Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why I’m pro-life AND pro-choice, and why I don’t see that as a paradox.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog on abortion for quite a while, and was “inspired” from a recent article on  The headline read “US ranks 40th in infant mortality;” and no, that’s not like we’re among the lowest – it actually means there are 39 countries that have lower infant mortality rates than us!  In a nation where the debate constantly rages on about the fate of the unborn, the fate of the born is actually in grave danger.
What’s more startling to me is that the state of Mississippi, which was proclaimed to be the “safest state in America for an unborn child,” is actually the most dangerous state in America once that child has left the womb.  Yes, Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States. I’m really confused here, how would a state that is so concerned about “life” being failing in such a dramatic way to protect it?
Abortion has become a religiously polarizing issue, with those speaking the loudest clamoring for the U.S. banning abortion because of “what the Bible says.”  What these folks aren’t saying, and aren’t allowing anyone else to say, is that their view isn’t the only one that can be drawn from the pages of scripture.  The following are four views gleaned from the Bible:
4 “Biblical” Views on abortion
1.        Life begins at conception : Psalm 139:13-16
2.       When blood appears in embryo : Leviticus 17:1-14
3.       Life begins at first breath : Genesis 2:7
4.       Fetus as property : Exodus 21:22-25
I imagine most of us are familiar with the first, but probably not so much with the others.  Ironically, the most well-known position is probably the weakest – “David’s” psalm here isn’t a scientific or medical document, it is an artistic hymn or poem of praise. Was “he” really made in the “depths of the earth?” Can “he” “count” God’s thoughts? The other passages are at least historical works (Genesis being arguably being an exception), passages written as stories and guidelines to follow. Yet, because those who hold to the first view “believe in the Bible,” they are somehow automatically right in their interpretation – and yes, it is their INTERPRETATION.
So I find myself still looking for guidelines when it comes to this, for I have many questions to ask to those who are Pro-life. Why do they want to cut women’s health options? Why do they treat Planned Parenthood as the devil, when PP actually gives out free and low-cost contraceptives to actually prevent abortions? Why is it that states that teach Abstinence-only education have some of the highest teen-birth rates? Why do pro-lifers seem to stop caring once the baby is born?
Sure, there’s plenty of care and concern given to a woman on the fence and up until she delivers, but we don’t hear much afterwards.  There are lots of pro-life pregnancy centers where mothers are encouraged to keep the baby, but are there free day-care centers for after they have delivered? Is there job training or educational assistance so the mom can provide or her child?  Is their housing assistance?  How about a pro-lifer allow a young pregnant girl to live with them during and after pregnancy to help her get established?
The welfare moms are vilified, yet if you were given the option of having more babies and getting able to stay home with them vs. working a low-paying job, going to school, and having the kids in daycare all-day, what would you go for? And don’t give me that “personal responsibility” bull-shit.  Perhaps the abstinence only educator should have taken some personal responsibility and taught her about birth control.  Perhaps the dude should have put on a condom. Those who praise abstinence need to grow up – teens have sex. Should they probably have less,  should they use protection, yes, but a hundred years ago teens were getting married and having sex, now culture demands them to wait far longer to get married – all the while those same sexual desires are still raging. That’s no solution.
 I don’t think the  answers are as easy as some would like.  I don’t want to see abortions happen – and neither do most women who have one. From The Human Drama of Abortion authors Anibal Faundes and Jose S. Barzelatto tell that “There is no doubt that woman do not have abortions because they enjoy the experience. Every woman who has had an abortion would have preferred to avoid it. Although most of them were satisfied with their decision to abort and had no regrets at having done so, they have been much happier if the need had not arisen.” 
I’m not a medical doctor or scientist, I am a theologian in training – and this is the perspective I am coming from. So when I say I am pro-life, I say I don’t want to see abortions happen and want to see steps taken to reduce them.  But I also say that I am pro-choice, and by that I mean, I am a man, and I cannot and should not speak for a woman.  One stock answer cannot and will not be sufficient for every situation .
(And for all the Christians out there who believe in the “age of accountability,” wouldn’t babies dying actually be good in that they go to heaven versus being likely to end up in hell?)
As a pastor and author Phil Snider said to me, the pro-life and the pro-choice movements can come together for a common goal -- to reduce the prevalence of abortions.  This means talking frankly to teens about sex, giver greater access to birth control, creating an economic environment where women have the ability to provide for their child, encouraging adoption, and maybe even quit letting the father walk out scot-free.  The LAST place to worry about is the abortion clinic, yet this is often the first area of protest.  If we really want to reduce abortions, there’s a lot that can and should be done before it even gets to that.
US 40th in infant mortality

