Can Neo Calvinism Stand Up?

A lively debate on Calvinism happened recently. And it would actually good TV. Four serious pastors brought their beliefs to a dog fight and the heat and light were exchanged.

Maybe you may say that a debate over the implications of the so-called new Calvinism are irrelevant and arcane to American protestant. Or just too much inside baseball. But I was thoroughly fixated by the exchange and, I’ll bet, you will be, too. I believe this discussion has particular implications for American Christianity and even American politics because where you stand on these issues predicts where your beliefs on civic matters may lie.

After all, at the heart of our American experiment are many unresolved issues surrounding the active role of God in our views of individual freedom, the source and meaning of Manifest Destiny as a divine right, our support of Israel and our national beliefs about separation of church and state.

To me, this is more than esoteric sparring. The pastors were cordial enough to each other, and I’m am sure they all went out for a beer afterwards.  But during the event, they demonstrated an intensity worthy of the topic.

In the debate, I particularly like Brian Zanhd, pastor of the Word of Life church in St. Joseph, MO. His presentation and defense were impeccable, measured and reasonable. I learned a lot and these two videos could be an interesting  part of a small group discussion that would do the participants a world of good.


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Optimism: Essential To Our Future

sharotcoverThe Optimism Bias, a new book by Tali Sharot, takes the position that we are wired for optimism, that cynical pessimism is not our natural state. And that optimism is necessary for our survival as a species.

That’s a comforting thought. I consider myself an optimist. But I have always considered that the rest of the world was not and that this was a force to be pushed back upon. Part of my mission on this earth has been to spread optimism in my own small way, to be encouraging to those around me. Now, in this book, I see that an optimism evangelist is a good thing that serves the great good.

One of the last things that Jesus is quoted as saying to his disciples is in John 16:33, “”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This is very optimistic, indeed, to Christians like me, who not only believe that Christ conquered death by rising from the dead but declared that the world, with its rules, shortages and , has little power over him, or us.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything is falling apart. That’s a tad pessimistic. But Christians, following Christ’s statement, can be the harbingers of the good news that there is a life beyond this one and that we can join Christ in this new world beyond our world.

If it is so that this present life is not the end and that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, then Christians indeed have some good news for this realm. Can I hear an amen?  Why not optimism? Its all good.

This book is one of a collection of books on the Brainpickings website located here.

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God Has No Religion

I believe religion is the human pursuit of God. It is fraught with ego, misinterpretation, manipulation and fraud (including self-fraud). But when we see that God is pursuing humans in the establishment of a cooperative personal relationship, great things happen. But it is not religion.

Image of Ghandi

Image of Ghandi

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Image of the earth from the moon

What’s the problem? Let’s just enlarge the tribe beyond our geographic, cultural, philosophic and religious borders. How? We can assimilate a God’s eye view of God’s total creation.

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Conservatives Motivated by Fear

Its what you thought for many years but wouldn’t say because it sounded so snarky and racist.

But now science is bearing up the notion that conservatives and liberals reason differently at a very basic level.

This Bill Moyers article presents a well-designed study of how the progressive and regressive minds work. And, yes, it’s not just that we have develop various conclusions about life based on rational input. Its much, much deeper than that.

Turns out conservatives, who generally advocate for a powerful military, harsh punishment for all sorts of things, more rigid societal structure, and love for guns, do so out of a sense of fear, protecting what’s mine, and the consequences of letting down our collective guard.

Furthermore, this fear mechanism, which served humans well thousands of year ago, is deeply embedded in the primitive recesses of our brain and is not likely to be expunged by simple debate about alternative ways of looking at our world.

Fearful people are putty in the hands of such information outlets as Fox News, which is blasting colored news reports, conspiracy theories and negative stereotypes round the clock. Such alarmism makes perfect sense to these citizens, even to the point of welcoming a Biblical armageddon as a cleansing operation for this present world. The net result is a stance that mandates that we pull in our resources, protect what is ours, and hate those who are no part of us.

