Somebody find me

Somebody find me December 19, 2018

• Religion News Service has, inexplicably, chosen to publish an interview with Ken Starr about his faith and the moral convictions that have guided his life. Perhaps this is part of a series of religious profiles of every member of Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team.

Or maybe it’s a series profiling various university presidents who have had to step aside in disgrace after helping to cover up multiple rapes and sexual assaults. Maybe they’ll do Lou Anna Simon or Graham Spanier next. Or maybe Epstein himself, or how about Harvey Weinstein?

There are so many people just like Ken Starr that RNS could easily make this a recurring feature. No decent, respectable human beings would want to read such a recurring feature, of course, but that didn’t stop RNS from choosing to run this piece with Starr. So.

• “Damn It All,” Stephen Greenblatt reviews The Penguin Book of Hell for NYRB, noting that it might have been more accurately titled “The Penguin Book of Christian Hell.”

Greenblatt notes that “The Hebrews wrote their entire Bible without mentioning hell. They had a realm they called sheol, but it was merely the place of darkness and silence where all the dead — the just as well as the wicked –wound up.” If the Apostle Paul knew of Hell, he didn’t think it was worth mentioning either, as it is not included in his epistles or in the “gospel” he preached and taught.

But Hell was a big part of “The Apocalypse of Paul.” That third-century apocryphal text employed warnings of eternal punishment to those who erred from true doctrine — a major shift away from the way Hell is mentioned in the Gospels, where it always involves praxis and wealth, but explicitly not any concern for doctrinal beliefs.

Any and every idea of “Hell” that involves doctrinal concerns rather than punishment for those who mistreat the poor is apocryphal, not “biblical.” And certainly not gospel.

Most of my evangelical brethren probably won’t like either Greenblatt’s essay or the volume he’s reviewing, but that may be for the best. It may be that some of them will be provoked into angrily opening their Bibles to disprove such heretical, liberal nonsense and, maybe, if they’re angry enough, they might find themselves newly able to see what it actually says and doesn’t say.

• You don’t have to care about Charles Barkley or about basketball in general to read and enjoy this beautiful story from Only a Game: “My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley.” Just go read it.

• I want to clarify part of how I described the church I grew up in. It was, like Jerry Falwell, in a space between old-school separatist fundamentalism and more culturally engaged evangelicalism. But unlike Falwell, this wasn’t because it was explicitly political. I think, rather, it was because that church was more missionary-minded than the fundie mindset of IFB- or Bob Jones-type fundies could accommodate. “Come ye out and be ye separate” just wasn’t quite compatible with “Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel.”

We still held something like what John Fea calls “second-degree separation,” but it was expressed through that lens of missionary evangelism. What I mean is that we regarded some other Christians — the ones who looked and prayed like us — as bona fide Christians, while most other Christians were simply another part of the “mission field.” So when our church softball team played against fellow fundies from, say, Brookdale Baptist, this was considered an opportunity for fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But when we played against the Presbyterians or Lutherans in our surprisingly ecumenical church softball league, it was considered an opportunity to witness to the unsaved. Unlike the hard-core fundies of the IFB, we didn’t regard those mainline Protestants as evil or as enemies, but we were sure they needed to get born again if they were going to make it to Heaven with us.

• At my graduation from Timothy Christian High School, we as a class sang Michael W. Smith’s “Friends.” Because we were an evangelical Christian school and because it was 1986. (I still know all the words. And I can still do a pretty decent Kermit the Frog rendition of this song, but I only bring that out if somebody’s there with a ukulele.)

As John Fea wrote, “Love it or hate it … it’s a Christian Contemporary Music classic.” I suppose that’s why I both love it and hate it. The late 41st president apparently also loved it, and Smith recently honored George H.W. Bush’s request by singing it at Bush’s funeral.

Donald Trump was criticized for sulking and pouting during that funeral, not paying enough attention to the service to even bother reading along with the creeds and prayers written in the program. Many noted that he didn’t seem to know any of the words of the Apostle’s Creed. That won’t bother most white evangelicals, because they don’t know the creeds either. But not knowing the words to “Friends”? That’s another matter entirely.

I could wrap up here by posting that “classic,” but I’m not that cruel. So instead, here’s another CCM-related video. This is Dove-award winner Marc Martel singing the audition number that eventually won him the job of singing Freddie Mercury’s parts in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie.

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