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Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Why Did Forbes Take Down an Article Critical of White Christian Evangelicals?

 

 

Two days ago, the online website for Forbes (magazine) took down an article that was critical of White Christian evangelicals.

Why?  I’ll address that in a moment.

I read Forbes on occasion.  It’s not part of in my standard political wheelhouse.  The magazine’s ceaseless cheerleading for American capitalism is repetitive and often cringe-worthy.  Most investment geniuses who make the coveted Forbes cover have crashed and burned when luck runs and market expertise returns to the statistical mean.

However, Forbes is to be credited as a legitimate source for news, information, and opinion.  Forbes adheres to journalistic standards and practices and speaks with an independent voice — at least as independent a voice as a media giant can be headed by someone named Steve Forbes.

I tried to read the article initially posted on Sunday, written by Chris Ladd, who appears to have published an impressive body of credible work in the past.  But when I clicked the Forbes website, I received an “Error 404” message.  That’s the standard code that a webpage is no longer available.  It had been removed.

Of course, that just made me want to read the article all the more.

It was easy to track down the feature article, which raises some legitimate questions about the grotesquely hypocritical evangelical Christian movement.  Since evangelicals constitute a significant percentage of Trump supporters, this strange cult of super believers is a timely topic of discussion.  Certainly, President Trump’s mind-boggling number of moral lapses makes us wonder what evangelicals must be thinking when they seem to ignore all the teachings of their holy book.

Allow me to offer the following theory as to why a well-written, fact-based article with many irrefutable historical references was taken down.  Forbes is a publication and website mostly frequented by conservatives.  Many subscribers aren’t comfortable with having their faith questioned or moral and ethical beliefs put to the test.  Criticism of White Christian evangelicals is taboo in some Right-leaning political circles.  So much for conservatives being the champions of ideas and free expression.  They’re just as hypocritical as everyone else, and on the matter of religion, even more so.

For those interested, here’s the original article which has been cut and pasted for another rogue source.  It’s well worth reading:

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Why White Evangelicalism is So Cruel

[by Chris Ladd]

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star.  Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness.  However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense.  Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history.  Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states.  What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy.  The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations.  However, evangelicalism today has been co-opted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist.  A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South.  And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church.  More than a century and a half after the Civil War and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence.  Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North.  Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at a local store to be played with by children.  Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race.  No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state.  Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation.  Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves.  If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in the protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices.  None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible.  A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted.  Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit.  Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers.  In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message.  What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men.  In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest.  Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex.  For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women.  Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race.  There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority.  Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow.  By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy.  As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated.  What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation.  White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests.  After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury.  Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail.  Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades.  Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King.  When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.”  For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident.  Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage.  There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology.  No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism.  Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars.  When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible.  In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might help to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement?  Nothing.   What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization?  Nothing.  Not one word.  The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter.  White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion.  Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants.  White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers.  White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense.  The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident.  It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him.  His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations.  He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage.  What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.

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Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

The Love Shackle: Are Marital Religious Conversions Sincere?

 

 

Marriage remains the primary reason many people of faith convert from one religion to another, or from no religion to a precipitous discovery of sudden belief.  But why should anyone be forced to change their personal belief system based simply on falling in love?  Doesn’t true love demand tolerance, that is — allowing a spouse to believe what they want and loving him (or her) for who they really are?

 

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been in the news a lot lately.  In the midst of another news cycle, we’re reminded once again that Ivanka once selflessly converted from Christianity (Presbyterianism) to Judaism prior to marrying her beloved prince, Jared.  Isn’t that nice.

Ivanka’s sudden religious epiphany had more to do with an intense desire to get married to someone well-to-do than any discernible intellectual exercise or inner spiritual experience.  In fact, the power couple reportedly broke off their engagement at one point due to strong objections from Kushner’s parents to their son marrying outside the faith.

So, why would a strong-willed, seemingly-intelligent, highly-educated woman reflective of the modern age do something straight out of the Middle Ages, subjugating her most heartfelt personal beliefs to the forced coercion of matrimony?  Let’s call this all-too-typical pattern of behavior what it truly is — an exercise in forced intellectual subjugation.  Oddly enough, it’s a perfectly acceptable form of slavery and servitude that’s still widely in practice.

