On Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck has a pretty sweet gig.  It must be nice not to be beholden to the truth.

This was going to be a post refuting some of the latest utter nonsense spewed forth by Glenn Beck, but writing that felt kind of like being sprayed in the face with seawater for an hour, then constructing an argument about how one particular mouthful tastes bad.  There’s just so much of it coming at you, all at once, that ducking out of the way might be a better form of resistance than deploying the tools of accuracy and logic.

My stepfather likes to say, “Never wrestle with a pig.  You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.”  Indeed.  I’d look like an idiot trying to fact-check Glenn Beck.  (Or, for that matter, a three year old.  Or a Golden Retriever.)

I’m not saying the man himself isn’t intelligent.  I have no idea whether he’s a fool or a liar, and I’m not sure it really matters.  What matters is that he commands an audience of millions of viewers, and he is beholden only to their viewership.  He is not beholden to truth, reason, or fairness, but rather to the numbers.  And truth, reason, and fairness are only useful insofar as captivate the masses and deliver the numbers, and can be dispensed with if they don’t.

It is lamentable that Glenn Beck’s viewers go along with his ride.  He bears the moral guilt for his careless and shameful information manipulation.  But what about the rest of us?  For those of us who understand that good theology is liberating, and who care about social justice because that is the work of God, we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors not to allow Glenn Beck to twist our faith into a tool to advance his conspiracy theories.

Glenn Beck is free to deny that Jesus cares about social justice if he wants to.  (I don’t know what Bible he’s reading, but hey, this is America.)  But Jesus is undeniably a liberator.  God always calls us to greater justice and mercy.  And not even a misty-eyed moron spewing seawater can overpower the reality of God.

Waiting on Rev. Warren…

I’m coming to this late, but my friend and fellow CTS seminarian Adam Yates took Rev. Rick Warren to task for his silence on the Ugandan parliament’s proposed legislation to make homosexuality a capital offense.  It’s a good read:

…So Rev. Warren, which will it be? Will you be either cold or hot and renounce your tepidity? A person cannot be a Christian and a coward; the conviction of our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to speak out and stand by our beliefs even when there are consequences for doing so. As Christians, we cannot stand by and keep silence while great evil is underfoot.

Rev. Warren, who has considerable influence with the backers of the “kill gay people” legislation, has finally felt compelled to break his silence, and to his credit, he unequivocally condemns the proposed legislation as “unchristian.”  Whaddya say, Adam, did Rev. Warren end up hot or cold?

What’s wrong with this picture?

I get email from crazy right-wing organizations:

Here is the last call to stand with us and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a “holy day” when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We can do it in a gentle and effective way by wearing the “God’s Gift – Merry Christmas” button. Don’t wait! Place your order by December 1 to receive it before Christmas.

Get that? Christmas is NOT about materialism. So buy our crap!

Neither your God nor your non-God are universal.

As usual, I leave some of my best efforts in other blogger’s comment sections.  What follows is adapted from a response to this post, in which the writer criticizes “progressive Christians” for cherry-picking from Christianity only that which we agree with. Ultimately, I take issue with her/his underlying assumptions.


…I don’t know if you read Christopher Hitchens or not, but you and he both seem to be under the same weird notion that in order to be authentically Christian, one must accept everything in the chosen holy books verbatim, and if one doesn’t, her beliefs don’t count. I defy anybody to subject himself to a similarly foolish standard in any other scientific or philosophical field: take all of Plato verbatim, or take none of Plato. Take all of Nietzsche, or none of him. Take all of Sartre, etc. This approach to anything – knowledge, belief, science, etc. – is clearly absurd.

Where did we get this idea that there is no validity to any body of work unless it is all literally true? From Christians? Maybe some of us, sure. But when others of us reject this paradigm, please don’t act as if religion is supposed to operate differently from any other human activity when it comes to how we form our beliefs.

As a progressive Christian, I am a pluralist, which means that one of my foundational beliefs is that God is too big to be fully understood by any humans. Ergo, to quote one of my professors, constructing theology means “groping toward the infinite with the tools of finitude.” Rather than provide a single, unified view of God, I think the Bible’s various narratives and themes instead reflect ongoing traditioning and theological changes and different emphases over a thousand years or more, and such traditioning and changes in interpretation have been ongoing ever since.

I don’t mind anybody calling into question any aspect of faith that is found to be problematic. But I do object to atheists or Christian fundamentalists alike who try to mandate universal definitions to what it means to be Christian, or who God is, or Christ, and so forth, whether for the purpose of rejecting or affirming such dogma. Neither camp is capable of defining the terms and forcing everyone else to adhere to them. So, militant atheists and frothing Christians alike, kindly knock it off already.

