ability to pin that failure on the other side.

Donald represents an outsider who boasts that he can get things done and can fix all our problems. I could see myself getting excited about such a candidate being an outsider . . . if it were anyone but Donald Trump. I have never liked the man because I recognized years ago that he has a narcissistic personality disorder.  This is my opinion as a medical provider, however, many share this view. These types of people are dangerous.  While we have a bad system now, those with a narcissistic personality disorder (which is often paired with a paranoid thinking) see themselves winning (not the party, not the country, but themselves) as all that matters. Those types of people will burn down the whole world around them for the sake of personal acclamation.

When you see yourself as god-like, you have no choice but to see all others as inferior. The more different they are from you, female, darker skin, different heritage, and different sexual orientation, the more inferior they appear to you. This ties in with sexually groping a woman against her will because you see your desires and your gratification far greater than the wellbeing of others. Narcissists have an absence of empathy.  I believe that this trait is the basis for Trump’s bigotry. People with personality disorders, a real mental illness, cannot be rehabbed. They will manipulate people to thinking they are kind and good, and out to help others, but that is just a pretense for attaining personal success.

Isn’t the Republican Party God’s Party?

The preacher on the Lynden radio program was explaining why Donald Trump was God’s candidate. It was because Donald and the Republican party were promoting “Biblical principles.” Those principles include; 1) stopping abortions, 2) strong military, 3) gun ownership, 4) Israel above all other middle eastern, countries, 5) anti-immigration, 6) anti-Muslim specifically, 7) pro-American symbols, 8) anti-homosexual agenda ( they use the code name, “Pro-family”), and 9) Pro-industry over environmental issues. For this same reason, several Evangelical personalities such as Ben Carson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham have endorsed Trump. However, at this link (https://www.change.org/p/donald-trump-a-declaration-by-american-evangelicals-concerning-donald-trump ) you can find 75 evangelical leaders who oppose Trump.

How did the Republicans become part of the Evangelical movement? Believe it or not, prior to 1980, the Democratic Party was most closely aligned with Evangelicalism. Jimmy Carter (elected in 1976 and defeated in 1980), was the first self-declared “Born Again” candidate. He won the 1976 presidential election thanks to the help of the vote of the Evangelical bloc. That year in politics was called the “Year of the Evangelical” and that bloc grabbed the attention of both parties. The Republicans worked hard to steal the Evangelical vote over the subsequent four years because of their clout. They were successful and by 1980, the republicans used the Evangelical bloc to elect Ronald Regan.

How Did the Republicans Become the Party of Evangelicals?

My personal Christian hero is the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. He was the one voice crying in the wilderness in the 1960s-1970s that in our post-Christian cultures, we Christians should push against the loss of human dignity. He pointed out that the most vulnerable in our societies, the poor, the unborn, the old, the disabled, and the minorities would be the first to lose their humanity in the post-modern world. He made this point very clear in his films, Whatever Happened to the Human Race and How Shall We Then Live. In the first film, he used a very graphic illustration of hundreds of dolls laying in the salt on the Dead Sea to illustrate the horrors that the unborn face in saline infusion abortions. He put this issue on the map for Christians and quickly Evangelicals and Catholics alike responded with a healthy concern.

In his book, Crazy for God, Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis) describes how he and his father came to the U.S. from Switzerland to promote the films in the late 1970s. Both he and his father were appalled when they were quickly used as pawns in the secular politics of America. The republicans saw abortion as the key issue they had been looking for to bait and lure in the Evangelical voting bloc into their side. This is not a conspiracy theory but is an accepted part of the political history of the U.S.

Over time, the republicans reeled in these voters and started to blend conservative political ideas (see the 9 principles above) with rightful Christian concerns about the dignity of human life. The democrats do the same with their special interest groups and voting blocs.

Only a couple of these principles have any Biblical connection whatsoever. You can argue, as Schaeffer did, that in defense of the dignity of humanity, we must stand on pro-life principles. However, having read all of Schaeffer’s books (some many times), listened to hundreds of hours of his lectures, worked with his organization including his friends and family, I am convinced that he defined “Pro-life” in a much broader range than just the Republican narrow label of abortion. Along with protecting the unborn, if Schaeffer were here today, he would confirm that the Biblical perspective also advocates for loving people of all genders, races, religions and sexual orientation. Against criticism of the Presbyterian Church in the 1960s, he invited gays to come and stay at LAbri in Switzerland. His son will testify, that he showed them great respect. He was also very concerned about how we treated the earth and if he was here today, I am confident that he would be concerned about global warming and fighting against corporate misuse of the planet. The Republican-Christians-American National view is the opposite. The same is true for his view of immigrants. It is a contradiction to love the unborn but to hate the born who are immigrants or who are Arabs or Moslems.

