Friday, July 30, 2010

Of Jesus and Vampires


I read it first on the Progressive Involvement blog. Author Anne Rice, who has written novels about vampires and Jesus, announced today that she is leaving Christianity.
"I quit being a Christian.  I'm out.  In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life."


I can relate. 


If I believed that being Christian involved being anti-all that stuff, I'd be out, too. I am not ready to quit, though. I am not ready to concede the faith to its worst representatives.


On her Facebook page, Rice cites the famous words of Mahatma Gandhi.

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

She also provides a couple of horrific examples of Christianity at its worst: Westboro Baptist Church and a "Christian" rock band called, "You Can Run But You Can't Hide." God help us.


She also posted, approvingly, a link to this article in the New York Times concerning the Rite of Reconciliation which received  seven same-sex partnered pastors into the ELCA. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is now, unquestionably, a church body with partnered gay clergy. Anyone who has been observing my ELCA knows that this action, inevitable since the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, is controversial and divisive.


Personally, I am proud to be a member of the ELCA and applaud the brave stand that it has taken regarding same sex unions and same sex partnered clergy. Flame on, naysayers, I'm wearing my asbestos drawers.


Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed, emergent, post-modernist and unapologetically Lutheran  pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, was the preacher. Her graceful, gospel centered sermon can be found here. After you have streamed the video or read the manuscript, check out Erik Ullestad's excellent blog post about it.



 Nadia Bolz Weber is the author of one of my favorite recent books, Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television. I snagged the picture of Anne Rice from her Facebook page.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fanaticism, Doubt and Compassion

A few months ago, Roger loaned me a book, In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld. A short time later, Jeff loaned me You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism by Brad Hirschfield.

I showed the two books to my friend Eric. I asked, "Do you see a theme here?" He replied, "Face it, Brant, you're a fanatic." That is, to my knowledge, the only time that I have ever been called a fanatic and of course, Eric was being sarcastic.

The dangers of fanaticism should be clear to all of us in this post-9/11 world.

Winston Churchill wryly observed that "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." I have been working on my own definition of fanaticism. It is less witty than Churchill's and still somewhat tentative, but I present it here for your consideration.

Fanaticism is dogmatic belief without compassion.

In my earlier thinking, I was toying with the idea that fanaticism is belief without reason, but upon consideration I realized that fanaticism usually has its own internal logic. Also, all religious faith transcends reason. So although I have left reason out of my definition, I do think that fanaticism is marked by its lack of compassion.

Building on that definition, a fanatic is a person who, convinced that they are right, believes that those who do not share their belief system are of less value. Because of this, while a convicted believer might be willing to die for their faith, a fanatic might be willing to kill for their faith.

The two books I referenced above suggest strategies for dealing with fanaticism. Berger and Zijderfeld advocate a kind of methodological doubt as a middle ground between crippling relativism and dangerous fundamentalism. They would subject every truth claim to rigorous questioning. They invoke the principle that "human dignity is inviolable" as the guide for moral deliberation. This, they say, leads to a "politics of moderation." At a time when political and religious conversation is increasingly polarized, some moderation would be welcome.

Orthodox Rabbi Hirschfield's book is written more in the vein of memoir. Hirschfield says that we can, and even should, hold firm convictions, but we must also allow that others are equally passionate and convicted about their own faith. By emphasizing the things we hold in common (e.g. love of God, and the value of life) we may not reach consensus but we can at least respect and understand one another. Hirschfield admits that his vision is idealistic, but insists that it is not naive.

If I am right in defining fanaticism as dogmatic belief without compassion, then less dogmatism and more compassion are the antidote to fanaticism. Showing compassion toward the fanatic will obviously strain one's own faith. I will be praying for more compassion in my own life.

I recently came across two blog posts that epitomize compassion. John Gustav-Wrathall, who blogs as "Young Stranger" is a gay Mormon (a "Moho"!) who has written about Tom Brock, the anti-gay, anti-ELCA Lutheran Pastor who was recently outed by Lavendar magazine. Read this post. And this one.

