It Takes a Different Person…

… to be a Christian.

… to be a Christian and then an atheist.

Not different like, “Um… that’s different.” Not a different kind of person — a different person, period – a person who’s been transformed into somebody else.

That was message losers like me got when we became Christians. It came in stentorian tones, right out of the Bible:

“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Romans 12:2 ESV

Transformation is the ultimate makeover — a change to our form – how we’re shaped, constituted, put together. Transformation alters self and life by rewiring our brain and all the biological functions that feed it. It starts in our “mind” – sense of identity, worldview, perspective, biases — what we see and don’t see, the way we habitually experience the world — and extends from there to the entire ecosystem that is who we are and how we live, inside and out. On the inside, transformation is biological, neurological, physiological, chemical, hormonal. On the outside, transformation is sociological, communal, societal, institutional.

Formation is growing up and growing into. Transformation is growing out of and into something else. Transformation gets started lots of ways — trauma, financial and job stress, health issues, moves, big decisions, surprises — but belief might be the most powerful.

Belief is transformational by definition. Belief conforms us to its realities — we don’t just believe this or that, we become people who believe this or that. Once we become those people, we carry on life accordingly, alongside other like-minded believers. Belief shapes our minds individually and collectively, which shapes our behavior so that we think, do, see, say, and are the right stuff. Belief results in a constant, moment by moment steeping, soaking, marinating, saturating of the brain and the rest of our neuro-biological architecture with all the requisite doctrines and dictates, rites and rituals needed to generate conforming actions, experiences, thoughts, impressions, responses, and sensibilities, which in turn generate conforming identity and behaviors.

While that’s happening on the inside, everything on the outside goes with it. Life reshapes itself –environment, community, culture, customs – around what we believe, informing what we see, hear, and feel, what we’re surrounded with and immersed in, what we think about, our assumptions and expectations, how we respond emotionally, how we dress and decorate ourselves and our environments, who we hang out with and who we avoid, where we live and don’t live, what we own and don’t own, what we eat and don’t eat, what we wear and won’t be caught dead wearing, what we do for work and fun and… the whole package.

We learn to believe by growing into it physically –belief takes up residence in our cellular structure. The more we practice what we believe, the more our biological selves conform our experience of “reality” to what we believe. Since that belief-based “reality” authenticates what we believe, we believe it more fervently. And around we go in a self-reinforcing loop, becoming stronger and more rooted in our belief, inside and out.

Belief fully formed sinks its roots into the deepest, oldest, most evolutionary and instinctive parts of our brains, where it becomes a survival skill. At this point, our lives depend on what we believe. When our beliefs are threatened, we are at risk.

We believe, we live. We don’t believe, we die.

That’s why we hold our beliefs so fervently, defend them so ferociously — doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on belief keeps us safe. Belief does all that for our own good.

Belief makes sure we are assimilated.

Belief makes sure we stay assimilated.

And yes, resistance is futile.

We transform only when we have to. Transformation is about adapting and reacting, but our brains trend to status quo and predictability. Their default setting is entropy, the current trajectory. Left unchecked, transformation is ongoing, in constant movement. Our brains won’t allow it. So we hunker down, settle in, dig in, calcify, resist, isolate, polarize, fortify.

It takes psychic dynamite to dislodge our beliefs.

I had to become a new person to be a Christian. When I drifted away, I had to become a new person to not believe anymore. It’s not that the Christian person I used to be somehow came up with a different opinion about God. Instead, I became a different person –zapped, scrambled, rearranged, shifted – and God became irrelevant. To my former self, “atheist” was never an option. I didn’t choose it, I became it. I became a different person in a new place, with no way to get back. That different person was an atheist — a nonbeliever, one of the godless, the faithless, the backslidden. I didn’t decide my way into that much change. I had to be transformed to get there.

Transformation is change too big to be measured, described, or understood, — change that rampages, doesn’t respect, isn’t abashed. It had no problem propelling me to where I could never have possibly gone.

“Transformation” sounds so spiritual. We have this idea that it’s going to be cool – we’ll be more aware, enlightened. So we take vacations and patronize spas, head to a monastery for a week of silence. Churches sponsor retreats, corporations lay out five-star spreads for off-site strategic planning. It works: put yourself in a new setting, you think new thoughts, feel new feelings. What used to be unthinkable and impossible becomes your new to-do list. The new normal is imminent, yours for the taking — transformation on demand.

Then comes re-entry. Go away and get inspired, then try to take it back to the shop and everybody wants to know what you’ve been smoking. The old normal can’t tolerate it.

You forgot something. You can’t just paste all that newness on your old self, your old life. Do that, everything rips apart. You need to become new. The reason you’re not already doing the new thing is because you’re not a person or organization that does the new thing. If you were, you’d already be doing it. Duh. You want to do the new thing, you need to be transformed. You need to be made new so that you can do and be new. Trying to mix old and new just isn’t going to work. That’s in the Bible too:

“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Matthew 9: 16-17 ESV

Books about new wine and new wineskins were making the rounds in my early Christian days. They were books you could use at retreats – fodder for earnest conversations and strategizing — new spurred on by resounding sermon moments about how very Gospely everything was going to be.

Every now and then somebody would find out about St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul,” and quote it in a sermon. You didn’t have to know who he was or actually read anything he wrote — the poetic phrase stood on its own. Apparently transformation could be a major downer. Well, maybe that worked for a 16th Century mystic, but the rest of us had jobs.

On the way out of Christianity I crashed for awhile in the self-help world and thought it would be cool to be one of those speaker, writer, consultant dudes. I got as far as writing some blog posts and making a few trips to do workshops. I got great reviews – earnest, beautiful “this seminar changed my life” reviews. But then I started to think I was actually ruining people’s lives, which is pretty much what had happened to mine. Transformation is messy, mean, uncaring. I didn’t wish it on anybody, so I started telling attendees that they would suffer if they tried to make big changes – they would find themselves in the throes of transformation. I warned them not to use the material because I knew it would work, and when it did they would regret it. I got the impression people thought I was doing a reverse psychology number on them. After awhile I quit doing the workshops. It was unethical to give people a great retreat experience and send them home knowing they would get clobbered and give up.

Who would submit themselves to the kind of transformation that would turn a commando Christian (me) into an atheist?

In a word, nobody. Not even me.

But then I did.

I’m not bragging. You can’t brag about an accident.

We all know we don’t change unless and until we have to. Which means the usual transformation catalyst is…

Trauma.

Me too.

We’ve all seen the major stressors lists. Mine were career, money, health. For starters. When trauma gets rolling, it likes company.

Trauma brings grief. Grief rewires our brains – it puts the stress response (flight or fight) in charge, furloughs the part that makes us feel we’re in control. Memory and strong emotions hog the stage, decision-making and planning move out. Fear about how we’re going to live without what’s been lost goes on permanent reruns we can’t shut off. We get disoriented, lose track of time and place. We go wandering, literally and figuratively. Our whacked out symptoms take up residence.

Trauma and grief stay until the dark night is over. Change catalysts like religious retreats and self-help seminars have the same effect — they suspend our status quo ties to “normal,” heighten emotions, promote reality-bending experiences, warp our risk tolerance, enhance receptivity to new versions of reality. But then the weekend is over and we go back home, where the symptoms quickly fade. We resent it, but it’s better than the alternative, which is trauma and grief staying with it until the job is done.

Trauma and grief is a potent cocktail of transformation. Drink it, and there’s going to be trouble. You’re going to suffer.

You might even lose your faith.

You might join the ranks of the nonbelievers and wonder what wormhole you went through to get there.

That’s what happened to me.

You might be next.

“The Person of Jesus” Fallacy

“I don’t like religion but I like the person of Jesus.”

The religion they don’t like is Christianity – Jesus’ religion. They think it would be better if the church wasn’t involved. Separating an institution from its namesake isn’t easy under any circumstance, but it’s harder here because Jesus and the church are both ancient, and ancient doesn’t time-travel.

We hold a myth that it does, but ancient ideas and stories about ancient people preserved in ancient books can’t make the trip to today. We think if we could snatch those guys (ancient pronouns are definitely male) out of yesterday and plunk them into today, they would be just like us, dealing with the same kinds of issues, having the same kinds of thoughts. Not a chance. We are not like them and they weren’t like us. Our consciousness, experience, and reality are different from theirs. Bring them here or send us there and neither of us would have a clue.

Why? Because everything we feel, think, and do is in context – life happens right here, right now. It all happens in our brains and bodies – neurologically, biologically. We can’t escape being organisms. And we can’t escape the moment. That’s not a cool guru thing to say, it’s the way human life works. Contrary to the popular myth, we’re not eternal souls living on a higher plane while our bodies slog through the muck. We’re all here, like it or not.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

We don’t think reality works that way. We think it’s “out there,” waiting for us to find it. And if it’s Christian reality we’re after, Jesus promised that if we seek it we’ll find it. The only hitch is, the way we find it is by believing it. Christianity doesn’t function without belief. It starts with “whoever believes in him [Jesus] shall have eternal life” and goes from there.

Believing it is finding it. We find it by believing it. It’s not hard to spot the loop.

And if it’s the real Jesus we’re trying to find, there’s still the God-human problem. Theologians can talk all day about how Jesus was both “fully human and fully God,” but there’s no way the rest of us have any idea what that’s supposed to mean, so we stick with what we’ve been taught to believe. We major on the God part — we sanctify Jesus, bathe him in holy light, cast everything he said and did in marble, interpret and rationalize it in hindsight. We figure Jesus as God was always in the know so he knew all along what was happening and how it would be viewed by people like us two millennia later. He set everything up so church doctrine would make sense.

Plus our own memory banks are full of our personal history of faith and anything we might have learned about what’s happened with Christianity while it’s been around. There’s a lot of church and religion in those memories – stuff the person of Jesus” devotees want to trade for a fresh look. To do that, they’re going to have to be really good at “beginner’s mind” – using awareness to seek and destroy biases and assumptions.

Call me Ishmael

I didn’t think about the “person of Jesus” when I was a Christian, I mean, Jesus was special because I was a Christian. Sometimes people talked about loving Jesus. I never felt that way, so I worried that my faith was defective. Guilt was pretty much the extent of my “person of Jesus” experience.

Now that I’m not a Christian, I don’t like the guy.

It’s still shocks me when I write things like that. I never would have, back in the day, But I believed then. I don’t anymore.

Still, some people I’m close to buy the “person of Jesus” thing.

So call me Ishmael — I signed on to give it a try.

“Rabbi”

Jesus was a rabbi. He did what rabbis did:  travelled around teaching his take on things, attracted followers who supported him, and argued with other rabbis. (Rabbi arguing is so essential that the nation of Israel pays them to do it.)

Jesus was a rabbi prodigy – he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah by ditching his parents so he could debate other rabbis om Jerusalem’s temple. That’s like skipping law school for a chat at the Supreme Court. When they found him, in true adolescent fashion he made it their problem that they didn’t know he’d be there.

Then the Biblical record skips ahead twenty years – a gap that generates a lot of sappy artwork of him being a carpenter and “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter” bumper stickers. What was he doing? The same thing he was doing before his temple debut:  studying, learning, perfecting his case, preparing himself to be a rabbi for the ages. When the photo op was over, he closed up shop and hit the road.

He was good at it – had personal charisma and a message to match. Recruiting was a snap, and before long he had a retinue and a schedule like a megachurch pastor:  he drew huge crowds to public events, taught an inner circle more intensely, and confided intimately with only a handful.

Jesus’ rabbi battles were epic. We like the way he put the smackdown on the competition. My overall impression is that he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world. Seems like he was often rebuking and scolding– like snarling at a man for not having enough faith while he healed his child. Maybe he was like one of those professors everybody warns is “really hard but you’ll learn a lot.” Sometimes I took the class, sometimes I didn’t – either way, I usually didn’t like “the person.”

Populism

Jesus was great in a crowd. He delivered sound bytes you could take home, share with the neighbors — consider the lilies of the field, the very hairs on your heads are numbered, no sparrow falls from the sky without God noticing…. He told great stories – always with a moral, but complex enough that his inner circle sometimes needed a private explanation. People wondered, “Where did he get all this?” “He doesn’t teach like the other rabbis,” they said.

There’s a poly-sci term for it:  populism. Populism reverses the pecking order — the elites will be last and the losers first. The new blessed — the poor, meek, abused, despised, outcast, sick, blind, lame, hopeless, powerless – will inherit the earth and see God. God already has their mansions in Heaven under construction.

Not only that, but they get free healthcare.

Healing

Jesus healed people at his rallies, sometimes stayed up all night doing it.

The Christianity I was part of believed healing should be a normal part of what Christians do. Not all Christianity thinks so. Plus, we all know the debates about did he really, about what qualifies as a “miracle,” and what’s this about casting out demons? In our day, the “placebo effect” has been scientifically documented, plus there have been and still are lots of people who heal without surgery or pharma. Debate all you like, but it’s undeniable that Jesus’s ability to make people feel better super-charged his popularity.

Messianic Populism

Healing people was a big deal. Only the A-list prophets had done it, which meant Jesus might be one of them. There hadn’t been one of those in a few hundred years. More than that, healing was more than a prophet marker, it was Messianic – part of what would happen when God made good on Israel’s long-promised restoration and golden era.

Start talking Messiah, and the populist buzz goes off the charts.

Jesus’ message was clearly Messianic, and he clearly believed he was the Messiah. That’s what went down in a very rabbi-like exchange with John the Baptist (though a couple of John’s followers). The rabbi exchange works like this:  one rabbi quotes scripture, the other responds in kind; and in so doing, they clarify a point between themselves. They’re speaking in code, but they get what each other is after.

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Matthew 11: 2-5 ESV

“Are you the one who is to come?” [Are you the Messiah?]

“Go tell John what you see happening around here.” [Yes I am.]

The scripture in question was this:

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
“    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

Isaiah 35: 5-6 ESV

Jesus made the same point on other occasions, like one Sabbath when he did something else rabbis did – went to the synagogue and read the scriptures, as “was his custom.” Only this time he went off script:  “The prophet Isaiah was talking about me.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 ESV

Fast forward to today. We know that Jesus’ Messianic populism didn’t go permanent. Instead – according to the church – it morphed into something transnational and invisible that you get in on not by being born in ancient Israel, but by believing that Jesus was a sort of metaphysical Messiah for everybody. A few hundred years later under Emperor Constantine, the invisible Messianic kingdom morphed again into the official Christian institution and infrastructure “the person of Jesus” devotees want to scuttle.

Jesus’ populism was a fail, but that’s okay. We got something better instead. That’s the party line.

Populism Redux

I was a Jesus Freak in the 60’s and 70’s. We were totally into the populist Jesus– the bearded long-hair barefoot bead-wearing anti-war hippie radical Che Guevara look-alike who called out The Establishment and stuck it to the Man.

Today we’ve got the Revenge of the Establishment — the Christian Right’s Jesus who advances Christian Nationalist racist alt-right anti-democracy militarist fascist authoritarianism end stage capitalism.

I don’t know about you, but after the last few years I’ve had quite enough populism for one lifetime.

“We are the 99%” is why populism fails. Occupy camps out in Manhattan, the mob storms the Bastille (or the Capitol) but once the mess is cleaned up the 1% is back in charge while the newly disappointed and disillusioned 99% are back home wondering, “What was that about?”

So far, Jesus” sharp tongue and populism aren’t wining “person of Jesus” points. But how about this:

Jesus Reinvented God

If the Messiah was on the scene, the God of Israel’s history had to be recast.

Israel’s God was a “man of war. Exodus 15:3 He was both a war criminal and guilty of crimes against humanity – a misogynist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic narcissist who must be worshiped and resented it when he wasn’t, a nationalist, fascist authoritarian who openly ordered genocide and gave his conquering soldiers the right to rape and pillage.

You dealt with that God by being afraid – fearing him was “the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10 No wonder the rabbinical sects Jesus verbally sparred with – the Pharisees and Sadducees –were obsessed with getting everything just right, down to the last “jot and tittle.” Do something wrong and everybody suffered.

Of course, ancient Israel didn’t think of their God that way. People still don’t today. When they think of God, they think of a Nice Guy in the Sky – like the God Jesus introduced as our “Father” — a too-kind, too-generous, too-indulgent, too-loving remake of the old Monster God.

The Monster God destroyed men, women (except the sex slaves), and children and burned their cities down to make room for his chosen people, whom he also turned on if they got it wrong. That wouldn’t do if there was going to be a Messianic golden era. So Jesus brought a new God, and a new religion with it.

Jesus Reinvented Religion

Jesus’ new religion was based on belief. Belief was the ultimate populist Messianic kingdom strategy. Anyone could believe, even the losers — no temple, no priest, no animals sacrifice required.

Jesus’ new religion was today’s self-help gospel. When Jesus gets on the topic of belief, he’s the original motivational speaker.

“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV

That’s the power of positive thinking and law of attraction, from the pages and podiums of the $20 billion self-help industry. (Christians have adopted self-help as their own – Google “Christian self help” and you’ll see what I mean.) Believe what you want, don’t doubt, and it’s yours. You can move mountainsNothing will be impossible for you.

It seems Jesus was an original thinker on this point – if it’s in the ancient Bible, I can’t find it.

If the Monster God was out and the Nice Guy in the Sky was in, then Israel’s historical religion had to change.  No more annual calendar of animal blood sacrifices. And no more temple.

A little research reveals that there was a rabbinical apocalyptic school of thought in Jesus’ time, and some scholars think Jesus was in the club. Maybe, maybe not, but Jesus clearly had an apocalyptic view of his religion’s future, which meant the temple’s days were numbered – a development he talked about with inner circle about when the troupe made their last trip to Jerusalem.

“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’

“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

Matthew 24: 1-4 ESV

The temple was the nation. Take it away, and everything else went with it — worldview, cultural identity, historical understanding, vision for the future… all the nation’s institutions and icons trashed. The Messiah had been promised for millennia, but theoretical good news is one thing, the reality of dealing with it is quite another.

The “Lamb of God” heads off a national security risk

Jesus’ country was a theocracy. Messianic populism was a national security risk. Stir things up too much, and the Roman hammer would fall. The other rabbis could see it coming. They had a country to protect. They were human too — the lash of Jesus’ tongue hurt. And clearly he was wrong and they were right. No wonder they led the chant “We have no king but Caesar” while demanding Jesus’s conviction and murder.

And the amazing thing was, Jesus didn’t resist them. And when the Roman authorities wanted to let him go, he refused.

It looks like this came out of nowhere, but it was there all along, ever since John the Baptist made a pronouncement for the ages:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:29 ESV

At the height of his popularity, Jesus volunteered to be the human sacrifice that would appease Israel’s Monster God once and for all. No more imminent kingdom – instead, the settling of an old score. It looks like a sudden change of heart, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Matthew 16:21-23 ESV

So much for the merry populist ride and the loving new Heavenly Father. In order for the old God and the old religion to be over with, there would need to be one last bloody sacrifice – the “Lamb of God.” That would be Jesus’s final act.

Trouble is, you destroy the Messiah, you destroy the Messianic golden age. Two thousand years of church doctrine says don’t worry about that, because this was the surprise happy ending– the impossibly good news no one saw coming. I’m no longer in the thrall of church doctrine, so I see it differently.

At the height of Jesus’ populist ministry, his family staged an intervention – tried to bring him home. They thought he was beside himself, wasn’t thinking straight, needed some time to cool off. He blew them off, and shortly after started predicting his death. It’s like something snapped in him. Right about then was the transfiguration –Moses and Elijah on the mountain — the lawgiver and prophet — and afterward the populism ran off the rails. Instead of breaking with the Monster God, Jesus announced that he would appease him with his own death. Bringing the Messianic kingdom would be his followers’ job, and in the time he had left he focused on preparing them for the job.

This is where I give up on “the person of Jesus” – when his healing, populist gospel turns into an ancient religious death wish.

But then it gets worse.

The Last Judgment

When Jesus broke faith with his Messianic populist movement, he became fully complicit in ancient Israel’s religion and angry God.

Like any sociopath, the Monster God could be kind — the official line was that his “lovingkindness indeed never ceases” Lamentations 3:22-23 Trouble was, his lovingkindness was conditional, on loan. His people could never please him, so they were always building debt they could never repay. Christian theology says that applies to the rest of us too, and that Jesus – “fully God” – knew that, so he picked up the tab for everybody.

But the final reckoning inexplicably stayed on the agenda. Once the world burns in apocalyptic flames, we’re all summoned to the Last Judgment, and if we don’t believe the right stuff, we’re screwed in the worst possible way.

These days, every time I write the stuff the church I was part of used to believe, I’m shocked and stunned all over again. Really — people who seem normal, like I used to think I was — believe all this gory, horrible stuff. No wonder Christians parade Jesus’s death by torture symbol like it’s the best thing ever. It’s a crucifix, for crying out loud! –one of the most horrifyingly cruel, depraved, savage, barbaric, sadistic, blood-lusty instruments of torture the very worst of human depravity has ever devised, and there’s a man on it, beaten and whipped bloody, writhing in pain.

Oh, and a father did that to his child. Because he so loved the world.

And the son submitted to it because he loved us and wanted to please his father.

Behold the Lamb of God.

That’s the religion Jesus couldn’t break from – which two thousand years later was the same religion I joined when I became a Christian – and which is still the same religion I’m no longer part of. Christianity gives lip service to the Father, but it worships the Monster.

Jesus Christ Superstar

By the time I got this far in my search for “the person of Jesus” I realized what I’d found was my own Christian life. Twenty years after my Jesus Freak populism days, the Kingdom finally came. It was full-on Jesus populism. We went after the losers, stayed up all night healing them and finding them under bridges. We built churches in their abandoned store fronts, washed their cars, did their Spring cleaning, hauled away their trash. We fed them and moved them into homes.

Then the worst thing happened. The Evangelicals who’d been on our case extended the olive branch, and our leaders took it. We used to have the Father, now we had half the Father and half the Monster. Occupy was over. The elites were back in charge. The old order was restored.

That’s what I found looking for “the person of Jesus.”

Writing this now, I think of Judas singing in Jesus Christ Superstar — “Every time I look at you I don’t understand/Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.” Yeah, that pretty well sums it up.

When I first heard it, I thought it was clever, but trite. Not anymore. Jesus had it going, he let it get away. Sad. Frustrating. I wish his family’s intervention had worked. It didn’t, and for reasons we’ll never know, Jesus took a course that a couple thousand years later has brought us the Christian Right and the Kingdom of Texas, the Proud Boys with their giant crosses that look like they’re going to use them on somebody, and all the rest. We get modern barbarity to match ancient barbarity, justified by the barbaric God of a barbaric ancient religion, its devotees hawking doctrinal statements of faith barely indistinguishable from their most wildly fantastical conspiracy theories.