I don’t believe this pro-Israel view is one of the true Biblical-Republican principles. The pro-Israel idea was not part of the Church for its first 1800 years.  This notion was introduced by a shady lawyer named Cyrus I. Scofield, in the late-1800s. He persuaded Americans that Israel was still part of God’s unique plan (and sold a lot of Bibles with that in it). Evangelicals adopted that new viewpoint. By seeing humans in their dignity, the real Biblical concept is to treat all humans with respect, Arab and Jew.

In the real Bible, Colossians says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” When the Evangelicals absorbed the other non-Biblical principles into their theology, it was a huge mistake.  Now, people like this preacher on the radio, can no longer find the line of demarcation between simple Biblical concepts and Republican-Christians-American National ideals.

I am not saying the Democrats are any better in this process but I just wanted to debunk the manipulative language by the Republican Party and some Christian leaders that you must vote for Trump because he is the Christian candidate. The DNC cannot be trusted any more than the GOP as exhibited by them favoring Hillary (rather than Sanders) during their primary.

How Can You Vote for Hillary as Christian?

The first thing that Evangelical friends say to me, “How can you vote for Hillary when she wants to kill babies and Trump wants to save them?” The answer is simple. I try to live in reality as a comprehensively pro-life supporter (meaning that I support all lives and all of creation because they are made by God). If you look at saving the unborn, then a vote for Hillary makes sense. If you look at statistics (real statistics by the CDC and not political-motivated-statistics on either side) you will see a downward trend in abortions (figure 1). This downward trend started during the presidency of Bill Clinton with a bump-up during the Republican George H. Bush term in 1990 and a second bump up during the Republican George W. Bush term in 2005.

abortion-draft

If you are talking about saving the lives of the unborn, the trend has been more downward under Democratic presidents. How can this be true if they are Pro-choice?  The reason is that in reality, the 15-year-old Evangelical pastor’s daughter is having sex with her boyfriend whether the pastor likes it or not (and would probably be the last to know). If she has a harder time getting access to birth control, then there is a higher likelihood for her getting pregnant. Knowing that her pregnancy would make her parents look bad to their church, it is more likely she will get a quiet abortion. I have met girls with these stories many times in my medical practice.

Trump and the Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood because of the abortion issue. This would cause the rate of abortions to go up and I’m pro-life and do not want that. Of course, you can dream about a world where the under-aged and the unmarried are not having sex, but unless you can create that world, sex, pregnancy, and abortions will happen. You cannot create this idealistic world by legislation. It must be created in the hearts of people who see fidelity as a better way of living. Christians have lost the hearts of mainstream America. It did not come about due to some clandestine devil working behind the scenes but due Evangelical hypocrisy.  For example, fighting to block gender-neutral bathrooms claiming that someone would get molested, yet making a man who boasts about molesting women, their political hero, and role model.

Trump implies that he will overturn Roe Vs Wade. I’m sorry that cannot happen and he says it like he says a lot of things, to get votes.  There is just no way to revert to the pre-Roe Vs Wade world. If several Republican terms of presidents, and Republicans controlling both houses couldn’t do it over 33 years then Trump can’t do it. He would not pick judges like a dictator. Likewise, it is impossible for Hillary to take away everyone’s guns. Such stories about that being her intentions are very dishonest. She cannot change the constitution.

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, I see the loss of more innocent lives than just the unborn. I suspect that he would be far more likely to get us in wars due to his paranoid fear of looking weak (especially since all of his chest-beating during the election). Since he devalues the lives of other people he would be more prone to use violence against them (drones, bombs) indiscriminately.  Therefore, there will be more terrorism under Trump. You cannot control terrorism with bombs. You can create terrorism with bombs, especially when you are bombing the innocent. He is also unenlightened when it comes to foreign policy. His sound bites are appealing to us who hate terrorism. However, everyone who has spent time in the Middle East, as I have, or knows the history will tell you that the dumbest thing anyone could say is that we want the Arab oil and should take it. This is what the imams at the radical mosques have been saying for years and is one of the chief motivations for terrorism against the west. It is a reckless thing to say and would be impossible to do anyhow due to logistics.

Politics and the Loss of Truth

The last issue I want to talk about is truth. I define truth as that which is. In other words reality. Truth is not a particular teaching of a particular church or political party. So, if God is there, and I believe that he is, he dwells in reality. The more detached we become from reality the more obscure God becomes. I will say clearly that both the Democrats and the Republicans are liars at times. That, unfortunately, is part of the nasty business of politics where you must win at all cost.

It is not just my opinion, but the opinion of everyone who does unbiased fact checking that Hillary has lied at times (like no classified information being  on her server) but the Trump people have lied much, much more. Most of what Donald Trump says is factually wrong.

