Last week, thousands of people rocked their hearts and minds out at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Also in my home state, 10 members of the Texas Board of Education cast their votes for textbook reform in the public school system. Their purpose was to challenge the so-called liberal elite’s interpretation of history and increase focus on the Christian principals upon which they say our country was founded.
Out with the Enlightenment. In with John Calvin and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The board also proposed a comprehensive find-and-replace of capitalism with free-enterprise system. Why? Republican board members got sensitive about terms like “capitalist pigs.”
But here’s the kicker: Oscar Romero, the former Salvadoran archbishop who was shot and killed at the altar of his church thirty years ago this Wednesday, was voted out of textbooks because no one knows about him anyway. This in Texas, where one in three people speak Spanish at home and where half a million Salvadoran immigrants still reside.
As is usually the case, there is not much that needs to be said about Christian rap videos like this. I would just note that most people I have met do not much care for Jesus when he is all up in their grill.
Well lo and behold, irony is still alive and well (even outside hipsterdom). Apparently Christopher Hitchens, famed Evangelical Atheist and author of God is Not Great, has a brother who is not only a Christian, but just as smart as Christopher himself. In a recent article in London’s Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens talks about his upcoming book The Rage Against God (trailer below), the end of his nearly lifelong feud with Christopher, and his conversion from atheism.
But my point in bringing this to your attention is not to say to all the Christians out there “Rejoice! We have another smart British guy on our side!” or “That’ll show that stupid atheist.” I think we too often mistakenly use the presence of faith in those we put on various societal pedestals to assuage our own doubts and fears (in Britain it may be Peter Hitchens; in America it’s Tim Tebow). I also think we get far too offended by some of the more rabid atheists out there, causing us to pray for their conversion not necessarily so they would return to the Maker of their souls, but so they can feel the sting of having to admit they were wrong.
I know, growing up as a kid in Mississippi, I always had a certain degree of envy for those white-blanketed landscapes existing in the cinematic worlds of so many films. I thought igloos would be fun to build, snowball fights would be the best, and that if I just had one nearly-white Yuletide, that my life experience would be more complete.
If you don’t love the Hood Internet, you can quit reading this site right now.
Just turn off your internets and walk away from the computer, you don’t deserve to surf your way down this series of tubes.
The mashup-masters take on the decade with this fantastic track.
Decalogue (Dr. Dre vs. Radiohead vs. Missy Elliott vs. Daft Punk vs. Ludacris vs. The New Pornographers vs. Kelis vs. The Rapture vs. Twista f/ Kanye West vs. Arcade Fire vs. Three 6 Mafia vs. Sufjan Stevens vs. T.I. vs. Peter Bjorn and John vs. Rich Boy vs. LCD Soundsystem vs. Lil Wayne vs. Hot Chip vs. Jay Sean vs. Phoenix)
I was really surprised last week when I learned that PBS, which was formerly the Public Broadcasting Service, now stands for People magazine Broadcasting Service.
Well, it doesn’t really. But it should, now that Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s celebrity-worshiping show Faces of America became the flagship series on the only channel where I thought I was safe from smirking, inflated celebrity heads.
Here’s what this rubbish says to me: “Hey everyone, here are some people who literally have everything in the world and are idols to millions. Let’s esteem them some more by showing them how special their genealogy is, and how truly extraordinary they are, and that they were obviously destined to be better then the rest of loser America. Then we’ll make ourselves feel better by posting some lame educational stuff on the website and squeezing in some crap about how we are all special and are likely descended from awesome people in the past just like these super-awesome celebrities. AREN’T THEY AWESOME!! AAHHHHH!! SEND US MONEY!!!!”
How about giving us a show where we learn that some depressed contractor stuck in Idaho (sorry to any Idahoan contractors reading this) is really a descendant of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and is thereby empowered to stake his own claim to immortality. Or whatever. Anything but more celebrity worship on TV.
With all the heavy-handed rhetoric that floods our airwaves, I’d like to point you toward one of the most intelligent, respectful arguments I’ve ever come across – an argument with far deeper roots than any political affiliation.
Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant collects a series of e-mails between Preston Jones, a professor at a small Christian college, and Greg Graffin, lead singer of the notoriously atheistic punk band, Bad Religion (and Ph.D. of Biology from Cornell University).
When I first stumbled upon this book, I regarded its very existence as a minor miracle. You see, Bad Religion has been my favorite band since age 16.
Just as grunge was dying out and everyone was forced to turn either to jam bands or classic rock, I was privileged to hear BR blaring over the stereo of the old Ford Fairmont my best friend and I used to navigate our New Jersey suburbs. The first lyrics I heard: “Do what you want. Do all you can. Break all the fucking rules and go to hell with superman and die like a champion, yeah, hey!” Now that was punk rock. And I was hooked.
Strangely though, the music of these angry atheists did not send me spiraling toward the pits of hell. Instead it made me think, it made me question and ultimately, it solidified my faith and my resolve to live life differently.
Despite not believing in God, BR has a strict sense of morality. Their songs are fraught with righteous indignation (possibly my favorite emotion), calling out the hypocrisy and abuse of corporations, government and the church. Jesus did quite a bit of this himself, if you recall, and he was most critical of the church because it was doing a poor job representing God. At this stage of my life it was much easier for me to identify with lyrics illuminating superficiality and selfishness than lyrics about how awesome Jesus was (sorry, Newsboys).
Also, as angry and negative as Bad Religion gets, their albums are peppered with hopeful songs like Slumber or Sorrow, the latter of which limply professes to be sarcastic, but the melody and lyrics remain infused with a spiritual tone as Graffin repeats the gospel-like refrain, “There will be sorrow no more.”