The individual and collective brains of the human race have been groomed with this disgusting source of endless misery for six thousand years since the Bible first declared ‘In the beginning, God….”

How about if we start over with, “In the new beginning, no God’?

Not even “the person of Jesus.”

Today billions of people around the world still sanctify the church’s ideology and idolatry no matter how weird and brutal it is. “The person of Jesus” offers no escape, only more of the same.

Can we please move on?

Dopamine No More! (I miss it)

I miss dopamine.

I miss the sweet emotion (queue up the song).

Dopamine makes us want to do things. Dopamine inspires and motivates, conveys purpose and meaning, makes us believe that dreams can come true.

Our hairy ancestors apparently needed it. Otherwise life was just too hard, so why bother to survive? Evolution said that won’t do – here, take a shot of this, that’ll get you going.

I was a dopamine junkie. I overdid it. Dopamine fuels belief, belief gets the internal resolve going, which fuels more dopamine which fuels more belief… The more you use, the more you want. The more you use, the more you need. You’re invincible when you’re on it, an anxious slug when you’re not.

The addictive cycle.

Pretty soon you’re out of touch. Your risk-reward regulator goes out of whack. The further out you get, the closer you get to the edge, the more thrilling it is. You’ve gone beyond surviving, now you’re thriving. No normal drudgery life for you. You’re the exception.

So you think.

It’s a lie. And the crazy thing is, people who have their dopamine under control buy the lie with you. They cheer for you, say you’re inspiring. You’re on a Hero’s Journey. You’re living the Redemption story – the Hollywood standard:  get a crazy idea, sacrifice everything, lose everything, everybody turns against you, you crash and burn, all is lost, everything is hopeless…and then… you did it! Happy ending! Hero worship! Glorious sunset! Stirring overture!

I miss all that.

I read an article about “dopamine fasting.” It’s an anti-self-help self-help technique that’s been making the rounds for a few years. I could see that. I’ve been working on it myself for about that long. Once I saw how dopamine had ruined my life, how fraudulent and full of lies and false promises it is, how it would keep ruining my life if I didn’t get it under control, I swore it off. No more periodic crash and burns for the sake of a survival need that started with getting our butts out of the cave to join a Mastodon-clubbing party.

I meant well, but I lapsed now and then. I couldn’t seem to go cold turkey – dopamine was too sneaky. One little hit – one idea that seemed so cool in the moment – and I was back in the cycle. So I needed safeguards, needed to learn not to trust my ideas, how to squelch my hopes, not follow my dreams. Life was still on the edge, but not the fun kind of edge. The new edge was overlooking The Void — an imminent drop into meaningless, purposelessness, despair.

It helped that I was overtaken by a dopamine-impairing neuro-muscular disease. It advanced slowly at first, didn’t get diagnosed for a few years. By the time I got diagnosed, it was like somebody else said – “I got diagnosed, and 6 months later I had aged 15 years.” It also helped that I became poor. Old, impaired, and poor – three things I thought I’d never be, and now I was. All three hammered my dopamine supply. Crazy ideas need lots of energy and money. If you’re old and impaired, you don’t have the energy. If you’re poor you don’t have the money. It helps.

No, I don’t sit around whining. I’ve learned to do things without feeling like it, learned to live without motivation and inspiration, without hope and joy. Don’t be disgusted at my crappy attitude. I’m not wallowing. I’m living an experiment. How do you live without all that good stuff? How do you rise above slug level when your brain doesn’t have the chemical it needs to keep you squirming along?

I can’t tell you, but I do it every day.

Truth is, there’s still some dopamine flowing up there, or I’d be done. Enough to keep me surviving, although sometimes I wonder. Enough that I still lapse now and then. My routine now is treat it like an annoying child – stop what you’re doing, give it attention, hear it out. And then, once it’s feeling better, go away and wait. That might be enough.

If it comes up again, try to find out why. What’s the hook? Soothe the idea, make it feel better at the source. You can’t do anything about it anyway – you’re too old, infirm, and poor, remember? No, it doesn’t want to hear that. It’s a child – it doesn’t process adult limitations like affordability or mobility challenges. It just wants to play. So go ahead – after awhile you’ll want to sit down and rest. Maybe it will pester you again, maybe not. It might go away right away, maybe overnight, maybe a couple days. Usually no more.

Dopamine episode solved.

You’re safe until your dopamine idea-maker fires off another one.

Rewind, repeat.

I’ve learned to deal, but I miss it. I miss believing, hoping, trusting. I miss having dreams and visions, feeling like I can do cool stuff. Life was more fun when it was full of magical thinking and delusion.

I sometimes think how easy it would be to get on meds — instant chemical relief for crappiness and despair. But then I think I’ve had quite enough magical thinking and delusion for one lifetime. When Nietzsche recognized that God had died, he worried that people wouldn’t be able to live without the sense of meaning and purpose that God had given them. His solution was to invent Superman.

It takes a lot of dopamine to be Superman. Lots of testosterone, too – another survival drug.

Superman was a disaster. Thanks anyway Friedrich, but we’ll sit this one out. No Superman for me.

And for now at least, no meds either. I’m more interested in finding out if you can actually live on the edge of The Void. I know, I know… it’s just another version of my old living of the edge – kind of a pathetic version at that. But despair is what I’ve got right now, so I’m working with it. I work out, do my learning and reflecting and reading, create my artwork. I do it because I do it. I do what I do because that’s what I do. No Hero’s Journey, no Hollywood, no motivational speaker self-help guru fame and fortune. Just getting stuff done whether I feel like it or not.

It’s probably a phase – another fit my inner child is throwing. I’d like to be a child again. I miss that, too. I never wanted to grow up. All the magic, delusion, dopamine highs.

But no. Here’s to survival! To the Void! To despair! To the nothingness Nietzsche was worried about!

And all that other adult shit.

Let ‘em Have it

The young. The future. Let the young have the future.

Just because the healthcare system (if you can afford it) feels it has a duty to keep us going forever, and just because all of us think we’re still under 30 and therefore are eternally trustworthy, and just because we can remember the lyrics of every song that came out in the 60’s, and just because we think we’re still qualified to keep going forever until before long we have a President in his (yes, still “his”) 90’s …

We really ought to give up. Let ‘em have it. See what they do with it.

I used to be into this empower the young thing. Like they need it. Like I have anything to offer. Good intentions maybe, like that’s going to help. We got this ancient-wisdom-of-the-elders thing from… well, ancient elders.  Okay, so we’re going to help the world by teaching the young how to keep doing everything that has never worked since the elders have been hanging around antiquity…

Brilliant.

“Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’”

That’s one of our 60’s anthems, right there. Doesn’t apply to us now that we think we’ve still got some ancient wisdom left in our ancient brains.

It’s time to give it up, people.

We can’t see the future. Our reading glasses don’t help.

It’s time to give it up.

Yeah, so Boomers think the Millennials and Gen Z and Gen A and who-knows-who seem clueless, so what’s the point? Like we’re not? Like everybody these days isn’t?

The Nutcase Party institutionalized cluelessness into the USA’s national identity. Only took ‘em five years –  amazing what you can do when you have the perfect leader. Covid came and probably won’t go, thanks to the Nutcase Antivaxxer Party, but the once and future cluelessness pandemic has settled in for the duration — unless you live in New Zealand, where they seriously have their shit together thanks in large part to a female prime minister who’s 41, which counts as young compared to the old-timer celebrity ballgame that runs the USA. Or you could live in Finland, where the female leadership logs in at a cool 35, which is even better, considering they are perennial winners of the United Nation’s happiest country game, but damn it’s cold up there.

My generation has a proven record of meaning well and always getting it wrong while loudly proclaiming that this is it, no I mean it, this is the real deal this time. By now it’s clear that we can’t lead anybody into anything worth having , unless you count endless wars and obscene wealth concentration and… okay, we all know the list… how about we don’t? Being able to recite it doesn’t mean we can do anything about it.

What got us here sucks. If we try to use it to take us into the future it’s going to suck some more.

We need a mass retirement. A mass quit. A mass go to a Stones concert where you can’t harm the rest of us, and be sure to stay until they play Satisfaction. A mass get out the new one if you can’t lend your hand.

We can’t lead anybody into the future because we can’t lead ourselves into it. We don’t have the brain bandwidth. We can’t think about it because we grew up before computers. We can’t go there for all kinds of reasons it would take way too long to list, but mostly because we’re old, we have old brains and old ideas, and mostliest of all the future doesn’t belong to us.

So how about we sit down and quit pretending it does.

Just because the Stones will tour until they’re a hundred (R.I.P., Charlie) doesn’t mean the rest of us should. Time for us to quit trashing the future so nobody else can have it. Forget that ancient elder schtick. We had our chance, we took our shot, we made this mess. Time for us to drink our veggie energy drinks and run marathons to prove we’ve still got it in us and generally stay out of the way while the people who own the future get busy creating it.

Deal?

I know, I’m wasting my time writing and yours reading.

We’re doomed. The Apocalypse is upon us. The ship is not just going down, it’s almost to the seabed already.

No, I can’t explain why we’re still breathing then. I’m clueless, remember?

What do you say we go rearrange some deck chairs?

It Takes a Different Person to be a Christian and Then an Atheist

Not a different kind of person, but a different person, period.

You look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself.

Other people don’t either. There’s something different about you, hard to say what – a different energy maybe, like your wiring got scrambled.

That kind of different is why I’m not a Christian anymore. The old me didn’t change my mind about God; I became a new person, and God didn’t fit anymore. It wasn’t just a tweak here and there, but the whole ecosystem of me — self, life, world, inside and out – got shifted, zapped, scrambled, rearranged to the point that it’s not that I don’t believe in God anymore, it’s that I can’t. I’m repulsed by the idea. I’m stunned, shocked, and amazed by what I used to believe. I wonder how I could have. What was I thinking?

Now here I am — a nonbeliever, among the godless, the faithless, the backslidden. I never would have believed it. Atheist wasn’t possible – it was never on the life choices list. It still isn’t. I didn’t choose it, I became it. I became a new person in a new place, with no way to get back. It wasn’t change, it was transformation.

“Transformation” has grandiose overtones. It sounds spiritual. We talked about transformation when I was a Christian. It’s right there in the Bible:

“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Romans 12:2 ESV

The context and the rest of verse is dressed up with pious isn’t-transformation-going-to-be-wonderful language. No it’s not. It’s going to tear you down, and everything else with it. Transformation is destructive and painful, a depressing grind. Try to make big changes and everything comes unglued. I don’t wish it on anybody.

Transformation is inside and outside – the entire ecosystem that is you and your life. Ecological change on the inside is biological, neurological, physiological, chemical, hormonal. On the outside it’s sociological, communal, societal, institutional. When transformation has made a mess of all that it’s just getting warmed up. Now you’ve got to figure out how to carry all that into a new life.

Good luck with that.

Personal ecosystem change is why we take vacations and patronize spas, go to a monastery for a week of silence. It’s why churches sponsor retreats, why corporations lay out five star spreads for off-site strategic planning. It works:  put yourself in a new setting, you think new thoughts, feel new things. What was unthinkable and impossible before became your new to do list.

Personal ecosystem change is why re-entry is so hard – go away and get inspired, then try to take what happened out there back to the shop and everybody wants to know what you’ve been smoking out there. Meanwhile you’re scheming to turn no-way-I-can-go-back into the new normal. All that inspiration and new thoughts while you’re away vs. all that dread and drudgery when you go back to the grind – it’s evidence of ecological change.

Self-help is fraudulent pseudo-religion for a lot of reasons, but it’s biggest fraud is that it doesn’t tell us about the need for ecosystem change if we want to make big changes in our lives. Self-help makes it sound like we can just paste some new things onto what we already are, have, and do. Nope. Won’t work. The reason we’re not already doing the new thing is because we’re not the kind of person who does the new thing. If we were, we’d already be doing it. Duh. If we want to do the new thing, we need to be transformed.

“Transformed” is change on an ecological/systemic scale. That means nothing left out. Nothing left out means this is going to hurt. A big part of the trouble is that transformation can’t mix old and new — get far enough into the process and the old is out for good. That’s in the Bible, too:

“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Matthew 9: 16-17 ESV

There were a couple popular books about new wine and new wineskins making the rounds in my early Christian years. (The Taste of New Wine and Wineskins.) They were the kind of influential books you could use at ecological change retreats – lots of earnest conversations and strategizing ways to make the new wine flow, like getting people into home Bible study and prayer groups, plus lots of great sermon moments about how very Gospely everything was going to be.

Our understanding of the concept was silly shallow. Every now and then somebody would find out about St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul,” and quote it in a sermon. Nobody actually read what the 16th Century mystic wrote — the poetic phrase stood on its own:  transformation could be a major downer — not something you preach about on Tithing Pledge Sunday. If it got mentioned at all, “dark night” transformation got a makeover into something like a bad case of the flu you could get over.

The real thing?

Not so much.

I once thought it would be cool to be one of those self-help speaker, writer, consultant dudes. I got as far as writing some blog posts and making a few trips to do workshops. I got great reviews – earnest, beautiful “you changed my life” reviews. But then I started to worry that I was actually ruining people’s lives, which is pretty much what had happened to mine when I decided it was time to believe my way into my dreams – just like you’re supposed to. So I started telling audiences that they would suffer if they tried to make big changes. I warned them not to use the material because I knew it would work, and when it did they would regret it. Every would changed, and they’d have to deal with it and it would be no fun. I think people thought I was doing some kind of reverse psychology number on them. When it was clear they weren’t believing me, I quit doing the workshops. It was unethical to give people a great retreat experience and send them home knowing they would get clobbered and give up.

Who would submit themselves to the kind of transformation that would turn a commando Christian (me) into an atheist?

In a word, nobody. Not even me.

But then I did.

I’m not bragging. You can’t brag about an accident.

We all know we don’t change unless and until we have to. Which means the usual transformation catalyst is…

Trauma.

Me too.

We’ve all seen the major stressors lists. Mine were career, money, health. For starters – when trauma gets rolling, it likes company.

Trauma brings grief. Grief rewires our brains – it puts the stress response (flight or fight) in charge, furloughs the part that makes us feel like at least we’re in control. Memory and strong emotions hog the stage, decision-making and planning move out, fear about how we’re going to live without what’s been lost goes on permanent reruns we can’t shut off. We get disoriented, lose track of time and place. We go wandering, literally and figuratively. Our whacked out symptoms take up residence. We enter what science and environment writer April Reese calls The Fog of Grief.[1]

“I was a churning maelstrom of emotions: sadness, confusion, anger, disbelief, fear, regret, guilt. At times in those first hours, days and weeks after his death, it was hard to breathe. I couldn’t concentrate. I forgot things. Fatigue was a constant, no matter how much I slept. I came to understand what Joan Didion meant in The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a chronicle of her grief over the loss of her husband, when she wrote: ‘I realised for the time being I could not trust myself to present a coherent face to the world.’

“This fog of grief, it turns out, is as common as grief itself. When the neurologist Lisa Shulman lost her husband to cancer nine years ago, ‘there was some serious sadness, but that wasn’t the main problem,’ she recalls. ‘It was the disorientation. I felt like I was waking up in a completely alien world. Because the whole infrastructure of my daily life was fundamentally gone.’

“She found herself becoming lost in time, ending up in familiar places without knowing how she got there, she recalls. ‘It’s not simply a matter of discomfort or anxiety. It’s frightening,’ she says. ‘Because you feel like, as Didion said long ago, you feel like you’re going crazy.’

“Grief has such a powerful effect on us, I learned, that it rewires the brain: the limbic system, a primal part of the brain controlling emotions and behaviours that ensure our survival, takes centre stage, while the prefrontal cortex – the centre of reasoning and decision-making – retreats to the wings.

“‘From an evolutionary standpoint, we are strongly hardwired to respond to something that is a threat,’ Shulman says. ‘We oftentimes don’t think of a loss of a loved one as a threat in that way, but, from the perspective of the brain, that’s the way it is literally perceived.’

“That perception of threat means that our survival response – ‘fight or flight’ – kicks in, and stress hormones flood the body. The work of the psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor at the University of Arizona and others has found heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bereaved.

“While the cortisol is flowing fast, the brain remakes itself – at least temporarily – to help us endure the trauma of grief. In the weeks after a loss, the brain, like a stern nurse imposing temporary bed rest for itself, suppresses the control centres of higher functions, such as decision-making and planning. At the same time, Shulman says, areas involved in emotion and memory work overtime, gatekeeping which emotions and memories get through. Brain scans of the bereaved show that grief activates parts of the limbic system – sometimes referred to as the ‘emotional brain’. Among the limbic regions impacted are the amygdala, which governs the intensity of emotions and threat perception; the cingulate cortex, involved in the interplay between emotions and memory; and the thalamus, a sort of relay station that conveys sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, the brain’s information-processing centre.

“So my inability to form coherent sentences or remember what I opened the refrigerator to get is nothing to be worried about, Skritskaya assures me; my brain has simply powered down my thinking to enable me to tolerate the loss. The tradeoff is fuzzy cognition – what I’ve come to describe to friends as ‘grief brain’.

“‘Grief takes up a lot of bandwidth in the brain,’ Shulman writes in her book. ‘Odd behaviour and incoherence are expected consequences of the brain’s protective responses following emotional trauma.’”

Trauma and grief stay until the dark night is over. Ecological change catalysts like religious retreats and self-help seminars have the same effect — they suspend our status quo ties to “normal,” heighten emotions, promote reality-bending experiences, warp our risk tolerance, enhance receptivity to new versions of reality. But then the weekend is over and we go back home, where the symptoms quickly fade. We resent it, but it’s better than the alternative, which is trauma and grief staying with it until the job is done.

Trauma and grief is a potent cocktail of transformation. Drink it, and there’s going to be trouble. You’re going to suffer.

You might even lose your faith.


[1] The Fog of Grief: The five stages of grief can’t begin to explain it: grief affects the body, brain and sense of self, and patience is the key Aeon Magazine (Aug. 10, 2021).

The Trouble is, We Believe

Belief is something humans do.

Beliefism is belief metastasized — belief unmoored, unhinged, runaway, with no object but its own self-referenced purification.

Every belief carries the seed of beliefism– the potential to grow into something toxic, with no purpose but to propagate more of itself.

Which is why…

Belief is a clear and present danger.

Belief should come with a warning — “Handle With Care.” But it doesn’t, and so we don’t — we just go around believing things like it’s no big deal. What we believe is a big deal. We should be more careful.

We’re probably careless because belief makes life feel better. It provides purpose and meaning and mission, lays out incentives and rewards, hypes us into feeling inspired and enthusiastic, fired up to do great things.

Belief is how we get to act like God.

Belief is how we create worlds, build civilizations, found nations. Belief anchors us in collective and individual identity, defines who’s us and who’s them, carves out space for us in the world. Our brains are wired to value those things.

Our brains are wired to believe.

Belief is indiscriminate. It doesn’t care what’s believed, what’s fact or fake. As far as belief is concerned, all reality is alternate reality. Our brains have a bad case of “whatever.” If we want to believe it, they’re good with it.

Belief isn’t choosy.

Belief doesn’t distinguish fact from fiction, truth from madness, clarity from delusion. It’s amoral, indiscriminate, undiscerning. Belief only makes self-referential judgments — what conforms to the thing believed and what doesn’t, what to encourage and promote vs. what to punish and ban.

Our brains don’t discriminate.

Our brains readily swap belief in this for belief in that — religion, science, humanism, capitalism, fascism, extraterrestrials, self-help, past lives… they’re all the same.

Belief is fun.

Beliefism is about getting inspired, believing impossible dreams, going for it, realizing your unique calling, becoming your authentic self – all those things that make Hollywood and self-helpers and entrepreneurial heroes rich and famous.

Sound familiar?

Belief has been king in the New World for 400 years. The New World brought it from the Old World, where it was king for millennia. Belief is America’s root religion. It gave us the Puritans. Now it gives us the self-helpers, alternative healers, life coaches, and evangelizing Christians and atheists. We do belief in the USA. We’re belief experts. We got it down.

But there’s more:  belief morphs into beliefism.

Beliefism is when belief goes public. It’s the Unicorn IPO, the blockbuster premiered. In psychological terms, beliefism is when belief emerges – moves beyond internal subjectivity and takes on form and substance in external human reality, becomes ideology, builds institutions, develops its own mythology and metaphors, becomes law and economics, dictates cultural norms.

Beliefism turns what’s believed into knowledge.

Beliefism is evident in a street evangelist’s pitch for Creationism. “The universe is way too complicated for me to understand,” he said, “so there must be a God who does.” He could have understood but he didn’t. He took a shortcut – he believed instead of knowing. Then he reversed the order:  his belief became knowledge — he knew what he believed.

Beliefism is unethical.

Belief creates worldview, worldview creates reality, and reality is whatever belief makes it. Beliefism has no ethics – it runs in a circle; there’s no outside reference, no checks and balances, nothing to keep it honest, nothing to validate it. Belief is unaccountable, therefore unethical.

Beliefism polarizes.

Beliefism separates who belongs and who doesn’t, who’s friend and who’s foe. It manages entrances and exits, reinforces conformity, and punishes dissent.

Beliefism radicalizes.

Once it’s got a cause, beliefism takes it to an extreme. Belief becomes fundamentalism. If you’re not with us you’re against us. No neutrality. You go to the edge or you suffer and die.

Beliefism trends to fundamentalism

Fundamentalism decrees doctrine, prescribes ritual; banishes and punishes discourse, doubt, and dissent. It builds silos and hunkers down; lobs bombs at them. Fundamentalism can be religious or secular – same dynamics either way.

Beliefism practices mind control.

Beliefism runs on brain conformity – for the sake of personal identity and survival, for group cohesiveness. Cults are built on mind control. Every belief-fueled cause is a cult in the making. Nations, corporations, religions, academic disciplines, societal institutions… they’re all built on mind control. None of them exist if we don’t believe them into existence. The process of entering and sustaining membership is the same no matter what.

Beliefism lives in our blind spots.

Beliefism runs in stealth mode. Like a friend of mine used to say, “The trouble with blind spots is you can’t see them.” We don’t notice or examine what beliefism is doing to our perspective, worldview, reality — we just know the reality that emerges from it.

Beliefism promotes delusional thinking.

Beliefism removes belief from examination and critical thinking. Unmoored belief trends to delusion. You become a danger to yourself and others. Your risk/return matrix warps. You drink the Kool-Aid. You storm the Capitol. You flock to super spreader events.

There’s good neuroscience behind beliefism.