There has been a constant spewing of hateful videos to demonize Hillary Clinton. I am perplexed how much hatred there is for Hillary from so-called Christian sources. You cannot hate Hillary whom you see and love God whom you cannot see. These videos are such horrible quality, showing Hillary with poop stains on her pants, of turds coming out of her mouth, of her personally selling arms to terrorists, of rigged voting machines. There has been conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. This is shameful behavior and in this case, the Democrats have been far godlier than the Republicans in their behavior. I don’t hear Democrats shouting “Lock Donald up!” or “punch him in the face” or “grab her by the pussy” or if they lose the election “it’s rigged.”

So, what about Hillary’s flaws? How could you vote for someone who has done such horrible things? What are the horrible things without the propagandistic twist? I have mentioned the server at home. This was for convenience and not to sell secrets to the Russians (a criminal act).  This was in poor judgment. What else has she been hated for? Benghazi?

Imagine at worse, Hillary was responsible for Benghazi (and the hearings did not prove that) then her error of judgment cost the lives of four outstanding heroes. That is shameful and one of the reasons that I wish there was another candidate running for which I could vote. I respect those who can’t vote at all for this reason.

However, let’s remove the Hillary hate from the Republican agenda. Look at the facts. Most experts, and most Republicans (including Trump), now say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake by George W. Bush. The consequences of his mistake resulted in;  4,486 decent, heroic American soldiers’ deaths, 32,226 soldiers’ wounded (and many wounds are not counted such at PTSD), more than 500,000 Iraqi civilians died, over two million civilians wounded, and America will spend close to 5 trillion dollars paying for that war. Also during Bush’s administration, there were ten embassies attacked and sixty embassy personnel killed. So the republicans say that Hillary should be locked up for Benghazi and they show videos of her with turds coming out of her mouth for making a mistake that cost the lives of 4 great people. George W. Bush caused the lives of a million people, yet somehow he is loved and adored?  This war also created the void, which gave birth ti Isis. Obama didn’t create the group.  I don’t think George W. Bush is the devil. He meant well but was just not very smart. But this is hypocrisy at the greatest level.

So the republicans say that Hillary should be locked up for Benghazi and they show videos of her with turds coming out of her mouth for making a mistake that cost the lives of 4 great people. George W. Bush caused the lives of over a million people, yet somehow he is loved and adored?  This war also created the void, which gave birth to Isis. Obama didn’t create the group.  I don’t think George W. Bush is the devil. He meant well but was just not very smart nor had good judgment. But this is hypocrisy at the greatest level.

So I rest my case in how a good Christian, in good conscience, can vote for Hillary Clinton.  Next time, in four years, we must make sure we have better choices than we do now. There is not a correct candidate to vote, especially this year and no one should be ashamed for making the best choice they can. Vote for Trump if you want. Vote for Hillary. Vote for Johnson and live in peace with that decision. We must all honor who is elected and this hate, especially the hate and misinformation, which is coming from Christians, must stop.

Mike

Elections–What they Tell Us About Ourselves–And the Loss of Truth

Truth has been redefined many times in history. Since the failure of the Enlightenment (late nineteenth century and early twentieth century) truth has taken on a personalized meaning. This redefining of truth is the cornerstone to what we call Post-Modernism.  So, never before in history has a personal pronoun been used as an adjective to truth. Now we have “their truth, his truth, and my truth.”

While my evangelical friends say I have “gone liberal” in my modern thinking, when it comes to truth, I’m an extreme fundamentalist. But I’m not alone. Many in the secular world, especially in the scientific community (except for maybe sociologists and psychologists) sill hold to the aspiration of finding real truth.

The Church has always, against the advice of Paul of Tarsus, adopted and absorb the flavor of the secular work in which it rest.  In this new age, the Church, reflecting the changes in the post-modern world, has also redefined truth as personal. But rather saying that it is “my truth” or “his truth” they will use the catchy phrase “Biblical truth.” This so-called Biblical truth has more to do with their subculture (particular church upbringing) than anything the Bible has ever said.

I have said many times that the two places that truth becomes most distorted is in religion and politics. We are now in the season where the two meet and meet strongly.

To illustrate this mobility of Biblical truth is to look at the spectrum of Christians and their notion of the best candidate for president. Each Christian subculture boast that they have the corner on Biblical truth. My Pacific NW and Lutheran (Midwest) Christian friends and family, saw Bernie Sanders as the candidate who supported Christian principles the most.  My Evangelical friends and family say that Donald Trump best emulates Christian principles. While I’m sorry to say that I don’t have many black Christian friends (and I wish I did) they would be quick to say that Hillary Clinton best represents the essence of the Gospel.

Now, I’m not saying that truth is relative, but the opposite. But first I must define truth the way I ascribe to it.

Truth is that which really is. It has nothing to do with doctrine in the context of, “My church teaches truth.” That statement means my church teaches what I agree with. Real truth is not defined by what we believe or by our experience. Yes, when a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it . . . it still makes the same sound, which could be detected by instruments. If God is there, I and I think he is, he dwells in this kind of real truth. So real truth should be no threat to the honest Christian.

