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Archive for the ‘Religion and the Secular’ Category

Honor the day by hearing these ominous and generally unknown points of evidence and circumstance being entered into the record during the King family’s 1999 civil finding of wrongful death for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The clip presents only an 8 1/2 minute portion of attorney William Pepper’s closing summation of evidence to the jury – given before they delivered a verdict against the defendant, Loyd Jowers.  All ten clips are available on YouTube.

Loyd Jowers?  Funny I don’t remember any fuss over this on TV at the time. In fact I am ashamed to admit that I have been walking around for over 12 years having no idea how much evidence this Memphis jury heard; evidence that not only pointed to shooters not named James Earl Ray, but also implicated local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel in complicity with shooters not named James Earl Ray.

At least we now see how important it was for a lot of people that James Earl Ray never got a jury trial. It should make us think twice whenever an alleged assassin does not go to trial – whether he is shot dead at the scene or while in custody, or maybe is declared mentally insane and unable to stand trial. In Ray’s case it appears he was just allowed to run – I’m guessing someone gave him tickets to a place where an accident could be arranged for him.  Except that on the way to the accident he was snared at a checkpoint that was out of their control – Heathrow Airport – and returned to them. Awkward moment!

After the British government expedited the lone gunman back to the states, normal preparations for his defense where begun.  But these preparations were brought to an end quickly by Texas attorney Percy Foreman, who showed up uninvited and convinced Ray to fire his legal team, telling him that he could get him off.  Then, on the day before scheduled arraignment with his fancy new attorney, Ray was very suddenly told by him that he must plead guilty or face the electric chair. When Ray discovered that he had not been allowed to say anything on his own behalf during the plea bargain, he recanted his guilty plea, and spent the rest of his life in prison requesting a trial.

At least the King family’s civil trial 30 years later has cleared Ray’s name of all Federal charges except the purchase of a rifle alleged to be the murder weapon (a rifle with a scope that had never been ‘sighted in’ and arguably was never fired in the direction of the Lorraine Motel).

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Before this summer I knew nothing of Jacques Ellul.  I discovered the late French theologian and social critic almost by accident, when I glanced into his book, The Humiliation of the Word, and heard a voice that, as they say, “spoke to my condition” (La Parole humiliée, 1981; ET Erdmans, 1985).

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

It’s no secret that philosophy adores the supreme importance of language.  But Ellul takes this principle much more seriously than most philosophers. For him Truth itself is a realm that must be made independent of all images and sense data – in order that it may become the sole provenance of the Word.

“language … permits us to go beyond the reality of mere existence to… something different from the sensually verifiable universe.  Language is not bound to reality, but to its capacity to create this different universe, which you may call surreal, meta-real, or metaphysical. For the sake of convenience we will call it the order of truth. The word is the creator, founder, and producer of truth.” (1.2)

But Ellul compensates the materialist generously for this wholesale dethronement of images and other sense data from the court of Truth – he readily concedes to these lesser forms the illustrious name ‘Reality.’

I don’t know if this move would appease our shrill acolytes of ‘Science’ who – unlike the professionals within its working ranks – believe ‘the Method’ to be the universal solvent of all really tough human problems.  But a materialist who does not thoroughly understand that accuracy is a value existing on a level completely different from veracity or honesty is probably not equipped for understanding Ellul.

Theologians, too, may find it hard to give up words like ‘image’ and ‘reality’ in honor of Truth – until they remember that this concession is at least in keeping with teachings that have never equated truth-seeking with pursuit of images or of the data of the five senses.

By differentiating Truth from Reality – and by relegating so much interesting stuff to ‘Reality,’ Ellul makes it clear he does not aim to dismiss the significance of images and sense data.  He is determined only to prevent all such categorically foreign elements from obscuring the search for Truth.