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love… and Divorce

My wife and I went to see Crazy, Stupid, Love last weekend; a rom-com starring Steve Carell as “Cal,” Ryan Gosling as “Jacob,” Julianne Moore as “Emily,” and Emma Stone as “Hannah.”  The story centers around the troubled marriage of Cal and Emily, high school sweethearts whose relationship has seemingly run out of gas, to which the audience is made aware of to early on.   At a dinner scene, Emily dramatically chooses something not on the menu – divorce.  Cal takes the news very hard  yet lethargically accepts.  He’s the classic middle-aged man who has sort of stopped trying – with his wardrobe, with his physique, and in his relationships.  Thankfully the one thing he does have going for him is his strong relationship with his kids, the father-son relationship with “Robbie” being highlighted.  Hearing the news of the coming divorce unexpectedly, Robbie is shocked and upset; he admires his father, especially what his father had taught him about love.
I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for those who haven’t seen it.  It was a decent movie over-all. Steve Carell plays a great dorky-middle aged guy (see 40-year old virgin and Dinner for Smucks for more instances),  Ryan Gosling is hot (according to my wife), and I liked Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. Besides an awkward “sexting” incident, (which as potential future parent of a daughter found troubling and an unnecessary “stamp of approval” of the practice),it was a funny, feel-good, and romantic story.
This movie got me thinking about divorce and the perceptions of such within Christianity.  Growing up a conservative Baptist, divorce was a four-letter word.  As I’ve moved into liberal Protestantism, there seems to be a more an attitude of indifference towards divorce (in fairness I’m fairly new, maybe I’m missing something).  I find myself looking for something in the middle between condemnation and apathy. 
The “Christian” response to this question would be to “see what the Bible says;” if only it was that simple.  Yes, in the Bible, there is much said in a negative manner about divorce, even by Jesus; but this is where it’s important to remember the Bible was written low ago in a culture far different from our own. When a woman (or more likely a teenage girl) married a man, she was forfeiting her relationship with her family in order to be assimilated into his. If a man divorced his wife, he left her without any family or even any social support system.  The family in this time was self-sufficient –they were their own creator and supplier of the needs for daily living.  Divorcing a woman left her destitute, with only two real options to provide for herself – begging (if she was old) or prostitution (if she was younger).  No wonder Jesus spoke so vehemently about divorce!
So I still find myself confused, and perhaps this is where I need to remember  there are not any easy answers when it comes to life (and only the foolish think there are).  In the movie, Cal had obviously quit trying; can one really blame Emily for wanting to move on?  Yet this resolution has unintended consequences as Robbie is extremely disillusioned (his father’s failure at love casts a dark shadow on his own future ability). Divorce is hard on kids – flat out hard (check out The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce), but again condemning everything or looking the other way is no “solution” anyway. And that’s assuming a solution is always possible.
Is there a solution to a husband that has quit trying and is unwilling to ever try again?  Is there a solution to an abusive spouse? Is there a solution to a loveless marriage? Is there a solution to infidelity?  If only “staying together for the kids” was as easy as it’s made out to be in Couples Retreat (and even there it’s hardly painted as a success).  Is there an easy answer when two folks get married far too early and far too young?  My wife and I will readily admit we got married WAY to young (me 21, she 20), but it was what you did in the culture we grew up in.  We are very glad we are together, but it has been WORK, with many ups and downs along the way (I love you btw!).  Unfortunately we know others who haven’t been as fortunate as us, who married too young and who weren’t able to make it when one didn’t want to try anymore.  If there is one takeaway from Crazy, Stupid¸Love, it is that love takes work, and when you stop trying, you stop loving.
So again, back to the church, I’m still looking for something in between condemnation and apathy.  Perhaps a strong support system for those within committed relationships (I’ll open the door wider, after all I’m a liberal) but also for those on the other side who simply couldn’t make it work.  And for the latter, this is where the church must not cast out judgment but rather focus on bringing healing to the hearts of the parties involved – especially the children. 
Once a friend commented to my wife that Satan, “roars around like a lion,” trying to destroy marriages. Do I believe in devilish figure with a pitchfork sabotaging relationships? Not really. But I do believe there are many things within our culture that can destroy relationships?  Yes, wholeheartedly. For those of us in relationships, we would be fools if we don’t take those things seriously.  
I’m not sure I’ve really come to any conclusions about divorce, but I don’t really think conclusions can be drawn.   Love is a beautiful, wonderful thing that is sustained by effort; I pray the church will be there to help love flourish, and be there to help pick up the pieces when things go array. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More of a Rant than a Blog...

