Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Category: Religion (page 2 of 3)

Terror Will Lose

At the climax of The Dark Knight, Joker has Batman trapped on the top of a skyscraper while he waits for the boats full of prisoners and civilians to blow up. The clock strikes midnight — the deadline the Joker gave to those on the boat — but there’s no explosion. For the first time in the movie, the Joker looks surprised and out of control. Batman, despite being momentarily trapped and defenseless, chides him: “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s exactly like you? You’re alone.”

I thought of this scene when reading about this brave British woman named Ingrid Loyau-Kennett who confronted the knife-wielding terrorists immediately after their barbarous acts today. They told her they wanted to start a war in London, to which she replied: “It is only you versus many people. You are going to lose; what would you like to do?”

Terror and fear don’t get to win. These men can be angry about people who are dying in Afghanistan, but propagating the “eye for an eye” principle leads only to self-destruction. These cowardly villains can make a grand show of their hate, but they won’t start a war in London nor anywhere else they wish. They won’t win converts to their twisted ideology, save for a few other confused souls. They are alone. And people like Ingrid Loyau-Kennett prove that every day.

The Summum Bonum Identity

Someone on the Internet once said something to the effect of: “I’m not a writer; I write.” Writing, for example, is something you do, but it’s not who you are. You might really love writing and consider it integral to your life, but it isn’t your very essence–at least, it shouldn’t be.

I’m re-reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. In a section about the social consequences of sin, Keller argues that when societies and individuals cling too strongly to any belief or entity other than God, that ultimately broken belief will become the essence of their identity and will let them down. He quotes Jonathan Edwards’ The Nature of True Virtue, which argues that a human society fragments when anything but God is its highest love: “If our ultimate goal in life is our own individual happiness,” Keller summarizes Edwards, “then we will put our own economic and power interests ahead of those of others. Only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general.”

The question then becomes: What is your summum bonum? What is your utmost identity? Our recently endured presidential election season provided ample proof that many people cling so tightly to their political views that it basically becomes who they are instead of merely what they believe. When that happens, civil discourse becomes impossible and anything approaching compromise is deemed impure and even cowardly. Keller sees the problem with this: “If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition.”

I think it’s especially easy for religious people to fall into this trap, despite good intentions. It understandably becomes hard not to transfer the ardent passion attached to a deep-seeded belief in God or whomever onto other less divine issues. But as Stephen Colbert said, the road connecting politics and religion runs both ways; if we insist on forcing our religious identity into our politics, our muddied and corrupt politics will come right back into our religion.

Walt Whitman was right: I contain multitudes. I act as a son, brother, friend, significant other; I study, I write, I read, I work, I create… I identify with all of these roles, but any one of them doesn’t define me because I don’t rely on one to give my life meaning. I can argue with people who disagree with my views on politics or music or religion because my views aren’t me. They’re just the tools I use to try to make sense of life. They can be beautiful, inspiring, enraging, or intriguing–but they can’t be everything.

Colbert And The Constitution

I want to highlight this recent interview the real Stephen Colbert did with NPR’s Fresh Air, because he shows yet again how intelligent, empathetic, and savvy is the man behing the blowhard.

You should listen to the entire thing, but one part that stuck out to me was his take on churches who wish to abolish the law that prohibits religious institutions with a tax-exemption from endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit. The real Colbert believes preachers should be allowed to talk politics, but also sees the problem with it:

I think they should be able to do it, but I also think that it’s a very dangerous thing to do — not just for our politics, but it’s also dangerous for the faith of people who are exercising that right. Because they seem to think that it’s a one-way membrane — that they’ll get religion into our politics. But they’re ignoring the fact that politics will come right back through that gate onto our religion…

…And if you actually have a political party that is this religion, or a political party that is that religion, I think that’s a short road to the kind of religious civil war — whether or not it’s actually an armed war — but religious civil war that we fled in Europe. America has avoided that. And I think our politics are so horrible these days. … Why anyone would want that horrible tar on something as fragile as faith is beyond me.”

It’s a common trope among Christian fundamentalists that religion ought to be inserted into their politics out of an obligation to “fight the good fight” or what have you. As someone with a faith background, I understand the impulse but find it completely wrong-headed and even portentous.

To illustrate: You show me a fundamentalist Christian who believes his religious dogma ought to purposefully influence his country’s political policies, and I’ll show you a radical Muslim who believes the same thing. I’ll bet you $1 million from Colbert’s SuperPAC that that Christian would likely have a problem with that. (Though most conservative Christians these days don’t seem to have a problem with Mormons.)

That Christians or any other faith-group would want to see the faith they profess to love so much dragged through the festering mud-swamp that is the American political process in order to prove a point is dismaying and downright depressing. It’s not just your faith you’re messing with; it’s mine and many others’ – the shared property of people who see the Constitutionally-sanctioned separation of church and state as protecting the church, not holding it back.