For example:

Disease-ridden immigrants are overrunning our border defenses. Non-whites are aggregating too much power for our republic to stand. Capitalism and our guns will protect us from government overreach. Science is basically an atheistic enterprise bent on destroying well-established Biblical tenets. Birth control is abortion by another name and part of a movement to reduce the white population and equalize power among women and minorities.

This type of thinking leads, then, to some extraordinary beliefs. For example, no need to worry about the health of our planet, our CO2 belching lifestyle, or greenhouse gasses because Jesus is returning soon (discussion closed). Since God has blessed America in the past, we have to be the police of the world and intervene wherever it seems appropriate. And, since we’re the good guys, we must always prevail.

Superstition and even lies are accepted as okay because they reinforce these beliefs. This leads to a situation where even established “facts” are derided as evil propaganda. Ignorance is openly celebrated, because to “know” too much will lead one astray.

When our republic was new, the immigrants who poured in were often displaced populations who wanted to breathe free. They were often poor with little to lose and were banking on the promise that hard work equals prosperity.

Now our country has become the overlord, bent on protecting our eroding turf. We have no use for a rising tide that will lift all boats. Indeed, all boats are not worthy of being lifted, many would say.

Fearful societies are not generous, are quick to blame others, and have a tendency to hold onto simple-minded solutions that religious and political fundamentalists are happy to teach.

And there is no easy way to offer a counter view. A more liberal philosophy is harder to create and promulgate in bumper sticker sound bites. A liberal view, by definition, requires a more creative, patient outlook to see long-range results. The nuance often comes off as equivocation (or double-mindedness). Liberalism is often viewed as a sacrifice of individual rights for the good of the many, and even goes against the notion that there are no “self-made men.” A liberal mind seeks cooperation between groups for the sake of the common good. A liberal outlook can see over the mountain to a more hopeful future, not based on chains, but on a generosity that may not be immediately obvious.

The article quotes John Jost, a researcher with several decades of data under his belt:

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different.

This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.


One of the reasons for this blog is to help fellow travelers move away from the errant and mistaken Fundamentalist view of Jesus and Christianity to a more revolutionary (and accurate First Century) view of his character and message. Salvation is not an adherence to a bunch of rules that limit our world, but an opening of the eyes of our heart to his message that the Kingdom of God is here now. The banquet is prepared. We are all welcome to it. This belief makes us open our arms ready to live from abundance and embrace a world that needs the hope that Christ provides.


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Help For Poor Families From Someone Who Knows

Tianna Gaines-Turner, a child-care worker from Philadelphia, spoke before a Congressional committee last week. She’s no power player. She’s a low-wage worker who, with her husband, have been squeezing out a living for the last decade.

Several times over the years, they thought that they were on the way to a better life, but some emergency, illness or event robbed them of any extra security. Their condition remains stagnant or worse.

Laziness is not the problem. She and her husband leave home before daylight every day and arrived back home long after the sun has gone down.

Her remarks, captured here on the Bill Moyers site, contains some very thoughtful and well laid out advice to lifting poor families out of poverty.

But are her remarks reaching anyone on the Paul Ryan-chaired  committee?

Gaines-Turner was chosen to represent a group to which she belongs, Witnesses to Hunger program. She asked the committee to use her group, real families who are called “the working poor,” to be consulted on any ideas the Congress may try to pass. Imagine that: an actual constituent actually participating in actual legislation that actually effects them.



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She Nailed It…In One Quick Video

This is what it means to be a New Testament Democrat. Its not a party, its a way of living. It’s seeing yourself as part of the larger human community — God’s creation. It means you choose to fight the myopia, xenophobia and small mindedness of the Pharisees. It means you try to see the hope in every situation, betting on a positive outcome for individuals and nations.