I will now be quick to say that I’m not a Democrat or Republican. I think neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump deserves to be president, but one of the two (most likely Hillary) will be.

In this hotly contested political season I am appalled how Christians on each side promote their candidate. Mostly it’s the evangelicals promoting Trump. They promote their party so strongly that they start to live in a totally fantasy world. I have gotten “secret” videos from friends and family this week, each reported to show that Hillary is the devil. One yesterday (made by a Christian “Truth” site) has proof that Hillary directly sold weapons to Isil for money. Who really believes this shit? Apparently a lot of people do.

On the other side, of course the media, who created Trump to start with, is constantly trying to discredit him.

My point is simply this. Truth is real. Propaganda is a distortion of truth. The more that Christians allow themselves to be brainwashed by propaganda, the most distant they become from God who dwells in truth and reality.

Friedrich Nietzsche was partially right. His concepts are complex and I will slaughter them here in attempts to explain them. Simply the fundamental motive to our lives results in happiness and that happiness is determined by the fulfillment of the will and the course of that will is controlled by a function of our power to exert that will. In simpler (but not so accurate) word would be ambition.

So, each of the parties Republican and Democratic, has the will to succeed and that is the ultimate will, not to make America Great or any more idealistic notions. The motivation of each player (candidate) is to succeed by being elected. They will (if they get caught up in the emotions of it or “blind ambition” as we call it) will do ANYTHING to get elected.

The people become the pawns of those primal motives. They manipulate us to support their personal will.  Churches do the same. We do it to each other.

I did digress but I want to make a point. I am shocked as to how gullible we all are. And once we get taken in, we become even more gullible. I am shocked by the Evangelical leaders who see Trump as the great American hero, who will save Christianity and America (which they often mix).

I am equally appalled who do not question Hillary’ sincerity when she reads scripture in a church.

So what do we do? Do we give up and defer to cynicism?

Our country will go on. Our wise forefathers knew that if a nut-job gets elected, there are enough checks and balances to keep the country from disintegrating.

But a far more important issue is that we, humans first and Christians second, must have discernment. We must humbly recognize our mental frailty and how we can get some things wrong. Most of all, we must not give up on reality. There is a truth there. Trump did molest women . . . or he didn’t. Hillary did sell weapons to Isil or she didn’t. There is no relativism of those truths. It is our job to understand the motives of the power to will and deception on both sides. It is our responsibility to ask hard questions, the hardest ones to the people we agree with.

Sorry for the typos I did not have time to proof-read.

 

Mike

 

The Absolute Boundaries​ of Sadness

I had planned on continuing this thought but once again disruptions have been intrusive. The major one being the fact that the lawyers, reviewing my present manuscript. sent it back asking me to rewrite a couple of areas. It is the fear of being libelous. I am amazed but also respectful of their concerned. I had used fictitious names for everyone in my book. Every story is absolutely true, although not all are flattering to others or myself. So, suddenly I was forced into re-reading and editing my entire 21-chapter manuscript.  I hope to finish that tonight for the last time.

I will add one last thought to the topic of sadness, although I lost my original thought.

I want to talk about depression. Depression is to sadness as cancer is to a wart. Those who have ever experienced true, clinical depression don’t have any idea what it is like. It is a disorder of mood and perception. The disorder of perception is best illustrated through the act of suicide. When someone takes their life, it is when their perception is so warped that they see no value left in their life for themselves or for the people who love them.

Depression is rarely the result of one’s own sin. While behavior and wrong thinking can worsen depression the cause is most often related to genetics and life experiences. The life experiences that accompany clinical depression is most often horrible experiences as a child when the depressed person was an innocent victim.

Can our bad behavior be part of the problem? Yes, absolutely. One of the worse aggravators of depression is self-medication through using substances that have the potential of being addictive (alcohol or others). Allowing yourself to continue thinking negatives thoughts such as “I am worthless . . . no one loves me . . . I am a loser” is not constructive.

In most Christian, at least evangelical, circles depression has to be hidden, because, there is a real stigma if you are depressed . . . it is your fault and a spiritual failure. They feel this way (those who hold this stigma) because if they have never struggled with depression, they feel superior as if they have earned the position of not being depressed by being so obedient.

As I said in my last post that I don’t think I have a high tendency towards depression but I have had at least two serious episodes. I consider then serious when suicide enters my thoughts and the way out seems elusive.

Because of these bad experiences, I am cautious when I am sad. I want to experience the sadness in its fullness (rather than living in denial) however, I know the black hole of depression is surrounded by a slippery lip like a funnel.

I really worry about those who say they are never sad because they are a Christian. That means that they live in a world that is not in contact with reality.

The Absolute​ Boundaries of Sadness

Grief and sadness, like so many human emotions, has not been well-understood by the Christian. There is the misconception that the fruits of the spirit paint perpetual smiles on our faces. When the smiles are not there, it means we have something wrong . . . or does it?