The Kushner’s certainly aren’t alone, and I don’t mean to pick on them.  This isn’t a political attack.  Rather it’s a philosophical inquiry.  In fact, conversion coercion (a term I just invented here) has become so common that it’s not only now socially normal, but also prudently forgiven as an entirely rational decision.  Indeed, millions of religious conversions have taken place over many decades, no nation more familiar with this peculiar cultural practice than the United States, the ultimate melting pot of people with divergent religions and belief systems.  Matrimonial conversions were all too common in 20th Century America, during a time when religious bonds were considerably stronger than they are today, when boys and girls with different religious upbringings often went to the same school, fell in love, and then decided to get married.  Plenty of Catholics converted to Protestantism, and vice versa.  Christians married Jews, and converted.  More recent, we’ve even begun seeing Christians convert to Islam.  That said, I’m not familiar with any Atheists suddenly “finding religion.”  The building blocks of intelligence can’t be deconstructed, it seems, even by the power of love.

So, what makes religious conversion a mandatory ritual between some couples?  Wouldn’t love and tolerance be best exemplified by loving someone for who they really are, without the remolding process?  People of differing religious faiths, or faith versus no faith at all, have married, and lived happily ever after.  I’ve seen no scientific evidence that shared religious views increases the chances of a happy marriage.  People who are comfortable with themselves and their own beliefs shouldn’t feel threatened by a life’s partner professing an alternative view of our place in the universe.

Truth and honesty should dictate that no religion wants its believers to be converted by force.  But history reveals quite the opposite story — from the Inquisition to the Crusades to the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas (all done in the name of religion).  Hence, it’s no surprise then that religions want new followers any way it can get them, either by using the carrot or the stick.  Marriage just so happens to be a little of both.

Is religion nothing more than a light switch to be flipped on at a moment’s notice, just prior to heading off to the alter?  Can a thinking person really alter their most fundamental belief system without some genuine curiosity and a longer process of discovery?  Well, exposure to new teachings might explain some sincere instances of religious conversion.  Yes, they do happen.  Surely, out of countless millions of instances there are some couples where one spouse signed up to join a different tribe and then gradually become mesmerized by and absorbed within the new rituals.  Still, this all-too convenient (and dishonest) outcome can’t possibly apply to the vast majority of forced conversions, leaving those pseudo-converted shackled to the cerebral equivalent of a ball and chain.  Sure, plenty of people might be able to “fake it” and go along with the charade for a while, many doing it for the sake of the children, no doubt.  But it all seems terribly contrived, and ultimately fake.

Closing the minds of children and insisting upon a strict religious orthodoxy is bad enough, and I’d argue abusive.  Proper education should require that all children get a more balanced view of the alternatives.  But shackling one’s husband or wife to a religious faith is a twisted manifestation of anguishing cruelty.  Forcing one’s religious views on another person, especially a life’s partner, isn’t love.  It’s the ultimate in insecurity and selfishness.

 

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Posted by on Jan 23, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

The United States of Jesusville

 

 

Last week’s presidential inauguration lasted a relatively brisk 90 minutes.  About half of the official swearing-in ceremony was comprised of speeches.  The other half was filled with lively music and assorted patriotic fanfare.

Lost in the controversial aftermath of political protests and petty partisan bickering over attendance figures on the mall that day, was the disturbing amount of time given to religion.  The nation’s biggest platform was frequently turned over to religious authorities.  Prayers dominated the order of the day.  In fact, prayers accounted for nearly as much stage time as President Trump’s much-anticipated inaugural address.  There was the actual swearing in process also, buttressed by not just one, but two versions of The Holy Bible.  A copy of Trump’s own The Art of the Deal was reportedly ready on stand by.

For we secularists, calls for public prayer are typically but a minor annoyance.  Most of us do respect the rights of others to pray and/or show other outward signs of their faith.  We stand quietly while others choose to worship, even though we believe such rituals make about as much sense as praying to the Easter Bunny.  Everyone, everywhere should be afforded the right to demonstrate their beliefs (including we), both in private and public.  However, our patience does get tested.  Our tolerance is abused.  While we’re perfectly willing to pretend-pray and play along, we don’t like getting smashed over the head by the imposition of a pious religious order.  That’s precisely what happened in Washington last Friday.

President Trump’s 17-minute inauguration address was framed by six — count ’em SIX — prayers.  Three prayers were held at the beginning of the ceremony [Pastor Paula White,  who is Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” followed immediately by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and then Rev. Franklin Graham].  That was followed by three more prayers near the end [Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, and Rev. Sam Rodriguez].  All that was missing was the Little Drummer Boy and a partridge in a pear tree affixed to a giant cross that screams “Jesus Saves.”

Usually, non-denominational religious rituals include a benediction from each of the so-called “Big Three” — which is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  But this year, Christians covered the point spread and smashed the over easier than the New England Patriots in the championship game.  At Trump’s inaugural, there were five Christians and one Jew upon the Deus.  What ever happened to the Muslim?  Islam was shut out.  Perhaps the imam’s car got caught in traffic at the “largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration,” according to White House propagandist, Sean Spicer.  We’ll have to check on that.