And by differentiating Word from Image, Ellul does not intend to exclude language from its function in Reality. It is clear that language has given an evolutionary advantage to the speaking race of animals – by which they might overcome non-speaking predators who were better endowed with speed, strength, endurance, intuition, reflex, habit.  But I think Ellul views this evolutionary advantage of language as only an epiphenomenon of the Word. Yes, language is the secret of material mastery, but its real essence as the Word is to be the guide in attainments that transcend material forms of success.

“What is Truth?”  Ellul hears the question being asked, but wisely avoids definitions of Truth in terms of observable or identifiable content. Instead he recommends we discover what belongs to the domain of Truth ourselves, by seeking to understand it as the object of our highest human endeavor.

“Anything concerned with the ultimate destination of a human being belongs to the domain of Truth.  And by ‘destination’ in this sense I mean ‘meaning and direction in life’. We can add to this everything that refers to the establishment of a scale of values which allows a person to make significant personal decisions, and everything related to the debate over Justice and Love and their definition.” (1.3)

I’m not sure I have ever underlined a book more often than I did this one.  Jacques Ellul makes me want to go back to Kant’s epoch-making arguments for the primacy of Practical Reason (First and Second Critiques) and reopen the whole discussion on behalf of religion that Fichte more or less fumbled, and that Schleiermacher seems only to have made ambiguous to modern minds.

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Pete Rollins is planning a talk in Belfast in September to explain that The Apocalypse isn’t coming – it’s already happened.

Fundamentalist Christianity has long expressed a view of apocalypse as some future event that will consume the present world and replace it with a new one. Yet while this is a bloody and destructive vision, I will argue that it is inherently conservative in nature… For those who hold to such a vision are willing to imagine absolutely everything around them changing so that their present values and beliefs can remain utterly unchanged.  In contrast I will argue that a Christian apocalypse describes something much more radical, namely an event that fundamentally ruptures and re-configures our longings, hopes and desires…

This resonates with me, although I’m waiting to see where Rollins will take it.  If he has not forgotten his Greek, he will oblige us I hope with a vision of a true ‘apocalypse’ – not earth-scorching destruction but paradigm-shattering revelation.

I have made two attempts here to articulate my own growing sense that the Apocalypse is already history.  In January I first hinted at my post-apocalyptic ‘vision’ when I called out the folly of Harold (“I did the math”) Camping’s predictions of a Day of Reckoning for May 21 of this year.  But I’ve since elaborated a bit more of my view that puts us now almost a century past the end-times of a less-than-edifying ‘Protestant-Catholic’ Christian dispensation.

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Philosophers’ ships is the collective name of several boats which, in September and November 1922 carried more than 160 expelled Russian intellectuals from Petrograd to Stettin, Germany.

Other intellectuals were transported in 1923 by train to Riga, Latvia or by boat from Odessa to Constantinople.

Three detention lists included 228 people, 32 of them students.

Among the expellees were these four Christian thinkers whose books I have read and would endorse:

Nikolai Berdyaev

Sergei Bulgakov

Semen L. Frank

Nikolai Lossky

See also, Chamberlain, Lesley, Lenin’s Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia, St Martin’s Press, 2007

HT Wikipedia

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I see a certain irony in Nietzsche’s reputation as a visionary.  Take, for example, the notorious section of Religious Aphorisms in his 1878 book, Human, all too Human. In this book we have a Nietzsche who admittedly cuts the figure of a kind of modern-day Jeremiah.  He offers great call-outs of Christianity for its outworn creeds and forms, pagan throw-backs, and ritual perversions.  On the other hand, I suspect I could find most of these same kinds of criticisms of ‘religion’ in the Bible itself.

Overall I think Nietzsche’s book fails to confirm his alleged prophetic credentials. When a Voltaire (to whom the book is dedicated) cries out “ecrasez l’infame,” we see that he refers to the superstitious abuses of a certain corrupt institution and walk of life – and rightly so.  But Nietzsche’s alienation from God is complete, and this explains what I see as his fatal flaw.  For he includes in one sweeping condemnation not only the oddities and obvious antiquities of religion’s outward form and teachings – he condemns the religious consciousness itself and the spiritual ground of religion. Dude.