Every once in a while when I’m bored  I like to take peek at what’s happening on the other side of the fence (to be clear I’m actually bored a lot, it’s just that sometimes when I’m bored I look at other sources of perspective).  That other side of the fence is often, FoxNews, or the Rush Limbaugh Show.  I find those avenues of information usually get my blood pumping. When I want so moments of sanity, I generally like to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
As I peruse these varied perspectives I am see a common themes throughout, and by throughout, I mean that Jon Stewart points out these common themes.  There is this universal thesis running through the conservative perspectives, the idea that people who are lower income earners are basically the worthless dregs of our society and the ones holding America back. There is this common cry for these “takers” to get up and “take some responsibility for themselves.” 
While running at the gym, I needed a distraction so I tuned into FoxNews.  I was in luck! It was Sean Hannity with his “Great American Panel” discussing Maxine Waters and her “go to hell” comments regarding the Tea Party.  I believe it was Marybeth Hicks who blissfully wished that all these people who think that Tea Partiers are bad folks should just come to a rally and see that they are good, honest, and down to earth regular folks.  Essentially the solution to the hate being spread against these folks would be to just “walk a mile in their shoes.”  Not a bad idea I suppose.
Well, Marybeth wasn’t quite done, for she (and how does Fox get all the good looking blondes? Are there not any attractive blonde liberals? Does being blonde make one predispositioned  to being conservative?)  quickly critiqued Waters’s failure to create any jobs for her constituents, that spreading this speech wasn’t doing her own folks any good.  Rather, Hicks’s suggestion was that these people should “take some responsibility for themselves and get an education” (not an exact quote).  
Hold on.  After crying about how liberals need to get to know the Tea Party folks, she then makes a ridiculous, insensitive, out of touch, uneducated, and unattached comment that those Waters’s was concerned for  only had the problem of a lack of willpower and motivation to get some education? What? Really? Tell me Marybeth, when was the last time you’ve spent some time down in the inner city with the poverty stricken?   It’s too bad they’re wasting all their time worrying about how they will feed their children and pay their rent! They should be taking some personal responsibility and get some education in order to get a well-paying job!
Ah, Ms. Hicks, if only it was that simple.  Too bad that education costs an inordinate amount of money, too bad these people still actually have to somehow feed their kids and pay the rent while they go to school.  Yes, I imagine they would like to sleep too.  For the party of family values, these folks don’t seem to care too much about people’s families.  Sarah Palin is another one who constantly blabbers on about family values, yet it appears to me the only thing she cares about is the value of her family’s bank account. 
How can anyone who isn’t making 6 figures vote Republican? How can anyone who received a full refund of the income tax they paid be conservative?  The talking heads and political figures are saying you are the problem!  If you don’t make enough to not have to pay income taxes, you are a drag on our society, we would be better off without you!
I’m like the poster child for worthless Americans.  When I was a kid my dad had the audacity to go into the low paying field of being a minster.  Sure enough, things didn’t work out (cause he didn’t “pull up his bootstraps enough”) and his church ended up having to merge with another for financial reasons. Well,  this is where the major failings by my family begin; we lose the parsonage we lived in, we move in with my grandparents, then into  2 bedroom house ( there are 6 of us total!), then public housing. Yes, you heard that right, PUBLIC HOUSING! What bottom feeding catfish we were! Even worse, we were “taking” food stamps and other public assistance all the while my “lazy” and “incompetent” parents only worked 2-3 jobs apiece!  Oh, and better yet, we paid the rent for this public housing partly from my dad’s salary as an employee of a public school district! Talk about a waste of public funds! And sure enough, look at me now, I haven’t even begun to take responsibility for myself;  I received a full refund of my federal income taxes from last year and I’m happily taking in federal student loan money.  If only I had that same “drive” as these conservatives heroes, perhaps then I could make a nice salary.
Its funny listening to the constant mumbo jumbo talk of “class warfare,” but to be honest the conservatives aren’t at war with the lower class, they have simply thrown them into another caste far below. 
And so I ask; if you are among the low-income earners of society (as am I) how can you actually vote for a political party which has unabashedly and unashamedly screamed out that you are the problem with America right now?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rethinking that Tim Tebow Jersey…