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Why You And Uncle Bob Will Never Vote Alike

I like Chris Mooney. I don’t know who he is exactly but I have read many articles that he has written and really like the way he goes after a topic. This article, which seems to have been written several years ago, is one that he viciously attacks and is as current as this morning.

The article examines the way people adopt their ethical, cultural, societal, political and religious beliefs.  And, in the end, he ends up in a pretty hopeless place about our communal ability to use our minds to come together based on rational thought.

John Haight, professor at University of Virginia and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion, as well as other scholars, have done a lot of thinking along this line.

Mooney’s specific topic here is why some refuse to accept accepted scientific information. They are shown the facts and they refuse to accept a new position that differs with previously held beliefs.

He starts by dissecting the beliefs of a cult group called the Seekers. This group believed that aliens were coming to earth on December 21, 1954, and they prepared so that they would be ready.  They sold their homes, they quit their jobs, and waited on a mountaintop. The day came and went. Despite the fact that everything they had believed and prepared for didn’t happen, they didn’t give up their beliefs in the alien landing. Instead, they became even more evangelistic, telling folks that the aliens were giving earth more time because the Seekers had been so faithful and ready.

Now let’s move to climate change. Though more than 90 percent of people who are qualified to know about such things, believe that the earth is warming and humans are the cause, a large majority of Americans refuse to accept this.

The bottom line is that it turns out that more facts are unlikely to change a person’s mind. In fact, the article says that, in many cases, the more information that is heaps upon a non-believer, the more entrenched that person becomes in holding onto their belief.

So, what’s the takeaway? First, quit arguing tit for tat with Uncle Bob at the Thanksgiving Dinner. Its not going to change anything and may harden his beliefs. Instead, come up with a metaphor that can get the point across with non-political, non-threatening symbols that avoid direct reference to things about which he has already passed judgment upon.

Our belief systems are built up and layered on year after year, from our youth. They are reinforced by our experiences and, of course, many people sharing the same experience often end up interpreting it differently. So unwinding that is no simple trick.


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Making “Heretics” Out of Our Heroes

Andy Gill had an interesting piece in his blog recently.

I don’t know him but would like to. He takes six of the best, most beloved and read “conservative” evangelicals and explains why today’s reactionary church should kick them off the island (if they would be true to their judgmental ways).

[Note that where Gill uses the term evangelical, I might be more comfortable using the term Fundamentalist, but let's not quibble over labels.]

Starting with C. S. Lewis, it goes straight from there to Martin Luther, William Barclay, St. Augustine, John Stott, and Billy Graham. He explains that all these great holy men said something or had a belief or wrote something that clearly contradicts the teachings of the neo-Pharisees.

Its like the Tea Party’s slobbering crush on Ronald Reagan. They like to compare their movement with his, but when you deconstruct the actual things that he said and believed, you find direct contradictions with Tea philosophy. Reagan could never have gotten elected in Red states any more than Billy Graham could be seen as a neutral influence today.

For once, someone has stood up to this unholy linkage between Republicanism and Christianity. And once again, its our faith that should inform our politics rather than the other way around.


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“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I looked this up after Pres. Clinton applied it to Karl Rove after some foolish, illogical attacks on Hillary Clinton.

Consistency is a big word for talking points. “What is our position of this or that and how do we defend it?” Those with a serious propaganda agenda or without a facility for reason, need ready-made talking points.

But in a free society with the educated ability to reason on many fronts and an expectation to be a seriously informed citizen, it may be that we are not all consistent in our beliefs. I may be liberal on one thing and conservative on another. Without apology. If I am honest with myself, I will be morally inconsistent in many issues and feel good about it. I think the more intelligent a person is, the more morally inconsistent that person may be.

It is okay to live with inconsistency. Better to not know how you believe about a thing than to know too much and say too much about a thing that you don’t really believe.

If your world is consistent and makes sense to you in all ways, then maybe you are not thinking hard and long enough about the stark issues of this world and its enormous, troubling history.




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