Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Devil You Say

Halloween is antiChristian. The Devil you say! No, seriously. It is a ploy of the Devil to get kids so hyped on candy that they engage in wanton Satanic rituals that basically sell their souls to the Dark Lord. So to win them back, many churches are creating alternative Halloween celebrations for their kids. Here are few I find most intriguing.

The Church of the Holy Apostles in McHenry, Ill is holding a “trunk or treat” in the Catholic parish’s parking lot. Kids dress up and have a context for the best martyred saint. I kid you not. If I were a kid at this church I’d have my mother crucify me upside down and come as St. Peter. How could you lose?

And what is the point of trunk in the trunk and treat? Obviously a play on “trick or treat” where those who do not fork over candy are inviting pranks to be played on them or their property. But what is the play? What does trunk have to do with trick? I can only think of one thing: If you fail to give a kid some candy they get to lock you in the trunk of a car. This seems very dangerous to me, and far more risky than having toilet paper tossed on your maple tree. But maybe the Catholics in McHenry know something I don’t.

The House of Prayer in Ellettsville Church in Bloomington, Ind. is sponsoring a Hell House. People pay five dollars to see scenes of domestic violence, a teenage boy committing suicide, and other acts of sinful behavior. Works for me. I would much rather have my little kid witness a suicide than have to share the sidewalk with The Littlest Mermaid. (Mermaids are perhaps a missing link between sea dwelling humans and earthbound ones, hence proving the truth of evolution.)

Hell Houses have the added benefit of causing people to come to Christ. The Hell House at the House of Prayer caught 84 people in the Fisher of Men’s net the first night it opened. While I am troubled that the way to Jesus is through horror rather than compassion, still at 5 bucks a head, this is a good deal.

I personally have no problem with Halloween. When my son was young and had no idea what was in his candy bag, I thought nothing of robbing him of all things Reese. Today I have to go out and buy my own peanut butter cups. Kids grow up too fast.

When I was in rabbinical school, of course, Halloween was a problem. The October Dilemma we called it. You see Halloween is really a Christian holy day. Jews don’t take Satan seriously enough to have a holiday devoted to him. All things Satanic are based on Christianity. They are the inversion of Christianity. That is why Satan is so big in Christian circles, and Christianity is the great evil in Satanic pentagrams.

I doubt that dressing up as Borat is going to weaken by child’s faith in the God who murdered the first born males of Egypt, so I never worried about Halloween. My beef with the holiday is the cost. If I have my numbers right, Americans spend 5 billion dollars on Halloween. Do you know how many days of the Iraq war we could wage for that? American— where are your priorities?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two Camps

Over the past weeks I have been dealing with two very different constituencies, one conservative, the other liberal. Both call themselves “people of faith,” but the faith of the first is clear and compelling while that of the second appears muddied and confused.

The conservative camp believes their Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The liberal camp is unsure as to what the Bible is, or what to make of it. Because of their passion for the Bible, I found it easier to engage conservatives, challenging those who focus on Leviticus 18:22 and imagine God’s main concern is with homosexuality, not to ignore the 2000 plus verses dealing with the poor and to commit themselves to God’s greater concern with poverty and powerlessness.

While liberals need no encouragement to care for the poor, their call to compassion and action is not based in Scripture. Asked to cite even a single verse of Scripture that guided them, not one of dozens of liberal people of faith did so. When privately pressed many people told me that Scripture and the Bible’s anthropomorphic image of a violent male God who sanctioned genocide, misogyny, and homophobia embarrassed them.

My work with the conservatives was to focus on these violent images of God, and to challenge them to identify and decry what I called the Voice of Fear that comes not from God but from men (literally). While I cannot claim to have made much headway, I was excited about how quickly we could get to the real issue of what Scripture said and why it mattered.

My work with the liberals was to help shape a prophetic politics ala Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis rooted in the Voice of Love. Here too I made little headway, but the problem was more fundamental: there was too little knowledge of and even less trust in Scripture.

I don’t believe God writes books or speaks to people from bushes. I believe that there are rare spiritual geniuses among us who tap into the Divine Reality and are overcome by compassion for self and other. These saints return to their communities and seek to communicate in the language of their time the timeless and ultimately ineffable love they experienced. They speak in the Voice of Love. I also believe that there are many more false prophets who claim to have the same experience, but who are simply imposing their own agenda through the Voice of Fear.

I understand why liberals are reticent about God and Scripture. And I applaud those who boldly reject both and root their call for justice and compassion in other things. But I see myself as a person of faith, a person who more and more surrenders to the One Who Is All, and finds in that surrender a challenge to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and to love neighbor, stranger, enemy, and the earth. I had hoped to find other liberals with the same experience. The fact is I am more apt to find like-minded people among the conservatives. Odd. And disturbing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Humility or Hubris?