Meeting Blago

I met Rod Blagojevich yesterday.

He was coming out of Medici, a Hyde Park restaurant, and me and my CTS buddies Shaun and Adam were heading into Edwardo’s, a pizzeria a couple doors down.  The first thing I noticed was his hair.

As we were telling one another that yes, it really was Rod Blagojevich in the flesh, he caught us staring and came over with a grin, hand outstretched:  “Hey guys, wanna meet an innocent ex-governor?”  We shook hands, as he gave a mini-version of the same spiel he gives everywhere these days: it’s been difficult, but I can’t wait until everything gets cleared up, and yes, it’s definitely going to be all cleared up.

BlagoHe asked if we attend the University (of Chicago).  No, says Adam, we go to Chicago Theological Seminary.  Now this seemed to strike a chord.  Eyes widening, he prattled on for a moment about how this experience has really brought him closer to God, you know?  He wants us to know that he’s not just saying that because we’re seminarians, but he really believes it’s true: this is all part of God’s plan.  Maybe so, I think to myself.

Then one of his companions whisked him away to snap a picture with some coeds.  We three seminarians walked into Edwardo’s, and I said, “I don’t think we did a very good job speaking truth to power just then.  Then again, he’s doesn’t exactly have much power these days…”

As a post-script, it has since occurred to me that I need to have some quick theology ready for the next time I run into a famous, influential person, fallen or otherwise.  No more getting caught speechless.  What would you say?  (Photo credit: Adam Yates)

Swords to plowshares?

How shall we build God’s beloved community?  What shall God’s church look like?  This?

Ken Pagano, the pastor of the New Bethel Church here, is passionate about gun rights. He shoots regularly at the local firing range, and his sermon two weeks ago was on “God, Guns, Gospel, and Geometry.” And on Saturday night, he is inviting his congregation of 150 and others to wear or carry their firearms into the sanctuary to “celebrate our rights as Americans!” as a promotional flier for the “open carry celebration” puts it.

God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” Mr. Pagano, 49, said Wednesday as he sat in the small brick Assembly of God house of worship, where a large wooden cross hung over the altar and two American flags jutted from the side walls. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

The bring-your-gun-to-church day, which will include a $1-raffle of a handgun, firearms safety lessons and a picnic, is another sign that the gun culture in the United States is thriving despite, or perhaps because of, President Obama’s election in November…

NYT

Or this?

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

– Isaiah 2:4

How shall we build God’s beloved community?

…the fear remains that Mr. Obama, and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., will crack down on guns sooner or later. That — along with the faltering economy, which gun sellers say has spurred purchases for self-defense — has fueled a record surge in gun sales…

NYT, cont.

While some preach the Gospel of More Swords, Another preached otherwise:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

Matthew 5:38-42

And he didn’t only preach it:

…[T]hen they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword…”

Matthew 26:50-52

…When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him…

Luke 22:49-51

While some preach the Gospel of More Swords, a 9 year old girl was gunned down in Chicago’s backyard:

…[Chastity Turner] was shot in the neck and taken in extremely critical condition to the U. of C. Medical Center, said Larry Langford, a spokesman for the Fire Department. Her father and a 17-year-old boy were taken in critical condition to Stroger Hospital, he said…

– Chicago Tribune

How shall we build God’s beloved community?  How long must God’s people be cut down by the instruments of death and devastation?

Come, O Jesus, our healer.  Show us how to follow in Your way.  Help us to put our trust in You, as we lay down our swords and shields.

On Obama (maybe) overturning the ‘conscience rule’

This just in my inbox, courtesy of the far-right, anti-choice, anti-marriage, anti-family “American Family Association”:

According to several news agencies, President Barack Obama will rescind the “conscience rule” that protects health workers who refuse to participate in abortions or other medical procedures that go against their moral and religious beliefs. If the rule is rescinded, doctors, nurses and other health care workers could lose their jobs or be punished professionally for adhering to their sincerely held religious convictions. Obama’s proposal would take away their religious freedom…

No. It would take away their option to deny medical care to which their patients have a legal right, on the basis of their personal convictions.

Let me be the first to acknowledge that every job is not for everyone.  I, for instance, would never want to work in a far-right, anti-choice, anti-marriage, anti-family organization like AFA. However, in the event hell freezes over and if I did apply for a job there, should I be allowed to opt out of whatever aspects of that job are objectionable to my religious beliefs? Or should I maybe find another job for which I’m better suited for the tasks? I think the latter.