Tag Archive: Culture

Do School Shootings Happen Because the Evangelical God is Banned From Public Schools?

god banned atheist pigEvangelicals often claim that the reason for school shootings is that the Christian God has been banned from public schools. According to Evangelicals, all sorts of maladies afflict our society due to the fact that prayer, Bible reading, and the Ten Commandments have been litigated out of public schools. If only people would see the importance of the Christian God (and only the Christian God) in educating children and return him to his rightful place, why all sorts of societal ills would disappear overnight. The same argument is made for banning abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and any of the other hot-button issues Evangelicals deem a threat to their God and way of life.

This argument, of course, is patently false. God isn’t banned from public schools. I attend several local high school girls’ basketball games each week in the winter month. Many of these games have prayer times by led by players before and after the games. Such student-led prayers are legal. I don’t care for the prayers, and I refuse to stand silently in the stands until the prayers are done. Not my God, so I am not going to give my approval to such bawdy displays of religiosity. That said, students are free to pray, read the Bible, and have a Ten Commandments book cover. Teachers are free to do the same during their breaks or other times when they are not teaching their students. What schools and teachers are not permitted to do is advance or evangelize for sectarian religious beliefs.

Most local schools have Christian student groups, including groups associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (an Evangelical ministry whose goal is to “present to coaches and athletes, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church”). Youth for Christ has an active presence in many schools. Local churches are free to rent/use school facilities. Over the years, new church plants have used local school buildings as their meeting places. Local school boards are dominated by Christians, and I suspect most teachers profess some form of Christian faith. It seems, then, that the Christian God is alive and well in public schools.

What upsets Evangelicals is that they can no longer demand preferential treatment for their religious cult. If Satanist, atheist, or secular students want to start student-led clubs, they are free to go so. If Satanists on school sports teams want to offer a prayer up to Beelzebub before the start of the game, they are free to do so. Evangelicals want exclusivity and it irritates the heaven out of them that other sects and groups are given equal status.

What kind of God allows children to be murdered, all because his adult followers aren’t allowed to proselytize public school students? What a vindictive, petty God this is, akin to a man who burns down a house with his ex-wife and children in it, all because his ex wouldn’t let him in the door. Such a God is not worthy of worship. Worse yet, are Evangelicals of a Calvinistic bent who believe school shootings are all part of some sort of perverse cosmic plan. According to Calvinists, these children were murdered because God willed it to be done. It is God who ultimately fires the bullet that kills us all.

Such a God is an abomination, one unworthy of worship, love, and devotion. This is one of the things that makes it clear such a God does not exist. A moral, loving God would neither be an instrument of murder, nor would it stand by while children (and teachers) are killed by deranged gunmen. What the school shootings tell us is that the Christian God is either a work of fiction or he is too busy to be bothered with the pain and suffering of his creation. If God has the powers Evangelicals say he does, he could have stopped Nikolas Cruz from killing seventeen and wounding four of his fellow students (including several school staff members). That God did nothing is a sure sign that he doesn’t exist. Evangelicals love to tell us mere humans that we are sinners deserving judgment from their God and eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. Yet, I suspect many of us sinners, if given the opportunity, would have done all we could to protect children from murder. Unlike God, we value life, especially that of those who are in the early years of this wonderful experience we call life. That it was humans, not God, who tried to protect children from slaughter is yet another reminder of the fact that God is, at best, an absentee father who has no interest in his children.

If the root cause of mass shootings is the Evangelical God being kicked out of our culture and schools, how then do Evangelicals explain the shooting at an Evangelical Baptist Church that claimed the lives of twenty-six God-fearing souls? How then do Evangelicals explain Dylan Roof’s murder of nine Christians while they were praying at church? Surely, the people killed in these shootings were devoted followers of Jesus, yet God, as he does in EVERY case, stood by and did nothing. In fact, based on demographics, it is likely that many of the students murdered in the school shootings over the past three decades were believers in the Christian God. What possible reason could be given for the Christian God — he who holds the keys of life and death — wiping these people off the face of the earth?

Well, you know Bruce, God’s ways are not our way.

No shit, Sherlock. And you wonder why atheism is growing?