Human emotions were designed by the creator. Now, I am not saying they are perfect, but they are real. So I must think about the idea that God designed sadness, happiness, grief, rage, anger, love and all the rest. Our spiritual job is not to deny these human emotions, but to stake out the boundaries between the healthy emotions and those tainted by the fall of Adam.

My personal Achilles heel is anxiety. There are lots to be said about the Christian view of anxiety. I have three books started, not to mention the one at the press now. One of those in a rough draft form is Made Fearfully–Celebrating the Gift of Fear and Anxiety. With that said, I will add that I have also been over the edge into the abyss of depression twice in my life and I know what depression is like, although that is not my Achilles heel.

My wife and I had the discussion last night that we both feel sad. While I have periods of sadness, that stay within the boundaries of “good sadness” it is very unusual for her or at least for her to admit that sadness.

The reason that we are sad is simple. It is life experiences. I won’t name them here for the sake of expediency. I will simply say it is being empty-nesters and watching the flow of time speeding up as we get older. We are starting to question why we go to work every day. I even spent a couple of hours last night looking for ways we could  quit our jobs and go to help Syrian refugees.abyss

However, the bigger question is how do we find that edge between healthy sadness and that horrible abyss or black hole of the devil that we see on the surface as clinical depression. That is truly a terrible place to dwell.

Real sadness, the healthy kind, should never be shunned. As I have said and will say over and over, God, if he is there, and I think he is, dwells in reality. The closer we are to reality, the closer we are to God. So, if we deny sadness, we are stepping back from reality one pace. The more paces we take in the backwards direction, the more out-of-focus God becomes. So there is this art form to feel and to feel deeply true sadness without becoming obsessed with it and then stumbling over that terrible edge.

I worry when I see someone whose loved one has died and they, being the good Christian that they are, are happy because they “know that they are in a better place.” I worry too about those who have lost loved ones decades ago and they are stuck in grief. Not that they can or should “get over it.” Getting over the death of someone we loved is another step away from reality. We must stay in the grief for life because that is the shape of this fallen world. But, at the same time, we must eventually stand up, dust ourselves off and be about the business of bringing peace to this world.

I am now late for work, for that job that I question is what I should be doing. But hold that thought and I will try and finish this tomorrow. Sorry again about typos but the sun is now up, I am sitting outside and I cannot see my screen due to the sun shining on it.

 

The Psychology of Spirituality Part II

I am sorry but I did not get back as soon as I had hoped. Two things happened. The first was the legal review of my manuscript was complete (the legal review is always part of the publishing process to avoid libel suits). A few items were marked for re-writing and this morning I finished those points. In my book, I write with great candor. I have changed the names of all involved, however, according to the lawyers, you can make enough inferences from the manuscript to for some people to figure out who I was writing about. The lawyers (who know much more than me about this) also say that anytime you show someone in a negative light, even if you are being totally honest, they can sue you. I think Christians would more likely to sue than others. The reason is, and this relates to these posts, is that they have the misconception that they are morally above everyone else and for someone to disclose that the fact they were also pedophiles (in one case) or a pastor with a life-long mistress (the other case) would make them want to sue you out of the rage of exposure not true libel (false information in a public place).

So, with some regret, I have removed several stories. I didn’t tell the stories to insult anyone or to make someone look bad. I told the stories because they were true and added to the point I was trying to make.

The other “distraction” is that I have had guests this week. One was my daughter, who I only get to see a couple times a year.

Back to my original thought of my postings.

I joined FaceBook a few years ago as an avenue to see my grandsons. That was my only motivation. But quickly, like a landslide going down the hill picking up more and more trees, houses, boulders and etc., my FB contact list began to grow and grow. Soon there was a group that represented a cross-section of my life going back 40 years. Within this group are people I’ve known in an evangelical context, those who I know in a business context and those I know through my family. Oddly, I don’t think there are any of the Christians I have known in my post-evangelical context.

With so many people from so many walks of life, I ignore most of the posts that show up. Some of the posts I strongly disagree with, but I really try to restrain myself. I have never (that I remember) made a negative comment to those posts. Now I do, sometimes, post an article about a view that is in sharp contrast to what my, mostly evangelical and some family, friends are posting. It is not a direct response to their posts but just another view that comes independently.

My evangelical friends often publish pro-Donald Trump and horrible Hillary Clinton rhetoric. They often post pro-gun ownership and global warming is a myth, views. They post the view that all Mulsims=Terrorist views as well as, All Black Lives Matter is a farce and not a justifiable, views. I don’t comment on those and, even though I am diabolical opposed to most of those, I try not to associate the person with the views. In other words, they are not my friends because they hold the save views as me but simply because they are my friends.

Now, when I post my views that all Muslims are not terrorists (usually some news story to support that), I have some of my evangelical friends get very angry at me. Some have now blocked me (or un-friended me) and that hurts.