Were five Christian prayers necessary in order to bestow the imaginary blessing of the world’s phantom superpower upon the incoming Trump Administration?  Might just one, or two, or even three prayers have been sufficient?  Gee, even three seems like overkill.  One realizes that not only are all the religions divided among themselves, denominations too are subdivided into different belief systems, each requiring plenty of grandstanding and gerrymandering.  And so, a sort of Christian ice cream cone was stacked with all the most popular flavors of Baskin-Robbins at the inauguration.  The only thing missing was hot fudge and a cherry.

Once the swearing in ceremony officially ended — for those horrified at the sight of this historic moment, the swearing at began.  The billionaire ruling class accompanied by their congressional puppets and new cabinet appointees and excused themselves over to Union Station, just a 10-minute walk from the Capital.  That where the inaugural luncheon was officially held and began with….(take a wild guess)….yet another prayer.  Some verses were quoted out of a holy book written 2,000 years ago laden with contradictions which mysteriously even condones slavery.  I don’t remember what was said exactly.  I doubt anyone was listening, or paying much attention since everyone’s hickory smoked brisket was getting cold on the plate while the mullah rambled on about the ancient Corinthians.  There were a lot of thou’s and ye’s slung around, though.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, President Obama’s inauguration ceremonies had plenty of religious fanfare, also.  And, I was just as annoyed about it then as I am now with this new Administration.  In fact, religious gets used as a political prod by many politicians in both parties.  But this was akin to smoking the frankincense.  Curiously, most in attendance at these types of public events don’t appear take prayers very seriously, as evidenced by the bitterly deep political divide fueled by institutionalized greed and avarice for money and power that’s come to inflict the ruling class.  It’s as though once the praying ends, it’s open season and the political pickpocketing begins.  Let’s steal and kill for Jesus.

Next came Day Two.  Any notion that the first full day of the new Administration would take on a more serious tone was shattered when, on the following morning, less than 24-hours after seven prayers were offered, President Trump’s first order of business was to attend something called a “National Prayer Service,” held at Washington’s National Cathedral.  Somehow, instead of just Christians and Jews peppering the pews and slinging the sermons, a Muslim and Hindu miraculously passed through security.  Once again, we’ll have to look into that.

Prayers and preaching has no place in or at any official government function, assuming one shares a literal interpretation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.  Millions of American secularists share this view.  Fortunately, the previous Administration even acknowledged what’s become the fastest-growing of all factions on religiosity (which is the “nones” — meaning those having no religious belief).  We aren’t growing smaller.  We’re increasing in size.  But you wouldn’t know any of this given the holy liturgy of events over the past three days and all the lapdog attention afforded to Christian evangelicals.

Surely, there’s at least one thing on which we can probably all agree. believers and secularists alike.  There’s plenty of praying going on right now, right this very instant.  Even many of those who strongly oppose President Trump and his policies are out there praying.  They’re praying with as much conviction as anyone else.  I sometimes wonder how any spiritual being, real or imagined, could handle the disparate prayers of so many contradictory hopes and wishes.  All this praying is enough to make any god ignore the incessant chatter and flip the off switch.

 

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Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Was Mother Teresa a Fraud?

 

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MOTHER TERESA (while being filmed in a television interview speaking to one of her “patients”):  “You are suffering like Christ on the cross.  So Jesus must be kissing you.”

CALCUTTA CANCER PATIENT (suffering unbearable pain from being terminal ill and given no painkillers):  “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”

 

Few pronouncements are more blasphemous than alleging Mother Teresa was a fraud.

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Posted by on Nov 13, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 0 comments

The War on Christmas Cups

 

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The conservative movement has perfected the dark art of victimhood to detestable new lows, even for them.

Once again, they’ve torn out the most incendiary pages of the far right’s twisted Machiavellian playbook, butchered most of the facts, and ignited the tinder box brimming over with anger and paranoia.  Once again, they’ve manipulated a seemingly trivial event for their own selfish political (and financial) gain.  Once again, they’ve frightened the living daylights out of their most gullible followers.  And once again, their dubious tactics seem to be working.  Like I said, it’s a dark art.

Whether it’s guns, or Bibles, or banks, or big oil they’re credulously protecting with the incessant screams of shrill voices and enraged sense of false patriotism, these susceptible pawns shifting around on the American political chessboard have sardined themselves with the rest of the can of crazies in what’s increasing become a vicious collective mass hysteria of guppies with unmistakable aims to obfuscate any attempt at rational discourse.  Their favored tactic?  Sling enough shit around, and something is bound to stick somewhere.

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