God is not going to fix the school shooting problem. It’s up to us, just as is everything else in life. Waiting for God to act is a fool’s errand, one that leads to countless heartaches. We are the Gods in this morality play, and it is time we exercise our divine powers and put an end to gun violence. It’s time to run the NRA and their Republican lackeys out of town. It’s time we recognize that guns are instruments of death, and a country without 300 million of them would be a better place to live. While a total gun ban will never be implemented in the United States, we can ban weapons capable of causing horrific bloodshed in short amounts of time.

Or we can put prayer and Bible reading back in the public schools….

Why Evangelical Influence is Diminishing

fear mongers

Evangelicals are having an identity crisis. Sensing that they are losing their grip on the American political and cultural scene, notable Evangelicals increasingly resort to fear-mongering and shrill rhetoric in an attempt to remind the public that they are still alive and kicking. I read a number of Evangelical blogs and news sites. I have noticed in recent months, especially since the legalization of same-sex marriage, Evangelicals have become increasingly agitated over American politics. If I didn’t know any better, I would conclude that, based on their articles and emails, Evangelicals believe that the United States is on the verge of total collapse. Some Evangelicals think secularists and socialists will soon take over America, resulting in civil war.

The recent demise of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stirred up a new round of hysteria. Fearing that President Obama will nominate a left-leaning judge, Evangelicals are asking their congressional leaders to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities and stop the nomination process. Some of the talking heads on the extreme right of Evangelicalism are suggesting that Scalia was murdered by Obama operatives, paving the way for the socialist takeover of the Supreme Court.

Part of me wonders if uproar over Scalia, same-sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, and the 2016 Presidential election is really all about keeping Evangelicals in the fold. People such as Franklin Graham, Tim Wildmon, Tony Perkins, and James Dobson know that Evangelicalism is losing young adults at an alarming rate. Even when young adults remain in the church, they are more likely to support same-sex marriage and abortion rights and are more likely to vote Democrat. These liberal-minded Evangelicals helped put Barack Obama in office in 2008 and 2012. Knowing they cannot retreat from the culture war, Evangelical parachurch groups increasingly resort to using methods meant to keep their supporters in a constant state of spiritual and political agitation. Anything that is perceived as an “attack” on Evangelical Christianity is quickly reported and added to daily email missives sent to supporters. From the war on Christmas to cries of religious persecution, Evangelical leaders paint a dire picture of the future for American Christians. Some even go so far as to suggest that Evangelicals will soon be rounded up and jailed for their beliefs.

One thing is certain, stirring up the faithful is the key to raising money. Evangelical pastors and leaders of parachurch groups frequently remind supporter of the secular/humanist/atheist/socialist/communist/liberal threat. If Evangelicals fail to support these beacons of hysteria, America is doomed. Evangelicals such as Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins are warning supporters that if Bernie Sanders wins the election, the United States will cease to be a democracy and constitutional protections will be lost. Appealing to the Fox News demographic, these preachers of gloom and doom warn that secularists will not rest until they have upended the first and second amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Evangelicals see groups such as the Freedom from Religion FoundationAmerican Atheists, and the American Humanist Association challenging government’s preferential treatment of Christianity and Evangelicals wrongly think that their rights and freedoms are under attack. They are not, as any constitutional scholar can tell them. What is happening is that secularists, atheists, humanists, Satanists, and other non-Christian groups are no longer willing to let Christianity unduly influence local, state, and federal government. These groups are no longer willing to idly stand by while Evangelicals trample the First Amendment, Establishment Clause, and the separation of church and state. No longer willing to lurk in the shadows of American life, non-Christians are asserting their right to be heard. Thanks to the internet, these formerly marginalized groups have found their voices. Non-Christians, once a scattered demographic, can now join together in the fight against those clamoring for a Christian theocracy.

It should not surprise us then that aging Evangelical leaders are scared by what they see taking place on the American political and religious scene. I am sure that privately some of these leaders are wondering whether Evangelicalism is dying. Can it be resurrected? they wonder. Or is the sun setting on the movement birthed in the fundamentalist-modernist war of the 1920s? I wonder if they will dare to ponder where things went wrong?  Will they conclude that selling their souls to the Republican party and attempting to win the culture war at any price has cost them their future? Or will they continue to demand that people pay attention to them? Dammit! We are relevant! We still matter!  Mess with us and  we will_________. Will what? Send out voters guides that are little more than endorsements of Republican candidates for office? Write blog posts? Write editorials? Hold rallies? Aren’t these the things that Evangelicals have been doing since the days Jerry Falwell birthed the Moral Majority? Yet, their support base continues to erode and grow more gray hair.