Beliefism works because we’re biological beings. We’re powered by hormones, chemicals, electrical charges. We believe from the inside out — our bodies and brains construct our reality from what’s around us, including how other people are constructing reality. We share perspective with each other and a shared reality emerges. We build things together to support and perpetuate that reality — institutions, architecture, art, economics, law, government, religion, norms and customs, rituals and practices, metaphors and icons. The “higher” portions of our brains dream all this up, the “lower” portions keep it rolling.

That warning label idea is no joke.

Beliefism has hurt a lot a people for a long time. It still does. It hurt me. It might be hurting you.

Maybe we should talk about it.

“A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted With Grief”

Isaiah 53:3 ESV

It’s not like you think, going godless — certainly not like I thought, or from what I can tell not like other people like me — who used to be Christians but aren’t anymore – not like what they thought either.

I didn’t become an atheist because I was drowning in deep despair or off my meds. I didn’t suddenly start being evil, thinking and doing evil things; didn’t wake up cursing and muttering blasphemies; wasn’t suddenly deranged and hollow, didn’t start haunting churches and graveyards; going off on people carrying Bibles.

No, I was just being me – a generally nice guy who grew up in the Nice Person Capital of the World (Minnesota) – doing my best to stumble through a series of what one writer calls “lifequakes.” God and being a Christian were at the center of the deluge because they were at the center of everything about me and my life. They just got caught in the middle. The whole thing was a hurricane in reverse – the highest winds and most damage were in the center, so God and Christianity took the hardest hit. Not that they were exactly innocent bystanders:   my post-Christian life got started with a betrayal from the inside (a story I’ve told that story elsewhere and won’t repeat it here). For the first ten years or so I thought I would get over it, but the damage was done, the citadel breached, the way back destroyed.

From there my reverse conversion just… happened … privately, quietly, gradually… exactly like Screwtape said it would: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one,” he wrote to Wormwood, “the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” It took years to traverse that gentle slope – a long slow erosion of my sense of identity and way of going about life. God and Christianity eroded away like a bank along a favorite stream in a favorite woodland that failed and faltered until finally one days it was all washed away and there was no more grass, nothing but deep ruts and gnarly exposed roots, the thick green underbrush gone and the trees falling over for lack of purchase for their roots, the life and joy and wonder of the place long, long, painfully dried up to the point that there was no possible way to kid myself that there was anything still growing there, anything that could still grow there, and now there was nothing left to do but wish it wasn’t so, and knowing that yes, it was so, irretrievably so, and I would need to find a new place with new water and soil, sun and shade.

That’s what it was like — the emptiness of a wind over a parched land, a waste land of water not falling from the sky, an endless, ever-receding horizon with nothing but heat mirages ever rising up into view no matter how long you trudged toward it.

“A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Yes, that’s what it was like.

It was a grief long-grieved through multiple iterations of shock, denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance – an endless repetition of redoubt and redoubling, of circling back, searching and wondering, and always this feeling that this can’t possibly be me doing this, this is not happening, this was never supposed to happen.

We prefer to focus on the acceptance stage of grieving – it’s heroic, overcoming, the do-over you get after a lot of awareness and learning and deepening. Nothing to dislike about acceptance, but getting there is rugged – no silver lining, no “reason for everything.” Shit just happens.

Grief packs a wallop. Grief is always an ambush – you’re always reeling, off balance, back-peddling. Grief is your personalized apocalypse, your lonely end of the world. Grief takes you on a tour of your history, reveals things you needed to know but didn’t, all the dumb stuff you did because you didn’t know any better and didn’t know how to ask for help, and now that you know better and are willing to ask for help what’s the point because it’s too late. Grief makes a mess of things, leaves you ragged and speechless and unpretty. Grief makes you crazy mad and angry mad. Grief numbs you out, turns you into the walking dead.

Grief isn’t about what’s lost, it’s about how we deal with loss. I lost a lot when I lost my Christian faith, and I lost my faith because I lost a lot. Grief is a super-slow motion baptism of regret. I used to think I lived with no regrets – like people brag about doing – but I was wrong, ridiculously wrong. Regret is a sticky form of the anger stage of grief. I had it stuck all over me – regret over all those years of uncountable small decisions and declarations that would have been made differently or not at all if it hadn’t been for my fierce allegiance to God – all those risks taken, allegiances declared, positions staked out, doubt and despair denied, convictions affirmed, certainties avowed, doubts and wonderings squelched, comfort forsaken, moments of awe and euphoria asserted, instants of triumph celebrated…. So much life! So many faces, constantly in and out of the frame! So much said, so much left unsaid, so much gainsaid….

It has taken years to get unstuck from regret. Lately, it seems the regret years might finally be over. The memories no longer have that angry edge, like the energy of it has been used up. God and Christianity are lost and gone away – a lifetime bond broken, an identity discarded, a way of looking at life left behind – to the point that now I look at what used to be and wonder how I possibly could have lived like that all those years.

That’s what it was like. All of that.

Not like I thought.

Not like other Christians who lost their faith thought.

Probably not like you thought either.

I Don’t Love You Like I Loved You Yesterday

When you go
Would you even turn to say
I don’t love you
Like I did
Yesterday

My Chemical Romance

I’ve been waiting to hear those words. I’m not going to, and I finally know why. I won’t hear them because there’s nobody there to say them. Which means there’s nothing to end, no good-byes to make, no reasons to give.

I couldn’t think how to write about it. No longer being a Christian, becoming an atheist – lots of people write about that. I have, too. But this time was different – what I discovered was bigger than “once I believed this and now I believe that.” It was about how my faith kept me lost in an artificial childhood. I never grew up. I stayed a child because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you believe. And I paid for it.

Here’s where the idea of remaining childlike came from:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:2-4 ESV

That sounds deep, and it gets a lot of mileage. It took it at face value, as I did with all my Bible reading. It worked great in the realm of belief, but in adult life… not so much. How to write about that? Then the idea came to me:  write to the Jesus who said that. So here goes….

* * *

The whole thing started with me feeling like a zero, screwing everything up. I needed help, and you would help me, dust me off and get me pointed in a better direction, make me into somebody I didn’t dislike, somebody useful. You would do all that because you wanted to– not only could you, but you would. It was easy for you, it’s what you were for.

All I had to do was believe in you, trust you, throw it all in for you. I did, and you came smiling into my life – strong, kind, generous. You were invincible – with you around, there was never anything to be afraid of, nothing was ever out of control (including me). You were the best of friends, the best of times, the best of company. You could keep everybody and everything together just by walking into the room. You were the big brother everybody should have but nobody does. You made things right. You straightened life out. You straightened me out — gave me what I lacked, filled in the blanks, the holes, the empty spaces. You gave me everything to believe in – a cause, a calling, a purpose. You made me strong, like you.

Now, after all those years, I finally see that there was no you and me, no you doing all that for me. Instead, I made you up like an imaginary friend, to be everything I wasn’t, to do everything I couldn’t. I didn’t trust myself, didn’t believe in myself, so I made you up to be someone I could trust and believe in – someone outside of me, out of reach of me, someone I could never be, who could do what I would never be able to do. You were the me I wanted to be but could never be on my own.

Or so I thought.

* * *

I was 17, 18, 19 when I reached out to you — in late adolescence, when children differentiate into their young adult selves. I never did — I differentiated into you. So did all my new friends that were joining the faith at the time – all of us wannabe Hippies who became Jesus Freaks instead. We were all Lost Boys. We became adults intending to be just like you. You were our highest and greatest selves – the best we could be. Better to turn ourselves over to you than keep going it alone, making a mess of things. It’s dangerous out there, everybody needs somebody like you – crazy thing is, not everybody knows it, so we have to tell them.

Or so we thought.

Children can be arrogant, too.

In your shadow I could stay a Lost Boy forever. True, according to the faith I had technically become “found,” but I was still a boy, still a child, and still lost – or on the verge of it. You encouraged us to think that way so that’s what we Lost Boys did. Plus, you told us about your father (who never made an appearance, we only had your word about him, which turned out to be way off base, but that revelation only came much later), and you said he would be ours, too. He would be the too-kind, too-generous, too-indulgent, too-loving father (yes, with a mean streak when he got angry, but that’s how grownups are and we could dance around it) who was rich and wise beyond measure, and who had our backs for good, just like you did. We were family now – we could count on that. There was nothing stupid we could do that you and your dad wouldn’t forgive, no need we could have that the two of you wouldn’t meet.

With all that, why grow up?

Children know a good deal when they see it.

* * *

One day decades later I snuck away from my law practice one afternoon to go to the movies. I’d heard about people doing that – I thought it was so out of line it was just plain immoral — and then I did it myself. The movie was Hook. I sat in a matinee with all the moms and kids and cried all the way through. I was Robin Williams’ character Peter Banning – maybe not quite as blatantly obnoxious, but just as lost. I looked good on the outside, my life looked good, but I had broken faith. I had meant to never grow up, but had done my best to do so anyway.

I was an adult on the outside, a kid on the inside, and had a life to match.

I left Hook and did what kids do when the adults doing something that doesn’t make sense:  I assumed it was all my fault, took the blame, vowed to do better, to make it right. I returned to my childlike ways. Never mind that others in the “family” were living by the creed of “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV Obviously they had sold out, like Peter Banning. They’d become adults. They didn’t trust and believe. They weren’t childlike anymore. They were still nominally part of the family, but it wasn’t just that they’d forgotten how to fly, they didn’t even want to anymore. Not me. I was still eager to please.

I got back to work on my flying.

* * *

Thinking that way, I committed the same crime against myself that I had at the beginning:  I robbed myself of ever knowing the adult I might have become. I never found out who I could be. Instead, the Lost Boy in me ran to your side once again, hid behind you, tried to wear your mask, tried to look and sound like you. The outcome of my new Lost Boy life was predictable – a drunkard’s random walk from this to that – always after the newest spiritual insight, the latest religious fad, the next way to prove my allegiance to the idea of you. Meanwhile I remained the afraid child who was doing it wrong, if it went bad it was my fault, who had to take the blame for what the adults did.

* * *

And then something happened that was never supposed to happen but did anyway. It’s not that you just up and left, that you didn’t come around much anymore, that you had other things to do, other friends. No, nothing like that. It was more like you started to fade – like you were dematerializing, losing substance, fading from view, getting farther away, turning into a ghost, your voice muffled, muted, softened, distanced. You lost presence. You became like a really great book that once had moved me, that meant so much to me that I kept it on the shelf to remember that feeling but never opened it again. You became a memory, an experience I once had.

I had been so practiced at generating the energy of your presence that it took me a long time to realize I had been the one doing the generating. It had been my job to make sure you kept walking into the room. You never came on our own. And now, you never came at all. I wondered at first why you didn’t seem so real as you did at first. I worried that I might have left you, wondered if you might have left me. I felt you far more in the loss of you than I ever had in the thought of your presence.

And then you were gone — faded from view. And your father too.

The Lost Boy had lost the one who found him.

* * *

In the midst of your disappearing came the beginning of growth, of self-awareness, of letting the child go and telling the adolescent it is safe to grow up, to finally differentiate after all that deferral, to become human – to recognize that no Lost Boy can be found by losing himself.

The final realization was that I had never gotten the help I needed so desperately at the beginning – not because you wouldn’t or couldn’t or didn’t, but because you weren’t. You never had been. I made you up, then lived in service to the you I created – the surrogate for the authentic version I was afraid to create. You couldn’t help me because I didn’t take on the one job we must all do, we are all unqualified to do, we can never do to the satisfaction of the rules and forms and laws we invent, but we all must do anyway:  the job of creating ourselves in the wide world. After all those years, I was finally taking it on — the inevitable, inescapable job of learning to be human, of engaging fully in this thing we call “life” as if it was something apart from us, but it is not, it never can be, it is simply us, living.

Until we don’t anymore.

* * *

And now you were gone – without the decency to tell me you were leaving. Handling it that way made you a coward and a cheat. I shocked myself, calling you that, but your leaving without a good-bye made me mad.

When you go
Would you have the guts to say
I don’t love you
Like I loved you yesterday

I mourned, felt discarded, abandoned. I felt the crush and the pierce of your neglect. And then it came to me:  you would never turn to say you didn’t love me anymore – not because you wouldn’t but because you couldn’t. How could you? You didn’t exist, you never had. You were the fabrication of my Lost Boy self’s need of you, my misguided need to be found to the point where I lost myself in you. And now I was the one who was ready to let you go. I didn’t need you to tell me why you were going. You couldn’t anyway.

* * *

For years as a Christian I heard sermons about the following passage and feared I would come out on the wrong end of it:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Ironically, even though you said it would be to no avail, we had all done our best to prophesy and cast out demons and do mighty works. Hedging our bets, I guess – unable to believe you would actually say that, after all we did to try to please you. Now, I am appalled that some depth of me had a need to appease you, like the abused tries to appease the abuser, making excuses for the smoldering rage that lashes out, wounds and kills. In this, I have come to see that, despite all your likeability, you were unavoidably a chip off the old block – just like the father you kept so carefully hidden behind you, who I came to understand was not the good Father you said he was, but the horrible God of the Bible — the brutal, blood-lusting, war-mongering, hyper-nationalist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, totalitarian, authoritarian despot who has committed himself to the final destruction of the world and the eternal tormenting of its people. And you? You appeased him, too – all the way to your own death by torture.

Some family I had been adopted into.

I had made that father my own, as I made you my own. And now, thankfully, he is gone too – has also faded from my view – until I no longer need either of you to turn and tell me that you don’t love me anymore, not like you used to.

Because you never did anyway.

But now I’m the one who has something to say to you as I do the leaving.

Just this:

Depart from me – I never knew you.

Follow Your Dreams?

No.

Don’t do it. It will hurt you. It’s not like you think. There’s no magic that makes dreams come true.

You don’t want to hear that. You’re psyched up, ready to roar. I get that. I did the follow-your-dreams thing several times — upping the ante each time until the crash and burn (which happened every time, and will happen to you, too) was so big that I finally got… not the dream but the personal transformation it required.

I wasn’t in it for the transformation. I was in it for the dream. The dream didn’t happen. The transformation did.

Dreams require personal transformation. You might get the dream, you might not, but if you stay with it long enough, you will get the transformation. Most people don’t stay with it long enough. If they do, the transformation is sure. The dream? Not so much.

The reason you’re not living your dream already is that you’re not qualified for it. You’re not the kind of person living the kind of life and doing the kinds of things that line up with your dream. Your life is not structured around living your dream – if it were, you’d be living your dream already. Your life is structured around not living your dream. Therefore you’re not. Simple math.

It’s not just that you don’t know the right stuff or the right people, or that you don’t have experience doing the thing you dream about. All that is true – you don’t — but that’s not the point. The point is that your dream is a dream – something far away from what you are and do and have right now. The gap between you and your dream is wide and deep and long and high. There’s no getting around, under, through, or over it… not in your current form.

What your dream needs is to not be a dream at all – instead, it needs to be just the next step – the next logical, obvious thing for you to do, so that it’s not a dream at all, just the next thing. What you need to make your dreams come true is to get to that point. And to get to that point requires a complete remake of you and the circumstances of your life. Without that, there’s no getting there from here. That’s where personal transformation comes in.

Transformation is the hardest, most ruinous thing you will ever do. Transformation is a complete tear down followed by a complete rebuild with the salvageable parts (not many) plus a bunch of new ones, most of which you won’t like. It starts with the obvious — what and who you are, what you do and what you think, the company you keep, where you live and how – the usual stuff. All that has to go. You need a complete replacement of all things. That will feel hard, and you’ll be surprised and amazed, disillusioned and despairing just to get that far, but once you’ve gotten through that, transformation will be just getting warmed up.

You have no idea much it’s going to cost or how hard it’s going to be. You can try to imagine, but you have no idea. All those adjustments take time. And money. And hardship. And more – more than you think you’ve got to give. And then some more. And then a whole lot more.

There are no shortcuts. There is no magic. You think there’s going to be magic because your brain fills up with feel-good hormones when you feel inspired by your dream. Just thinking about your dream makes you feel good – like it could happen, yes to you! Don’t be fooled. That feel-good stuff is a warning signal. Think about it:  you can feel what it will be like to live your dream without doing anything toward making your dream happen. Doesn’t that make you nervous? It should. It should make you wonder what you’re missing. You’re not there yet, you’re not anywhere close, and yet it feels like you are.

That makes the self-helpers jump for joy. They’ll say, “Just look at that! Your brain can’t tell the difference between wanting something and actually having it! Isn’t that cool?! That means your brain will act like you’ve already got it, and – shazam!! – you actually will!”

Anybody who would tell you that – and there’s a whole industry full of them – is not your friend. They know just enough brain science to be dangerous.

Just thinking about your dream makes you feel good – is that a problem?

Yes it’s a problem. It’s why everybody gives up on their dreams – they’re too hard, they cost too much, and all that feel-good stuff doesn’t help at all. By the time you’re ready to actually do your dream, you’re so beat up and worn out from not being who you were when you felt good about it that you can’t believe it was you back then, wanting what you wanted and thinking you knew what it would be like when you got it, and now look at you. The reason you’ll feel that way is because you actually won’t be who you were. You will have gotten a whole psychic/biologic makeover. You will have been transformed.

Welcome to the caterpillar-becomes-a-butterfly story, in real time. Trust me – the part about being reduced to goo inside the cocoon is… well, let’s just say I could live without it.

If you’re lucky – and it will take a lot of luck – and if you do the right stuff and learn the right things and get to know the right people and learn from them and generally get yourself to the point where of course you are the kind of person who can do the thing you want – I mean, it’s right there, the next logical thing for you to do — then you might have a chance. Might. Maybe. Not guaranteed.

But if you’re really lucky, you might be okay with that.

I know all this because I’m living the dream. And trust me — if I had known this was the dream, and what it would cost to get here….

Well, no way.

All I’m sayin’.

For awhile I gave seminars on this. Then I realized people didn’t believe me. They didn’t believe I meant it when I told them, “you will suffer.” After awhile, I quit doing the seminars. It was unethical, carrying on with something I knew people wouldn’t believe, and flooding them with disclaimers and warnings wasn’t enough to make it so.

You’re waiting for me to say, “But it was all worth it.”

I won’t, because it wasn’t.

You’re waiting for me to say, “But I have no regrets.”

I won’t, because I do.

I will say I had a lot of crapola that needed to get exposed and taken care of. And I will say that once the transformation process really got rolling, I got in touch with just how little I have control over. I’m grateful for both those lessons – and some others, too. It would have been nice to learn them without all the trouble, but that never would have happened. The trouble and the learning were inseparable.

For more about how I made every mistake in the book plus a few others, check here. For a Jungian look at transformation, check here. Both links take you to  free downloads — free like a crummy old couch by the dumpster with a sign on it that says “take it” is free. They’re not bait and switch. Honest. I’m out of the seminar business, remember?

We Seriously Need to Get Over Our Addiction to Ancient Wisdom

Where did we get the idea that Ancient Wisdom is such hot stuff?

You shrug. You don’t know, you never thought about it. I hadn’t either.

An “ancient wisdom” Google search generated the usual 89 million results in 0.65 seconds. The first couple pages were mostly life coaches trying to out-reverence each other.

Lesson learned:  call what you’re peddling ancient wisdom, and you’ll sell more of it. (Remember the opening of The Secret promo movie?)

Not exactly the answer I had in mind.

Ancient wisdom is an assumption:  of course it’s better than anything we might think of on our own — everybody knows that! It’s better because it’s… well, because it’s… un, because it’s really old… it’s so old it’s… ancient.

Sigh.

We assume ancient wisdom will give us an edge – rocket us from clueless to competitive. I mean, those ancients, they had it going. They’re the Who’s Who of Law, Art, Philosophy, Religion, History, Literature… The ancient texts. The ancient ways. The ancient teachings. The ancient books. The ancient heroes. The ancient incarnations of gods walking the Earth. Miles and piles of traditions and holidays and customs. Wars, wars, and more wars. Greed and evil, corruption and cruelty, with a sprinkle of nobility now and then. On and on and on… Ancient this, ancient that.

Ancient is most potent when it’s sacred ancient, which is as close to God as you can get. God is old – really old, older than old, older even than ancient. That means sacred ancient-ness is next to godliness.

Sigh.

We’re so addicted to ancient wisdom that we’re blind to our addiction, which makes it hard to talk about. It seems obvious, like asking why we breathe.

  • We breathe to live.
  • We revere ancient wisdom because we breathe.

Or something like that.

When’s the last time ancient wisdom made your life better? I mean really better, not just “I believe this old stuff will improve my life” better?

Here’s the problem (one of many):  We think those guys (yes, guys – ancient pronouns are definitely male) were just like us, living the same kinds of lives, dealing with the same kinds of issues, so that what they thought about how life works can help us out.

Not so.

This is the time travel problem:  the idea that if we could zap ourselves forward or backward in time we’d still be us, the same as we are now, only with some adjusting to do — so if we time-travelled Socrates into today, the bedsheet clothes would have to go, and he’d need a shower and probably a trip to the dentist, but otherwise with the help of Google Translate he’d fit right in.

Not a chance.

Humans function in context. We feel, don’t feel, think, don’t think, act, don’t act… see, perceive, conclude, decide, and all their opposites… only in context. We happen in the moment because that’s all we’ve got. We have no experience except here and now, and everything about our experience comes from our brains’ processing what we’re experiencing. We take in all the external stimuli – through our senses, through spatial and subliminal biological connections –and our brains process it all internally. The amalgamation becomes “reality.” A little of that happens consciously; most of it doesn’t. To the extent we’re aware, we are conscious only in context.

Ancient context was different. Ancient people and their ancient reality were different. The ancient human consciousness that created ancient reality was different. We and our reality and consciousness are different from theirs. We are not like those guys. They weren’t like us. If we could ever meet – which we can never do, not even metaphorically or intellectually or otherwise – we would barely recognize them as human. They would return the favor. We’d both notice the naked ape resemblance, but common ground would be hard to find. Maybe after some who-knows-how-long acclimation process we might learn to experience a new, shared context together. Until then, things would definitely be awkward.

We give ancient religion special status in our ancient addiction. We re-energize ancient events and teachings, beliefs and practices, by the application of our fervent belief. By our belief, we invest ancient relics and rituals with living virtue — antiquity reconstituted. We think we brought the ancient back to life, but that’s delusional because our believe is also processed in context – our current context. We’re making up the experience in the here and now. We cannot do otherwise.

Which loops us around back to where we started:  if we didn’t believe ancient wisdom is something special, we wouldn’t believe its relevance to us. And no, calling something “sacred” and “holy” and “eternal” and “immortal” doesn’t help — it still has to be processed through our mortal, temporal biology. We’re not creating ancient meaning and experiencing it in its original form — we’re only creating this moment’s version of it.