Last week I had an old evangelical friend send me a pretty condescending note. His wife has already unfriended me because I posted an article about Ben Carson’s support of Donald Trump was a mistake for him and his evangelical supporters.

I scratch my head because, like I said, I don’t think I have ever confused the views of my friends and family with my relationship with them. I have a sister and a sister-in-law that post things that I hate, but I really try to not associate their political views with them as a person.

This old evangelical friend wrote to me, in my summary, that I am a buffoon for ever posting my views on FP, which everyone knows is the wrong place to post political things. He pointed out how foolish my postings make me look. He did not think about the fact that he, his wife and family, often post articles they see as helpful, such as how Donal Trump will save America, while my article was political because it made the point that most victims of terrorism are Muslims.

I was surprised how horrible this made me feel. I really felt like a buffoon. I felt ashamed. I felt angry and finally I felt sad.

I had to go back and rethink my postings. I have now had several old Christian friends say the same thing, which makes me suspicious that they all heard it from the same source. So it goes like this, we (the evangelical) can post things that they see as true and helpful to support God (loosely defined) but if other people post things that they don’t agree with, then it is the inappropriate (morally) use of FB and that person is an automatic buffoon.

I have several pastors and full-time Christian professionals on my FB. I have noticed a strong pattern among that group . . . they never, ever, ever post anything that is controversial especially political. I suspect that somewhere, during their training, they are warned that they should never take public positions on social or political issues unless it is unanimously held. An example of that would be strangling puppies for personal pleasure is not a good idea.

I respect those professional Christians. I mean I could imagine a church split starting around a political posting of a pastor. So they post pictures of church functions, kittens playing with yarn or rainbows. But never anything more divisive.

So, as I come out of my guilt I started to think about the psychology of spirituality. The MO of my prior Christian experience was to work as hard as I could to make myself look great, spiritually. One way was to redefine my motives as “From God” and if anyone opposed me for any reason, I had re-define their actions and motives as inappropriate or from the devil. This is the psychology of spirituality.

True spirituality is simple. We are all a mess. God cover it all up. Now, we are pure in His sight and that is all that matters. We have the freedom to love those who are different. We should have the freedom not to feel guilt . . . which is a lesson that is hard for me to learn. But I will continue to post things now and then, that support my views on issues. Otherwise, all opposing voices would be silenced.

 

The Psychology of Spirituality Part I

This is a topic that I have spent many hours thinking about in a very candid way. I have written about this exhaustively on my prior blogs and in my coming book. I think it is an essential but also slippery topic. It is hard to grasp without it squirting between your fingers and then you loosing track of it.

I will start with my premise. The very essence of most human behavior and introspection is the desire for self-worth (in my book I call it the “Economics of Self-Worth”). It is at our core. I can be theological about this and to say that this is the way God has created us . . . but that is not quite right. I believe that God created us all, with this longing totally satisfied. But that satisfaction has been lost in the fall of Adam. Now we are left longing for this sense of self-worth with a deep desperation.

God has solved this problem once and for all, in the creative act (we have tremendous value because we were created by God) and in the act of Christ on the cross (all of our moral failures have been erased forever). However, we never quite grasp that either . . . none of us.

So far, what I have said is consistent with what most Christian people believe. However, I will now diverge into the area that most Christian people will not fully agree with and that is in this area where psychology intersects with the idea of spirituality.

I was a hard-core evangelical for seventeen years, so what I am about to say I say with great confidence. We believed that once we became a Christian, that we immediately changed in tremendous ways and it was a supernatural change. We also believed that we would go on to change much more drastically over time through a process of maturation or “sanctification.” This process—so we believed—can be enhanced through certain rituals such as going to church, studying the Bible and prayer.

Here is where I piss off a lot of Christians by saying that no change comes in an instant (at least not a supernatural change), and the real change, which comes over time, is only a slight course correction through a very slow process. The reason it is slow and minor is that the human persona is housed in the material brain and the brain changes very, very slowly if at all.

So, if we believe that we change tremendously from our previous life as a non-Christian, but in reality, we do not, then we have to fake the exterior to look like we are different. The real—inside—change is only slight. In the end, the real us is really not much different than the non-Christian. Some of the non-Christians, who started off—through genetics and life experiences—much better than us, well, they may be much better morally than we are in the end. A simplistic example is where a serious kleptomaniac, who then becomes a Christian, may be more likely to steal than the non-Christian who never had those tendencies.

Sure, we can go through social change, just like any person joining any subculture . . . but the character, the tendency to do good versus bad, is really not that much different.  The social change includes things like smiling a lot, saying sweet things (nothing negative) and using a lot of God talk.

Don was a unique man that I roomed with for a few years while I was in graduate school. While he looked like any typical southern white boy, he was born and grew up in the remote bush of Africa. His parents were missionaries there. He would often say things that were so frank that people in our parachurch group would be offended.

