| Onward Evangelical Soldiers|
|12 Feb 2004 @ 02:54, by Richard Carlson|
Art is frozen Zen.
From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow. The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lives for what is always out of reach! His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.
The "Left Behind" series, novels whose plots revolve around the Rapture now number 40 million in print. (Photo: leftbehind.com/CBS)
Let me say at the outset that my main problem with the current and prevalent Evangelicals has to do with theology rather than politics. They have the right to yearn for a state grounded in their principles, and the mainstream has the right to send them back to their pews---which is what we're going to do. I want neither George Bush NOR the Dalai Lama as my emperor.
My theological problem involves what I judge to be the major thrust of prayer among Evangelicals. I find the literal reading of Biblical material as silly as a literal reading of Mother Goose. I do not think of the Bible as a fairy tale, but I do know what a parable is and what it isn't. It ain't a New York Times editorial---or at least oughtn't to be (most of the time). Jesus taught with parables, not news items or States of the Union speeches. Prayer becomes distorted in a literal perception of parable and scripture.
I believe Evangelicals use prayer as an appeal to God to do stuff for them...and as a ritual of gratitude when they think the tasks have been righteously performed. I believe this is magical thinking...and I find much of magic in what Evangelicals do. The very air and atmosphere of a Pentecostal meeting is magical: the circle, the hands-holding and waving, the chanting (whether in tongues or not), the public emotional convulsion of being born again, the healings. The power here is magic...which is perfectly OK, as long as it is recognized and celebrated as such.
I do not mean to damn magic or those for whom it is religion. There is much magic in the stuff of the physical universe, as I believe any theoretical physicist will be the first to assert. The efforts we make to nail down reality into scientific expectation we do in order to pass our days without too much astonishment and ensuing poverty. Confusing magic with science is a very dangerous game...as I think is confusing magic with Christianity.
Prayer for me is not an activity in which I do a dance for a great Magician God so He'll give me what I want if I'm good enough. Increasingly prayer for me involves a great deal of faithful silence and listening. I have faith in the Will of God...and I hope to hear more of the Good News that can help me behave myself accordingly, which turns out to be something of a lifelong project. I do not have a conviction that I am doing it Right yet, and I tend to want to question folks who claim that they have and are.
Whether or not all this hits a chord with you, dear reader, we are coming to a point in this world where we must confront the Evangelicals, their beliefs and their politics. Like most American families, there are Evangelicals in my midst and I have had much communion with them. On Sunday's "60 Minutes" CBSNews ran a feature entitled Rise Of The Righteous Army. At the website there is a reprint of much of what was said...and a 30-second video clip. Please have a look:
Rise Of The Righteous Army
Feb. 8, 2004
Evangelical Christians form one of the most potent forces in American politics and society. They are people who place their faith, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, above everything else in their lives and hope to spread that Gospel to the world.
An estimated 70 million Americans call themselves evangelicals, and their beliefs have already reshaped American politics. In the last election, 40 percent of the votes for George W. Bush came from their ranks, and now those beliefs are beginning to reshape the culture as well -- thanks to a group of best-selling novels known as the “Left Behind” series.
If you want to understand the people behind this political and cultural shift, the place to begin is in church. Correspondent Morley Safer reports.
”I don't think the media has really caught on to what's been going on in the last 30 years or so in America. An enormous number of people have come to faith in Christ and consider themselves evangelical Christians. And these are people that are buying, reading and distributing our books,” says Rev. Tim LaHaye.
LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have written a series of runaway bestsellers known as the “Left Behind” novels. All together, there are 40 million books in print, and another 17 million in spin-offs. Plus, “The Kids” series, audio books and comic books are worth $100 million in annual revenue.
The books give a graphic version of the New Testament prophesy of the end of the world, happening in our time, in which only the righteous are saved. It’s a triumphant tale -- unmistakably Christian, undeniably American.
“I think if you cut us, Jerry and I would bleed red, white and blue,” says LaHaye. “We believe that God has raised up America to be a tool in these last days, to get the Gospel to the innermost parts of the earth.”
The “Left Behind” sagas begin with a mysterious event: one third of the passengers on a transatlantic flight suddenly disappear, leaving only their clothes behind.
What has happened? It’s an event that evangelicals call the Rapture, where every true-believing Christian, and every child under the age of 12, vanishes in an instant to a better place. All others will face the Tribulation.
“It could happen at any moment. It could happen, as we like to say, during this interview. Like that. Bang,” says Thomas Ice, who might be called a professor emeritus of the Rapture. He runs the Pre-Tribulation Research Center out of his garage in a Dallas suburb. It’s a one-man think-tank funded by LaHaye and dedicated to preparation for the last days on earth.