The best our believing can do is to treat ancient wisdom as what philosophers call a “first cause.” If you trace everything back through some impossibly tangled mega-gigantic cause and effect chain, you eventually get to the place where you can’t trace back anymore, so you need a “first cause” that gets the whole thing started.( Once you find the first cause, you sound like a parent:  “Because I said so, that’s why.” )

God is the first cause of choice. You can’t go further back than God, can’t prove or disprove God, you either believe in Him (yes, God’s pronouns are also male) or you don’t. Full stop. Ancient is the same way:  you either believe it’s good and true and valuable and worth fighting wars and making converts at gunpoint or sword point or on the rack or in the Inquisition or whatever… or you don’t. Belief is what makes ancient relevant, but when it does, it only gets the current version. Even if sacred holy other ancient could get a pass, there’s no sacred holy other compartment in our brains to process it.

Suppose we could break our ancient addiction habit – what would have to gain?

Ironically, the answer might be what we were after in the first place:  wisdom – the ability to think useful thoughts about what’s going on around us. Consider the following passage from a Pulitzer price-willing journalist, prolific author, and general awesomely intelligent and articulate human being, taken from I Don’t Believe in Atheists:  The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist, by Chris Hedges (2008).

“Our collective and personal histories — the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves and others — are used to avoid facing the incoherence and fragmentation of our lives. Chaos, chance and irrational urges, often locked in our unconscious, propel, inform and direct us. Our self is elusive. It is not fixed. It is subject to forces often beyond our control. To be human is to be captive to these forces, forces we cannot always name or understand. We mutate and change. We are not who we were. We are not who we will become. The familiarity of habit and ritual, as well as the narratives we invent to give structure and meaning to our life, helps hide this fragmentation. But human life is fluid and inconsistent. Those who place their faith in a purely rational existence begin from the premise that human beings can have fixed and determined selves governed by reason and knowledge. This is itself an act of faith.

“We can veto a response or check an impulse, reason can direct our actions, but we are just as often hostage to the pulls of the instinctual, the irrational, and the unconscious. We can rationalize our actions later, but this does not make them rational. The social and individual virtues we promote as universal values that must be attained by the rest of the human species are more often narrow, socially conditioned responses hardwired into us for our collective and personal survival and advancements. These values are rarely disinterested. They nearly always justify our right to dominance and power.

“We do not digest every sensation and piece of information we encounter. To do so would leave us paralyzed. The bandwidth of consciousness – our ability to transmit information measured in bits per second — is too narrow to register the enormous mass of external information we receive and act upon. We have conscious access to about a millionth of the information we use to function in life. Much of the information we receive and our subsequent responses do not take place on the level of consciousness. As the philosopher John Gray points out, irrational and subconscious forces, however unacknowledged, are as potent within us as in others.

“To accept the intractable and irrational forces that drive us, to admit that these forces are as entrenched in us as in all human beings, is to relinquish the fantasy that the human species can have total, rational control over human destiny. It is to accept our limitations, to live within the confines of human nature. Ethical, moral, religious, and political systems that do not concede these stark assumptions have nothing to say to us.”

Nicely said.

We’re not such hot stuff, and neither is ancient wisdom. We’re not so in touch and in control as we’d like to think we are — in fact we bounce around and mutate all over the place – and always in context. We do our best to push back the night, still the churning seas, halt the careening clouds, tame the void to make it less awful. It’s worth the try – the effort, however vain, gives us a sense of purpose, meaning, agency. But we’re not going to banish our limitations by latching onto ancient wisdom, because the latching process ultimately takes place only in us. We are what we are in the context of the moment, just like those old guys were.

A bunch of old guys tried to figure things out. So do we.

Chances are they were about as good at it as we are.

Which isn’t saying much.

The God Syndrome: How the Puritans Destroyed Democracy

Would you buy a used car from this God?

Or share a beer with him?

Or marry him?

Or want him to be your dad?

Or run your company?

Or your country?

Well it depends.… What God are we talking about?

Ask “Do you believe in God?” in the U.S., and most people will say yes they do. (The current percentage ranges from 64% to 87% depending on how you tweak the question. See this Gallup poll.) Back in the postwar 1940’s through the 1960’s, the percentage was steady at around 97%. (See this Time Magazine summation.) But what God were those polls asking about?

  • The God of the Bible?
  • The God of “Christendom” — the loose amalgamation of European/American countries that had roots in The Church with a capital T and C?
  • Or are we talking about the God of this or that denomination, non-denominational parachurch, megachurch, lone-tree independent Bible church, living room Bible study, or men’s warrior weekend retreat?
  • Or can God just be some kind of mystical or transcendent spirit for the “I’m spiritual but not religious” crowd?
  • Or maybe a neighborly “Look, I’m kind of busy here, but okay, I’m not a religious person but yeah I think there’s a God”?

Baby Boomers like me grew up with a sort of Age of Enlightenment/ socially acceptable God. Miracles and taking the Bible literally had taken a hit back around the time the USA was declaring itself into existence. The Church survived thanks to its centuries-old institutional dominance and because people in the Western world still needed to believe in God to give meaning to their lives and structure to their societies. (Even Nietzsche worried that doing away with God would throw the human race into despair and anarchy.) As a result, God went with the flow, branching out like a river finding different courses that eventually take on prefixes like the “north fork,” “middle fork,” “south fork.”

One fork followed a course set in the late 1900’s by less conventional thinkers, who created a hybrid pseudo-scientific God that carried on the Age of Enlightenment preference for science and rationality while embracing the newly emerging social sciences, particularly psychology. That fork eventually drifted toward a more generalized “universal spirit” that became today’s “the Universe” as a God substitute.

The USA’s Roman Catholic loyalists and “mainline” Christian Protestant denominations hung onto ritualistic form while entertaining new substance. If church-going folk noticed, they were probably too busy to care:  from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, the human races’ addiction to periodic savagery kept the citizens busy alternately patriotically supporting wars and cleaning up their messes. While the theologians and academicians reinvented God, the people kept showing up on Sundays and putting cash and weekly “pledge” envelopes in the offering plates.

In time, Christians could be Christians without ever having read the Bible, society could still function, the march of progress could still charge ahead, and the average paycheck-earning, family-raising American could still belong to a religious institution that took care of weddings, babies, and burials without making too many demands on anybody’s personal piety. Christianity became nominal – an American birthright, like citizenship – which is why I could go to college in the 1970’s and ask my new roommate what church he went to – a routine part of making acquaintance. (“I’m Jewish,” he replied. Oh brave new world!)

But for some, all this rational humanistic scientific touchy-feely religion was a serious problem. They were the Remnant – the Bible-believing literalist true believers, the true sons of the Protestant Reformation and worthy descendants of their Puritan New World early adopter forebears. Mostly, they were carrying the torch lit long ago by a New England hellfire and brimstone evangelist named Jonathan Edwards who set off an anti-Age of Enlightenment insurgency known as the “First Great Awakening” in 1741 with his signature sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” (The Second Great Awakening came a century later in a storm of tent revivals.)The Jonathan Edwards fork of the God flow gave us a steady supply and worldwide legacy of revivals, “church renewal” movements, Baptists and fundamentalists, early 20th Century tongue-speaking Pentecostals and the 60’s and 70’s Gifts of the Spirit “Charismatics,” and a whole host of fervency-generating events and movements that were big enough to be noticed but that mostly stayed around the edges of the mainstream.

And then a miracle happened.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the Remnant their stamped ticket to cultural dominance.

Along with belief in God, most Americans in 1973 believed that humans are “living souls” – each person an immortal divine personality placed in a mortal human body by the specific touch and intent of God. (A lot of Americans still believe that, it seems.) As a result, Roe v. Wade wasn’t about procreative biology, it was about the murder of God-given souls. The Remnant rose up in God-snorting fire-and-brimstone unity — the newly emerging Evangelicals morphed into the Christian Right, and God’s will became a political juggernaut.

All you really need to know about the Jonathan Edwards fork of the God flow is the signature title of his sermon. But consider also Edwards’ famous conclusion that “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

I.e., if God is in a mood to feel charitably inclined toward us, we’re good. But if not…. we’re toast.

Burnt toast.

Literally.

The Remnant’s God is the Biblical God, which the “Good Book” describes as…

  • A “man of war.”
  • When he goes to war, the objective is genocide — men, women, children — no survivors. Except for the women kept alive for the soldiers to rape.
  • He’s misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic.
  • He is a most emphatically a “He” – a male — an iron-fisted patriarch.
  • He rules as an obsolete authoritarian. He is answerable and accountable to no laws, no moral or ethical codes – to nothing and no one. What He says goes and if you don’t like it you die – or suffer for a long, long time… forever, actually.
  • He doesn’t just want to be revered and worshiped, he demands it.
  • He has absolutely the lowest opinion of both those who revere and serve him and those who don’t. He teaches them that they’re flawed from birth, that no matter what they do, they can never please him. Each of them is born under a sentence of condemnation. But He expects them to try to make Him happy anyway. Good luck with that.
  • He has planned the total destruction of the Earth and all its people, has the means to do so, and threatens to do so at any moment.
  • After He destroys everything, if you’re on his bad side – which nearly every is – your fate is to be tortured and tormented forever. Of all the billions of people who’ve ever lived, only a few will be exempt from this destiny.
  • And all of that is a good thing.

Oh, and did I mention that the Biblical God is merciful and kind, and that He loves us?

There’s more where all that came from – lots more – all of it from the Bible, the source code for the three “Abrahamic” religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim). Christianity adds an addendum – the “New Testament” – which describes, among other things, how:

  • God arranged to have his “son” beaten, whipped, and tortured to death, even though he begged for mercy.
  • The purpose of which was to “save” the few “chosen” to “glorify” Him forever.
  • That was an expression of God’s “mere pleasure,” I guess.

The Remnant was created in this God’s image.

And it gets worse.

The Remnant has now become radicalized – turned into an armed cult, a belligerent, raucous, enraged mob ready, willing, eager, and able to do the bidding of the one they believe is God’s “Anointed” leader. Since the final year of the 2020 Presidential campaign through today, the Remnant has been openly at war with the USA’s democracy, intent on replacing it with their own fascist, authoritarian ideology, with the enthusiastic backing of their heroes in Congress and Commerce (the rise of the Christian Right perfectly coincided with the evangelistic overthrow of economics by the Friedman Free Marketers, giving us today’s Social Darwinist version of capitalism).

What we’re seeing is the Revenge of the Puritans.

The Founding Fathers convened in the context of the Jonathan Edwards vs. the Age of Enlightenment fight to the finish. They thought they had forged a new republic with appropriate safeguards to prevent the creation of the kind of God-sponsored theocracy their ancestors had escaped.

They were wrong.

If took nearly 250 years, but the Founders have finally lost. They can’t answer the Liberty Bell any more. It’s not just cracked, it’s been melted into swords along with the plowshares.

The Angry God and the Sinners in His Hands have overrun the gates of reason and science, ethics and the rule of law, all notions of community and “We the People,” and everything else in the Founders’ even-handed attempts at envisioning an enduring republic. They fawn over this God and his Anointed, reveling in his love and pleasure, carrying on as countlessothers have done for thousands of years, making sure that life is never anything other than solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

This God has been the face of Western Civilization for thousands of years — as long as written history – and still is. This God’s story is Western history — and not just Western history, but World history. And now, this God has entirely hijacked the USA’s history as well.

This God has poisoned the individual and collective minds of our entire species for so long that we can’t imagine life without Him.

This God is why the world’s dismal history keeps repeating itself.

We need to hold this God accountable. The trial would last an eternity. We don’t have time for it. We need to ban Him now, exile Him beyond discovery, beyond reclamation.

It will take time.

We have no time.

We need to get over this God. He has done unimaginable, incomprehensible damage to individual and collective lives for far too long. We need to write him out of our laws, our nations, our lives. We need to cleanse and detox our bodies and brains of Him.

The God Era needs to be over. We need to get over our God Syndrome.

We can’t imagine it.

We need to imagine it.

Because unless we banish this God, we cannot reinvent life to meet the challenges of the 21st Century and beyond. Because if our minds and cultures remain polluted and poisoned by our thoughts of this God and all the institutions and structures and… everything… the human race has created in His name from time immemorial… we will be unable to create anything other than in His image, as we have already done for millennia.

No of course there’s no hope that this could ever happen.

There needs to be hope that this could ever happen.

Because hope that it could ever happen is our only hope.

Beliefism [7]: When the Good News Isn’t

Quick review…

“Beliefism” refers to the dynamics of belief.

Belief promises it can do the impossible – actually do it, not just make you think it did.

Christianity and self-help take the same approach to doing the impossible – following advice that originally came from Jesus:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV

“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24 ESV

Believe, don’t doubt, believe it’s a done deal, and there it is – the impossible! What if it doesn’t work? Self-help’s answer is to keep trying — which usually means keep buying. Christianity says it’s because the impossible you wanted wasn’t God’s will.

 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15 ESV

Even Jesus didn’t get a free pass on that one.

We know the story, and it’s as horrible, gruesome, ugly, awful as it gets.

Jesus is about to be arrested, beaten, whipped, and tortured to death. He goes off to talk to God — his “Father” – to see if there’s a way out.

 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 ESV

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.[a] Luke 22:39-44 ESV

Sweating blood? This is from healthline.com:

“Hematidrosis is an extremely rare condition in which you sweat blood. It’s also known as hematohidrosis and hemidrosis. It’s so rare that many people don’t know it exists or if it’s real. But sweating blood has been seen throughout history. The Bible mentions Jesus sweating blood while praying before the crucifixion. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about soldiers sweating blood before battle.

“While these may or may not have been real depictions, hematidrosis is a real condition. Blood sweat can occur on any surface of the body. The face and forehead are common locations.

“There isn’t much information available on hematidrosis. Because it’s so rare, it isn’t clearly understood. However, hematidrosis generally happens when a person feels intense fear or stress. Someone facing death may have this kind of fear or stress, for example. When you are under stress, your body goes into flight-or-fight mode.

“But in rare instances, the flight-or-fight response can trigger the rupture of capillaries in the body. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels located throughout tissue. They carry essential nutrients to different parts of the body. Capillaries are also located around the sweat glands. In cases of severe fear or stress, these tiny blood vessels can burst and cause blood to exit the body through the sweat glands.”

We know how it ends. God was committed to Jesus’s murder. He didn’t answer Jesus’s prayer.

Some Father….

Its gets worse.

Jesus is Christians’ model in all things. No surprise then, that the Bible chapter Christians often regard as definitive on the topic of faith (the book of Hebrews, in the Christian New Testament) teaches that not getting what you want is Christians’ highest achievement. It starts this way:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV

This sounds familiar. We see the mountain, we want it to move, but it’s still sitting there, big and immoveable. As far as we can see, it hasn’t moved, but we have to believe, be convinced that it will.

Mind over matter.

The power of positive thinking.

The passage continues…

“And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 ESV

To get something from God, first we need to believe in God. Okay, got that – seems pretty obvious. Then we need to believe God “rewards those who seek him.” Okay, got that too – that’s why we’re asking God for what we want.

And what are the rewards we can believe God will give us? The passage answers by listing faith heroes, and then we get these summaries of how God rewarded them:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:35-40 ESV

Talk about bait and switch.

We just went from moving mountains to it’s a good thing to get mocked, flogged, chained, imprisoned, stoned, and sawn in two….

The Good News That Isn’t

I never saw this when I was a Christian. I knew all these passages of scripture, heard them taught over and over and over, but never did what I just did – never tried to follow the “do the impossible” line all the way through. If I had, I wouldn’t have done it the way I just did. I would have kept to the party line – I would have patched up the holes with all the rationales and explanations, all the convoluted theology, all the hack sermons, all the spin on why not getting the “reward” you want, why getting something horrible instead… is the “good news.”

I didn’t see that because Beliefism keeps you in the fold, keeps you close, keeps your mind from asking too many questions. But once you’re out, you can start to think again. You can wonder what was Jesus thinking when he said all that stuff about believing the impossible into existence? And what was I thinking when I spent years and years living in this failed reality? Obviously I wasn’t – thinking, that is — I was deluded, under the thrall of Beliefism.

I can’t blame Christianity and self-help, or the people who practice them. They are what they are. What made them toxic for me is that I believed. I put myself under Beliefism’s spell.

But those days are over. I don’t miss them. I don’t miss trying to do the impossible. I don’t miss Beliefism.

Requiesce in pace.

Since Government Can’t Govern, How About This Instead?

The Democrats think politics is about policy, which is why the Biden administration is in full failure mode and the next three and a half years will be an endless rewind/repeat of the Obama Obstructionist years.

In the meantime,  the federal government is in lockdown, and won’t get unlocked anytime soon. So how about the Democrats try something new?

President Joe and Senator Joe (why is Joe Manchin always the one who gets mentioned in the news? Because he’s male? Because Kyrsten Sinema is too… random?) agree that politics is about compromise and collaboration, the way politics used to be, because that’s how we get… wait for it… bipartisan policy solutions.

Only right now, Senator Joe has the upper hand as the lead obstructionist for the Republican Christian National Fascist QAnon Party. Never mind that the RCNFQP’s former leader – guy named McConnell – has openly declared that it will never work with the Bidenites and in fact has two agendas:  (1) obstruct everything the Bidenites want to do, and (2) keep RCNFQP supporters in a froth until they can install The Donald as King for Life.

In the meantime, RCNFQP governors and legislatures around the States (no longer the “United” States) are busy passing New Era Jim Crow voting laws to make sure American democracy has lived to see its dying day.

As a result, nothing will get done until the mid-term elections, which the RCNFOP will win by claiming that President Joe (a) didn’t do anything and (b) whatever he did was designed to destroy democracy. Then they’ll pass a slew of their own legislation and we’ll see if President Joe is willing to veto it – or maybe they’ll have enough of a majority to override his veto so who cares. Or maybe we’ll just stay in lockdown and the government won’t do any governing, which is what the Republican Free Market Libertarian Party has wanted all along.

Any way you slice it, we’ll have a nominal government, just not a functioning one. Also not a democratic one.

Welcome to the future of the USA. Your future, and mine.

So here’s a thought. Since Senator Joe is going to make sure the administration of President Neville… er, I mean Joe… is a total waste of time at time when the country has no time to waste, then how about if the organization formally known as the federal government does something else with all that time that’s going to waste — something completely un-political?

How about if, instead of governing, which they won’t be able to do anyway, they use the failure of American politics and the consequent failure of American democracy as an opportunity to talk about… well, the failure of American politics and the consequent failure of American democracy. Talk about it incessantly. Talk about nothing else. Nothing about it until everybody notices that’s all they ever talk about.

Well for starters, of course politicians don’t do that. It would be against the Code. They talk over the real issues. They posture. They spout platitudes. They fundraise. They keep up our flagging, demoralized, despairing spirits by filling us a steady line of bullshit about… well, you  know, compromise and collaboration and… wait for it… bipartisan solutions.

But what if the Chamberlains — er, I mean the Democrats — broke the rule against straight talk about what’s really going on and talked straight about… well, what’s really going on?

What if they spent the next three and a half years patiently, consistently, and meticulously putting forth their legislative agendas, and then just as patiently, consistently, and meticulously detailing everything Senators Joe and Krysten and their RCNFQP colleagues do to oppose it?

Build a record, in other words. Create it, declare it. Make it impeccable. Write the history of America’s final decline as it’s happening.

The end of American democracy and the installation of The Donald as King for Life is going to be an apocalyptic event anyway, so how about if the Chamberlains turn the Big Lie into the Big Reveal? Corruption needs darkness, secrecy, and ignorance, so be sure to keep the lights always on and the mics always hot. Keep an exhaustively detailed chronicle. Curate videos and sound recordings. Name names.

They could give the project a cool name — I’d vote for “The Book of Revelation.” (I know that’s been taken, but that book is really, really old and besides, I’m pretty sure it should be in the public domain by now – assuming that anything set aside for the benefit of the public still exists.)

Revelation:  all files opened, classified access breeched, proprietary information violated, everything hacked, all open source, no secrets anymore, nothing hidden, nothing unknown, the seals all broken, all safes cracked, all containers ransacked and their contents strewn across a million conference tables, all motives revealed, all missing links discovered.

Take out full-page ads of voting records. Talk constantly about who said what when, where, and to whom. Share it with the Universities. Share it with Hacker Nation and WikiLeaks. Share it with friend and foe. Share it until everybody’s sick of it. Put it in the public domain. Make it open source. Start a new WikiBookofRevelation. And make sure it’s backed up to the Cloud, on its own blockchain, copies proliferated everywhere, coded so that any time somebody tries to shut it down it replicates itself a zillion more times. Bury it in silos, shoot it into space (send it to Mars with Elon), hide it on the moon, send it out of the solar system on a new Voyager. Whatever – just make sure everybody knows everything, forever.

If the Bidenites can’t govern, it will give them something useful to do. They can at least make a contribution – as opposed to, for example, muttering and mumbling and reminiscing about the good old days when the government governed, when the citizens voted for representatives to transact the business of the shared interests of the nation’s communal life.

When was that, exactly?

I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. I honestly think it would be a good use of the Bidenites’ time – probably the only use of their time, much more useful than waiting for the RCNFQP to play nice, which everyone but the Bidenites know is never ever ever not in a million American years ever going to happen. (Not that there are ever going to be a million American years, since we have at most three and a half left.)

History would thank them.

Just think what it would be like to have a steady source of open, factual, credentialed, accountable documentary. I know – too much to ask, way way too much to ask.

And who knows… if that’s all they ever talked about, maybe somebody somewhere might actually start to wonder why.

So that’s my advice for what to do with a government that can’t govern. I realize nobody asked for my advice, that I’m not qualified or authorized to give it, and nobody will read or pay attention to it anyway, so why do I bother?

Because sometimes you just have to take a moment to scream into the void.

Even though you never, ever, ever get an echo back.

Beliefism [6]: Christianity and Self-Help Do The Impossible

I was a Christian for two and half decades and a self-helper for a few years after that. Both had the same source code for doing the impossible. Jesus was the original coder and pitchman:

“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV

This is classic mind over matter – or more accurately, heart over matter. Ask “Where’s your heart?” and most people would point to the place in your chest and throat where you feel strong emotion. The belief that moves mountains is something you feel strongly. Plus you need to not doubt. Doubt is when you switch the channel to your intellect and wonder if it’s really going to work. Finally, you have to believe that the thing you want “will come to pass.”

