A nation of heretics

Ross Douthat begins with reflections on three recent cases in American religion:  the popularity of prosperity-gospeller Joel Osteen; President Obama’s statement that the reason he now favors gay marriage is because he follows Jesus; and new statistics that find that non-denominational Christianity is now the third largest category, behind Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists.  He then draws this conclusion and applications:

For decades, the cultural tug-of-war between the Christian right and the secular left has encouraged people to envision the American religious future in binary terms –as either godless or orthodox, either straightforwardly secular or traditionally Christian. But these examples and trends suggest a more complicated reality, in which religious institutions have declined but religion itself has not, and Americans increasingly redefine Christianity as they see fit rather than than abandoning it entirely.

We aren’t a nation of rigorous Richard Dawkins-style atheists and equally rigorous Pope Benedict XVI-style Catholics, in other words. Instead, we’re a nation of Osteens and Obamas, Dan Browns and Deepak Chopras –neither a Christian nation nor a secular society, but a nation of heretics.

To many Americans, this description no doubt sounds like a compliment. Because we’ve always been a nation from of religious freethinkers and entrepreneurs –from Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy –the word “heretic” often carries positive connotations in our religious culture. It’s associated with theological daring, spiritual experimentation, and a willingness to blaze new trails and push on toward new horizons.

But the heretical imperative in America’s religious life has usually existed in a kind of fruitful and creative tension with more conservative, institutional, and historically-rooted forms of faith –first denominational Protestantism and then later the Roman Catholic Church as well. And the post-1960s decline of these churches has taken a significant toll on our common life, in ways that both religious and secular observers should be able to recognize.

For one thing, individualistic and do-it-yourself forms of religion are less likely to bind communities together, encourage stable families, assimilate immigrants, and otherwise Americans to live in healthy fellowship with one another. It is not a coincidence that as the institutional churches have lost their purchase among poor and non-college educated Americans, that population’s social ills have multiplied and its economic prospects have dimmed.

At the same time, self-created forms of faith are also less likely to provide a check against the self’s worst impulses –whether it’s the kind of materialism that Joel Osteen’s sunny promises encourage, or the solipsism that percolates under the surface of popular spiritual memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love.” Many of America’s contemporary crises, from the housing bubble and the financial crash to the collapse of the two-parent family, can be traced to just this tendency — encouraged by too much contemporary religion — to make the self’s ambitions the measure of all things.

Finally, when strong religious impulses coexist with weak religious institutions, people become more likely to channel religious energy into partisan politics instead, and to freight partisan causes with more metaphysical significance than they can bear. The result, visible both in the “hope and change” fantasies of Obama’s 2008 campaign and the right-wing backlash it summoned up, is a politics that gives free rein to both utopian and apocalyptic delusions, and that encourages polarization without end.

via ‘A nation of Osteens and Obamas’ – Guest Voices – The Washington Post.

Austerity vs. the Obama approach

Europeans are torn about the best approach to fix their messed-up economies:  austerity (cutting government budgets and deficits) or stimulus (the government spending even more money and running up even bigger deficits in an effort to jump-start economic growth).  Austerity, as recommended by Germany, had been the plan, but recent elections in France and Greece have favored the pro-stimulus side.  Who is the role model for this position?  President Barack Obama and his stewardship of the American economy.  See  Germany, U.S. head to G-8 summit with starkly different economic policies – The Washington Post.

 

Be skeptical about political journalism

The New York Times broke a shocking story:

Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended.

Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world.

via Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads – NYTimes.com.

It seems Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs, started a Super-PAC to support Mitt Romney.  One of the proposals put forward by a political operative was to associate President Obama with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his radical former pastor.  Apparently, the proposal was “racially tinged.”   So Ricketts and Romney are getting slammed accordingly.

But Mitt Romney has repudiated the tactic.  Even more to the point, RICKETTS repudiated the ad.   There is no ad!  Ricketts refused to fund it.  Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed!   Somebody suggested doing this, but everyone said “no.”

So what is the story?  There is no story.

It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks!  And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!”  The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”

 

Chen and his cause

The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, whom we have been blogging about, has been released and has arrived in the United States, where he will be a fellow at New York University.  Melinda Henneberger writes about the human rights issue Chen has been battling:

The day of Mei Shunping’s fifth forced abortion in China was “the saddest day of my life,’’ she told a congressional subcommittee this week.

The cause that human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has so long championed is often glossed over in this country, where we tend to focus on how cool it is that a blind guy scaled a fence and escaped his captors like some kind of action hero. But Mei spelled out the gory particulars for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

This undated photo provided by the China Aid Association shows blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, right, with wife Yuan Weijing and son, Chen Kerui in China. (AP)

On a monthly basis, she told those of us in the hearing room, she and all other female employees in the textile factory where she worked were subjected to humiliating physical exams to document that they weren’t pregnant; otherwise, under China’s one-child policy, they weren’t paid. And when any woman not approved for childbearing was even suspected of missing a period, co-workers were quick to inform on her, because when one became illegally pregnant, all were punished.

On the worst day of Mei’s life, not only was she physically dragged to the hospital, she said, but she collapsed in pain after complications following the procedure. She had no one to lean on, either, since her husband had been thrown in jail for arguing with the doctors: “My young son didn’t know what was happening and kept crying for his father. I didn’t know what to do and could only hold my son and cry with him. Even now, when I think of all this, my heart shudders and the pain throbs.”

via Why Chen fights, and why U.S. abortion rights supporters should care – She The People – The Washington Post.

If those who believe in abortion are really “pro-choice,” as opposed to pro-abortion, why aren’t they protesting forced abortion?

The importance of Christ’s Ascension

Yesterday was Ascension Day, marking the resurrected Christ’s return to His Father.  Pastor Reeder quotes the classic Bible scholar Paul E. Kretzmann on what the Ascension means:

“By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh.

He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23.

By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34.”

via On the Lord’s Ascension « Pastor Reeder’s Blog.

Strangely, the Reformed use the Ascension as an argument against the presence of Christ in the sacrament.  (“Jesus isn’t here any more.  He’s in Heaven.”)  But Lutherans use the Ascension as an argument for the Real Presence, since now the Son of God, having taken His place in the Godhead, is omnipresent.

Military chaplains must perform gay weddings?

So says the Obama administration.  Rod Dreher  comments:

Remember how no clergy member will be forced to perform same-sex marriages against their will. If the Obama administration has its way, all US military chaplains will have to do so. Excerpt:

“The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to perform ceremonies that conflict with their beliefs, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).”

If this goes through, the Catholic and the Orthodox chaplains will have to be withdrawn from the US military. Many Evangelical chaplains will choose to leave. If same-sex marriage is constitutionalized by Supreme Court ruling, then I don’t see how even a legislative exemption would be possible. This is another one of the answers to the question, “How does my gay neighbor’s marriage to his partner affect me?”

via Goodbye, Military Chaplains | The American Conservative.

I suppose the large contingent of chaplains who belong to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would also have to leave.  That would leave liberal  mainline Protestants to minister to the troops, though many of them are anti-war.


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