Tag: the Bible

Must we choose between belief-less Christianity and fundamentalism?


John Shuck is a Presbyterian pastor in good standing who doesn’t believe a single thing you learned in Sunday school.  In a recent Patheos post, Reverend Shuck issued a list of six affirmations designed to boil the blood of every right-thinking American:

  • Religion is a human construct
  • The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife

You may be wondering why, having jettisoned God, Jesus, the Bible and heaven, Rev. Shuck still wants to play church.  What’s the point? (more…)

The crazy lady in the attic

Thornfield Hall burns to the ground

By Alan Bean

Fred Phelps is dead and there is no one to mourn his passing.  In the end, poor Fred was abandoned even by the cult his hate built.

One is tempted to see Fred Phelps as an extreme expression of the evangelical impulse.  Don’t most prominent evangelicals hate homosexuals just as much as Fred does?  Doesn’t the evangelical tribe condemn America for tolerating the sin of Sodom?

Perhaps, but there is a difference.  Pastor Fred learned in the early 1990s that condemning America for being soft on sin was getting him nowhere.  By spelling out things out in the most graphic and objectionable fashion Fred and family gained the attention of the world.  Westboro Baptist was the Church the world loved to hate, and that was fine with Fred so long as he got his headlines.  For the next quarter century, Fred and company made hate their private cottage industry by transforming gross, pornographic insensitivity into an art form.

Theologically, Phelps was an old school, Jonathan Edwards Calvinist.  Read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and you’ve got Fred’s theology.


Jesus, the Bible and gay rights

By Alan Bean

I remember back in 1978 when Harold Lindsell published Battle for the Bible.   I was in my final year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  None of my professors thought much of Lindsell’s diatribe.  In fact, he was written off as a silly man with antiquated ideas.

Forty-five years later, Lindsell’s Simple Simon theology is the controlling ideology at my alma mater and throughout the evangelical world.  To argue otherwise is to surrender your orthodoxy card.

The change didn’t come gradually.  In fact, it all happened while I was working on my doctorate at Southern.  When I arrived in 1989, the school was much as it had been in 1978, moderate, cautious, and, within strict limits, tolerant of theological diversity.  There was no room for genuine liberals, of course (this is the Southern Baptist Convention we’re talking about); but God-said-it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it conservatives were also not welcome.

By the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from newly installed president Albert Mohler the school had changed beyond recognition.   (more…)

Where corporations are persons and the undocumented are not

By Alan Bean

With the first presidential debate looming, Mitt Romney has moved to the center on the immigration issue.  He still promises to oppose the DREAM act, if elected, to veto the bill if it passes congressional muster.  But Romney now says he would honor the work visas which, at President Obama’s direction, are currently being awarded to young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

As Ross Douthat (with admirable cynicism) pointed out in a recent column, when it comes to the immigration issue, presidential aspirants can win votes by exhibiting compassion (George W. Bush, Rick Perry) or by playing mean (Mitt Romney during the primary season), but there is no advantage to waffling between these two strategies.  Like most right-leaning pundits, Douthat favors using immigration as a wedge issue:

 Taking a more restrictionist position and using the issue to portray the Democrats as beholden to their party’s ethnic interest groups and out of step with blue collar Americans’ concerns.

The wise course, in other words, is to drive a wedge between hardworking Latinos and Anglos.  Nice, Ross.  A self-proclaimed “Christian” columnist advocates this sort of nastiness and no one cries “for shame!”  That’s the America we live in.  Christianity, it seems, has no moral application unless we’re talking about abortion.

Texas politicians like George W. Bush and Rick Perry are “soft on immigration” because their support base includes a lot of agribusiness people who couldn’t survive without cheap undocumented labor.  Alienating Latino voters might benefit Republicans in the short-term; but it is a long-term loser.

It is also devilish, but hey, in American politics you’ve got to give the devil his due.

Romney and Obama are both waffling on the immigration issue.  Obama claims to be working for comprehensive immigration reform (known as CIR in immigration reform circles), but he also deported a record 400,000 undocumented immigrants last year, three-quarters of them to Mexico.  To put that in context, that’s the same number of undocumented residents the United States deported between 1908 and 1980. In theory, the feds are deporting criminals, “the worst of the worst”.  In reality, half of the deportees have no criminal record and most of the “criminals” represent little threat to American public safety.

Historically, American politicians of both parties have waffled on immigration, bouncing between compassion and demagoguery.  In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a bill that exchanged amnesty for many undocumented immigrants for assurances that the border would be closed to new arrivals.  Typically, the approach has been to privilege on group of undocumented Americans at the expense of other undocumented groups.  The DREAM act, for instance, would allow young people who came to the United States as children to obtain work permits and apply for citizenship, but their parents, and children who arrived too late, would be out of luck.

This good-immigrant-bad-immigrant approach is fundamentally unfair and utterly unworkable.  We gain nothing by kicking the immigration can down the road.

Politicians like Obama and Romney can’t be more progressive (or regressive) than the American middle.  A new poll suggests that the majority of Americans now favor providing a path to citizenship over mass deportation.  This shift occurred, I suspect, because Barack Obama found the courage to protect (albeit temporarily) DREAM act young people from immediate deportation.

Few of us think our way to an opinion.  We listen to what significant others are saying and follow suit.  We don’t all march to the same drummer, but few of us supply our own drum track.  True reform will come when both major parties realize that they can get one of their people elected president, or they can enrage the Latino electorate, but they can’t do both.

Here’s the results of the CNN poll: (more…)