“There is a lot of debate over where … artificial body parts, and contact lenses, and clothes would be “Left Behind” or not. But the body would definitely be taken,” adds Ice.
That's what happens to believers. But the rest of humanity is condemned to suffering.
“That's what the Bible teaches. There are gonna be many Southern Baptists, for example, or many Presbyterians, or many Catholics, or people who are a part of Christendom,” says Ice. “But if they haven't personally trusted Jesus Christ as their savior, even if they … a lifelong member of a church, you know, then they will be damned.”
At the Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Rev. Todd Wagner tells his flock that the books may be fiction, but they are based on hard facts. Non-believers are doomed.
Safer asked Wagner who would be “Left Behind”: “What would be my fate?”
“Folks like yourself that are gonna be here, are gonna go through all the events that Christ outlined in Mark:13 and Matthew:24 -- some of which are quite horrific,” says Wagner. “It would be the time of trouble like we’ve never seen before.”
For evangelicals, the Rapture and what follows are factual history, history of the future, prophecy.
“It’s not a minority view, it's not a group of folks that are niched somewhere over there. It's a very mainstream view,” says Wagner.
It’s such a concrete reality that the publishers of the “Left Behind” books can even market a videotape for those who don't make the celestial cut.
People who believe in the Rapture believe the Bible -- word for literal word.
“The Bible says what it means, and means what it says,” says Don McWhinney, an oil executive from Dallas.
60 Minutes discussed the “Left Behind” books with him and three other evangelicals. And for these readers, the characters in these novels are quite real.
“Will they just take the body and leave the clothes? Watches, and rings, and fillings? Will the whole body be taken? I don't know,” says McWhinney. “But all I know is that God is in control of it. And I have to accept that and believe it. Or I begin to reject it, then it begins to work on my faith in the wrong direction … It would lead to doubt. Doubt is not even an option.”
All four evangelical Christians, however, agree that they feel confident that they won’t be “Left Behind”.
But do evangelicals think they will live to see the Rapture?
“My thinking is I sure hope so. I think it'd be really cool,” says Ice.
Rev. Peter Gomes, a Baptist theologian at Harvard University, is one of this country's preeminent Christian thinkers. He says that the chief source for such belief is a highly controversial book of the Bible: Revelation.
“One of the things we know about this book is that it is written in a period of intense persecution of the church. And so the theme that runs through it is what happens to the faithful if they stand up for their faith,” says Gomes. “Terrible things will happen to them in the short term. But in the long run, they will triumph, and those who persecute them will be destroyed.”
Gomes believes that this provides some kind of solace and encouragement to believers in today’s society: "The events of September 11 gave an even greater urgency to believers, and some non-believers."
“I think 9/11 was a wake-up call to America. Suddenly, our false sense of security was shaken. And we're vulnerable. And that fear can lead many people to Christ,” says LaHaye, who takes that message around the country. ”When Jesus shouts from heaven, there are going to be millions of people taken to heaven, and there will be millions of people who are “Left Behind”.”
“I realize that our message is inherently offensive and divisive, especially in this new age of tolerance. Especially since 9/11,” says Jenkins. “I understand how that sounds. But I'm telling you this ‘cause I really do believe it.”
And Gomes says that belief goes well beyond the pews of churches and the aisles of bookstores. He says that it's both a political and cultural movement.
“Evangelicals have been on the cultural defensive. But they have waited in the wilderness. And now in the fullness of time, they have come into possession of what they felt was once rightfully theirs,” says Gomes.
“And so, with the White House, and Tom DeLay, and in the House of Representatives, the attorney general … talk radio, the conservative Fox News, all that sort of thing, these are parts of the righteous army that has finally come into its own.”
Gary Bauer, who once competed with George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination, now runs a Washington organization that lobbies for evangelical Christian issues. He remembers being at the Iowa Republican Presidential debate, when all candidates were asked which political philosopher they most identified with.
President Bush said: “Christ, because he changed my heart. When you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life.”
How is Mr. Bush different from Jimmy Carter, who is a born-again Christian?
“When Jimmy Carter began to support abortion or other things, then that became a jarring inconsistency for many of these voters,” says Bauer. “With the president, what he says he believes as a matter of faith also seems to be reflected in many of the policies in his plan to distribute social services through religious institutions.”
Other examples include his rejection on gay marriage, his stand on stem cell research – views that fit perfectly into the agenda of the most powerful bloc in the Republican party.
“I'm not accusing my Democratic friends of being ungodly. But I'm just saying statistically, people that attend church frequently, at least once a week or more -- two thirds of them vote Republican,” says Bauer. “Those voters that say they seldom if ever attend religious services, two thirds of them vote Democratic.”
For evangelicals, the war in Iraq is seen not merely as a war against terror.