So by all means, vote as you please based on your religion, values, favorite color, whatever. But don’t come knocking at the gate wanting your religion to be let in, because I don’t want to know what could be on the other side.

Bringing Old Orthodoxies To A Boil

I just finished reading Fergus Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, a history of the Underground told through a series of vignettes. I enjoyed learning about the unheralded individuals of all stripes who served on the Railroad as “stationmasters” or support staff along the way. But one particular passage stood out for its relevance in today’s tempestuous times.

Some context: The Fugitive Slave Law, passed in 1850, was part of Congress’ infamous compromise of that year and was arguably the most controversial part of an already contentious piece of legislation. The Act imposed legal consequences upon those who aided in the escape of fugitive slaves to the North in order to support Southerners’ legal right to their slave property. But the Act’s draconian measures perturbed even non-abolitionists outside of the South, so much so that the law, according to Bordewich, “became a virtual dead letter” in the North.

This spirit of civil disobedience was not unique to the 1850s, as the book thoroughly illustrates; rather, it was who was being disobedient that was novel after the Act passed. Benoni Fuller, a county sheriff in Indiana—a nominally free state with a proslavery bent – had this reply for proslavery citizens who complained to him about the hundreds of fugitives coming through: “Let ’em!” What made Fuller’s response unique was that he wasn’t an abolitionist nor Underground Railroad stationmaster, but a Democrat, a member of the party of the South and of slavery. Bordewich’s conclusion: “Old orthodoxies were boiling away.”

That last line is what stuck out to me. Even then, before the Civil War had even been fought, the antebellum orthodoxy that said slavery had been and ought to remain a protected social and economic institution was beginning to crumble. While in many ways the orthodoxy continued for decades after slavery was constitutionally disallowed through Jim Crow laws and state-sanctioned discrimination, the idea that a Democratic sheriff who most likely disagreed with abolitionism in a state that was sympathetic to slaveowners would openly balk at implementing a proslavery law demonstrated that the culture was being changed, at least partially, by the Underground Railroad and its lofty ideals.

This is significant because culture changes very slowly. Perhaps it was the animus produced by the Civil War and the events that preceded it that accelerated the culture change, or perhaps it was the overarching sense of divine destiny promulgated by the Quakers and evangelicals who founded and propelled the abolition movement. Whatever it was, it all contributed to the heat that, as per Bordewich, was boiling away the old traditions.

Which got me thinking: what are the beliefs and conventions our culture holds today that are in the process of being “boiled away”? The attitude toward gay marriage is the first one that comes to mind; like the slavery proponents of old, opponents of gay marriage often cite Biblical precedence and the importance of tradition as reasons for keeping the status quo (as Fox News’ [!] Megyn Kelly recently pointed out). But old assumptions about gay people and marriage, especially in the last decade, have been slowly boiling away.

On the issue of slavery, things began to change when regular people, who were neither abolitionists nor slaveholders, started becoming exposed to the horrors and humiliations of slavery (often because of the fugitive slaves that came through their towns on the Underground Railroad). Similarly, opposing gay rights likely becomes more difficult when you merely know a gay person as a friend and can empathize with their struggle to win basic civil rights.

I wonder if the average slaveholding Southerner, knowing now in hindsight that the institution for which he fought and died would crumble and that he would be viewed dismissively as an enemy of what we now consider basic human rights, would still cling tooth and nail to his (at the time) legal right to own a slave. With this in mind, what are the chances our great-grandchildren will look back on this decade and cultural era and judge us harshly for clinging to unjust or flat-out wrong beliefs and dogmas for too long? What sort of blind spots can we see, without the benefit of hindsight, in our own lives?

Will we, for lack of a better phrase, be on the right side of history? For some, that won’t matter: They believe what they believe and that’s that. But for others, it’s an important question to keep in mind when pondering what you believe, why you believe it, and what societal good you do to support those beliefs.

If you consider all of these things yet are not satisfied with the answers, perhaps that which you hold dear—for better and for worse—will one day be boiled away.

You Can’t Argue With Goodness

Like many people, I enjoy This American Life. I only started listening regularly about a year and a half ago. One episode from April 2011 called “Know When To Fold ‘Em” in particular struck a chord with me, specifically the first act, which you can listen to here (or read the transcript). It’s a short story from David Dickerson, adapted from his memoir House of Cards, about the evangelical Christianity he embraced, rejected and came to understand anew through an interaction with his born-again father.

I didn’t relate so much with the author’s life story so much as with his take on religion. Having an anti-religion person seeing it, warts and all, as something that can indeed be a force for good, despite all of the bad press it gets (sometimes rightfully) was an unexpected and encouraging takeaway I got from this story. “You can’t argue with goodness,” Dickerson writes. No matter how hard it’s fought, good wins out.