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24 ESV

That’s classic power of positive thinking – no surprise that self-help is all over it:  visualize, use “affirmations,” create vision boards, keep it fresh by buy buy buying more books, classes, seminars, and conferences, and if you’re really serious, hire a coach.

Jesus, on the other hand, preferred to ramp up the emotional commitment with inspirational stories about being persistent (the widow who pestered the judge, the guy who pestered his neighbor, etc.) and about going all in on your heartfelt ideas (the pearl merchant who sold his entire inventory to buy one perfect pearl).

Let’s give this a try.

One night a circuit-riding evangelist told our campus Christian group we could use all that believing in our hearts, not doubting, and believing we had already received it to heal anything we wanted. I was nearsighted. Next day I put my glasses in my pocket and sailed out across campus. People kept saying hi and I didn’t know who they were. I felt stupid and antisocial, and was getting a headache. I put my glasses back on.

When it Doesn’t Work

Beliefism’s response when the mountain doesn’t move is…

  • It’s all your fault.

You don’t have enough faith. You’re doubting. You don’t actually think it’s going to happen./

As in Jesus’s stories, belief only has one solution:  go deeper, further, invest more, take a bigger risk. Belief seeks its own perfection through the elimination of doubt — that’s why extreme belief always  ends up as fundamentalism. Once you’re in, you need to get further in, and you can’t look back and start questioning, because that would be doubt. Trouble is, if it didn’t work the first time, it’s probably not going to work the third or the thirtieth – you can double down, triple down, quadruple down, but nothing is ever enough. You’re trying to move a mountain – or walk across campus without your glasses – which is something you’ve never done before, and of course you’re going to be wondering if it’s going to work or not. But as soon as you start wondering, that’s doubt, and doubt means it’s over. So cover your ears and eyes and plunge forward.

Rewind, repeat.

How much faith do you need?

Jesus makes it sound like it shouldn’t have to be that much.

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[a] Matthew 17:20 ESV

Most of us have never opened a package of mustard seeds to see what size they are, but we assume from the context that a mustard seed must be small, so when it comes to believing things, small is beautiful. That’s how this advice was rendered when I was a Christian.

Nothing like a little false consolation on Sunday morning.

Start talking about mustard seeds and now you’re trying to measure faith. Christians did that all the time. “I don’t have enough faith.” “I need to pray harder.” “I wish I had more faith.” “I need to stop doubting.” Things like that. It’s crazy-making.

One thing is sure:  the buck stops with you. If the thing you want doesn’t happen, you fail. You didn’t believe enough, you’re doubting, etc. etc.

But there is something else you might try….

Schmoozing the Old Man

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13 ESV

“Be sure to use my name when you ask my dad for stuff,” Jesus advises, “he likes that, because he likes to take the credit for what happens.” That advice is why Christians end prayers with “in Jesus’ name, amen.”

But wait… we started with Jesus saying we could tell themountain to move. Now we’re fussing about asking.

Read the fine print, I guess.

One of Jesus’s disciples refined it further:

 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15 ESV

So if we want to be confident – i.e., not doubt – we need to ask “according to his [God’s] will.” As a friend used to say, we need to ride the horse in the direction it’s already going. This is Belifism’s second response when the impossible doesn’t’ happen:

  • The thing you want has to be God’s will.

The impossible we want has to be something God already has in mind, otherwise it’s not going to happen. Even Jesus wasn’t couldn’t get a free pass on this one.

We’ll talk about that next time.

My Wife Thinks I Should Give Up Following Politics

She’s probably right.

It’s not like I’m in a rage about it. I don’t do rage. That’s for the other side. I do despair instead. That’s what my side does — despair over how the USA’s federal government actually works. For example, I never knew that one Senator – ONE SENATOR – could completely shut down a newly elected President’s entire legislative agenda. The entire agenda of a newly elected Presidential administration defeated by one Senator – ONE SENATOR….

I mean, didn’t we just have an election that the newly elected President won? Popular vote:  81,282,916 to 74,223,369. Electoral College vote:  306 to 232. Does that qualify as a win? Only if you voted for the winner. If you voted for the loser, no. If you lost, the other guy didn’t just win, he stole it from you. Talk about a sore loser.

But the fortunately for the sore losers, the newly elected President (the one the rest of us actually think did in fact win) isn’t a sore winner. He and his cronies think that, now that we’ve put Tweet-Whatever-You-Want-As-Long-As-It-Keeps-Stoking-The-Rage behind us, politics can get back to what it was in the good old days, when Democrats and Republicans worked together for the good of the nation and compromise was king (not some  power and… um, other things… grabbing lunatic).

So when exactly was that?

I mean, politics has been politics for a long time – like when Strom Thurmond pulled his epic solo all-nighter filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and a relay team of ramblers kept the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at bay for 60 Senate work days.

Yep, those were the good old days alright.

I’m sure I would have been throwing fits then, too, if I’d been old enough to notice or to care. It’s just that now feels different, like there’s more at stake. It feels like back then people were trying to replace bad stuff with good stuff — you know, like we shouldn’t have separate “Colored” entrances and seating areas and that kind of thing. But now we’ve got half of Americans and their Nutcase-Conspiracy-Theory-Fascist-Christian-Believe-Anything-You-Want-And-Say—Anything-You-Want Party doing their best to dismantle democracy and install their King For Life (or at least 12 more years) right in front of our very eyes, and somehow that doesn’t create any political urgency to get some things done before that can actually happen — which it will if we don’t.

Seems like dinking around with self-congratulatory God Bless America bromides might be missing the moment.

Plus, we’ve got all these… well, um, issues…  that seem pretty big and daunting, and that if we could do something about them we might make the USA into something other than the Capitalist-Militarist-Speak-Loudly-And-Hit-‘Em-With-A-Big-Stick regime it’s become  — you, know, the kinds of issues that currently paralyze the bottom 90%, so that we have only two response options left to us – rage or despair. Plus it seems like if we made some adjustments we could seriously change a lot of things for a lot of people and maybe avoid an inevitable descent into the New Dark Ages, and meanwhile the billionaires could keep enough to be able to feel like nothing fundamentally changed and it would still be okay that Trickle Down never did.….  

There’s a long list of those adjustments that might possibly enable us to take a step back from the edge of the Abyss:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Student loans
  • Economic equality
  • Downward mobility
  • A living wage
  • Affordable housing
  • Infrastructure
  • Accessible internet for all
  • Voting rights
  • Immigration
  • Climate change
  • Mass incarceration
  • Police racial killings
  • Domestic terrorism
  • Gun (mass killings) control
  • Campaign finance
  • The fleecing of the middle class
  • The end of science
  • Runaway defense spending
  • Nationalism/populism
  • Plastics, plastics everywhere
  • The systematic end of parks, public lands, and open spaces
  • Reparations for slavery
  • Reparations to native Americans
  • An end to misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia
  • Gender identity acceptance and kindness
  • A return of public discourse based on intelligence, reason, science, truthfulness, ethics…

And I’m just getting warmed up. That’s only the stuff on the surface. Let’s not even talk about the worldviews and ideologies and belief systems and cultural norms underneath all of that.

“Socialism,” is the one word That-Settles-It-Talk-To-The-Hand response of the Weirdest-Conspiracy-Theory-Ever-By-A-Long-Shot Party. (Well, that and “Trump in 2024” — but that’s three words assuming “2024” counts as a word.)

Meanwhile, the sole plank in their platform is, “Trump at all costs.” Impressively expansive thinkers, those Republicans….

I just never thought we’d be here, that’s all. I have this ridiculously persistent idea that we’re supposed to have a government to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

I just never knew we didn’t.

We already lived through eight years of Obstruction Politics. That should be enough for one lifetime – enough to stomp the hope and change right out of the most Yes-We-Can hearts. At the rate we’re going, the Obstructionist Party — bolstered by all of its friends in the states who are busy passing anti-voter laws — is going to be ramrodding through its own legislation two years from now.

It’s like we should all be happy that the Nutcase Fascist Christian Etc. Man-Who-Would-Be-King-And-Is-Royally-Pissed-He’s Not isn’t officially President anymore. We actually had a few weeks there without the several times a day onslaught of Don’t Bother With The Truth… and people like me were kind of feeling like maybe we could kind of relax a little. But then Marjorie Taylor Greene stepped into the role and now we all know her name and… well, does anyone else think she’s positioning herself as the Nutcase Heir Apparent? If that sounds too pessimistic then, okay, maybe she’s just really and truly that far off the rails. But no matter, people like me definitely can’t relax anymore.

All because one Senator – ONE SENATOR – has taken it upon himself to keep Trump in power by making sure Biden can’t do anything. It would take that one Senator’s vote, together with his 49 Democratic Party Senate colleagues to end the Era-Of-Obstruction-Is-Our-Game- Until-We-Can-End-This-Democracy-Thing-For-Good.

One lousy stinking vote.

Not going to happen.

So never mind the election we just had. And never mind who won or who had it stolen from them. All that relief? All that daring to hope? We dared to feel relief and hope back in 2008. It didn’t get us anywhere then, what were we thinking this time around? I mean, really… what were we thinking?

All that thinking we might get past a federal government and its autocratic leader who thinks it’s really okay to turn the U.S.’s Don’t-Mess-With-Us military against its own citizens, and if you don’t think that’s where the Nutcase Fascist Christian Etc. Party will take us if their King returns triumphantly to the throne… well then, you seriously haven’t been paying attention.

All because one Senator – ONE SENATOR – won’t vote to trash the filibuster – assuming the newly elected President would ever ask his colleagues in the Senate to do it, which he’d rather not. After all, he has a campaign promise to keep, which means we have miles to go before we sleep. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” he promised a crowd of donors back in 2019. Right on, Joe. Looks like you’re going to keep that one.

But the rest of us, we were just kind of hoping, that’s all.…

Beliefism [5]: The “Do the Impossible” Gospel

Reality. Illusion. Delusion. Possible. Impossible. How do you know which is which?

Did that really happen?!

In 1983 David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear in front of a live television audience.

Except he didn’t. The statue was still there, it just looked like it wasn’t.

A magician manipulates our attention – we follow the decoy and miss the trick. An illusionist manipulates our perception – we look right at it but don’t see it. David Copperfield was performing as an illusionist – he didn’t change reality, he changed the audience’s perception of it. They only thought he did something impossible.  

Impossible can’t happen, by definition. The odds against it are infinite. If something impossible happens, the realm of possibility expands to take it in. The thing we declared was impossible wasn’t impossible after all – we only thought it was.

Christianity and self-help share the same “do the impossible” gospel. Can they actually pull it off? Let’s look at the self-help version first.

Self-Help Does the Impossible

Roger Bannister breaking the “impossible” four-minute mile barrier has become a self-help gospel trope. You can find a version of the following just about anywhere — I found it on a job website:

“Bannister broke the psychological barrier that had held back the greatest runners for over a century. Other runners now believed wholeheartedly that it was possible. It is no surprise then that within a few years, several other runners broke the four-minute mile too.

“For the majority of us who will never attempt to break a running record, the four-minute mile represents the limiting beliefs of what we think is possible to achieve in our lives.

“We tend to limit our goals in business, relationships, finance, health and profession within the realm of what society says is possible or impossible. But throughout history, there are a handful of people like Bannister, who break the limits of what’s possible and leave a lasting legacy.

“What makes them different isn’t their talent, skills or resources, but their belief system. They’d rather take the lead, step outside their comfort zone and risk failure, than wait in their comfort zone for permission from others to achieve the impossible.

“Followers wait for leaders to show them what’s possible. Leaders break the barriers of what’s possible.

“Which one will you choose?”

Talk about rewriting history to match your sales pitch….

Raise your hand if you think limiting beliefs and comfort zones and the rest of the self-help mumbo-jumbo was going through anybody’s minds at the time.

Me neither.

Now raise your head if you think all the other runners suddenly “believed wholeheartedly” that they could do it, too.

Me neither.

That was 1954. Roger Bannister was a competitive runner – of course he “would rather take the lead.” Duh. But now, we’ve got the four-minute mile self-help gospel memorized. Want something that feels impossible? The problem is your limiting beliefs. Believe you can have it, then go for it — break out of your comfort zone, take a risk. Ta da! – you did the impossible!

Don’t you wish.

Christianity Does the Impossible

Self-help has deep roots in Christianity – the original believe-the-impossible-into-existence religion. Here’s what Jesus said:

“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV

“All things.” Nothing left out. Carte Blanche . Believe what you want, don’t doubt, and it’s yours. You can move mountainsNothing will be impossible for you.

Raise your hand if you’ve done the impossible that way, or seen it done that way — live and in person, in real space and time.

Me neither. But that didn’t stop me from trying for over two decades.

Reality. Illusion. Delusion.

The idea of doing the impossible plays with our notions of how much “reality” is objective — the thing is really there, whether we think so or not – vs. subjective – the thing is only there because we think it is. If we only think it’s there, we can think it somewhere else. But if it’s really there, well now that’s a different story.

Current neuroscience says it’s both and neither. There’s external (on the other side of our skin) stimuli coming at us, but we don’t have any way to actually find out what’s “out there” because our experience of it is entirely shaped inside the hot, wet biology of our bodies and brains (inside our skin). So people like celebrity neuroscientist Beau Lotto think there’s no such thing as delusion, because everything is an illusion – reality isn’t out there, it’s in here, it’swhat we make up inside ourselves. (Yes, there is such a thing as a celebrity neuroscientist, and yes, that’s what Beau Lotto is. For lots more, check out and his book, TED talks, and Lab of Misfits.)

I get that… I think… sort of… at least the part about internally processing external stimuli. But I still think there’s such a thing as delusion – especially if the topic is doing the impossible – mostly because I’m quite sure I was delusional about it for all those years.

“Then I’ll get on my knees and pray/ we don’t get fooled again!”

I became a Christian as the 1960’s rolled into the 1970’s. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and the Jesus Freaks fit right in. Their Jesus served up counter-cultural radical ideas like turning the other cheek (“all we are saying/ is give peace a chance”) and loving your neighbor (“c’mon people now/smile on your brother/everybody get together/try to love one another right now”). Their Jesus tossed out predatory capitalism and invited us into charity and community and trusting our “Heavenly Father” for food, clothing, and shelter. Their Jesus upended our assumptions about what was true and how the world worked, and taught us to believe the impossible into existence. Their Jesus was always sticking it to the Man and liked to hang out and party with the losers (freaks) of his day. I was 19 and ripe for a way to be a Hippie without being stoned all the time. Of course I joined up.

Eventually I cut my hair and got a real job, but stayed committed to proving that Jesus’s counter-cultural, new truth, do-the-impossible vibe worked in primetime adult life. I wore a suit and tie (!) to work, but still pushed the Jesus Freak agenda to the max, and might still be doing that if I hadn’t gotten lucky and got myself kicked out of the “church renewal movement” I was part of for doing exactly what I’d been taught. (A story I’ve told elsewhere and won’t repeat here.)

On the way out of Christianity, I stumbled into self-help. It lacked Christian ecclesiology, iconography, doctrine, vocabulary, and historical trappings, so for awhile I thought it was some kind of new psychology-based way to successful living – which is precisely what the self-helpers want us to think. But after awhile, it was all too familiar. “God” was often still “God” but more often “the Universe.” The Bible was misquoted in pseudo-Biblical sound bytes. Jesus was mentioned now and then – usually with the lame “good teacher” title —  and sometimes was completely reinvented — like when The Secret declared that he was a millionaire. And on it went. Before long it was clear that self-help was a wannabe substitute religion for Christianity. Its belief dynamics were identical. Like Christianity, it declared that doing the impossible could become the new normal if we just believed. Both religions claimed they could show you how believe effectively enough to get the impossible things you wanted.

As far as I can tell, Plato was the first one to write, “wisdom is what works.” I pushed the “do the impossible” gospel to the point where it finally failed the “wisdom is what works” test so completely I couldn’t make excuses for it anymore.

If that’s not delusion, it’ll do till the real thing comes along.

Now I’m in recovery. I’m done with doing the impossible. That shit is toxic to me now. I can’t go anywhere near it.

Next time, we’ll look at the beliefism source code for both religions.

“Nobody wants to work anymore.” Oh please…

“Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.” — Oscar Wilde

The April jobs numbers are out, they’re lower than forecast, and the Republicans are crying “Socialism!”

“Nobody wants to work anymore.” Somebody who is capable of saying that believes a few essential things: 

  1. “Nobody” – that is, people in general — are lazy, unmotivated, irresponsible, and ignorant. They don’t get it. They don’t get that working at a job is the essential fuel that keeps the USA’s economic fires burning. The USA is nothing without a bull market IPO unicorns free privatize everything social Darwinism free market capitalism on steroids funning at full tilt. In fact, our nation is here on the Earth to carry this torch. We must hold it high. That’s our destiny, our plan, our purpose.
  2. Because people are lazy, unmotivated, and all the rest, we can’t help them out when they’re trying to not starve and not become homeless while surviving a pandemic (um.. “pandemic” means worldwide, like all around the world, the whole planet…) that has killed nearly 600,000 in the USA alone. Even if they needed some help with basic survival, we need to yank the rug out from underneath them in order to fire up our economic engine  — which by now everyone knows isn’t built to help them out, it’s capitalism built to benefit capitalists, Since they won’t do it willingly, we need to force them back into survival, scrambling-to-somehow-make-it mode. That’s when things get done around here.
  3. If we do that, we will build their character. We will make them strong. They will be the rugged individualistic stock that built America. They will sustain this great country into its glorious manifest destiny city on a hill future.
  4. And, I – the speaker — am exempt from all my own accusations. I am above it all, I am of better character than the great unwashed “nobody.” I am justified in arrogantly pronouncing that “nobody wants to work anymore.” I am right and true and noble and visionary when I label any policy “socialism” that would molly-coddle the lousy lazy bastards — without bothering to understand what “socialism” actually is, that it is not in fact synonymous with Communism, that the “free market” is not and has never been free, that tax breaks and pro-monopoly, anti-union, anti-minimum wage, and all the rest are a warped version of socialism in action). Not me. I am better. I am pure. I am on the top of the heap, a member of the club of what all true Americans would be if they would just get a job.
  5. And I – the speaker — can get away with insulting the “people” because they also believe I’m not actually talking about them, I’m not calling them lazy, unmotivated, irresponsible, and ignorant.” They, like me, believe they are also above it all, they are willing to fight for their own survival and they don’t need any stinking help from the government, and that’s the American way. I am my constituents are united in outrage, united in our belief that the problem is Them—the Mexicans and Asians and Moslems and Blacks and anybody else whose skin color isn’t classified as “white” – all those and immigrants and other lowlifes and people from shithole countries who are responsible for all this mess and who believe that there really was (and still is) a pandemic and that getting vaccinated is a good idea.

The April jobs data might have more to tell us than the average brainless if-you-don’t-understand-or-like-it-call-it-socialism Republican is capable of processing.[1] The problem is not that we’re lazy and don’t want to work and therefore need a good swift kick in the butt to get out there and show some character and initiative for a change. The problem is that the Republicans still live in a reality where The Job is everything. The Job is what made American a militarist fascist heartless capitalist powerhouse. The Job is the USA’s gift to mankind. The Job is the cornerstone of civilization.

It never would occur to a true believer in The Job that the great unwashed nobodies aren’t all that excited about working long hours, barely making enough to get by (if that), never having time off, sacrificing family and social life to work-induced zombie-ism. Or that The Job is the lifeless icon of a “free” market that is utterly failing at providing affordable housing, affordable higher education, affordable healthcare, or affordable anything else to the majority of the Americans.

The problem with The Job is that it’s crappy work with crappy hours for crappy pay. The only reason the benefits aren’t also crappy is because there aren’t any benefits. Which is pretty crappy.

The Job sucks. That’s pretty much a guarantee. The Job sucks because the boss probably sucks, and so does the corporation that pays its CEO a gazillion times more than The Job will pay America’s lazy slobs throughout their only-in-your-dreams lifetimes.

The Job sucks because the capitalist free market has been twisted and turned and distorted and warped to the point that capitalism only benefits capitalists. Capitalists don’t make a living at The Job, they make money by having capital – money, lots of money – something people with The Job will never have. And they make lots of money by making sure the lazy slobs of the world have to make a living at The Job. The Job fuels the capitalist engine, and never mind that technology is rapidly making The Job obsolete, so that one day those who work at jobs will become one more non-recyclable waste product loser of competitive zero-sum capitalism. But don’t tell anybody – let ‘em keep believing.

The politicians are good with all that. Let the lazy little fuckers work, don’t they see we’re busy here in Washington making the world safe for capitalism and militarism and totalitarianism? Don’t they see we’re busy making it as hard as possible for people to exercise their last bit of democratic power – the right to vote? People want all this quality of life bullshit – that’s socialism, and it would be the end of America. Socialism gives people stuff to make them happy! That’s as bad as it gets, my friends. Now get back to work. Get off your lazy butt and do your part. Go get The Job.

There never was a Golden Era of The Job. Radio journalist Studs Terkel interviewed hundreds of people for his 1974 book Working. Here are a couple quotes from it:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

“Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.”

The Job hasn’t changed since Working came out. A few years back, a professor named David Graeber got more than 15 minutes of fame from his On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs:  A Work Rant (2013):

“In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”

Why has it become inflammatory to suggest that boring, meaningless work might not be a good thing? Because of the widespread “truths” about work that have become culturally sacred – and not just to Republicans. Another professor, James Livingston, also gave The Job a thorough shredding a few years back in his book No More Work:  Why full employment is a bad idea(2016)::

“Work means everything to us. For centuries–since, say, 1650[2]–we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labor, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve also believed that even if it sucks, the job gives meaning, purpose, and structure to our everyday lives–at any rate we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.”

“Those beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills–unless, of course, you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.”

“[Work] no longer functions as either a moral calendar or an economic calculator. You will learn nothing about character by going to work at the minimum wage because the gangsters or the morons at corporate headquarters control your opportunities; you will learn nothing about the rationality of the market because the same people determine your income.

“When we place our faith in hard work, we’re wishing for the creation of character; but we’re also hoping, or expecting, that the labor market will allocate incomes fairly and rationally. And here’s the rub:  they do not go together. Character can be created on the job only when we can see that there’s an intelligible, justifiable relation between past effort, learned skills, and present reward. When I see that your income is completely out of proportion to your production of real value, or durable goods the rest of us can use and appreciate (and by “durable” I don’t mean just material things0, I begin to doubt that character is a consequence of hard work.

“When I see, for example, that you’re making millions by laundering drug cartel money (HSBC), or pushing bad paper on mutual fund managers (AIG, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, Citibank), or preying on low-income borrowers (Bank of America), or buying votes in Congress (all of the above)–just business as usual on Wall Street–while I’m barely making ends meet from the earnings of my full-time job, I realize that my participation in the labor market is irrational. I know that building my character through work is stupid because crime pays. I might as well become a gangster like you.”