We were once attending a weekend spiritual conference sponsored by our group. One workshop was “Determining God’s Will for Your Life.” After an intensive day of note-taking, we had a very complex technique worked out for always knowing God’s perfect will for every decision that we made.

Don just snickered. He commented, “So, what we were just taught was how to create an intricate story to explain how the thing that we always wanted to do—for selfish reasons of course—was really God’s idea.”

He went on to explain, to be more graphic, that if he saw a beautiful girl he would like to have a lot of sex with, we could spend months creating a narrative of how God had magically called her to be his wife. The narrative would be filled with all kinds of signs such as, “we both like [certain Christian singer/artist] and we each had the same life verse, we bumped into each other at the library twice in a week.” This process of spiritualization was totally new to his brand of Christianity.

Don would have said, “God gave me this desire to have sex with women I find beautiful.  It doesn’t matter which one, so that’s all the information that I need.”

He was not liked a lot, especially when he asked four different women in our ministry to marry him in a matter of a few months. He didn’t try to convince them that God had called them to marry him in some magically and super spiritual way, but that he thought they were beautiful and he would like to have them in his bed every night. He would say that God would bless the marriage if they would allow it, no matter what their motivation was in the beginning.

So how do I connect all of these dots? Christian spiritually is a game. The early (first century) Gnostics believed that God had created some people special and above all other people. By the luck of the draw (wink, wink) they happened to be the ones that God had picked to be special. Therefore, they looked down their noses at all other—non-Gnostic—Christians and way down their noses at their non-Christian associates.

So, really, all of us want very much to be loved by others and by God . . . yet, none of us feel loved. This lies on a spectrum. I would say even the narcissistic people don’t feel adequately loved. Therefore, most of what we do is towards that goal of feeling loved. It shouldn’t be that way if we truly understood the Gospel.

So, behind the scenes (the personas behind the curtain operating the puppets in the front) we are all desperate to be valued and love. All of us build up this idea, like the Gnostics, that we are more spiritual, more moral and more valued by God than others. We get this feeling because we believe we go to the right church, believe the right things and have higher thoughts than others.

When I come along and say, “Sorry, we are all self-absorbed and evil, but, the good news, covered by the cross” it can make people angry. Well, they don’t so angry if I saw it in those exact words, but if I say it in more practical terms, now that pisses them off. I also feel angered when others imply that I have faults. I am too desperate to feel loved and valued and most of the time, just like everyone else on the inside, I do not capture that feeling. All hurt feelings, all church splits, all wars, all racism and all hatred is tied up in this perpetual process of us trying to find personal value and others doing something to contradict that hope. Hold that thought until I come back. If you are starting to feel uneasy with these thoughts, such as not giving God credit for supernaturally changing us . . . then please come back and hear me out to the end.

Mike

 

 

 

To Air the Dirty Laundry

We each have our personality quirks. Sometimes we might say that “I love myself just the way I am.” While that may be a product of 1980s popular psychology, there is one place for it. The one, proper place is to help counter-balance the attitude of self-hatred.

I do believe that we are who we are based on genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture). Because we live in a fallen world, we too are not right . . . none of us. The one thing that evangelicalism and pantheism share in common (and I say this as an ex-evangelical) is that they often believe that the way we are is exactly how God (or the Universe with a capital “U” as the pantheist would say) intended us to be. I disagree. We are an amalgamation of the good, the great, the not-so-good and the horrible

One bad trait of mine that I would like to change is this horrible combination of being a risk-taker and a sufferer from severe anxiety. I could give many examples of that but I will pare it down to one specific area. That area is the fact I have social anxiety and, yet, I speak very candidly.  My standard for what I will say is not “will it make me look good” but simply “is it true.”dirty laundry

One book, which I loved dearly, is Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.  I bought the book on an m3p format and listened to it on a mountaineering expedition. That experience was a microcosm of my problem. I really, really wanted to do it . . . but was scared shitless. Listening to the book was a good distraction while I stepped over and sometimes jumping over 200-foot-deep crevasses.

The author tells a fascinating story and I can’t remember if I read this in the book or I heard the author, Daniel Smith, say this during his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It is a story that I related to well. He was working for a magazine publishing company (The New Yorker I think).  He was a proof-reader, which was relatively safe for him. Then he was challenged to be a reporter and write a story, which he did.

His story went out with the journal to a few million people. He got some compliments from his colleagues. Then the hate mail started to arrive. He was ill-prepared for such an onslaught upon his persona. It was a terrifying experience that made him want to hold up in his apartment forever.

In a couple of months, I have a book coming out. It is an important book. It took me ten years to write it and I had a lot of help. Parts of the book are very candid. I tell stories that are absolutely true, but will invite a huge amount of criticism. I take criticism very hard and that is the social anxiety of my persona.