Generally, Evangelical pastors and parachurch groups have supported climate change denial, creationism, and racist Republican policies concerning immigration. Their support of these things puts them at odds with younger Evangelicals who think science and social justice issues are important. Younger Evangelicals are increasingly embarrassed by the  political, social, and scientific ignorance of their pastors and leaders. These policies also put them at odds with those who are not Christians — the very people Evangelicals feel duty-bound to evangelize.

So what should Evangelical pastors, parachurch groups, and universities do to stem the decline of Evangelicalism?

It is time for Evangelicals to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the culture war. Evangelical leaders stubbornly refuse to admit  that the 35-year culture war has weakened churches, alienated people, and turned Evangelicalism into a group that is roundly despised by non-Evangelicals. I recently wrote a post titled, The Christian God has an Optics Problem. This optics problem extends to Evangelical churches.

Evangelicals wrongly think that people hate them because of their beliefs. While this perception is to some degree true, what most people despise is how Evangelicals incessantly prattle about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, fornication, and adultery. In other words, people are sick of Evangelicals sticking their noses in what goes on in the privacy of non-believers’ bedrooms. They are tired of Evangelicals beating them over the head with the Bible, all the while failing to practice what they preach. Non-Christians see daily reports of Evangelical pastors and church leaders who have a problem keeping their pants zipped up. They read reports about Evangelical sex scandals and child abuse problems. They wonder, who are these people who think they have a right to say to Americans, “do as I say, not as I do?”

While some on the Evangelical-left have reinterpreted the Bible, making it more homosexual friendly, most Evangelicals are unwilling to condone same-sex carnal knowledge and marriage. Driven by a pathological fear and hatred of homosexuals, most Evangelicals are incapable of seeing same-sex relationships as loving and life-affirming. Now that most Americans support same-sex marriage and know people who are homosexuals, Evangelicals are forced to either double down and continue to fight against progress or surrender what they consider the moral high ground. Sadly, Evangelicals, for the most part, are unwilling to cede Mount Morality to what they perceive are the whims of American postmodernism. In failing to understand how much American thinking has changed, Evangelicals have relegated themselves to fringes of American society.

Those on the Evangelical left also reject the anti-science views of mainstream Evangelicals. They are increasingly embarrassed by Evangelical monuments to ignorance such as the Creation Museum and The Ark Encounter. These left-leaning Evangelicals, many of whom are under the age of 35, want churches and leaders who embrace science. They want leaders who are willing to banish creationism and its ancient sheepherder ignorance to the dustbin of human history. These modern Evangelicals have embraced evolution and love modern preachers of science such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. Most of all, these Evangelicals are allies of progress.

I am of the opinion that mainstream Evangelicals will never embrace those on the left of the Evangelical tradition. They can’t. They have too much political, social, and theological capital invested in maintaining the status quo. To move beyond the certainty of their beliefs means admitting that they are wrong. It means admitting that the culture war was as every bit as disastrous as America’s wars in the Middle East. Since it is doubtful that mainstream Evangelicals will admit these things, perhaps it is time for left-leaning Evangelicals to exit stage left and move on to the friendlier confines of liberal and progressive Christianity. While I have numerous problems with how liberal Christians interpret the Bible, I have no doubt that this infusion of young blood into the church will benefit everyone but Evangelical churches, whose favorite hymn is I Shall Not be Moved:

I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.

I have no doubt that the next year is crucial for Evangelical culture warriors. Sensing that their grip on American culture is slipping, many Evangelical pastors, parachurch leaders, and government officeholders are calling on Evangelicals to rebel against the federal government, going so far as to encourage people to deliberately break the law. Pastors are being encouraged to endorse specific candidates, putting them in direct conflict with federal laws prohibiting such endorsements. Since the IRS has been obscenely lax in prosecuting pastors and churches who violate the law, these so-called patriot pastors rightly assume that they can violate the laws governing religious nonprofits. While it is likely the IRS will ignore these lawbreakers, their lawlessness could prove to be deadly to Evangelicalism. Surrendering the high moral ground for the sake of political power will only further alienate Evangelical young adults and non-Christians. If mainstream Evangelicals fail to win the presidency and turn America back to the right, their cultural death is assured.