The Job was already in trouble long before our government dared to soften the impact of a vicious pandemic – despite the Republican President and the rest of the Republicans and their supporters protesting — still to this day, after nearly 600,000 USA deaths (geez, people, what does it take??!!) — that it was all a hoax, it would go away if we ignored it, and getting vaccinated is a Commie plot, and as for the pandemic (worldwide) part, who cares about the rest of the shithole world and those pompous-ass European snobs anyway, we got MAGA.

So what happened while people actually got a few hundred dollars a week to save them from starvation and homelessness (yes, things were… and still are… that dire for millions of people), they got enough relief from The Job to see how crappy it really is. Be in a hurry to go back to that crap? Maybe not.

What we’re seeing from the crappy low jobs numbers is that The (Crappy) Job is a dying American institution. Wave the flag all you like, but The (Crappy) Job ain’t coming back. People who can think have been saying that for awhile, but it took a worldwide plague to reveal that to the rest of us (Republicans excluded). Reveal – revelation – is at the heart of what the word “apocalypse” means. The Republicans missed the revelation. American workers had an apocalypse, but the Republicans were too busy ignoring reality to notice. They’re still blind. They still believe in The (Crappy) Job. They’ll never get it. Never. Just like they’ll never get what socialism really means, that it’s not synonymous with Communism, that it does in fact co-exist nicely with private enterprise, and that yes, it thinks “We The People” deserve more from life than The (Crappy) Job.

How can you say, “Nobody wants to work anymore” without gagging on your silver spoon?

I guess they learn that in Republican school.


[1] See, e.g., ‘No one wants to work anymore’: the truth behind this unemployment benefits myth | US unemployment and employment data | The Guardian (May 7, 2021).

[2] 1650 is the year René Descartes died.

Beliefism [Part 4]: Believing is Seeing/ Belief Turns Toxic

Believe your way into a new reality – visualize it, set an intention, create a vision board… soon you’ll manifest it! You’ll get the mansion, the corner suite, the all-inclusive beach vacation! That’s how life works – it’s the law.

So goes the self-help gospel, and guess what? It works. Well sort of. The world does conform to what you believe. You actually do see what you believe. Belief creates worldview, worldview creates reality, and there it is – right in front of you.

Only trouble is, it’s a self-validating loop. You are in fact seeing what you’re believing. And that’s a problem.

Behold Your Algorithm

Belief works like the Algorithm Gods. You shop something online, now it’s all over your feeds. You think, oh come on, that’s so obvious. But algorithms are dumb, they don’t know any better, they just crunch the data. You looked at some ads, you must want to see more, and never mind that you already bought it — algorithms are slow to get to message. Our brains process belief the same way – they’re fleshy lumps of responsiveness. Once you believe something, your brain is on it. Get interested in that car and it’s all you see on the road — it’s the same dynamic, except once you buy it, your brain is quicker to move on.

Join the Club

The Algorithm Gods offer up social media support to keep you focused and happy so you’ll tithe that five-star review. Our brains have been doing the same thing for a long, long time – long before the Algorithm Gods were a gleam in some techie’s eye, since the human race developed language about 150,000 years ago. You tell somebody what you believe, and their brain zips through the dummy algorithm belief thing, and now there’s two of you with neuropathways installed and running the same outlook on life. Then the two of you then share it with a bunch of other somebodies who share it with more, and soon everybody’s brains dutifully line up and you’ve got a group, team, tribe, cult…

When communal belief goes viral, it consolidates, strengthens its grip on all those brains. They share a similar outlook, which creates similar experience, which reinforces similar outlook, and around it goes. All that similar outlook and experience builds institutions, creates cultural norms, myths, and symbols. Now you’ve got law, government, economics, religion, literature, history….

The process is known as emergence:  what starts inside (as belief) takes on external shape; the word becomes flesh and dwells among us until we share worldview and reality. If you don’t see it the way the community does, it’s because you don’t believe. Change what you believe, and you’ll get with the program.

Beliefism 101

I was immersed (baptized – literally) into this communal belief dynamic when I went back to college after becoming a Christian during a gap year. At first I hung out with my old friends in party central, but it  was boring, listening to Led Zeppelin when everybody else was taking hits when the joint went around. So I hung out on my new dorm floor, which was not a party animal zoo, and we got busy doing the non-party things you do at college.

I’d see my new Christian friends at meetings, say hi around campus, sometimes join them for lunch… but before long I got the word:  I needed to be around more. I needed to stay “in fellowship,” needed to sit with the pack at meals, that sort of thing. I was new at the Christian gig, so I complied. I complied so well that pretty soon I’d been selected to be “discipled” by the leadership, so I could help take over and run the fellowship after they graduated.

That was the end of my new friends in my new dorm. My roommate was a nice guy from Iowa, a serious student who’d lived — , mostly as a spectator — in party central where I did the year before my gap year. After I got my calling into campus Christian leadership, I became the Christian Roommate From Hell – never around, always too tired from being up late every night “doing ministry,” nothing to talk about anymore, always doing something weird, apparently too uppity to hang out and do the usual dorm stuff. It never occurred to me to change course – my new Christian life was too important.

Sigh.

Beliefism is the same, no matter the object of belief.

What I experienced was communal belief in action – the power of a shared belief system to control thought and behavior – what I now call “beliefism.” I have since converted back out of Christianity, where I’ve learned that what I experienced back then would have been the same if I had joined a different belief system (such as the campus Communists, which my roommate accused me of doing). Beliefism readily swaps belief in this for belief in that — religion, humanism, capitalism, fascism, extraterrestrials, self-help, past lives, you name it, it’s all the same.

Beliefism also doesn’t distinguish fact from fiction, truth from madness, clarity from delusion. Reason and discernment only enter the frame once beliefism has built its self-referential judgments about what is reality and how things really work – that’s when they get busy codifying what conforms and what doesn’t, what to encourage and promote vs. what to punish or eradicate. They also start keeping a list and naming names of who’s with the program and who isn’t, who belongs and who doesn’t, who’s friend and who’s foe, who’s us and who’s them.

Communal belief and its institutions manage entrances and exits, enforce conformity, and punish dissent, resulting in a special kind of brain shutdown known in other circles as “mind control” as “brain washing” – terms coined in the Korean War and developed in the Cold War, when American fingers pointed at China and the Commies because we’re the good guys and we would never do that! Yes we would. We do it all the time. It’s an everyday, worldwide experience – it’s what happens to the human brain and to human culture when we build individual and cultural identity around beliefs.

Brain Shutdown

Beliefism shuts down nonconforming brain activity. There are some places we just don’t go – they’re out of bounds, they don’t conform. We don’t see them because we don’t believe them. Our mental options are now limited – like what was going on in the mind of the street evangelist I heard once who made a pitch for Creationism. “The universe is way too complicated for me to understand,” went his pitch, “so there must be a God who does.” That was his proof for the existence of God, and for Creationism. He could have understood the complicated universe if he took the time to learn the math and physics, but instead he took the shortcut:  he believed instead of knowing. But then beliefism led him to take another step:  he started knowing what he believed it was The Truth, with two capital T’s. His reality was True; the rest of us unsaved people waiting for buses needed to get clued in.

He wasn’t in possession of all that Truth and Reality, his brain was possessed by it – his brain was running it over the requisite neural pathways, supported by the requisite brain chemicals. That’s why he was certain that he knew something else the rest of us didn’t. Being a decent sort of a guy, since he was now in possession of the Real Reality Forever and Ever Amen, it was worth lugging his amp and microphone to the street corner across from the bus station to tell the rest of us about it. He was there on the street corner to help us out, because part of his pitch was that if we didn’t get it right, we’d all go to hell. But the good news was, all we needed to do was believe what he believed and we’d be good, no problem.

The Path to Toxic Belief

It’s not hard to see how belief’s mind control goes toxic. Beliefism runs in stealth mode:  we see the things we believe and all the doctrines, ideologies, societal structures, institutions, and practices that support it, but we don’t see beliefism at work. Like a friend of mine used to say, “The trouble with blind spots is you can’t see them.” We don’t notice or examine the worldview our beliefs have created, or how that worldview creates and sustains our world. Instead, we see the emergent reality and accept it as The Way Things Are, Forever and Ever Amen. We believe in the things we believe in until we know them. And when we know them, we defend and promote them, we become faithful believers, we become evangelists.

At that point, belief becomes ideology – honored and held sacred to the point where the risk/return matrix gets warped and passionate belief becomes mass delusion and unchecked ambition, where belief’s communal mind-control becomes way too powerful for its own good — a clear and present rolling on, gaining momentum because there’s nothing to check it, no outside reference, no commitment to an external ethical standard, nothing to keep it honest, nothing to validate it except its own good opinion of itself. Belief-as-ideology consolidates its power, crowns itself with its own authority until we’re left with only what is belief-approved – the standard, authorized version.

That’s when belief takes its final shape as fundamentalism and fanaticism, committed to the eradication of its longtime nemesis doubt. Power becomes domination becomes oppression, and belief opposes, bans, shuns, shames, punishes, tortures, and murders doubters and unbelievers. It becomes nationalistic and militaristic, launches campaigns of domestic and international terrorism and genocide. The faithful march off on the Crusades. They seek the purity of the race. They drink the Kool-Aid. They storm the Capitol. They repeat history. They replay the western civilization biograph in the name of the western God. And they call it all “progress.”

And to think it all began as a release of brain feel-good hormones in satisfaction of an evolutionary survival urge to band together and share information. We needed that, all those 150,000 years ago. We still do. Which is why belief still gives usa sense of purpose and meaning and mission, still provides incentives and rewards, still makes us feel inspired and enthusiastic, fired us up to try to do great things.

But now this….

Continued next time.

April Fool and the Easter Scandal

Noel Paul Stookey was the “Paul” of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. They were my musical heroes – I learned to play guitar listening to their vinyl – over and over, groove by groove, wearing out the record, wearing out the needle. After their 1960’s success, Paul went off on his own for awhile to become a Christian. I was doing the same thing at the same time, so he became my Christian musical hero. He did a song called “April Fool.”

“April Fool
You wear your heart on your sleeve
And though they laugh when they leave
You call it Love and I believe (you)
April Fool
Why must you always play the clown?
You have the edge you laid it down
You give it up without a sound…

“Oh April Fool
How can they say ‘love is cruel’?
They catch the ring but drop the jewel.
Like a teardrop in a pool…

“April Fool
As the heart shows through the eyes
Before you were born you were recognized
And unto the losers comes their Prize.

“Oh April Fool
Even as the hands were washed, you knew
We’d free the thief instead of you
April Fool
You said the Father was in You
You said we know not what we do
Forgive us…April Fool.”

It’s an Easter Song, and the “April Fool” is Jesus. It’s also an artistic and accurate restatement of the foundation another Paul – the Apostle – laid for the Christian religion.

Christian belief requires a commitment to foolishness.

You can’t get to God by being worldly wise, Paul wrote in a letter to the fledgling church in Corinth. Instead, you need to get foolish about it.

 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”[1]

When I was a new believer, people said you had to check your mind at the door to be a Christian. We protested, but I see now that they understood something essential – I mean, it’s in the Bible, after all – that we Christians didn’t get:  Christina faith only makes sense once you crosse the foolishness threshold.

Paul’s “foolishness of God” vs. “wisdom of the world” creates an airtight apologetic for Christian belief, in which Christian faith is a closed system of circular, self-reinforcing logic. You can’t get started on the Christian faith unless you leave your old thinking behind. Then, once you cross the foolishness threshold, you need to stay there, otherwise you’ll start to think the old way, which will lead you to doubt. If it looks like you checked your mind at the door, it’s because you did.

The Crux

At the crux (word chosen advisedly) of Christian foolishness is Christianity’s iconic symbol, the crucifix. To your old, “worldly” way of thinking, the cross is abhorrent, disgusting, revolting… one of the most truly horrible, indescribable awful instruments of torture the most despicably horrible and awful worst of human nature has ever designed. Further, the crucifix features a human being with a crown of thorns jammed on his head, being tortured to death on a cross after having been beaten bloody and flogged to tatters. And there’s more:  that human being tortured to death is the “Son of God,” which means that the “Father” in Stookey’s song is the Son of God’s dad.

Just stop there for a minute.

If my dad or your dad did that, they’d put him away for good.

But on the other side of the foolishness threshold, it’s okay for God the Father murder God the Son because they worked it out ahead of time. The whole thing was a reenactment of a scene from thousands of years earlier that involved the patriarchal ancestor of the ancient blood-sacrifice religion that Jesus grew up in. (The ancestor’s name was Abraham, and he is the “father” of the three “Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.) All those thousands of years ago, Abraham actually almost did it, he almost murdered his own son (Isaac) out of obedience to that angry blood-lusty God (nobody called God a “Father” back then), but God let him off by providing a lamb stuck in a nearby bush for Abraham to slaughter instead. Therefore, at the crucifixion, Jesus was playing the role of the “lamb of God” — the human sacrifice that finally set the whole Abraham-Isaac thing to right.

“Unto the losers comes their prize.”

Trouble is, God’s gift of salvation through the lamb of God came as a big surprise to us – an April Fool. Sin made us a bunch of “losers” who didn’t recognize our “prize” for what it was. As a result, we protested our innocence, which made us as bad as Pontius Pilate, ceremoniously washing his hands, trying to claim he wasn’t responsible for the crucifixion that the mob demanded. (“Even as the hands were washed, you knew/We’d free the thief instead of you.”)

That seems to be the problem with sin:  our perspective is so warped by it that we don’t even know it’s a problem. Countless theologians have spent countless centuries filling countless volumes in countless libraries trying to explain what sin is and why we’re guilty of it, but the bottom line for most of us is that we never have quite understood what we did that was so awful – kind of like the time I was playing in the backyard and my mom came roaring out and smacked my behind because my sister told her I broke a vase inside the house.

“Forgive us…April Fool”

But, understand sin or not, we’re guilty of it, which means we (not God) are responsible for Jesus dying. Even though we weren’t there, we’re what the law calls “vicariously liable” –guilty by proxy. None of us knew that we were guilty or what we were guilty of, which makes it hard to follow the proper procedure of asking forgiveness, but God had that covered, too:  Jesus asked his murdering father to forgave us since he knew we didn’t know what we were doing. (“You said we know not what we do.”) God, on the other hand, knew exactly what He was doing, but since God was… well, God… He got off, too.

Got all that?

I did, when I was Christian, I had it down cold, all the details, the permutations, the rationalizations. I bought it all. I owned it, it owned me. Now I look at it and I wonder, Do any of us actually pay the slightest bit of attention to the things we believe? By now, you know the answer:  we do, but what we see when we pay attention depends on which side of the foolishness threshold we’re on.

I’m obviously writing from my current outlook on the pre-crossing side of the foolishness threshold. From here, the “foolishness of God” is foolish indeed — as mind-numbingly convoluted and fantastical as any of the nutcase conspiracy theories currently making the rounds.  The crucifixion was “the wisdom of God” when I was a Christian, now it’s a “stumbling block.” The Greek word used in the Bible text that’s translated “stumbling block”  is “skandalon” – scandal. The cross is scandalous to my worldly outlook —  a thing monumentally ugly and awful — all that blood, all that death, all that vicious punishment for a mystery infraction.

But the scandal doesn’t stop there. There’s one last piece.

Love is Cruel

The culmination of the Easter story is that the whole horrible thing is actually the greatest form of love. “For God so loved the world,” says John 3:16, “that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight… God’s love is a bloody, horrifying human sacrifice to keep Him from wiping out the human race.

Seriously.

The only way you can believe something so totally outrageous if you’ve crossed the foolishness threshold., You have to check your mind at the door.

“How can they say ‘love is cruel’?” Well, Paul, because if that is love, then love is as cruel as it gets.

Foolishness for the Foolish

Paul the Apostle adds one last piece to his apologetic:  the foolishness of God is especially designed for foolish of the world – the people he calls the “low and despised in the world.” Paul the folksinger calls them “losers.”

“ For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

No liberal elite in God’s Kingdom. It’s time for the “low and despised” and the “losers” to have their moment.

When I was a Christian, we used to brag about being “fools for Christ.” We were proud of it; we rallied around our outcast status. There’s something strangely prideful and empowering about identifying with a crowd that struts its outcast stuff. I know what that feels like — I lived it for 25 years. Which is why – I hate to admit it — I know what it felt like for the “Proud Boys” and alt-right “Deplorables” who stormed the Capitol with prayers, crosses, and shouts of Jesus. Their over-the-foolish threshold minds really truly believed that they were, in that moment, the foolish wisdom of God in action, God’s fools ready to tear down the reign of the worldly-wise elites and bring God’s Kingdom to the USA and from here to the rest of the world.

It was their highest moment, the best day of their lives.

Seriously..

The Legacy of Foolishness

Belief on the other side of the foolishness threshold is why an estimated 2.5 Billion people – roughly one-third of the Earth’s population – will parade the crucifix once again this Easter, and recite once again the mind-numbing assertion that this is what God’s love looks like. Some of them will be “powerful” and “of noble birth”  – elites saved in spite of themselves. Others will be the “low and despised” and the “losers” for whom God’s foolish wisdom was intended. And all of them will perpetuate millennia of war and brutality in the name of the Abrahamic God.

In the year 1651, Thomas Hobbes described the human condition in his work Leviathan. His description is still shockingly applicable today:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Hobbes’ solution is that we need human government and societal institutions to keep us from regressing into our nasty human instincts. Great idea, but when those institutions are backed up by Western civilization, which in turn is backed up by Biblical worldview and its institutionalized brutality sanctioned by a blood-lusty authoritarian ruler (God, represented by his “Anointed One” here on Earth), with a mob of thugs at his disposal who truly, honestly believe they’re in their finest moment, what are we going to get? We’re going to get the 21st Century, when life is still “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” It’s still that way because human beings and their institutions are still that way. Our Western Biblical worldview reigns on the other side of the foolishness threshold, and as long as it does, we will keep fooling ourselves into our own entrapment, and every Easter we will continue to celebrate what we’re doing.

“You call it Love and I believe (you)…”

“April Fool.”


[1] Bible passages in this article are from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 ESV.)

Beliefism [Part 3]: Evangelists on the Rebound/ Belief is Biological

Evangelists on the Rebound

Life without God offered plenty of substitutes:  self-help and its academic sibling positive psychology, “New Thought” churches that tried to make a science out of religion; Age of Enlightenment intellectuals, rationalists, humanists, skeptics who were determined to purge our thinking of nonsense, materialists who think “the meat thinks,” and an assortment of New Agers, vortex-finders, shamans, psychics, dietary supplement pushers, energy healers, kinesthesiologists, life coaches, “alternative healers,” magical thinkers, and miscellaneous gurus. They were a free-for-all of mixed motives and monetization strategies — confident, happy, friendly, an doften rich , And unlike me — the Christian evangelist failure — they  had no problem evangelizing like crazy. Part of that was a sign of the times — evangelizing was trendy back then, corporations were in the first wave of creating job descriptions like “brand evangelist,” which meant a salesperson on a higher plane –credentialed, trustworthy, cool.

Plus there was all this God-talk. In my Christian days we were careful about too much God-talk, lest we scare off the lost/unchurched. These Christianity substitutes didn’t have that problem. They were religions claiming they weren’t religions because they didn’t use religious vocabulary  — xcept for the ubiquitous “God,” which eventually morphed into “the Universe.” Free of old religion language meant they were free to carry on like that good ol’ time religion – for example the atheist group that met on Sunday mornings for music, teaching, and fellowship. Seriously.

One of the more fascinating new religions was atheism. I was just starting to suspect I’d become one of them when I discovered the “new atheists” and their “four horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett). I thought this will be great, these new atheists will help me with my new atheism. I sampled a couple of Sam Harris’s books, and they were ferociously evangelistic. They and the other atheists, humanists, rationalists, and skeptics I came across always seemed to be looking for a fight  – they were out to convert you. (One exception:  Christopher Hitchens and his book Mortality. I read it twice, and we’ll talk more aboutthat topic another time.)

I suppose it was like being on the rebound – having just left one broken faith relationship, it was tempting to bounce into another, but for me the temptation wasn’t hard to resist. I wasn’t ready, all that similarity made me wary. So I kept my foot on the brake, watched, studied, took notes. After a few years, I started to see that the issue wasn’t God vs. non-God, religion vs. non-religion, it was believing in the first place. Like Christianity, these new religious substitutes all started with things you couldn’t know, you could only believe (or not). The whole structure grew from there.

I was seeing Beliefism in action. As I said last time,

Beliefism is about the dynamics of belief –what happens to us individually and when we believe things in groups.

Belief always works the same way, regardless of the thing believed.

Beliefism 101:  Belief is Biological

If there’s anything we need to understand about belief, it’s that belief is all in your head. The phrase usually comes with an eye roll:  you’re out of touch, delusional. Strip out the accusation and the more precise version is, “At this moment, your brain is creating different beliefs about reality than what my brain and the other brains in our cultural context are creating.” Belief is both individual and communal, and it happens in our heads.

Belief is biological. We believe with our brains.. Our brains are cells, tissues, differentiated regions, pathways, circuits, hormones…. That’s where beliefs, ideas, dreams, visions, things we imagine, causes we support, ideals we embrace come from. They’re all biology in action.

We weren’t taught that; we don’t think that way. Instead, we think beliefs come from an alternate reality – Someplace Other that’s not made of the same cosmic stuff we are. Beliefs aren’t grungy like the here and now, they’re elegant and aloof, enduringly above the rabble. They have classy names like Mystery, Eternity, Heaven, Somewhere Else, Up There, The Other Side of the Veil. Beliefs give us Spirit and Past Lives and The Universe, the Eternal Soul, God and gods, Angels and Archangels. (Devil and Demons, too, which you’d think we could do without, but not so fast – the bad guys have their own useful purpose.)

If we’re going to have there and here, them and us, we need passageways and communication links. Trips back and forth (round trip for supernatural beings, one-way for humans) are invested with special solemnity, fear and reverence, and communications come with special zest and fervency – they’re not just more spam, they’re revelation, awakening, inspiration, conversion, flashes of brilliance and insight, dramatic impact. We’re taking Moses and the Ten Commandments, the voice from Heaven, the disembodied fingers writing “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” on the wall.

All those connections engage and empower us, connect us to Truth and Higher Power. They line us up with all the meaning and purpose that all the supernatural beings and ancestors and wise ones who live in that invisible realm of spirit, soul, truth, celestial glory and power are a position to offer us – all of them “up there” who “look down on us” and care enough to magically set things in motion to teach us a lesson or even give us a hand now and then. We want all that, and we’ll go to great lengths to get ourselves properly aligned to keep the channels open.