My wife, who does not suffer from any type of anxiety, is appalled how vulnerable I am when I write or talk to people. She says she could never do that. I say things that reveal personal weaknesses that are chinks in my armor. These chinks are irresistible to those who like to shoot flaming arrows at anything that doesn’t support their own narrative.

When I was an evangelical, both with a parachurch organization and working with churches, it was a golden rule that we never talked about or revealed the weakness of our perspective groups. As an elder, I had privy to much awfulness within our churches, but that bad stuff was top-secret. In other words, we had to give the façade that we were perfect.

I remember being scolded in graduate school that I was “airing dirty laundry” when I explained to someone (who had asked why a certain campus ministry closed) that it was because the Christian staff left his wife and ran off with a young coed. I didn’t mean to spread rumors. We all knew it was true, but we were not supposed to talk about it. We were supposed to say that it was God’s will that the ministry closed and leave it at that.

So in my book, I tell some ugly but 100% true stories. I don’t do this to create drama or sensationalize my personal history. I tell these stories to illustrate what is wrong with some of the ways that we think. It is story-telling with a serious purpose.

I suspect that I will reap tremendous criticism, especially from my old evangelical friends. They will be mad as hell that I talk about some really ugly things that have happened within church life, including the life that we shared. There is a code of silence among evangelicals in the same way that some Catholic circles had a code of silence around the habitual molestation of children by priests. These old friends will hate me for breaking that code.

But when you cloak the bad with a pretense of the divine, the badness sits and rots. It is good to air the dirty laundry so there is hope of bringing redemption. Now, if only I can bear the consequences.

 

 

The Real Centaur

This week, and it may have gone unnoticed by many, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) lifted its band on putting human genes into animals. The background story can be read here.

In this brief (as I am headed to work) post, I will only be raising some questions, not giving any answers.Brooklyn_Museum_-_Centauress_-_John_La_Farge_-_overall

In my old evangelical mindset, I would have quickly condemned this step as just one more move away from the Christian concept of the dignity of man (meaning mankind of course) and towards total depravity.

Now–to me at least–the morality of this decision is not so straightforward.  My evangelical friends would say (and sometimes they literally say this to me) that my wavering is yet another sign that I have become a “liberal humanist.” But I believe it is because I now think and not just follow the mores of the brand with my brain on autopilot.

First, we must establish the real guiding principles of true Christianity and I will create a list, but it is not an exhaustive one.

God is there

God created all things that we see

There is a vast difference between God and creation

God created humans as being in His image, thus there is also a chasm between humans and creation

The world is not the way that God intended. It is broken. The brokenness allows for  suffering, disease, death and moral depravity

God is in the business of redeeming all of Creation

Christ redeemed us from the consequences of sin

We have been enlisted by God to co-labor in this business of bringing redemption to all of Creation

So, of course, you could add many more items to that list, but that is the basics that I can come up with on a tired, Friday morning.

Previously I would have looked at the issue from the dignity of man perspective. It is true that human life is precious and sacred. To mess with human life is a dangerous thing. Hurting human life is sin. To mix human genes with animal genes would most likely be an offense against the separation between man and humanity . . . or would it? We have been mixing genes between other organisms for . . . well, for thousands of years if you count intentional interbreeding such as the mule. For that matter, homo sapiens and the neanderthal are a mixed species.

On the other side of the equation is the work of bringing redemption to a broken world. If I had a child who had a serious heart deformity and the only hope was a heart transplant and the only available heart was a humanized heart in the chest of a sheep, as a human being who lives his child, I would say yes. Sacrifice the sheep and give my child life.

I do believe that most of the scientists who are considering this idea are doing it for altruistic reasons, of bringing hope and comfort to others. But I will not be naive, any time there are corporations involve in a process, there are opportunities for greed and a careless attitude towards ethics.

My old evangelical mind would say no, I would not put a humanized sheep’s heart in my child (maybe towards the end I would cave). That if my child dies, it was God’s will. But was it? Doesn’t God constantly give us choices to save or end life (meaning the choice is real, not that it doesn’t matter ethically).

So this is the real dilemma that true thinkers must wrestle with. Is, putting human genes in animals, part of the process of bringing redemption to a broken world in the same way that oncologists are doing God’s work by fighting cancer? Or, would this process show disrespect to human dignity?

To make this question even more difficult, it is possible that you could put human stem cells in a pig embryo and then that adult male pig produces pure human semen. Therefore it would theoretical possible that pig could breed with a human female, producing a fully human child who’s father is literally a pig.

It is also possible that those stem cells would migrate into the part of the embryo that is forming the central nervous system. That animal, say a sheep, could then be born with a brain that is partially sheep in nature, but with many human characteristics, including higher (higher than a normal sheep) reason and even language. Can you imagine taking a sheep to the butcher who plead with you the whole way, verbally, not to do it?

It is laziness to default to the brand position on these tough questions. It is hard to do the work of thinking. But we must think and act, to do our best to follow God’s perfect will and that will is often obscured.

Mike

 

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