A Genuine Faith

Rodney Reeves writes on his blog about the “loss by cross” example set by Paul, and how that example is not compatible with American culture. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the kicker:

“Thinking like an American comes naturally to those of us who live in these United States. Thinking like a follower of Christ is far more challenging. In fact, American ideals often trump our Christian convictions, especially when it comes to living the crucified life. How are we supposed to love our enemies when we’ve been taught to kill them? How can I follow Christ, giving up my rights like he did, when I’ve been trained to protect my rights no matter what? Why does loyalty to America take precedent over loyalty to Christ, that pledging allegiance to a flag is nobler than swearing allegiance to a cross? To what extent is our American citizenship more important than our Christian identity? How many Christians act as if patriotism is just as important as the gospel—or even worse, an expression of the gospel?

In several ways, the American way of life is at cross purposes with the crucified life; American politics cannot contain Christian faith. For example, politics makes enemies; Christians love enemies. Americans are taught to preserve national and personal interests at all costs. Paul taught his converts to prefer the interests of others. American consumerism is built on the idea that we should always want more. Paul was content with more or less. In light of these stark contrasts, one cannot help but wonder: if we were to live the crucified life like Paul—losing our identity in Christ—would our neighbors be compelled to accuse us of foolishness for forsaking the American way of life?”

(h/t Jeffrey Overstreet)

Dodging Dogma

I’ve been reading Colonel Roosevelt, volume III of the Edmund Morris’ TR trilogy, and one line came back to me after seeing Ezra Klein’s pie chart illustrating, in the midst of a debate to strip Planned Parenthood of funding as a prerequisite for not shutting the government down, what the organization actually does.

Morris’ line from the book comes after describing Roosevelt’s impatience for the “interfaith squabble” going on at the time in Egypt between Muslims and Coptic Christians. In Roosevelt’s view,

Their inability to tolerate each other proved the necessity of condominium with the British, who at least had advanced far enough into the modern age to know there were more important things than dogma.

Emphasis mine. The looming government shutdown puts at risk the very important resources that Planned Parenthood provides for many poor, pregnant, cancer- and STD-stricken people, with little money and less hope. It’s not about abortion. If the church isn’t willing to help these people like they should be helped, then the church has failed.

There are more important things than dogma. Unfortunately, that’s all it’s been about.

[Image: WPost / HT: TDW)

The Warmth Of The Snow

Living in a warm climate during the Christmas season is good and bad. On one hand, you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt while your northern friends brave harsh winds and icy roads just to get to their mailbox. But on the other hand, it’s just not Christmas without the cold.

As a lifelong Midwesterner, I love the traditions of Christmas. My family has many of the well-known Hallmark moments of the holidays. My house and halls were always decked with green and ruby red Christmas lights and decorations. I always cut down the balsam fir evergreen with my family at a local tree farm and dragged it through the snow to the car, strapping it to the hood and bringing it home to bedazzle with ornaments new and old. We always – always – watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve with the fireplace roaring and the popcorn popping. And, yes, I even love the Midwestern cold that suffuses all of these things.

But like the winter cold, these things happen every year, no matter what. When we vacationed in Florida over Christmas one year, we knew we wouldn’t have the cold or the tree, but we still brought our copy of It’s a Wonderful Life to keep tradition alive. And that’s what Christmas is often about: keeping tradition alive in spite of the circumstances.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer uses the Exodus story to illustrate the idea of holiness and tradition, which are two concepts at the very center of Christmas. Tozer explains how the Israelites, having lived for four hundred years in Egypt surrounded by all kinds of idolatry, had forgotten the very idea of God’s holiness. To correct this, Tozer writes, “God began at the bottom. He localized Himself in the cloud and fire and later when the tabernacle had been built He dwelt between holy and unholy. There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. By these means Israel learned that God is holy.”

‘God is holy.’ That is the simple thought that permeates the Advent season. And so when I decorate my evergreen tree and listen to ancient hymns in church and watch a movie with my family and walk through the falling snow, I know that it is not these things in and of themselves that remind me of the reason for the season; it’s the warmth of God’s holiness.

“Let us believe,” Tozer concludes, “that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.” Our traditions, like the Israelites’ cloud and fire, are best when they reveal God at His simplest and at His holiest.

Breaking News: Jesus Christ Registers As A Republican

BREAKING NEWS: Jesus Christ registers as a Republican

GOP officially God’s Own Party

In a move sure to spark endless debate, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world, has declared himself a Republican.

“I’ve been a moderate for most of eternity,” said Christ, speaking at a press conference. “But lately, Barack Obama’s choices regarding the economy, the wars, and health care reform have disappointed me. I had to take a stand. So I’m registering as a Republican.”

When asked which specific policies most attracted him to the Republican Party, Christ was clear.