All for the sake of something that happens in our brains. All that transcendent, invisible, spiritual, mysterious realm that accompanies us through life exists in the spongy stuff inside our heads. Belief in God is generated by the same biology that distinguishes a tree from a toadstool.

Belief is biological.

Got that?

We need to get that.

We almost never do.

There’s a piece of lab equipment they call “the God helmet.” The lab tech puts it on you and zaps a certain area in your brain (the same area that’s responsible for epileptic seizures), and you have a religious experience. They tested it on a group of nuns. Their response was, “Isn’t it wonderful that God put a receptor in our brains so we can communicate with him!” Science can create religious experience, but nobody – scientist or not – can prove or disprove God or anything else that exists in the realm of belief. You can only believe it or not, and when you do, you bring it into existence. You become the belief’s God, it’s creator and lord. So, brain-zapping lab tech or not, if you want to believe it’s God making your religious ecstasy happen, you’re going to believe ii.

Most people like it that way. Too much “it’s all in your head” makes us feel small. We’d rather follow the grand tradition of dressing up the Other and what it has to say with poetry, and writing it in a book:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:  8-9

And then, having said that, we fill up the book with God’s thoughts, having just said we’re not capable of knowing them.

Anybody else see a problem with that?

How can we do that? Easy:  God and God’s thoughts both exist in our brains. They sit in there not far from each other, with highspeed wiring linking them together. Belief makes the trip from “I can’t do this” to “I can do this” in a nanosecond.

Belief becomes Beliefism when it grows up. We’ll talk more about it next time.

Congress and the President: 2021 Explained

Want to know why…

  • The covid relief payment went from $2,000 immediately to $1,400 taking forever?
  • Plus it’s also going to be income limited?
  • Along with lowered unemployment benefits?

And why…

  • Raising the minimum wage never had a prayer?
  • Neither does free universal health care?
  • Same for student loan “forgiveness.” (Forgive? Did we do something wrong, taking out student loans, that we need to be forgiven?)

Or why…

  • Two Democratic Senators have decided to strut their stuff by joining the TNDP (Trump Nationalist Fascist Party — formerly the Republicans) in stonewalling the Biden Administration?
  • Bombs got dropped on Syria in what has to be the most pointless, blatant act of militaristic bullying ever?

Or why…

  • The Biden Administration is otherwise making a great start on a note-perfect cover of the demoralizing fall from hope and change to politics as usual in the Obama years?

Have I left anything out? If so, add it now. Don’t be shy — we’re on a roll here — the explanation will cover them, too. Okay, how about why…

  • Reparations for slavery and racism will never, ever, ever see the light of day?
  • Same with reparations for the genocide of American’s indigenous inhabitants?
  • And same with the U.S. policy of incarcerating people who dare try to move to the “Land of the Free,” along with locking up their kids?

Why all those things?

Because the job of the United States government is not to do nice things for its people.

What fools we were to think otherwise. We’ve known better since we first learned to pledge allegiance to the flag in grade school. But we forgot, so now we have to learn all over again.

Why would a $15 minimum wage be a good idea? Because the people working for minimum wage would make more money.

Why would universal health care be a good idea? Because it would be good for people’s health.

We could go on, but let’s not bother. That’s not what government is for. At least not ours, not here in the USA.

So that’s the why re: all those things listed above. Why not is also important: 

Because it would be bad for us if the government did nice things for us.

A government can’t go around willy-nilly doing things that make its citizens happier and make their lives better. It would be bad for our moral character. Civilization would end. Progress would stop marching.

Says who? Says the people we elect to run the government. Something else we learned in grade school is that we the people are too dumb to know what’s good for us, so we need to elect people who are smarter and know better to run the country for us — people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the rest of the TNFP and their two honorary Democrat members, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. (I almost called them “Democratic” members, but you can’t use that word because it’s too much like “Democracy,” which is a bad word in the TNFP. Words like “president for life” are much nicer.) But let’s not be too hard on them, because bipartisan compromise is the American way, and never mind that “bipartisan” has become “bipolar” and that “compromise” means the Democrats caving in — this time, courtesy of two Senators with a case of TNFP envy.

All those smarter, better than the rest of us people know, for example, that capitalism is for capitalists, and if you’re not part of the tippy top that controls all the world’s wealth then you’d better suck it up and get a job. And if that job includes being one of the people working for minimum wage who’ve been keeping the country going for the past year, then you ought to be happy you’ve at least got a job, And don’t get to uppity about the unemployed people, because we’re going to stick it to them, too — we give all those suckers more money, we’re sunk as a country. Before you know it, we’ll be taxing the rich who get richer while the poor get poorer. And then we’ll be cutting our defense budget in half, and never mind that we would still spend more on better ways to bomb Syria than any other country in the world.

All those smarter than us people also know that if you want to get the college education that’s required to hold one of those minimum wage jobs it sure as hell better not be a freebie, because if they make it too easy on you then by God that’s socialism, which is this absolute worse thing that could ever happen. Bettter to take out massive loans from the government itself (the government obviously has a sweet deal) that you’ll never be able to pay off.

They also know that it’s good to be role models for the rest of us morally corrupt dummies as to how we, too, can be controlled by the most moronic conspiracy theories ever devised (which is saying a lot, lot, lot) and believing in the kind of Christian Nationalism that explains why America gets to trample on human rights and commit war crimes as its leads the civilized free world in the march of progress to the Heavenly City.

This is the 21st Century, isn’t it?

Just checking.

All those smarter than the rest of us people also know that it’s good to incessantly rev up all the not as smart as they are people they pretend to love until the only outlet they’ll have for all that frustration and rage will be to storm the capitol and brag about how much they love Jesus. Let ’em have their moment, then we’ll throw ’em in jail.

No, the minimum wage thing is not a matter of what’s good economic policy and what’s not. Go ahead, do the research: whether raising or lowering the minimum wage is good or bad for the economy is inconclusive. Hurt of harm? Depends who you ask — what they’ll tell you depends on who’s side they’re on. Then what’s the minimum wage thing about? C’mon class, we just went over this: it’s about how people in Washington are smarter than the rest of us about how much poor people should get paid. And we sure as hell aren’t going to pay them more just to help them out. Just think how bad things could get.

Why would canceling student debt  be a good idea? Um, because it would be good to relieve aspiring people who want to learn things and make a contribution and get ahead in life from the despair and financial impossibility of a punishing debt load? Just an idea….

And why would it be good not to bomb people in Syria just to let them know that the USA is the baddest war-mongering ass around?

Do you really need to ask?

As for why we probably won’t whine too much about having our post-election euphoria dashed on the rocks of four years of Obama-style disenchantment — well, at least it’s not four more years of the other guy. “Blue no matter who” might be lame, but it’s way better than the alternative.

So let’s review: Improving the lives of the country’s citizens — that’s not what government is for. It would be bad for our moral character, an affront to freedom, and would generally undermine all those smarter-than-the-rest-of-us people we keep electing.

And thank their Imperialist God that we do, because can you imagine what else we might want to do in the name of making our lives better if we were left to our own devices?

Beliefism [Part 2]: Evangelicals and Evangelizing

Believers had a double duty:  to be evangelical (believe the right stuff) and to evangelize (tell everybody about it – also known as “witnessing”). The first part came naturally — I was a good student,. The second part, not so much. Of all the things I ever did as a Christian, witnessing was hands-down the most awkward and humiliating. I was a total witnessing failure from the get-go. That was a problem because if you were in love with Jesus you’d want to tell everybody, wouldn’t you? (Well, um, no, not really. I mean, my wife and I, we just sort of… dated. Which means I spent a lot of years wondering if I really loved Jesus after all.)

Witnessing

Early on, I met some Baptists for whom witnessing was their highest and best good. That’s how they fulfilled the “Great Commission” — where it says in the Bible we’re supposed to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. I was still wondering if it was okay to smoke marijuana now that I was born again when they pushed a stack of “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts into my hand and said, “There’s a Billy Graham movie in town next week. You can be a counselor.” (Apparently if you’re a newbie it strengthens your faith if you start witnessing right away.)

My job as a counselor was to execute the basic Billy Graham evangelistic closing strategy. The movie would end with an “altar call” – an invitation to “go forward” and “give your life to Christ.” A few of the counselors would go forward right away (one at a time, so it didn’t look preplanned), so it looked like they were answering the call, and then crowd psychology would kick in and make it easier for other people to join them. Then the counselors would work the crowd and share the Four Spiritual Laws with the sinners so they would “come to Jesus.”

One night the only person who went forward was one of the counselors. He stood there alone for a long, awkward time before the lights finally went up. I thought about joining him like I was supposed to, but I went with some of my “unbeliever” friends and… well, I just didn’t feel like it. I have a vague memory of going forward and “sharing the gospel” only once, talking to a guy while his girlfriend looked on, and never closing the deal. Like I said — a total witnessing failure.

The Surprise Exit Strategy

As it turned out, being a witnessing failure turned out to be my exit strategy.

Evangelizing wasn’t optional — everybody needed to pitch in to help save the lost because for one thing the Second Coming wouldn’t happen until we finished the job, and besides you were a total loser if you didn’t. Nobody wanted to talk about it, but a lot of us were witnessing failures, so we looked for approaches that didn’t involve cold calling or the Four Spiritual Laws.

The last nondenominational denomination I belonged to was founded by a former L.A. music producer named John Wimber who looked just like Jerry Garcia. He got “saved hard” and figured out how to start a church for ex-Jesus Freaks who’d tried to grow up and get real jobs but missed that 1960’s vibe. He called it Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which became “the Vineyard” (which was confusing, because there was a wine shop by that name) and it went viral (before “viral” existed) in the 80’s. It started as a “church renewal,” but that didn’t last long – people got tired of trying to renew a church that already had to live through the 70’s and really wasn’t in the mood for more of that, so Wimber and the Vineyard settled on“church planting” as its Great Commission fulfillment strategy.

Church planting meant putting together a good soft-rock band, funny sermons, recovery groups, food banks, “newly single” Bible studies, and generally being hip and young and trendy and cool enough to draw a crowd to your converted freshly painted former warehouse with an awesome sound system. Plus, we weren’t trying to save the lost, we were trying to make it cool for the “unchurched” – a more clinical, managerial term – to come to church. Same dif but hey, words matter.

“Church planter” was the highest level of cred in the Vineyard, so of course I had to be one. I bailed on my career, sold our house, loaded the family into the minivan, and followed the moving van 1500 miles to plant a new church for the unchurched. My wife starting crying before we left the Denver city limits, and kept it up all across Kansas. If ever there was a sign from God for how my church planting mission was going to go, that was it.

Turned out I was a victim of my own success:  I was good enough at drawing an unchurched crowd that I got blacklisted for “sheep stealing.” The problem was that they weren’t all unchurched — some of them came over from the sponsoring church, and the pastor was pissed that I was “sheep stealing.” Never mind that Wimber’s official church planting policy was don’t worry about that, they don’t belong to anybody, they’re all God’s sheep. (Christians like to talk about how people are like sheep. It’s a Bible thing – the book was written when counting sheep was like counting money.) Official church planting policy or not, sheep stealing still got me kicked out, and that’s what got things rolling on eventually getting me all the way out.

Once I was out, the good news was, I didn’t need to evangelize anymore. The bad news was, my life was ruined. But the truth was, I was the one who had ruined it by believing what I believed. I’d been playing by the believer rules, but they’re set up so the house always wins — you’ll never get it right and when you don’t it’s always all your fault. (Duh – that’s what “sin” is all about, right? Note to self:  maybe you’re free to believe what you like, but there are consequences if you act on what you believe – as some of the mob that stormed the Capitol found out when they went home and got a knock on the door and it wasn’t Jesus standing on the other side.)

Faith on the Rebound

Between life with God and life without God, I ran across lots of church substitutes:  self-help, positive psychology, “New Thought” churches, intellectuals. rationalists, humanists, skeptics, and materialists; and an assortment of New Agers, vortex-finders, shamans, psychics, dietary supplement pushers, energy healers, kinesthesiologists, life coaches, “alternative” healers, and miscellaneous gurus. They were a free-for-all of mixed motives and monetization strategies, and they all evangelized like crazy – plus there was more God-talk than in my Christian days. (We were always careful about too much God-talk, lest it scare the lost and unchurched away.)

The most obnoxious evangelists were the “four horsemen” of the “new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. I thought this will be great, they’ll help me with my new atheism,, but I only made it partway through a couple of their books. (One exception:  Christopher Hitchens’ book Mortality, which I read all the way through twice. We’ll talk more about its theme later on in this series.) The same was true of the other atheist offerings I came across –associations, conventions, websites, books, webinars, video series, TV specials, interviews. It was always the same menu:  arguments for and against God and why life without God was better. Like you could argue God and a better life in or out of existence.

From what I could tell, the whole mixed up crowd of Christianity substitutes was a lot of people on the rebound — rushing from one broken faith relationship to another. They were religions claiming they weren’t religions because they had a different vocabulary – like one atheist group I came across that met on Sunday mornings for music, teaching, fellowship…. Seriously.

The issue wasn’t God, it was the believing part.

In time, it became clear that the issue wasn’t God vs. non-God, it was believing in the first place. Belief always works the same way, regardless of the thing believed. Years of wandering through the land of religion substitutes and studying how they worked revealed they all shared the same dynamics, which I’ve come to call beliefism.

Beliefism is about the dynamics of belief –what happens to us individually and when we believe things in groups.

More next time.

Beliefism [Part 1]: The Accidental Atheist

Seeing the Light

I didn’t mean to become an atheist. It just sort of happened until one day I checked the “none” box and made it official. No ceremony, just a realization. “Atheist” wasn’t an option for “religious preference” – “none” is less dramatic than “do you consider yourself to be one of the faithless, the godless, the terminally backslidden?” Well yes, as a matter of fact  I do, but that doesn’t mean I dash from cover to cover to evade the Heavenly Zot Finger. In fact, being an atheist isn’t at all like I once thought it would be.

Then and Now

I went to church when I was a kid because everybody went to church when I was a kid. After a year of Hippie wannabe partying my first year of college, I became a Jesus Freak, then a Pentecostal, a charismatic, an evangelical before there was such a thing, a fundamentalist although nobody would admit that’s what we were, plus I booked time in “nondenominational” churches and “parachurches,” and along the way hung out with Baptists, Catholics, Episcopals, and Lutherans. A journeyman Christian, we’ll call it.

The Redemption Story

All those versions of Christianity pretty much believed the same things, plus each had its own points of doctrinal purity that justified producing under its own label. Mostly, we preferred just “Christian” –our way of signaling don’t worry, we’re not sectarian here, we’re in the sweet spot, right down the middle, no other adjectives needed. The basic story was pretty much the same everywhere.

  • The human race enjoyed a utopian past when life was good.
  • But then we blew it. We “fell.”
  • In our defense, we had help – the Devil made us do it. But still it’s all our fault we’re so screwed up.
  • Before we get blasted by the heavenly zot finger for being terminally incompetent at life, we get a knock on the door of our “heart” (not the one that pumps blood, but the one that chokes you up when you get emotional). If we answer the knock, Jesus is standing there with an invitation back to the Garden. We’d love to go, but we can’t get there, not in our current condition.
  • So we’re going to need help. We need God to forgive us for falling, and we need a Savior to handle the necessary arrangements. That’s Jesus, too.
  • Once Jesus gets things fixed up with God, all is forgiven and we get citizenship in God’s Kingdom. People today who’ve never had a king in charge before think having a king is just the greatest thing.
  • Plus, everybody in the Kingdom is related, so we’ve got all this new family we never knew we had, with God himself presiding fatherly-like at the head of the table. There are definitely benefits to showing up for family gatherings and remembering birthdays.
  • Having a king means we’re subjects and servants – which people today who’ve never had a king also think is just the best thing – which includes being conscripted into the King’s army, which means we’re always marching off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before. Since our new King is more powerful than any human pretenders, that means we get to totally waste everybody who’s not part of us, because if you’re not with us you’re against us, and if you’re against us you lose. We have God on our side, after all.
  • So we go along through life and if things go as promised (they never seem to) life is better than it would have been if we’d never answered the knock (which by now seems a long time ago), except that part of the deal is that we need to suffer and be persecuted and if we’re lucky we might even get martyred. (You don’t get free grace for nothing.)
  • What keeps us going through all those trials and tribulations is that one great day (which is always going to happen any minute now and never does, but we need to live on the alert in case it does) we’ll have it really good forever and ever amen.
  • If you die before that day comes and you believe all the right things, you get the pre-opening move-in special to Heaven, unless you’re a Catholic, in which case you might need to wait in a giant waiting room for awhile.
  • Meanwhile the heavenly zot finger has been charging up all this time for one good last blast. Some branches of the family think we’ll get a free pass out before that happens and everybody else will be Left Behind where they’ll get a taste of what hell is like before they get there for good. Other branches aren’t really sure the world is going to blow up quite that way, even though we could do the job ourselves with nukes or climate change.
  • One way or another, when you get to your own end, it could be anything from “no worries, it’s all good” to “this is really going to hurt.”

Okay, so maybe that was a little snarky.

But it is a fair summary of what I heard and learned and personally believed for over two irretrievable decades of my life. Snarky gets old fast, and I don’t want to make it a habit, but it has its place. The pen is not always mightier than the sword, but irony and sarcasm can put things into useful relief. I go back to snarky now and then, like I did above, when I want to remember what it felt like to look around and wonder, did I really believe that? Looking at it now, it seems so complicated. convoluted, contradictory. Snarky is the voice of anger, and we need anger to tackle big challenges — like refashioning an outlook on life .that’s different from what you’ve been believing and practicing for a long time.

Snarky gains traction by fueling inner outrage. For me, that involved being willing to admit that I had some not so nice and friendly feelings about where I’d come from.

  • Regret and resentment about what my God days cost me.
  • Disgust about what the Bible actually says, and dismay that I never noticed.
  • A revulsion reflex that kicks in whenever I see Christian symbols or see Christians doing Christian things or speaking or writing Christianese. (My wife is a Jesus fan. She says I’ve developed an anaphylactic reaction.)

Regret, resentment, disgust, and revulsion keep me alert to the reality that there are consequences to what I believe. Feelings like that weren’t welcome during my Christian years. You weren’t supposed to feel that way – you needed to forgive and be forgiven, put it behind you, be grateful that you were reconciled to an angry God who had every right to punish you for that original Adam and Eve transgression.

Emerging from the Christian faith is hard.

But it’s harder to resist the dawn.

Impossible, really.

“It suddenly dawned on me,” we say. Dawn has its sudden moment when the sun finally crests the horizon, but it’s been coming long before — gradually, inexorably. From the first hints of light, it’s going to happen, and no holding it back.

“I saw the light!” Christians sing, describing lightbulb flash conversion– like the Apostle Paul getting blasted off his horse with a heavenly light and a voice from heaven. People who had “testimonies” like that had special status in the Christian groups I was part of – you were cooler if you got “saved hard,” as one Christian leader liked to say. So you would make the fish a little bigger and little harder to catch every time you told your own fish story. I did that — most of us did — like my AA friend who said his group liked to tell “I got so drunk one time that…” stories.

By contrast, getting unsaved wasn’t like that. No light bulbs, no heavenly light, no getting saved hard.

Just the dawn.

“I’m afraid to ask for it.”

I did an art giveaway for the holidays – 33 paintings and drawings out the door. Nice. Someone had commented about one of them – “I don’t even like orange, but I like this!” I thought she would ask for it – when she didn’t I sent her a message. “I’d really like to have it,” she replied, “but I’m afraid to ask for it.” So I sent it to her.

“I’m afraid to ask for it.”

What if you weren’t?

 “Oh, I couldn’t.”

What if you could?

Where do we get that from? What would be so bad about asking for it? What if we could?

I hear the Republicans rail against anything that might… you know, be something that would be um, nice to have…. I watch them smack the label “socialism” on things with a triumphant smirk, like, “There! That settles it! Look at me — I just won! I’m so good! None of that Commie bullshit around here! No lazy handout welfare queen get a job food stamps crap on my carpet!”

What’s with that? Would it really be all that bad to have stuff? I mean stuff like…

Free universal healthcare. Wow. What if the first thing that comes to mind when you think maybe you should get that checked out isn’t, “What’s that going to cost? Will insurance will cover it? Have I met my deductible yet?” What if you could just, you know, just kind of go get it checked out? How bad could that be?

Free education. Omigod the sky is falling! No, but seriously… what if you could get the best education in the world and didn’t have to be in debt forever and never be able to make the monthly payments on it for the rest of your life? What if you could get the degree for the job you want, and if you change your mind or something else redirects your life at some point you could go back to school and do something different? You know, make higher education free and lifetime education. And how about we cancel all existing student debt while we’re at it?

Would any of that really be all that bad?

What’s with us, in this country? We want everything to be up to us. Every individual better be rugged. Everything weget better be something we by God earned.Like it’s not good enough to just be a citizen of These United States.You gottta be able to stand on your own. Government is evil, remember?

Okay, so you’re too proud for a handout – could you live with maybe just some economic equality? A playing field that’s actually level? A return of the notion of upward mobility? The possibility of a better life?

What would be so wrong with that?

Minimum wage of $15. Fifteen dollars!!! That means somebody working full time could actually make enough to about get up to the national poverty standard. Whoop-dee-doo!  The people having problems with fifteen stinking bucks an hour have expense accounts that shell out more than that much to buy a lobbyist a drink.

And since we’re talking about wages, how about the ability to make enough so that you’re not always just barely getting by, living paycheck to paycheck, and you could actually make enough to put something in savings now and then or even – gasp!! – take a vacation more than once in a lifetime?

And speaking of vacations, what’s with the national must-have of a week off after you’ve been there a year? And then you won’t take it anyway, because we’re all too busy realizing our manifest destiny.

Don’t tell me we can’t afford it. I learned to add and subtract in grade school. So did you. It’s not that hard.

I mean, does the USA really need to spend more on defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the U.K., and Japan…  combined?[1] We spend three times more than China and ten times more than our other closest “competitor.” How safe do we need to be? And are we, actually? What about some of that money to, let’s say hire back the medical personnel who lost their jobs during a pandemic? Or to pay teachers a living wage?

And really, how much of a multi-billionaire does anyone really need to be? And what about those mega-corporations who have more invested in a square inch of world headquarters than you and I and all our friends and families will ever see in our combined lifetimes? And what if we don’t hero-worship microwave high-tech entrepreneurs, and sponsor corporate stock buy-backs that make the rich richer?