I’ve often wished I could take Greg Graffin to task on these observations; ask him how he could embrace such a strict morality and sing so hopefully without any faith in an afterlife or higher power. Thankfully, Jones does it for me in this book, and better than I ever could.
I don’t think I’d be giving anything away by telling you that Graffin does not get ‘saved’ in the end. But I do think his assumptions about Christianity and Christians are challenged by the thoughtfulness, respect and care that Jones puts into his correspondence. It’s worth a read, if only to demonstrate how to convey beliefs intelligently and sincerely, while cultivating a genuine relationship with someone who thinks differently. When all too often we send the hard oak trees of belief crashing down on peoples’ heads, Jones reminds us how to plant a seed.
Over at “The Gospel Coalition Blog,” they’ve posted a video of a discussion that occurred at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary about Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity. The panel featured faculty members of SBTS and was moderated by the seminary’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. Spoiler alert, they hated the book.
Now, I’m not Southern Baptist and usually I’d leave something like this alone, but there are a couple things worth noting here. Also worth noting is though I’ve read McLaren’s other books, I’ve yet to read all of A New Kind of Christianity. So I’m not going to take issue or disagree with any of the panelists’ comments about the book…though I’m sure that after I complete it I’ll have plenty of disagreements.
Rather, what I’d like to draw your attention to here are two things. The first is that the gentlemen from SBTS offer us a new kind of panel discussion in which they assembled five faculty members who all agree that the book is rubbish and they spend an hour talking about how they all agree on this point. There is no disagreement on this panel, and no representation from the other side, let alone from Mr. McLaren himself. I know this isn’t really behind anyone’s back since it’s posted online, but when five men talk trash about someone without allowing any space for a defense, it feels a little underhanded.
Secondly, as is bound to happen when five people gang up on one, the attacks become uncomfortably personal, beginning early in the discussion when each panelist has the opportunity to say just how much they disliked the book and continuing throughout.
In the fourth minute we hear Dr. Bruce Ware admit that he’s “thought of Brian McLaren for years as a wolf in sheep’s clothings [sic],” who has finally taken off the clothing and revealed the wolf. This kind of attack culminated in Jim Hamilton’s outrageous assertion that, “He’s the craftiest of the serpents of the field and he’s following in the train of his father the Devil.” He hesitates and says, “Maybe I’m over speaking here,” before he continues, “I hope the guy repents and comes to faith.”
I’m absolutely not impartial when it comes to this discussion. McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus had a great impact in the practice of my faith. But even where there is disagreement, there should be a discussion of these disagreements wherein both sides are allowed the opportunity to speak. And, at the very least, the attacks should be limited to the book and not the author himself.
Of the people I know who observe Lent, most do so loosely. They hurried on Ash Wednesday to get crosses at downtown Boston’s in-and-out shrine. They remind each other to eat fish on Friday. They stand next to the office candy jar and discuss what it is they’ve given up this year. They may or may not go to Sunday Mass.
They’re cafeteria Catholics. Or Episcopalians. Or whatever.
I, too, could be called a cafeteria observer. I grew up in a church where Christian ritual meant Sunday potlucks, and I discovered liturgy in college. That spring I decided to give up something during Lent. It felt good to demonstrate self-control. It felt refreshing to fast among others, to be part of tradition. Over the years, I’ve given up meat, lying, artificial sweetener, meat again, and other things I don’t even remember.
This year, however, I had no idea when Lent began. For anyone who needs an excuse, I’ll blame it on officially becoming Quaker, since I now have a theologically legitimate reason not to observe outward religious signs.
But here’s the truth: I’m not observing, because it just didn’t occur to me. And that’s the thing about spiritual practice these days. I can choose to observe, or not. If there’s something I forget, no matter. It probably wasn’t necessary for my spiritual journey anyway.
I’ve been eagerly following the debate sparked by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru’s astounding essay on American exceptionalism in the National Review. Fellow bloggers have done most of the work of de-bunking it (see Damon Linker, Conor Friedersdorf), but now it’s gone into a second round, complete with responses to the response.
As critical of my beloved country as I am, I don’t scoff at the idea that there is something special about America and its people — possibly something that has to do with the extraordinary circumstances of our founding. But at the same time, I object to the way conservatives are dishonestly deploying the argument against President Obama (see Ponnuru/Lowry) and seize on words like “patriotism” and “exceptionalism” as invitations for chest-beating and flag-waving and the censorship of anyone who dares suggest America is doing something wrong. I am hard on the United States as a nation because I have a vested interest in its material and moral success, not because, as some so-called conservatives would tell you, I want the terrorists to win.
That’s why I particularly like Matt Lee Anderson’s formulation of a proper stance toward exceptionalism. “I am interested,” he writes, “in a broader view of American exceptionalism, one that situates America not only as having a role on the world’s stage, but as having that role because we own up to our own vices within our self-understanding as a means of eradicating them.” He’s talking about abortion, which is not my issue, but it applies just as well to the myriad situations where the United States should (and in many cases has) owned up to its vices.
I recently received word through a new friend that The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good captured audio of Fox News’ Glenn Beck encouraging listeners to leave their church if it proclaims a concern for social justice on his March 2nd radio broadcast. Here’s the quote from Beck:
“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Listen to the audio here.
He then picked up this thread on his television show that evening:
“Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.”
Click here for the video.
You don’t need me, or The New Evangelical Partnership, to tell you that Beck is crossing the line, but you can do something about it. Check out the campaign they set up and pledge your support for their video response project. If you can’t do that, here’s an alternative to Beck’s suggestion, if your church is actively engaged in bringing about social justice, hug your pastor.
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