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.

Maybe it happened like this…

God:  Ah…ahh….ahhhh…ATCHOOOO!

Tom:  Here I am, Lord!  Send me!

God:  …Wha?…

Tom:  (beaming)

God:  (rolls eyes)

…and then I went to seminary.  FIN

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.

Good things in small packages

I know I was touched by God Incarnate this morning.  It was awesome.

Today we had a special healing service after the two usual ones at church.  There was laying on of hands, anointing with oil and some good praying and music.  I played and sang a couple chants on piano.  It was free-flowing and simple, leisurely yet concise.  It was rather unlike our usual weekly white Protestant fare, in which church is a more individual endeavor (though not nearly as personal).

Since I was playing piano, I did not go forward to be anointed with oil during the healing service, but I wanted to be anointed afterward.  Those who had helped officiate (a pastor and a few ‘Ministers of Care’) were scattered about the room,  so I turned to the closest other person, a short, cute kid certainly no more than 4 years old.  I called him over and said, “I didn’t get any oil for my head during the service.  Would you help me?”  He nodded.

I picked up one of the bowls of oil and handed it to him, kneeling down to his level.  He dipped his left index finger into the oil and slowly, deliberately traced it down my forehead – then across, in order to complete the cross.

His mom then came over and helped him say a prayer for me.  She told me he really likes church.  I told her, maybe he’ll end up getting stuck here too.  I hope someday, particularly if he does end up going into ministry, I can find him and tell him this story.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”  I’ve been exploring the idea that Jesus is, among other things, an ongoing, at-any-moment manifestation of God Incarnate, one who shows up in others (and maybe even me? Whoa…) from time to time.  Today, I’m convinced that Jesus showed up personally to me and blessed me at the hands of this awesome little kid.  Thanks, Ethan!

God is genderqueer

I realized the other night that I don’t experience God as simply male or female.  With all due respect to my Lord and Savior, who, according to the Gospel writers, gave God a decidedly masculine ‘Father’ identity for God, I simply can’t make gendered pronouns for God fit my experience of God.  Neither “Father” this, “She” that, nor “God Hirself” quite seems to do it.

Not that my gender-confusion over God is a bad thing.  To the contrary, a singular notion of the image of God is so far beyond my comprehension that having no good pronouns actually works better than forcing inept ones.genderqueer

To me, God is combination of two or more elements: a stable, all-encompassing entity of spirit-force who is amorphous and certainly un-gendered in any conventional sense, juxtaposed with a hundred trillion images of all of the diversity of creation: animals, plants, earth, sky, and humans too.  In that sense, that of specific manifestations of God, characteristics like gender, sex, identity, race, ability, outward appearance, to name a few, may be in fact intricately connected to the fundamental nature of God.

Meanwhile, here’s what some of the internets say about genderqueerness, helpfully edited by me to be inclusive towards deities.

Wikipedia:

Genderqueer and intergender are catchall terms for gender identities other than man and woman. People [and/or deities] who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as being both male and female, as being neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. Some wish to have certain features of the opposite sex and not all characteristics; others want it all.

Fact-index:

…There are different modes of being genderqueer, and it is an evolving concept. Some believe they are a little of both or feel they have no gender at all. Others believe that gender is a social construct, and choose not to adhere to that construct. Some genderqueers do fit into the stereotypical gender roles expected of their sex [and/or divinity], but still reject gender as a social construct. Still other people [and/or deities] identify as genderqueer since…they do not fit many of society’s expectations for the gender in which they identify…

A God who falls completely outside the gender-binary?  Who transcends the expectations and limitations of society?  Who manifests certain features of masculinity and femininity at once?  Now that makes sense to me.  God is genderqueer!

Last night

True story:

Last night, I asked God, why do you hide?  And God whispered back, so that people have to seek…!

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God and Election 2008, cont.

In this video, Mike Blejer offers another look at the role that God may have had in this election.  (My take can be found here.) Mike’s a friend of mine from college, and is an emerging comedian in the DC area.