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.

Glaring racism, then and now.

Did you know that people used to name their pets after ethnic groups?

Chalk Talk for Sunday Schools, by Harlan Tarbell

I just picked up an old book (1924) about drawings for Sunday School, and there it is right on page 30: a lovely story about two kittens, Snowball and N—-r. You see, one of them has white fur, and the other, black. I leave it to you to figure out which is which. Then I recalled that large, black dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild whose name was ‘Nig.’

So people used to name their pets N—-r. Wow! And that was once considered to be completely normal, even as today most people would regard it as blatantly wrong. By our liberated, contemporary standards, this crazy racism seems otherworldly, a totally alien thing that we clearly would never do now, right?

…And then I remembered all the mascots that are named after native folk, today, for the entertainment of the masses: the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and many, many more.

So on the one hand, naming personal pets after ethnic groups is totally wrong.

Yet, naming public pets (mascots) after ethnic groups is totally fine.

WTF?  No, it isn’t.

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?

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)

Socialist Apostles

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Barack Obama and certain Democrats want there to be a public option for health insurance, so that more people will have better access to health care.  For this they are called “Socialists.”

In a word:  hardly.  Now Acts 4 – this is what socialism looks like.

I wonder how Paul and the apostles would be received today by contemporary Christians?  They’re certainly far too radical for even most of us liberals, much less the conservatives, who would run these Reds out of town on a rail.  Pooling our resources so that everyone can have all that they need?  Reigning in unfettered corporate profits so that all may receive health care?  Whatever, hippies.

“…for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…”  (Matthew 25:42-43)

Whatever, Jesus.

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.