“The GOP’s stand against abortion and gay marriage is fine, I guess,” He said, “but I’m more interested in their support for trickle-down economics. It’s important to have an economic policy that benefits only the superrich and keeps disenfranchised people from escaping the perpetual downward spiral that poverty creates.”
Christ expressed support for reinstating the Bush tax cuts and making the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy permanent.

“I don’t care much for the gays, OK?” He said. “I just don’t want to deal with them.”

He also vocalized opposition to the Obama-led health care reform.

“The fact that the Democrats want to provide health insurance for everyone and not just those who can afford the sinfully high premiums…that just makes me sick,” said Christ. “Free, unregulated markets should decide if people live or die and not liberal bureaucrats.”

Christ also argued for continued U.S. presence in the Middle East.

“Clearly preemptive war is necessarily,” He said. “I thank God for Dick Cheney and George W. Bush for pushing the country into unnecessary war and keeping us there.”

The Lamb of God’s choice to align himself with Republican principles was met with praise from the nation’s conservative leaders.

“The fact that Jesus Christ is now officially a Republican shows us that God is definitely on our side,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Listen up, Democrats: God does not want you to pass health care reform. Seriously, just ask him.”

“Hallelujah!” proclaimed James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family, on his radio show. “Jesus Christ is a shoe-in for Republican nominee for president in 2012. Jesus Christ and Sarah Palin. Now that’s a dynamic ticket.”

Asked about sharing a presidential ticket with the King of Kings, the former governor of Alaska was enthusiastic.

“Gosh, you betcha I’d like Jesus on my ticket,” Palin said. “He’d make a heckuva vice-president, that’s for sure.”

Not all conservatives welcomed Christ’s move to the GOP. Glenn Beck, a FOX News commentator, expressed concern about the Lord’s background.

“Look at the people he hangs out with,” said Beck. “Prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers—I don’t want my Savior or my president palling around with such seedy people.”

“He may be the Son of God,” said Rush Limbaugh, a popular radio host, “but he’s an illegitimate child, he’s from the Middle East, and preaches against free-market capitalism. If he isn’t a terrorist spreading communist propaganda, I don’t know who is.”

Limbaugh added: “Barack Obama, maybe.”

Sources inside Christ’s inner circle claim he will soon form an exploratory committee for a possible run for president. What would the Son of Man’s platform look like?

“Definitely cuts in welfare for the poor,” said Christ. “It’s a wasteful program. I’d also like to see increased spending on nuclear weapons and relaxed regulation of Wall Street banks. But none of those things will happen with that Obama in the White House.

“Stupid Obama,” he added.

Rumsfeld’s Biblified Briefings

Last week, GQ magazine reported that the top secret intelligence briefings that were sent to President Bush by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 were often adorned with inspirational Bible verses and images meant to influence the president, who is a self-described Christian and often liked the conflict in Iraq to a modern day “crusade.”

A few examples of these briefings:

March 17, 2003. A picture of two American soldiers topped with the verse Isaiah 6:8, which says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am, Lord, send me!”46983181

April 7, 2003. A picture of Saddam Hussein topped with the verse 1 Peter 2:15, which says, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

April 8, 2003. A picture of American tanks driving underneath two large crossed swords topped with the verse Isaiah 26:2, which says, “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith.”

Bush was completely open about the impact of his Christian faith on the decisions in his presidency, and Rumsfeld was a grossly incompetent defense secretary, so I can’t say I was surprised when I heard about this.

Yet I don’t know which part of me is more outraged: the Christian or the American.

Rumsfeld might not have personally put the verses on the briefings. Odds are, according to GQ, it was Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence who served both Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But that point is moot; the nation’s highest military officer wielded strong religious rhetoric in order to push a country into war. I don’t know what could be more irresponsible.

“Defense department staff were privately worried,” GQ reports, “that if the briefings with biblical quotes on them had ever been made public, the fallout would have been ‘as bad as [the revelations of prisoner abuse at] Abu Ghraib.’” Time will tell if the public takes as much umbrage at these revelations as it did with the Abu Ghraib scandal. My guess is that it won’t, because the majority of religious Americans identify themselves as Christians.

Yet why does this anger me so? Perhaps because Rumsfeld, a nonreligious man, cynically used Christian scripture to manipulate a man who had seemingly already made up his mind to invade Iraq and “stay the course.” Hey Rummy, ever heard about those silly little medieval crusades the European Christian church undertook against the Muslims? Yeah, they don’t look so hot in the history books.

The release of these documents came at an inopportune time for Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who was out on a media blitz trying to defend his legacy. But it’s not like the current opinion of the Bush administration could get any more tarnished than it is. That’s why I don’t think this will be as big a scandal as the others. The public—myself and the current president included—has tried to move on from Bush and Rumsfeld and the Holy War.

These documents are but another stack in the “That Figures” box.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 Chad Comello

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