The David of progress and tolerance will slay the Evangelical Goliath of bigotry and extremism. Secularists and non-Christians will rejoice over the giant’s death, ever aware that there will be other fundamentalist warriors to stand in Goliath’s stead. Every generation will have to fight its own Goliath. Those of us who value secular progress and tolerance must always be vigilant. While throwing the last shovel of dirt on Evangelicalism’s rotting corpse, we must be cognizant of other ism’s that threaten our future. We dare not rest, thinking the battle is over.

What if Right Wingers Win the Same-Sex Marriage Battle?

 

american jesus

Evangelical, Mormon, and Catholic leaders and parachurch groups are in full-blown panic mode as the day the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage draws near. They rightly understand that if the Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage the culture war at the federal level is over. While there might be state and local battles to be won, on the federal level, the war is over.

Once gays are afforded the same civil rights and constitutional protections as the rest of us, Evangelicals will likely begin telling the faithful that we now live in a post-Christian world. Evangelicals, along with their fellow culture warriors in Catholicism and Mormonism, have lost their favored seat at the cultural table. No longer will appeals to God, the Christian Bible, the Law of God, etc. work. This is lost on those who are running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. From Ted Cruz to John Kasich to Rick Perry to Marco Rubio to well, whoever else is in the clown car, they seem oblivious to the fact that it is not 1950. Waving the U.S. flag and shouting I LOVE JESUS will not garner enough votes to put a Republican in the White House. The same white crackers, Tea Party lunatics, Patriots, and fundamentalist Christians will vote for the Republican nominee, but their ranks are literally dying, unable to attract young adults. Not only are they dying, but they remain a bastion of bigotry and racism. As the United States becomes browner,  the Republican party becomes less relevant. In time, there either will be a huge party split, with the rednecks and the Christian nation crowd starting there own party, or the current Republican Party will be forced to banish the wing nuts and broaden their tent.

Winning the same-sex battle at the federal level would be a big boon to the Republican Party. It will also embolden culture warriors, a reminder to them that God is still on their side. While it will certainly be a huge blow to liberals and supporters of same-sex marriage like myself if we lose, we will live on to fight another day. We know that we are in a generational battle for the future of the United States. Unlike the culture warrior with their five item menu, the liberal knows war must be waged on many fronts. Same-sex marriage is just one of those fronts. We must also work to:

  • Overturn Citizens-United
  • Reform voting and end gerrymandering
  • Turn back state abortion laws that are harmful to women
  • Neuter the military-industrial complex
  • Reign in the security-industrial complex
  • Provide a living wage for all
  • End the assault on evidence-based science
  • Shore up the wall of separation and church
  • Drastically reduce our global environmental footprint
  • Provide young adults with educational opportunities that do not saddle them with decades of debt
  • Rebuild infrastructure before the United States turns into one big pothole
  • End the war on drugs
  • Decriminalize and legalize marijuana use
  • Reestablish law enforcement as peacemakers
  • Empty the prisons of nonviolent offenders, especially those convicted of petty drug crimes
  • End capital punishment
  • Strip corporations of their power and influence over local, state, and federal government

The culture warriors, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, seem to have little interest in the things I’ve mentioned above. Guided by their literalistic interpretation of the Bible and the Constitution, they work to undo the social progress of the last 100 years. In their world, if women returned to the kitchen, gays to the closet, undocumented workers to the country they came from, all would be well. What they want is 1950. They want to return to the era of  McCarthy, a period of time when fundamentalist patriotism and Christianity ruled the roost. They want to return women to the days when they feared pregnancy and feared their husband. They want to return to the days when the hegemony of whites had no challenge. They want to return to the days when the United States had no equal and used its military and economic power to advance an imperialistic agenda.

For these reasons, and many others, I rarely can find common ground to work with Republicans. Their Party is overrun by nuts, cranks, corporate CEO’s, lobbyists and conspiracy theorists. While sane voices can be found on the left fringe of the Republican Party, their numbers are few and they seem unable to make their voice heard. When Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Jon Huntsman are your party’s voice of reason, you have a big problem on your hands. While I am willing to compromise and work towards a common good, I find it impossible to work with people who think that every social and political change is a threat to America, Christianity, and the American way of life. When the discussions starts with abortion is murder or America is nation chosen by God, it’s hard to find common ground. Truth is, I’d probably find more common ground in an insane asylum than I would some corners of the Republican Party.