I may  be acting a bit prematurely here, but I’m thinking that Tim Tebow jersey I got last year was a bad decision.   I’m not saying Tebow is a bad guy or a bad quarterback, it’s just that he’s got no shot with the Broncos.  In the second preseason game of the year, Brady Quinn jumped Tebow as the backup quarterback to Kyle Orton and proceeded to perform well.  I actually left the tag on the jersey though, what other player is worth taking it back for???
In my view, this really isn’t about Tim Tebow, this is about Josh McDaniels. John Elway and John Fox are doing everything in their power to make a clean break from that debacle; a revert back to the 4-3 defense, a more conservative offense, and even a change of the name of the stadium! (Ok, not really on that last one).  Tim Tebow is that one big awkward elephant in the room, the odd draft decision by McDaniels which is a constant reminder to the suits of McDaniels’s infamous legacy. 
What’s really crazy about this is that this system being brought in by Fox is ideal for Tebow with its emphasis on running the ball and playing defense.  It’s not like Tebow would be expected to drop back and throw the ball 30 times a game. He’d just need to hand the ball off, do a few play action passes, run a few bootlegs, sprint for a first down here and there, and make smart decisions.   Yes, Orton is a better quarterback talent wise, so perhaps is Quinn, but I don’t get why the Broncos are basically throwing in the towel on Tebow. I mean, come on, 3 pass attempts at the end of a meaningless game with the guys who won’t even make the  next round of cuts?
It’s not like Tebow has totally bombed in his NFL career so far.  Sure he was 1-2 in his starts last year, didn’t have a great completion percentage, and threw some bad interceptions but his victory was an exciting come from behind win followed by another rally that just fell short.  And in the first preseason game, with all the controversy and doubts flying, Tebow goes 6-7 with a QB rating of 118.8! Is he going to be the next Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, no way, but he does remind me of another short, running QB. 
The other NFL jersey I have hanging in my closet is a Doug Flutie Buffalo Bills # 7.  After initially failing to catch on in the NFL out of college, Flutie went to the CFL where he was a huge success. Getting a second chance with the Bills, Flutie managed to lead them to the playoffs after an 0-3 start from other QB Rob Johnson and another trip to the playoffs the next year (in which he was unceremoniously replaced for one Rob Johnson in a last second “Music City Miracle” to the Titans.).  Flutie was a winner, what he lacked in physical prowess, he more than made up for, he had the proverbial “it.”  I think Tebow has “it” too.  The NFL is in love with the physical gifted QB’s, having talent doesn’t always amount to success, just look at Jeff George, Ryan Leaf, previously mentioned Rob Johnson, and of course JaMarcus Russell.  Given the right system, I could envision Tim Tebow succeeding.  And yes, the system and talent around the QB matter, even Peyton Manning struggled in his early years with the Colts until the improved the product around him.  Mark Sanchez also show having talent around the QB can make up for a few rookie mistakes.
Forget all the talent vs. “it” stuff, forget how the Broncos clearly want him gone, for whatever reason.  The biggest reason Tebow needs to stay in the NFL and why the NFL needs Tebow is because of who he is off the field.  And no, I’m not gushing over his evangelical Christianity or super testimony; Tim Tebow is a stand up guy in a league full of scum bags.  Whether or not one agrees with his theology isn’t the point.  He took a ton of heat for starring in a Focus on the Family Super Bowl commercial last year, but at least he stood up for something he believed in.  When Arizona passed their ridiculous (yes, ridiculous and probably more appropriately racist) anti-immigration law, folks were calling on the MLB to move the All-Star game from Phoenix.  Of course they didn’t.  And when it came time for the actual game, guess how many athletes had the guts to stand up and say something about the law? Yep, no one, despite the fact that many of the athletes competing are immigrants themselves.  
I am rooting for Tim Tebow to succeed, not because he’s a Christian or believes in the Bible or whatever. I root for Tim Tebow because in this selfish, materialistic, afraid to take a stand for anything celebrity culture, Tebow has been willing to take a stand for something.  Better than that, he actually practices what he preaches, imagine that! We could use more players like that in the NFL today, because whether we like it or not, kids look up to these guys and whether I agree with his theology or not, I wouldn’t mind my son looking up to Tim Tebow.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Yankees, the Pirates, and economic policy