Last year, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense, and an evangelical, made headlines when he publicly described the war on terror as a religious mission. Of one Muslim warlord, he said, "My God is bigger than his. My God is a real God."
A lot of people are uncomfortable with the Bush administration, and its cozy relationship with church and state. But Bauer disagrees.
“I don't see it. I don't know why they're uncomfortable. Nobody in America is being told how to worship,” says Bauer.
But in a country that is home to millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who believe otherwise, such exclusivity can take on the appearance of extremism, especially when you add politics and patriotism to the gospels.
“The trouble with evangelicalism of a certain stripe in America is that it's been so long from power that it is seduced by power. And once it gets it, it is very hard to distinguish secular power from spiritual power,” says Gomes.
These are heady times for evangelicals: an election year, with one of their own in the White House, the final book in the “Left Behind” series to be published in March, and, of course, always the chance, even hope, of that greatest of events, the Rapture.
“Not everybody who thinks they know what's going to happen knows,” says Gomes. “So, I'm willing to take my chances, not with the evangelicals, but with the Lord. I'm going to place my hands in his.”
© MMIII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.
14 Feb 2004 @ 09:58 by celestial @126.96.36.199 : The Rapture
Only time will tell whether "the rapture" is nothing more than a form of mass hysteria among the evangelicals. Historically, they have conjured up the worst case scenarios to induce fear in potential converts. Here's a news flash, "God uses love, not fear, to attract mankind!"
Psamlms 118:8 It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.
17 Oct 2004 @ 09:31 by : A Sin To Think Of John Kerry On Sunday?
The New York Times
October 17, 2004
Vote and Be Damned
By MAUREEN DOWD
First Dick Cheney said that supporting John Kerry could lead to another terrorist attack.
Then Dennis Hastert said Al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry presidency than under President Bush.
Now the Catholic bishops have upped the ante, indicating that voting for a candidate with Mr. Kerry's policies could lead to eternal damnation.
Conservative bishops and conservative Republicans are working hard to spread the gospel that anyone who supports the Catholic candidate and onetime Boston altar boy who carries a rosary and a Bible with him on the trail is aligned with the forces of evil.
In an interview with The Times's David Kirkpatrick, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said a knowing vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that would have to be confessed before receiving communion. "If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" the archbishop asked. "Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."
As Mr. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein wrote, Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate, many concentrated in swing states. These bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are organizing voter registration and blanketing churches with voter guides that often ignore traditional Catholic concerns about the death penalty and war - the pope opposed the invasion of Iraq - while calling abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate "nonnegotiable."
"Never before have so many bishops so explicitly warned Catholics so close to an election that to vote a certain way was to commit a sin," the Times article said.
Once upon a time, with Al Smith and John Kennedy, the church was proud to see Catholics run for president. The church was as unobtrusive in 1960, trying to help J.F.K., as it is obtrusive now, trying to hurt J.F.K. II.
The conservative bishops, salivating to overturn Roe v. Wade, prefer an evangelical antiabortion president to one of their own who said in Wednesday's debate: "What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith. I believe that choice ... is between a woman, God and her doctor."
Like Mr. Bush, these patriarchal bishops want to turn back the clock to the 50's. They don't want separation of church and state - except in Iraq.
Some of the bishops - the shepherds of a church whose hierarchy bungled the molestation and rape of so many young boys by tolerating it, covering it up, enabling it, excusing it and paying hush money - are still debating whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion.
These bishops are embryo-centric; they are not as concerned with the 1,080 kids killed in a war that the Bush administration launched with lies, or about the lives that could be lost thanks to the president's letting the assault weapons ban lapse, or about all the lives that could be saved and improved with stem cell research.
Mr. Bush derives his immutability from his faith. "I believe that God wants everybody to be free," he said in the last debate, adding that this was "part of my foreign policy."
In today's Times Magazine, Ron Suskind writes that Mr. Bush has created a "faith-based presidency" that has riven the Republican Party.
Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official for the first President Bush, told Mr. Suskind that some people now look at Mr. Bush and see "this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." He continued: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them."
The president's certitude - the idea that he can see into people's souls and that God tells him what is right, then W. tells us if he feels like it - is disturbing. It equates disagreeing with him to disagreeing with Him.
The conservative bishops' certitude - the idea that you can't be a good Catholic if you diverge from certain church-decreed mandates or if you want to keep your religion and politics separate - is also disturbing.
America is awash in selective piety, situational moralists and cherry-picking absolutists.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
17 Oct 2004 @ 10:01 by vibrani : It's so funny but
terribly sad and a warning of how politics and religion have been becoming more enmeshed since Bush has been president. I often compared Bush to the extremist mentality of Al Qaeda, two sides of the same coin. This just adds to that idea. (Remember, Bush declared Jesus Day in Texas. It's not news.)
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