Tuesday’s USA TODAY (October 24, 2006) contained a full-page open letter by James Robison called “We Have a Choice.” A challenge to America to change course and align herself with God, my heart raced as I imagined a call to align ourselves with divine justice, compassion, and humility (Micah 6:8), to stop living by the sword lest we die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), and to care for the least among us (Matthew 25:40).

At first I thought this might be so as Mr. Robison affirmed the need to free ourselves from greed, to seek peace inwardly and outwardly, to focus on “love, relationships, family, joy, compassion, and serving others,” and to engage in dialogue with those with whom we differ without the “desire to destroy the opposition.” But this quickly devolved into a passionate invocation of the god of violence who threatens to destroy America because of abortion, Hollywood, and homosexuality.

He tells us that he has seen America broken by terrible violence with “masses of people crying out in fear and panic from destruction and death beyond comprehension.” We will call to God for relief but God will not save us. Indeed, it is God who allows this horror, whatever it is, to come upon us.

Mr. Robison’s god is not my God. Yes, this god can be found in the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Revelation, and in the Qur’an, but this god is not the true God of the Hebrew Prophets, or the Father of Jesus, or the All-Merciful Allah of Mohammed (peace be upon him). Robison’s God is not the God of the rabbis who edit Exodus 34 (6-7) to reveal a God of mercy, grace, patience, infinite compassion, truth, and forgiveness. This is the god of violence who sanctions violence on behalf of those whose evil feeds his hunger for destruction. This god is the creation of the human lust for power. This god sanctions genocide, crusades, pogroms, lesser jihad, and terrorism. This is not the God who says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,: or who challenges us love our neighbor, the stranger, and our enemies, and to not study war any more.

I agree with Mr. Robison that we must transform our country by transforming ourselves. I believe we must be pro-life and put an end to violence, abuse, capital punishment, and the valuing of a few cells over the life, health, and well being of girls and women. I believe we should be pro-justice and support a living wage and universal healthcare. I believe we should be pro-family and welcome loving couples both straight and gay. I believe we should out grow the violence that passes for art and entertainment both on the large screen and the game screen. I believe we should heed Jesus and care for the least among us. I believe we should love our neighbors, the stranger, and our enemies, pledging ourselves to ending violence against both person and planet. And I am willing to pay serious taxes to achieve these goals. But I read none of that in We Have a Choice.

The essay’s subtitle is “Humility or Humiliation.” True, this is the choice before us. I doubt we will choose wisely.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crabbie Cabbies

Some Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis are fighting for the right to refuse to carry passengers who carry alcohol in or on their person. This is just the latest in the ongoing culture war in this country, and I for one love it. I would urge these cabbies to unite with Jewish cab drivers and insist on pork-free taxies as well. In fact I think some enterprising company would invent breathalyzers for both booze and bacon that would warn a cabbie that his or her potential fare is an infidel and not worth driving anywhere.

Not surprisingly, some Minneapolis citizens, especially those who drink responsibly and need taxis to carry them home after a night of binging or who worry that having a BLT for lunch may force them to walk rather than grab a cab, are up in arms. Personally, I think the cabbies are well within their rights to refuse to drive these people. If Christian pharmacists can refuse to sell the morning-after pill to a woman who was raped, I think it only fair that Muslims can refuse to pick up anyone who violates their religious sensibilities. But, more importantly, this culture clash offers the rest of us the chance to capitalize on a unique niche marketing opportunity. Just when you thought the taxi cab business was dominated by huge companies driving out the little guy, we now have an opening for mom and pop taxies to flourish in culturally diverse cities such as Minneapolis.

Here are just some of the options, complete with tag lines for advertising, that an entrepreneurial cab driver might try:

Clean and Sober Cabs (“You Drink, We Drive”) would focus on drunks, offering hot black coffee to inebriated passengers, and supplying then with breath mints when they arrive at their destinations to help them convince others they are not drunk.

Heaven’s Hacks (“Cab Outta Hell”) might focus on people in search of salvation through Jesus Christ. Christian radio would play on the stereo, cabbies would be trained evangelists, and rear seat camcorders would record backseat conversions to mark the rider’s coming to Jesus.

Kosher Kabs (“Have we got a ride for you!”) would feature rabbis who would teach Torah during the ride, and help male passengers learn how to lay tefillin. These cabs would be equipped with mikvahs (ritual baths) in the trunk for women riders who wish to participate in this ritual.

CrossTown Taxi (“Every street is a Cross street”) would be for the saved only, taking them to destinations approved by their denominations and avoiding all family planning clinics, pharmacies that provide the morning after pill, offensive movies, and stores that don’t allow employees to say “Merry Christmas” during the winter solstice.