I’m a Yankees fan, a big one.  I’ve been a Yankees fan since I was 8 years old.  I don’t remember why, but despite living in Flushing, Queens (New York) and being a Mets fan, I decided to become a Yankees fan.  So as a sports fan I’ve had a decent life (I also grew up a Buffalo Bills fan, so I’ve suffered some too…).  This year after Joba Chamberlain was lost for the year with an injury I realized, for the first time in my life as a Yanks fan, they really have no shot this year.  Their lineup is old, starting pitching unproven, and bullpen broken down; imagine such a thing!  I had to accept what most fans of teams deal with almost every year.  Of course it’s not like I’m Pittsburgh Pirates fan, a team which has not had a winning season since 1992.   The Pirates, after competing in the National League Championship Series in 1990, 1991, and 1992 have failed to even break a .500 winning percentage since!   This year they have been above average this year, but unfortunately have fallen below .500 due to a tough losing streak.   

Major League Baseball (MLB) is perhaps the most capitalistic sports league in America.  The Yankees payroll this year is nearly $200 million while the Pirates are under $50 million.  Even worse are the Kansas City Royals with a payroll around $35 million.  Thanks to the enormous revenues brought in by being based in the huge economic market of New York City, the Yankees have been able to turn that income and spend lots of money on their payroll.  Teams like the Royals and Pirates, whose owners could be criticized for not re-investing profits earned into the team payroll, still find themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage financially.   It’s teams like the Yankees who can offer mammoth contracts to players like Mark Texeira ($23 mil.), Alex Rodriguex ($30 mil.), and Derek Jeter ($15 mil.). The Yankees spend nearly as much on their starting infielders than the Royals and Pirates entire payroll combined!  This spending power enables the Yankees to make a few mistakes here and there; see Carl Pavano, Tony Womack, Kei Igawa,  and Javier Vasquez.  That’s over $100 million spent on players who were basically complete busts! For the Yanks though, they just grin and bear it.  Teams like the Royals and Pirates don’t have the luxury of making bad decisions financially, if they make a mistake or two they’re screwed for quite a while (like 20 years if you’re the Pirates).

MLB is called “America’s pastime,” certainly fitting since the National Football League (NFL) is by far the most popular sports league in the US right now.  A big difference between the NFL and the MLB is in their economic systems; while MLB allows a team to spend as much as it wants (though there is a tax is a team spends over a certain amount), the NFL has a strict salary cap and, get this, revenue sharing among the teams.  NFL revenue like TV contracts, jersey and ticket sales get split up to the different teams. How’s that for socialism?! Among America’s most popular sport no less!  Quite a while back the owners realized that the league would be a lot more interesting if all the teams had an equal opportunity to succeed, and sure enough every year around this time, nearly every fan thinks this is going to be their team’s year.

This revenue sharing in the NFL isn’t a fool-proof system, for example the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, but even those teams have made the playoffs in the last 10 years.  The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in 21 years!  What does this show, more financial resources gives you better opportunities while less resources gives you less opportunities.  What do I mean? If the Pirates or Royals make 1 or 2 bad decisions it could really screw them for a few years.  The Yankees meanwhile just sort of “write off” these bad decisions.  They can “afford” to, they’re making tons of cash!

What am I getting at here? In life, just like in the MLB, money buys additional opportunities. A young person coming from a wealthy family can “afford” bad decisions just like the Yankees can; party too hard at college and fail out or waste away a scholarship opportunity for example.  It’s no sweat, “there’s plenty more where that came from…”  Someone coming from a lower socio-economic level just doesn’t have the same monetary safety net.  Make a bad decision or two and their suddenly the Pittsburgh Pirates!  The Pirates have suffered for a generation, the same goes with folks from lower income levels, make a mistake or catch a bad break and its tough luck, and there’s not really a whole lot to do about it; there just isn’t the financial resources there to absorb that impact.