The atheistic perspective on the human quest for God has one critical disadvantage in comparison to the spiritual perspective. Because the spiritually minded prophet is not devoid of the same insights into the farce of objective creedal and ritual trivia that are criticized by the atheist – the prophets of Israel condemn these abuses with the same prophetic ardor as a Nietzsche.  However, what the spiritual eye is able to see in addition is the folly of the whole secular project which confuses these trivia for substance.

In a new English translation of Nietzsche’s book (by Gary Handwerk, in The Complete Works, Vol. 3, Stanford 1995) I find the title of his infamous aphorism 113 is rendered, Christianity as anachronism.  In my unprofessional opinion I think this is a better rendering of Nietzsche’s meaning than was Walter Kaufmann’s “Christianity as antiquity”  (Viking, 1954, p.52). But herein lies the irony I mentioned at the beginning of my post.

The illusory holy grail for swashbucklers like Nietzsche is the notion that he will find (or has found) an omnipotent psychological explanation of religion, by which the religious consciousness is reduced to elements of illusion and self-consideration. I think Nietzsche himself must have looked for the dawn of a day in which it would simply be unnecessary for philosophers to distinguish between the reality of religious consciousness and the absurdity of some of Christianity’s (or any religion’s) peculiar expressions and outward forms. What he saw was the coming of just such a pseudo-philosopher as Richard Dawkins.

But if it is a category error to confuse the human quest for God with the antique or anachronistic forms of human religion, this quest cannot be explained or replaced by a scientific paradigm or a secular parody of consciousness. We need a return to a philosophy that recognizes that the scientific method by definition can function only on the ‘objective’ outskirts of religion, art, and consciousness (i.e. a return to Kant); the atheist only apes the method of science when he swaggers into the midst of the human quest demanding that it be judged in terms of a strictly physical or scientific humanities and psychology.

It is a false assumption that the student may approach the reality of man independently of an approach to the reality of God. This false start has contributed to the spectacle of our modern faculties of ‘Human Sciences’ – characterized by various irreconcilable schools of thought, each supported by a tissue of footnoted cross-references to great piles of like-minded studies. I suggest that this dreary edifice is the academic version of the ugly, dysfunctional modernist Pruitt-Igoe apartments inspired by Le Corbusier. The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in 1972 has been characterized by Charles Jencks as “the end of modern architecture.” What is needed is a postmodernist critique that shall render the whole 100-year modernist cul-de-sac in the Humanities to the cool of library storage – where the fallacy of man without God can be studied as a curiosity of history – the supreme anachronism of the ‘modern’ age.

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Unfortunately for our democracy, some Protestant pastors will not be celebrating a true Reformation Sunday this weekend.  They worship instead an unorthodox holy day of their own making – they are ending a season of lawbreaking and profane secular involvement with a feast day of Mammon which ought to be called The Last Sunday before Elections. The unholy season started on Sept. 26, with a thing called ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday.’

It is not clear how many preachers plan this Sunday to use the authority of their high calling to allege some kind of divine sanction of blessing or damnation for their own personal political choices.  The braver of these ignorant shepherds have already sent tape recordings of their Sept 26 sermons to the IRS, at the suggestion of the so-called Pulpit Freedom movement, which hopes to aid them if any lawsuits are initiated by the Government.

These pastors seem to misunderstand the perfectly legal connection the IRS is making between their tax-exempt status and the restriction that they not interfere with their local, state, and national commerce or politics.