Without belaboring the point, I would also license Crusader Cabs for Catholics (“Ride with us—God wills it!”), Hurry Krishna for Hindus (“We gita you there fast!”), Buddha Bus for Buddhists (“You’re already there!”), and a fleet of Mazda automobiles called Ahura’s for Zoroastrians (“Get there faster with Zoroaster!”).

You get the idea. As America becomes more diverse and more divisive those with real imagination can make a killing. At least until the real killing starts.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Behind the I

“We have met the enemy, and they are us.” Pogo’s insight is all the more true today they when he first “uttered” it. At its root, the civil war among the children of Abraham is a religious war. It is no longer simply over whom did Abraham love enough to try and murder (the Hebrew Bible claims it was Isaac, the Koran claims is was Ishmael), but whom does God love best?

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Koran God’s love is linked to God’s violence and punishment. You know God loves you because God kills your enemies. You know God loves you most of all because in the end God makes all others bow down to you as a surrogate for Him.

Torah tells us quite boldly that the suffering and death of thousands of Egyptians prior to and following the exodus was simply to prove God was God (Exodus 7: 1-5). While we Jews like to speak of our god as the liberating god of the enslaved and oppressed, we do so only by ignoring that this liberating god endorses slavery, misogyny, and genocide.

The New Testament is no less rooted in violence. While Jesus’ earliest teachings in Mark seem to be a rejection of violence, later gospels have him continually damning people to eternal hellfire. Further, the very theology of Jesus’ crucifixion is rooted in the idea that God is at heart a violent and destructive deity.

Ask yourself: what does it really mean to say that Jesus died for our sins? It means that God would have killed all of us (as he did in the story of Noah and the Flood), but was placated by the murder of his son. God is not a god of love and justice, but of blood and sacrifice. Read Revelation, the capstone of the New Testament, to see how Jesus is transformed from a nonviolent prophet of love to a violent wrecker of end times havoc.

The Koran simply adapts this violent god for a new age and new people. While filled with great ethical teachings the Koran almost always links these to warnings of eternal damnation for failing to live up to them. It is as if Allah cannot imagine humanity doing anything just, compassionate, or right without being scared into it by threats of violence.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are at war with one another because their respective images of god demand it. The way out is far more challenging than a military victory. We have to take on the very gods themselves, and say “no” to the violence they demand. Yet we created these gods to excuse our violence. So it is our violence that must be defeated. This is what Islam calls for when it speaks of the Greater Jihad, a war against warring.

The paradox notwithstanding, they are on to something. If western religion is to transcend its innate violence, its followers must own that violence and refuse to participate in it. How? Simply by seeing the violence within us allows us to transcend it. If I know I am angry, the “I” that knows is not angry. If I know I am violent, the “I” that knows is not violent. If I act from this “I” I need not do away with violence I simply choose not to act violently. The key is to take refuge in the true self, the “I” behind the I. How? Just look, observe, witness.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tiptoe Through The TULIP

Just when I had convinced myself that we are on the verge of a great interspiritual reformation, a second turning of the axis of human consciousness, I read in this month’s Christianity Today about the upsurge of Calvinism among the youth of America.

If you’re like me, your first thought was, “So what? Calvinism, Poloism, Levi-ism—why should I care what jeans are hot among Christian kids?” Then comes your second thought, “Calvinism! My God, can you get more depressing that that?”

Calvinism, or Reformed theology, began with John Calvin (1509–1564), and while it has taken many forms over the centuries, the acronym TULIP continues to be a valid statement of what it stands for:

Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.

Let’s go into these five points and see just what kind of madness is taking hold.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY. You suck. You suck from birth and there is nothing you can do about it. Sin has corrupted your will and leaves you incapable of working out your salvation. You are doomed. Unless…

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. … God chooses to save you. Since you are totally depraved and hence unworthy of salvation, God’s choice of whom to save and whom to damn is unconditional, that is without conditions, which means it is totally arbitrary. God saves whomever God decides to save, and God decides to do so before you are born so don’t even think about getting on God’s good side now.

LIMITED ATONEMENT. I’ll take “Died for our sins” for $300, Alex. Ah, Who is Jesus? “Oh, sorry boychick, not according to Calvinism.” Calvinism teaches that Jesus died only for the sins of the church, and the only people who are in the church are those God arbitrarily chooses to save.

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. If you are one of the saved, you cannot resist God’s call to salvation. Don’t try the excuse, “But I’m a Bodhisattva and I promised to forego salvation until all other beings are saved.” The fact is the Club of the Saved is by invitation only, and if you get called there is nothing you can do to stop it.

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. If you’ve been saved you will lack doubt, and your faith will be strong and unshakable until the end of time. And all we have to do is read the morning headlines to find our where doubt-free religious hubris leads: religious fascism.

So what are we to make of this resurgence of Calvinism? We are going to end up with a lot more arrogant, self-obsessed, and compassionless Christian kids running around.

God save us! Oh, I forgot.