If America’s favorite sport right now, the NFL, has a economic system that borders on socialism, where every year every team starts on a basically level playing field, wouldn’t that make sense for real life?  And enough with this argument that overtaxing folks will discourage them to make money or work hard; the Yankees pay a tax every year because they’re payroll is so high, yet I doubt they will try to cut Jeter or Rodriguez!  Isn’t it time we level the playing field a bit by giving everyone a fair shot?  And yes, this does leave room for “personal responsibility,”  ultimately someone’s success or failure is up to them; the Bengals and Browns show people can still mess up a pretty good system, but at least Bengals and Browns fans can hope anew at the beginning of every season, unlike the lowly Pirates fan… Sure every once in a while Peyton Manning call pull of a miraculous comeback down 21-3 to win an AFC championship.  Yes, The Pursuit of Happyness is a nice story, but in real life those rags to riches stories don’t happen nearly as often as we’d like them to.  In the game of life, being down 18 points at the beginning isn't as easy to overcome as Peyton Manning makes it look like.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Review of a Review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

I had the opportunity to read in a recent issue of the Baptist Bible Tribune a review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Now I imagine I’m in a bit of a minority when it comes to my demographic of readers; I bet there are not too many other progressive Christians who regularly peruse the Tribune, but being a graduate of a Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI) school I like to see what’s going on.
This is a review of a review by Dr. Greg Christopher, professor and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Baptist Bible College, the flagship school of the BBFI.  I want to first give Dr. Christopher his due respect, he’s far smarter and far more intelligent than me; he was actually a professor to me and I enjoyed his classes.   My point is simply to give a different perspective.
My first thought is simply in regards to an overarching theme within Dr. Christopher’s review, the suggestion that the idea of more people going to heaven is a bad thing; is that really such a horrible thing? Really? Sure, this concept may not jive with certain people’s theological positions, but would it actually be a tragedy if less people were tortured in hell!?   Roughly one third of the world is “Christian.”  That includes Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Mormons… most of which a good fundamentalist would say are not “saved,” but, hell, fundamentalists don’t even think everyone in their own churches are “saved.” So what are we talking here, 90% of the world going to hell!?  Would it be so horrendous if less people went to hell?
My second thought has to do with Christopher’s criticism of “story” from the book.  What’s really at work here is that Christopher is arguing from a modernist perspective, while Bell from a postmodern.   Modernism, a child of the enlightenment and the scientific and industrial revolutions leaves no room for differing stories; there is only room for one absolute story or Metanarrative.  In postmodernism different stories are valued and appreciated, there isn’t such an emphasis on which one is “right” (in fact that question itself is modernistic), rather each and every story is valued for what it has to offer.   If we criticize Bell for arguing from a postmodern perspective, we must also criticize Christopher for arguing from a modern perspective.  Bell’s thoughts are a product of postmodernism just as much as Christopher’s (and fundamentalism in general) is of modernism.   The modern perspective gives two options, believe or don’t believe; while the postmodern invites one to ask, which story do you think is best? Should the story or narrative be altered or changed?  After all, these are stories we all have to accept and believe for ourselves.  It’s fine that some can accept a story in which a huge percentage of the world is tormented in hell, but for others that’s simply not believable, so they must imagine or formulate a story which is actually believable.  And this is what Bell has done.
If I were to criticize Bell in any way it would be for his own usage of the Metanarrative.  He values a “story” that is believable, yet ultimately this story must fit within a Metanarrative (although slightly different from a fundamentalist version) of Jesus and “salvation.” He’s trying to “have his cake and eat it too;” he utilizes postmodern perspectives but is ultimately still reliant on modernist ideas.   Perhaps that is the biggest reason for the misunderstanding and confusion for readers from the modernist perspective.
A second “criticism” of Bell would be that he labels himself as an “exclusive inclusivist.”  He can call it whatever he wants to, but he’s clearly an inclusivist who is trying to enlarge or make room for others in his Metanarrative.  Many brilliant theologians have already attempted this, and have more convincing arguments; folks like Origen, Rahner, and Tillich.  If Bell should be criticized in anyway, I would be for just not being that good of an inclusivist theologian. 
Here’s the link to the first review.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

“Trickle-Down economics?” How about “Waterfall-Down economics!”

There is an interesting article on regarding the social and behavioral habits of the wealthy.  Citing studies by Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner, writer Brian Alexander tells that the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.”  Not exactly a positive statement, but it was the next paragraph that really got my attention. The “philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class ‘ideology of self-interest.’”  Wow!  I wasn’t shocked by the conclusions, but by the fact that this is actually making headlines; many of us have known this for quite a while. 