All right then.  I would hope the IRS will exercise due diligence in taking up a limited number of these challenges.  The most air-tight cases are probably few, but let’s begin with those where there is hard evidence that a pastor has endorsed a local, state, or national political group or candidate who also enjoys the privilege of tax exemption on donations made to that particular church.  Look for cases where a state judge or congressman has made a significant donation – particularly if not a member of the church.  Because that’s where we’re headed if the tax-free pulpit endorsement becomes a reality.  Once preachers are free to endorse candidates from the pulpit, a very significant amount of tax-free influence goes up ‘for sale’ which is otherwise purchasable only through taxable media and canvassing outlets.

I don’t doubt that these unsophisticated preachers of God feel very righteous in their decision to go this way.  But seriously, they risk becoming the dupes of astute power brokers who would be very glad to manipulate the churches as ‘combines’ of political and market forces.

Fortunately, most pastors know the ‘Pulpit Freedom’ ruse is wrong

Obviously there are spiritual issues as well.  If you enter one of these stricken congregations this Sunday, expect to witness an overt flouting of both material and spiritual law.

(1) The preacher may blaspheme the will of God by equating it with his own narrow political view.

(2) The preacher may divide the very body of Christ entrusted to his care – by calling their votes either holiness or sin, depending on conformity to his own pompous choice.

(3) The preacher’s church may even enjoy lavish gifts (tax deductible) from the very same local, state, or national office-seeker or party whose views are being touted from the pulpit.

The church’s sacred calling ought to remove it from secular commercial and political affiliation.   Pastors who desire to preach like Jeremiah should be so pious as to end their acceptance of tax-exempt donations.

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For years I have had my liberal ears scorched by brief daily exposures to evangelical theology on my clock radio, dialed to a local ‘Family Radio’ station.  It’s eye-opening, certainly, and it prevents me from getting too comfortable in bed.

I used to wake up to a regular sermon spot by the late Adrian Rogers (the spot went away after he died).  Preachers like Rogers are fascinating.  Coming on all southern-fried with that big Johnny Cash voice, but I still remember one ‘family sermon’ that got my goat.

He started with an unobjectionable mix of moral and religious exhortation, a simple Doctor Phil wisdom with a Christian spin that would help anyone raising a family.

“Kids learn from example,”
“Parents should practice what they preach,”
“Love heals all wounds,” etc.

Well, yeah.

Next, a touching family story, with a moral (“…which just goes to show you, friends, we’d be lost without our families”)… at which point I’m thinking, “Man he’s right, I would be lost without my family!”

Then he sets a more serious tone.  A call for soul-searching, a gentle scolding, a little “nobody’s perfect,” “make an effort with the kids,” “stay with it for better or for worse,” etc.  All of this secular wisdom and morality; by now I’m thinking, where’s the Gospel?

But there wasn’t going to be any gospel.  Rogers suddenly and very simply forgets everything Jesus stands for.  His voice grows grim with warning tones, he places undue emphasis on some hard-boiled, out-of-the way place in the Bible, and then finds a point Jesus was trying to make and gives it a kind of nasty, judgmental spin that takes the heart right out of it.

I listen in horror as this old silvertongue leads me into dry and drier pastures, apart from all waters, until he takes away all my strength.  He has carefully spread a banquet of perfect calumny and fear in the presence of my enemies.  I hear how there’s a dangerous devourer of families out there, a cosmic enemy, who wants to bring an end to all our families.  All that sweetness and light I find is at stake in a terrific battle with Satan.

Finally – his ‘good news’ – I can be very thankful that this great cosmic evil is being ably challenged by … by Dr. James Dobson (er what!?).

And last comes the clincher:  the devil is very crafty, and the battle is a lot tougher than it needs to be, because a lot of well-meaning but utterly misguided and dangerous efforts are coming from “the Libruls” – who are just making the enemy’s work that much easier… etc.

O.M.G!

Friends, preaching like this has not gone away, and it must certainly be contributing to the destruction of our national discourse.  If our evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ appear unduly scared and angry, it’s because they have been flat-out lied to by their bad-shepherds – about the Bible, about God’s will, and about the motives of over half their fellow Americans.

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