Illustrating this blogpost are the covers of In Praise of Doubt by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld and You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right by Brad Hirschfield. Both books provide plenty of material for consideration.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Special Note to Followers of Harold Camping


Don't even bother replying to my blog. I will not publish your comments. I have given Harold Camping's apocalyptic worldview more than enough publicity. Anyone who wants to know more about it can follow the links in my previous post. There is plenty of information there.

I am not interested in debating you. You will not convince me that your belief is true. I am sure that I will not convince you that your belief is based upon false premises. May 22, 2011 will tell the tale. It is not that far off. We will all just have to wait a little while.

I am a Lutheran. I believe that I am made right with God by grace through faith. I do not fear death. I do not concern myself with the date of the end of the world as we know it. I trust that God is in charge of these things. I am not interested in escapism. Grateful for God's gift of grace, I try to spend my life serving God and doing some small good in this world.

Martin Luther, when asked what he would do if he knew the world were going to end tomorrow answered that he would plant an apple tree. This seems to me a healthy attitude.

Rev. Chuck Currie, in the comments to this post on his blog has said:

Anyone who has made a comment here claiming the world will end May 21, 2011 and is still alive on May 22, 2011 is hereby required to make a $2011 contribution to Church World Service.

Start saving.

I like that idea. Let me build on it just a little.

If you believe now that the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011, and wake up disappointed on May 22, do not despair. Instead, give up idle speculations about the end times. Then reach out to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the know...all that stuff Jesus talked about in Matthew 25. Or maybe just plant an apple tree.


The point of my previous post was that we are all well served by an attitude of humility and perhaps even skepticism regarding our interpretation of Scripture. I have learned in this life that when we think we have everything figured out just right, God usually has a surprise in store. I will return to this theme.

God bless!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's the End of the World as We Know It


I saw the vehicle in town twice about a month ago. I think it was a shrink-wrapped bus. It was white, had no visible windows aft of the driver's compartment, and was printed on every visible side with Bible verses, admonitions to listen to Family Radio, and most prominently the warning, "May 21, 2011 - Judgment Day."

My curiosity was piqued, so I did what any twenty-first century digital citizen would do: I googled. The results of my search pointed to a radio preacher named Harold Camping, who believes that Jesus will return to rapture all true Christians out of the world on May 21 of next year. Those who are left behind will suffer a five month period of torture and tribulation. Finally, according to Camping, on October 21, 2011, the world will come to an end and the wicked will be annihilated.

Could Camping possibly be right? I am thinking that the bookmakers would give him long odds. Every other doomsday prophet who has set a date for the end has been wrong so far. It might be worth noting that this is the second time Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world. His first predicted date for Judgment Day was September 6, 1994. I am sure that I don't have to tell you it did not pan out.

Please understand. I do not mean to mock Harold Camping or any of his followers. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Camping's sincerity. I simply believe that he is wrong. It is possible to be both sincere and wrong. On May 22, 2011 we will all know one way or the other

Harold Camping puts me in mind of William Miller. If you do not know the story, Miller was a Yankee farmer who, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, studied his King James Bible, along with Bishop Ussher's Annals of the Old Testament, and came to the startling conclusion that Jesus would return to earth sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. At first Miller was hesitant to publish his findings, but eventually he found himself the leader of an interdenominational Adventist movement.

Miller was always reluctant to set a specific date for the Second Coming. Others in the Millerite movement (as it was called) were less reticent. When March of 1844 passed without incident, hasty recalculations were made and the date of Jesus' return was announced as October 22, 1844, a day that later came to be known as "the Great Disappointment." The problem was not with William Miller's calculations. The problem was with his premises. The most rigorous logic will still yield false results if it proceeds from false premises.

William Miller's story ought to serve as a caution, not only to Harold Camping, but to anyone who would put undue confidence in their particular interpretation of the Bible. It is possible to be both sincere and wrong.

The title and subtitle for this blog are borrowed from a catchy little song by REM. The photograph was taken from Rev. Chuck Currie's blog. His entry, and particularly the discussion it engendered, make an interesting read.