These days all we hear in the media it seems is the constant drone of the political talking heads speaking so positively of the “job creators” and how raising taxes on them would be “class warfare.”   The purpose of this blog isn’t so much to address purely economic issues but rather discuss current conservative economic policy and conservative Christians.

In the current political and religion climate, conservative Christianity has wed itself to Republican ideology (I would say they were in bed together but I know that conservatives aren’t real big on pre-marital sex…).  This marriage is such that conservative Christian theologian Wayne Grudem can write Politics According to the Bible; a book which basically puts a divine stamp of approval on Republican policy.  I’m not sure how it came to this, my guess would be it started with Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” (We’re both Alumnae of the same college!) and Ronald Reagan’s wooing of Evangelicals via all his “God-talk” and such.  Somehow the “Trickle-Down” economics thing just slipped in there and became as important as the “pro-life” thingy (Really it should be called “pro-unborn” because they don’t really care about other human rights issues).

Perhaps my biggest problem with the “Christianization” of Republican fiscal policy is that such policies are built on the assumption that greed is good.  Isn’t greed one of the “seven deadly sins?” Yet greed is the bedrock of capitalism; it’s said that if we raise taxes, the rich won’t be motivated to work harder because they’ll see less of their money, yet we’re supposed to believe that by taxing them less they are going to actually give up some of this money? What am I missing here? The greed that compels them to earn more will suddenly switch off and allow them to let their money trickle down? (Who came up with the phrase “trickle down” anyway? I’d totally buy into “waterfall economics!”)

It’s also interesting when reading the aforementioned article that we can find biblical examples affirming the giving nature of the lower class and the stingy nature of the upper class. How about 2 Corinthians 7 were Paul praises his readers for giving “beyond” what they could afford to help the Jerusalem church.   Perhaps also the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21, here the rich are criticized for their stingy giving while the widow is praised to her sacrificial giving. 

This whole idea of Jesus as a Jewish carpenter makes us think Jesus was a hard working middle class guy (making nice modern tables in The Passion of the Christ). Too bad modern scholarship is telling us that he was more likely a day laborer, a poor peasant who scraped by working for the rich land owners.   Yeah, he wasn’t too fond of those rich folk; being that they had through their wheelings and dealings created a whole poverty level class by their land dealings (I don’t have space to go into all of it).  Perhaps that’s why he told the rich young ruler (Luke 18) to give up all his money and follow.  Perhaps that’s why he said that “salvation has come to this house” after Zacheaus (Luke 19) promised to repay 4x’s what he had stolen and give away half his stuff (How’s that for soteriology??) The “kingdom of God” as he called it, or God’s ways of doing things, didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow for such economic disparity.

The wealth of the upper class in Jesus’ time came at the expense of the lower class, and in the new way of living that Jesus promoted, that just couldn’t continue; look at the initial communities in Acts 2, selling what they had and giving it away to meet each other’s needs.  I’m not saying there is some ideal “New Testament church” model we can all strive towards, rather that stuffing Republican fiscal policy into the pages of the Bible doesn’t make it divinely sanctioned.  Jesus isn’t a Republican! ( He’s Democrat)( JUST KIDDING!!)  sorta ;)

Link to Wayne Grudem’s book:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Money vs. Power

This coming Tuesday, August 9th, will be one week since the United States came to the brink of "financial default." Thanks to an eleventh hour decision, the "crisis" was averted.  It is hard to pick winners and losers in this event; the right wingers are just as mad as the left wingers.  The decision seems to be to add $2.4 Trillion to the debt ceiling while calling for $900 Billion in cuts with a "super congress" to decide on another $1.2 Trillion.  What a deal!?

With all this bickering about small-government, the job-creators, the middle-class, entitlement programs, and everyone paying their fair share, I began to wonder about what's really behind all this.  If one were to boil down the agenda of the right and left into one word or concept, what would it be?  To me, its ultimately about money and power.  Now, to be fair, this is certainly an oversimplification, but hear me out. The right wants to cut government in order to cut taxes in order to keep "their" money;  the left wants to keep government, keep taxes (or even raise them), and keep programs and agencies to maintain control.

So with the right, its all about money, with the left its all about power.  So the question then becomes, which saying is ultimately right? "the love of money is the root of all evil" or "absolute power absolutely corrupts."