The issues I have mentioned in this post provide readers with a glimpse into my politics and how I view the world. The aforementioned positions are not a complete list, but it does show readers the issues that I think are most important.

This post should not be taken as an endorsement of the Democratic Party. I am increasingly unhappy with Party and President Obama. Some days, I think both political parties are the same, especially when it comes to how corporations and money influence their decisions.

Why Most Americans are Christian

american jesus

The Jesus of Millions of Americans

Ask a Christian for the reason most Americans are Christian and you will likely get some sort of theological explanation, complete with a personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. However, is this really the reason most Americans are Christians? Is it really all about theology and relationship?

Perhaps there is another explanation.

First, America is a Christian nation. Not a Christian nation like theocrats think we are, but Christian nonetheless. Christianity permeates our being as a people. Christian churches are everywhere. Our government leaders are overwhelmingly Christian and freely use language that reflects their Christian heritage. Christianity is on full display everywhere  we look.

Second, there is a cultural form of Christianity that permeates virtually every aspect of our society. Country singers win awards for songs about cheating on  a spouse and they thank the Christian God for winning the award. Boxers and MMA fighters brutalize one another and then thank the Christian God for the strength to do what they do. Prayers are uttered at sporting events, players give testimony to faith in Jesus, and the Christian God is given all the credit for their success.

Cultural Christianity is all about what  people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world  into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Over the course of my life, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and California. Every place I lived had its own cultural idiosyncrasies. Let me share a couple of stories with you that illustrate this.

Here in NW Ohio, local convenience stores have one or two rows of Dr. Pepper in their coolers. Pepsi and Coke are the dominate brands. When I lived in Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, I would go down to the Conoco and buy a bottle of pop. The dominant pop in the cooler was Dr. Pepper. There would be numerous rows of Dr. Pepper and only a couple of rows for Pepsi and Coke. Big Red was another favorite pop and it also had more space in the cooler than Pepsi. Why? Culture.

When I left the church in Elmendorf and moved back to Ohio, I kept in touch with a Hispanic family in the church. They eventually moved to Ohio to be a part of the church I was pastoring. I warned them that they were moving to an area where Anglos dominate the culture. There are no stores here with the foods, vegetables, and fresh tortillas that Hispanics in San Antonio can easily buy at the local HEB grocery store. I did my best to make certain they understood these things.

With great anticipation and excitement they moved to Ohio. And, two months later, discouraged and depressed, they moved back to San Antonio. Reason? Culture. The differences between the two cultures was too great. Even though they convinced themselves they could adapt, the differences were so vast that it would have required them to stop doing things they had done their entire life. Such drastic change is hard.

mango tree

Cambodian Mango Tree

I pastored in SE Ohio for eleven years. Appalachian culture dominates the area. I found that there is a huge cultural difference between NW Ohio and SE Ohio. While only 200 miles separate them, the cultures are very different from one another.

One day a man in the church brought us a bag of green peppers. He said, here are some mangos for you from my garden. Mangos? Mangos are fruit that grows on trees. I thought, why is this guy calling green peppers “mangos?”  A short time later, we went to the grocery store in Zanesville, Ohio. As we strolled through the produce section we noticed the green peppers. The sign above them said “mangos.” Why? Culture.

Culture affects how we live, how we talk, what we eat, and what we do for entertainment. It affects every aspect of our lives. Why should matters of religion be exempt from the influence of culture?

I am an atheist, but I know that my moral and ethical values have been shaped by the culture in which I grew up. I have no problem admitting that some of my moral beliefs come from my Christian upbringing. Growing up in a poor family shaped how I view things such as poverty, welfare, and the place of government in our day-to-day lives. Culture and environment have largely made me who I am today. Even though I am now a godless heathen, I still like some of trappings of my Christian past. I love listening to southern gospel music. I  enjoy listening to Third Day and some of the other Christian rock groups. I don’t believe one word of the lyrics, but there is something about the music that appeals to me. It is familiar to me, as are many of the other cultural peculiarities by which I am surrounded.

How about you? What cultural peculiarities do you see where you live? How has the Christian culture of America shaped and affected your life?

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