Do you suppose it might be okay to ask some of those folks to contribute?

Is there any chance hyper-competitive, privatize-everything, monetize-your-life, gig-economy-side-hustle, zero-sum capitalism could survive the stress?

Just asking….

And now that we’re getting warmed up our afraid to ask list, how about

  • Affordable housing?
  • Streets, roads, bridges, and ports that don’t look like a lot of that war glorification money got spent on target practice?
  • A really cool public transportations system that’s safe, clean, and ridiculously on time. What if we even had trains – like those crazy fast ones that run on air or magnets or whatever?
  • And how about really nice and well-maintained public toilets?

Okay, okay… we probably reached the stage of total delusion. But since we’re there, how about:

  • An end of extreme nationalism
  • The USA’s embrace of international law and accountability
  • A worldwide climate change strategy
  • Clean oceans
  • A renewed commitment to parks, public lands, and open spaces
  • Free universal internet
  • Reparations for slavery
  • Reparations to native Americans
  • And end to misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia
  • Gender identity acceptance and kindness
  • Immigrants and refugees welcomed and embraced

Let’s just go for the whole stack…

  • A return of public discourse based on intelligence, reason, science, truthfulness, ethics…
  • And how about an end to reality TV and instead we have something like style and taste and decency and…

Okay dreamer boy, sit down before you hurt yourself.

Sigh.

What if all these things were part of what it means to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”?[2]

What country is this country, anyway?

What if the “public good” wasn’t a bad word? (Okay, two words….)

What if everything that would be nice to have wasn’t unAmerican and a sign of bad moral character and general wimpyness?

What if everything that would be nice to have wasn’t… wait for it… socialism?

What if we weren’t afraid to ask for it?

What if we could?


[1] Axios

[2] Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

The Case For Covid Accountability (Or Not)

I read an article yesterday asking why America doesn’t prosecute Trump for his handling (nonhandling) of the pandemic. We all know what he did and didn’t do, and that that the USA is the world Covid leader, with deaths stalking the half million mark.[1] We also know that Americans move on. It’s what we do — it’s the American way. But that’s not why we wouldn’t try to hold Trump accountable. The truth is, even it we wanted to, we can’t – our law prevents it.

If we were talking about you or me, what are the options for holding us accountable? You read people saying Trump meant for all those people to die, to cull vulnerable populations. If you or I did that, our intent to do that would make it murder or manslaughter.

But he didn’t have to mean it, he could have just been incompetent, like being unqualified for the job. Or he could have actually believed his own fake truth don’t worry this will take its course and be over before you know it, hey look at me I had it and it wasn’t so bad, and besides it’s all China’s fault. Or gee, I was busy golfing that day and my mind was somewhere else. In other words, he could have just been negligent instead of intentional. And again, if that were you or me, we’d be in deep doo-doo.

Here’s a sample of how the law defines criminal negligence, which is the worst kind of negligence there is and therefore is the hardest to prove:

“To be guilty of criminally negligent homicide, the defendant must fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur, and the risk must be of such a nature that the defendant’s failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care.”[2]

What do you think of those key phrases?

  • “The defendant must fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur.”
  • “And the risk must be of such a nature that the defendant’s failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care.”

Do you think a “reasonable person” have noticed that death was “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” of ignoring a pandemic? Would a reasonable person’s “standard of care” suggest that it might have been a good idea to try to prevent disaster if you were in a position to do so? Seems reasonable. (And BTW, “reasonable” in this context doesn’t refer to what reasonableness-impaired nutcases think is reasonable. Instead it means what a… well, um, let’s say a more um, normal person – like one who’s capable of empathy — might think.)

The standard of care that applies when people throw around the word “negligence” is for lawyers to argue about, but at the very least, does a gut-level response suggest that there might be something unreasonable and uncaring about ignoring a plague?

Sure, yeah, okay, well maybe. But “gross” negligence means something special under the law. Gross negligence is not just your everyday plain vanilla run-of-the-mill inattentiveness – not just oh-gosh-I-guess-I-wasn’t-paying-attention-I’m-so-forgetful-sometimes negligence. Gross negligence is really trying to be incompetent negligence – it’s talk to the hand, can’t you see I’m busy here negligence.

Gross negligence, normal negligence… really trying to be blind when anybody who’s breathing would have noticed things weren’t going to go well if you just ignored the whole thing and hoped it would go away… none of those kinds of negligence make any difference. Turns out that Presidents get to be as negligent as they want.

Yes, that is gross. But it’s also the law.

And something else that doesn’t  matter is whether what Trump did or didn’t do actually caused those deaths. Like standard of care, causation is something else for lawyers to argue about – that’s what law school is for, to teach lawyers how to do that. Okay fine. But for Presidents, ignoring a plague to the point where hundreds of thousands of citizens in a country you’re supposed to be in charge of die unnecessarily, well that’s just fine. And the rest of us can just go ahead and assume all the very worst things possible and Trump still gets a get out of jail free card.

Why?

Because under U.S. federal and state law, a President can do no wrong.

Let’s take a moment for that to sink in.

Now one more time with felling: Under U.S. federal and state law, a President can do no wrong.

And it’s not just the President, it’s everybody else who’s a — what’s that phrase? oh yeah, “public servant” – none of them can do wrong either. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert… all of those public servants…  none of them can do wrong.

Seriously. That’s what our law says.

I still remember the moment when I was sitting in a law school class learning about this. “Government needs to be free to govern,” my law professor explained. Okay, got it. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. We hold people accountable, nobody’s going to want to do it. Better give them unlimited Mulligans than not have them in Washington working hard on our behalf.

The legal doctrine is “sovereign immunity.” It’s part of American law because when we started our country we brought English common law with us, because it was easier to do that than start from scratch. And English common law said “the king can do no wrong.”

“Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine whereby a sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune to civil suit or criminal prosecution.”[3]

“Sovereign immunity finds its origins in English common law and the king’s position at the ‘apex of the feudal pyramid.’ In that pyramid, lords could not be sued in their own courts, ‘not because of any formal conception or obsolete theory, but on the logical and practical ground that there can be no legal right as against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends.’ Thus, lords could only be sued in the courts of their superiors, but, for the king, ‘there was no higher court in which he could be sued.’” [4]

“The theory of the divine right of kings lent support to the proposition that the king was above the law-that he was in fact the law-giver appointed by God, and therefore could not be subjected to the indignity of suit by his subjects…. [Sir William Blackstone, author of the famous Blackstone Law Dictionary, said that] ‘Besides the attribute of sovereignty, the law also ascribes to the king in his political capacity absolute perfection… The king… is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong: he can never mean to do an improper thing: in him is no folly or weakness.’”[5]

Nice to know that our legal system is doing its part to keep the feudal pyramid intact.

Nice to know that the king in his political capacity is absolutely perfect.

Nice to know the President is, too.

And can we talk for a  moment about “divine right”? The Divine Right of Kings was a favorite doctrine of the first King James of England –King James as in the King James version of the Bible.[6] It makes sense that somebody who has a Bible translation named after him would know about Divine Right. Export Divine Right to this side of the Pond, and now you’ve got Presidents and members of Congress and the whole scurvy bunch getting to act like they’re the King of England:  incapable of doing wrong, incapable of even thinking wrong or meaning to do something improper, because in them is no folly or weakness.

Hmmm, sounds just like Trump and his cronies.

And can we also talk about the Bible that says God has made “him [that, is mankind] a little lower than the angels” and “crowned him with glory and honor” and “has given him dominion over the works of your hands,” and “put all things under his feet.”  Psalm 8: 4-6 (There’s a reason why Biblical language is male-biased:  God Himself is a him – “a man of war” to be exact. Exodus 15:3) That’s the Bible that says, God has made him “A little lower than angels.” All disrespect intended, that’s a lie. The way it works is that God is way up there, the rest of use are way down here, and the ones a little lower than the angels are the people in government. Angels, when they’re not dancing on the heads of pins, get to be Death Angels and destroy people and things. The President and his enablers get to do likewise. The rest of us? Only in your dreams, pal – as the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol are learning.

No wonder people want to be rich and powerful:  you get the adult version of a permanent hall pass. Turn a virus loose? No problem. Wage endless wars? You got it. Sic SS troops on Black Lives Matter protestors? Rock on, baby. You can get away with stuff now. Don’t like the service? Buy the place and fire the manager. No more nagging internal voice that says be careful what you say and do. God bless the child’s that’s got his own”[7] – that’s you, my friend, now get out there and sing “I did it my way”[8] all the way to the bank.

If we were honest, when the adults ask us what we want to be when we grow up, we’d all answer “I want to be God.” The more timid might wonder if they can be God without having the whole world in their hand, but they don’t need to worry, the best part of being God is nobody can put you on their naughty and nice list. You can theoretically have the whole world in your hands, but what you do or don’t do with it is all up to you.

And don’t tell me that the Man at the top of the cosmic pecking order has an internal moral compass that makes Him be nice and just and truthful, that sure He has His moments (like ordering genocide and authorizing rights of rape for his troops) but his love really is everlasting and his mercy really does endure forever.

Sorry, but I’ve read that book many times, and I know better.

True, the government can waive its own sovereign immunity,[9] and believe it or not that has actually happened before:  “The federal government did this when it passed the Federal Tort Claims Act, which waived federal immunity for numerous types of torts claims.”[10]

What do you suppose are the odds it could happen again, this time around?

Yeah, me neither.

So the reason why Americans aren’t suing Trump over Covid is not because we’re acting like Americans and letting bygones be bygones and calling for unity so we don’t slow down the march of progress that is our manifest destiny, it’s because we can’t. And we can’t because the Bible tells us so.

So the real culprit isn’t the Bible’s God, it’s the Bible, and in particular it’s the Bible’s worldview that thousands of years later still dominates our thinking about how life works, still undergirds our country, still explains why “Amazing Grace” gets sung at Inaugural festivities as a patriotic hymn like of course it belongs there, it’s part of what it means to be American.

Hey, hierarchies with God at the top are nice sometimes. They make the cosmos seem orderly, they give life meaning and purpose. They clean up the mess, make it so we don’t have to deal with being so damn… human… all the time.

I mean, screaming into the void does get old.

And just think what it would be like to actually have to think through a way to make sense of the messiness of human government in a way that would hold accountable people like former (praise be to the Autocratic God at the top of the pyramid!) President Trump – not to mention what that would mean for Republicans and the Christian Right and everyone else who might in the absence of King James Law be considered morally, ethically, and legally accountable for half a million deaths.

Yeah, that would be tough, all of that out-of-the-Bible-box creative thinking it would take to come up with something like that.  

Just like it would be tough to figure out whether a reasonable person might take a deadly plague seriously.


[1] Coronavirus Update (Live): 98,049,817 Cases and 2,098,153 Deaths from COVID-19 Virus Pandemic – Worldometer (worldometers.info). Some people think the U.S. performance isn’t so bad if you measure it per capita:  Mortality Analyses – Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (jhu.edu). Great. Explain that to somebody’s friends and family.

[2] CO 18-3-305. Criminally negligent homicide – Law of Self Defense

[3] Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity. See also Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity in the United States.

[4] McCann, Miles, “State Sovereign Immunity,” National Association of Attorneys General, NAGTRI Journal Volume 2, Number 4. Although the article is technically about state – vs. federal — sovereign immunity, the quoted text applies to both.  See also the following quote from this monograph from the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York based firm with a reputation for its commitment to diversity”  “At its core, the doctrine of sovereign immunity stands for the proposition that the government cannot be sued without its consent – that is, ‘the King can do no wrong.’ Sovereign immunity is simple in concept but nuanced in application.”.

[5] Pugh, George W., “Historical Approach to the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity.” Louisiana Law Review Volume 13, Number 3 (March 1953).. Citations omitted.

[6] Owlcation

[7] Billie Holiday – YouTube.

[8] Frank Sinatra – YouTube.

[9] McCann, Miles, “State Sovereign Immunity” and Wikipedia on Sovereign Immunity in the United States

[10] Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute.

Blueprint for Fascism Part 5

This series has been looking at fascism’s Biblical worldview and narrative. Last time, at the close of Part 4, I said we would look next at “Christianity’s claim that God and His genocidal directives don’t apply to New Testament religion.” On reflection, that topic is irrelevant to this series, so I’m going to wrap up without it.

I was showing my age. When I was part of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity, there was an assumed theodicy that the New Testament God had somehow superseded the Old – He was kinder and gentler, and so was the gospel. (“Theodicy means vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil.” Wikipedia) I was shown the door out of that world over 20 years ago. It took most of those years for me to get re-situated until I could say, “Hey, would you look at that – I’m an atheist now!” In the meantime, the world I left behind changed to the point where it no longer needed its kinder, gentler God and kinder, gentler gospel.

The churches I’d been associated with were only peripherally related to the rising new Christian Right, although in hindsight I can see that we were less peripheral than we wanted to think. The shift was already underway by the time I got out – it was a product of the times, moving in sync with the USA’s economic, political, and cultural shift. Under the new militant nationalist regime, the old theodicy was unnecessary.

I didn’t see this happening while it was going on around me. I think most of us didn’t. I’ve only become aware of it because about 4-5 years ago I realized that I didn’t know how life works any more, and started reading and writing to try to catch up. Because I was detached from the church, my worldview hadn’t moved with the times. I was on the outside looking in. I had become part of the new fascism’s Other and didn’t even know it.

As I tried to understand the brave new world I was now living in, I made the faulty assumption (one of many) that the Christianity I once knew was still the same, and therefore I couldn’t understand how it had suddenly rallied behind Trump and the Republicans and their new American fascism. Turns out there was nothing sudden about it, and the Christianity I’d left behind wasn’t the one that had done the rallying. But I didn’t notice, and that’s why I was about to write this Part 5 on a topic that wasn’t relevant.

Instead of doing that, I’ll end this series by referring you to an article I read just this weekend by someone I follow on Medium who has been paying attention: Dear Christians: We Need to Talk, by Manny Otiko Medium (Jan. 15, 2021). In addition, if you’re interested in generally learning more about the rise of the Christian Right, here’s a list of short histories told from a variety of viewpoints:

Christian right – Wikipedia.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right – POLITICO Magazine

Movements | Religious Right | Timeline | The Association of Religion Data Archives (thearda.com)

The Christian Right, The Twentieth Century, Divining America: Religion in American History, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center

Religion and Right-Wing Politics: How Evangelicals Reshaped Elections – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 4

Fascism at War

Part 3 of this series looked at how fascism uses gaslighting, cult indoctrination, and patriotic nationalism to install the Biblical/Fascist Narrative as the country’s new normal. The narrative mandates war against Them – those fingered for the nation’s fall from grace, defined racially, ethnically, nationally, politically, and otherwise. In this Part 4, we’ll see that fascism at war is domestic and international terrorism.[1]

Legalized Crime

War is legalized crime:  it legalizes what is culturally unacceptable and morally abhorrent. It returns humanity to a state of raw survival, where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[2]

“War… preys on our most primal and savage impulses. It allows us to do what peacetime society forbids or restrains us from doing:  It allows us to kill.”[3]

International Law

International law imposes limits on war’s legalized criminality.

“’We have had a system of international governance since World War II that reflects the ascendance of a set of commitments to individual rights and protections rooted in the U.N. system…,’ says [Jeremy Weinstein, a political science professor and director of the Stanford global studies division], who served as deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2015.” [4]

International law is grounded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[5] and is backed up by criminal enforcement in the International Criminal Court[6]. These structures were put in place in 2002 via The Rome Statute, a treaty negotiated under U.N. auspices. The Rome Statute established four types of international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The ink was barely dry when the United States announced its non-compliance with the treaty.

“One month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) officially came into existence on July 1, 2002, the President signed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA), which limits U.S. government support and assistance to the ICC; curtails certain military assistance to many countries that have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the ICC; regulates U.S. participation in United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping missions commenced after July 1, 2003; and, most controversially among European allies, authorizes the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release” of certain U.S. and allied persons who may be detained or tried by the ICC.”[7]

India, Indonesia, and China have also rejected these international law standards.

“As of January 2019, 123 states are members of the Court. Other states that have not become parties to the Rome Statute include India, Indonesia, and China. On May 6th, 2002, the United States, in a position shared with Israel and Sudan, having previously signed the Rome Statute formally withdrew its signature and indicated that it did not intend to ratify the agreement.”[8]

Fascism at War

Fascism at war adheres to the Biblical-Fascist Narrative. [9]

Altered Narrative/Altered Reality. “The myth of war creates a new, artificial reality. Moral precepts — ones we have spent a lifetime learning — are jettisoned. We accept, if not condone, the maiming and killing of other as the regrettable cost of war. We operate under a new moral code…. I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug… It is peddled by mythmakers — historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state — all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess:  excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. it dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over.”

Victimhood of Us at the hands of Them.  “The cultivation of victimhood is essential fodder for any conflict. It is studiously crafted by the state. All cultural life is directed to broadcast the injustices carried out against us. Cultural life soon becomes little more that the drivel of agitprop. The message that the nation is good, the cause just, and the war noble is pounded into the heads of citizens in everything from late-night talk shows to morning news programs to films and popular novels. The nation is soon thrown into a trance from which it does not awake until the conflict ends. In parts of the world where the conflict remains unresolved, the trance can last for generations.”

They must be destroyed. “War is not a uniform experience or event … war usually demands, by its very logic, the disabling of the enemy, often broadly defined to include civilians… While we venerate and mourn our own dead we are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us little, while those who kill our own are seen as having crawled out of the deepest recesses of the earth, lacking our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead. They are not the same. Our dead matter, theirs do not.”

Nationalism.  “Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalistic cause that exalts us, the kind that war alone is able to deliver. It reduces and at times erases the society of individual consciousness. We abandon individual responsibility for a shared, unquestioned communal enterprise, however morally dubious…. There is little that logic or fact or truth can do to alter the experience. Moreover, once this crusade is embraced by the nation, the myth predetermines how the world is perceived. It is only after the myth implodes, often as suddenly as it descended, that one can again question the motives and the actions of the state.”

Religious Sanction.  “Armed movements seek divine sanction and the messianic certitude of absolute truth. They do not need to get this from religions, as we usually think of religion, but a type of religion:  Patriotism provides the blessing. Soldiers want at least the consolation of knowing that they risk being blown up by land mines for a greater glory, for a New World. Dimensions, questioning of purpose, the exposure of war crimes carried out by those fighting on our behalf are dangerous to such beliefs. Dissidents who challenge the goodness of our cause, who question the gods of war, who pull back the curtains to expose the lie are usually silenced or ignored…. Once we sign on for war’s crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder.”

“The Lord is a man of war”

In Biblical Fascism, God is a totalitarian ruler and unaccountable sovereign, free to wage war if, when, and how He sees fit. The Bible identifies God this way:  “The Lord is a man of war.” (Exodus 15: 3) And God is not just a “man of war,” but a terrorist:

“The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,”
Exodus 15:  14-16

God’s “Anointed” – the one who leads his chosen nation – is similarly above human legal, moral, and ethical accountability. God backs up His Anointed and uses his chosen nation as his “hammer and weapon of war,” to impose his will on the non-chosen. He does so with derision and contempt.

“You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms; with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider; with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer; with you I break in pieces man and woman; with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth; with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman; with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock; with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team; with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.” Jeremiah 51:20-26 

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:1-12

God expects the same ruthlessness from his nation:

“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” Jeremiah 48:10

Little wonder, then, that the best way to deal with God is to be afraid of Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10.

Holy War

Israel went to war, Islam went to war, Christianity went to war — against each other and amongst themselves. They still do. For God’s people, every war is holy war — God is always on your side, your cause is always just. The Church, steeped in centuries of holy wars and pogroms, supported Mussolini in his day, just as the Christian Right supports Trump and the Republicans today. Same God, same Bible, same worldview, same cause, same justification.

Genocide

When God sends his nation to war, the object is genocide.

“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)”. Exodus 34:11-14

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.” Deuteronomy 7:1-26

“And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.” Deuteronomy 7:16 

“You shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” Deuteronomy 13:15 

“You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.” Deuteronomy 12:1-32 

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded,” Deuteronomy 20:16-17 

“And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.” Deuteronomy 2:34 

“And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder.” Deuteronomy 3:4-6

“The people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” Joshua 6:20-21 

“Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai.” Joshua 8:22-25

“Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” Joshua 10:40 

“Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.” Judges 21:10-12 

“And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.” Judges 20:48 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:2-3 

“And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” 2 Kings 19:35 

“And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.’” 1 Kings 18:36-40 

“And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul, but that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.” 2 Chronicles 15:12-13

“Go up against the land of Merathaim, and against the inhabitants of Pekod. Kill, and devote them to destruction, declares the Lord, and do all that I have commanded you. The noise of battle is in the land, and great destruction!” Jeremiah 50:21-22 

Sometimes, instead of killing everyone, Israel’s soldiers were authorized to capture and rape the women survivors.

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” Numbers 31:17-18 

“This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction. And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan”. Judges 21:10-12 E

Sometimes, God’s hostility was turned against His own people.

“And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” Exodus 32:27-28 

“Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” Numbers 21:6-35 

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’” Numbers 25:4 

“Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.” Isaiah 13:16 

“And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.” Zechariah 13:3

“Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more.” Hosea 9:11-16 

“Then the Lord said to me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’ I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 15:1-4 

“I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go. And I will fill its mountains with the slain. On your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those slain with the sword shall fall. I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 35:7-9 

“And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, ‘Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.’ So they went out and struck in the city.” Ezekiel 9:5-7

“Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children”. Isaiah 13:15-18 

“Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open”. Hosea 13:16 

“Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers, lest they rise and  possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.” Isaiah 14:21 

This endless onslaught of holy venom represents more than an historical account of a brutal, savage, ancient nation and its brutal, savage, ancient God. They also display the state of mind fascists and theirsupporters once they are fully immersed in and indoctrinated into the Biblical-Fascist Narrative.

Next time, we’ll look at Christianity’s claim that God and His genocidal directives don’t apply to New Testament religion.


[1] The Rome Statute, Articles 6 and 8

[2] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

[3] Hedges, Chris,War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).

[4] Patton, Jill, An Existential Moment for Democracy? As American leadership falters, scholars say, autocrats are on the rise, Stanford Magazine (December 2019)

[5]The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[6] The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

[7] U.S. Policy Regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC), Congressional Research Service (July 9, 2002 – August 29, 2006) 

[8] Wikipedia –the United States and the International Criminal Court.

[9] All quotations in this section are from Hedges, op cit.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 3

I used to wonder how the Cristian Right could so unblinkingly support Donald Trump and the Republicans – a question made more puzzling when former Secretary of State Madeline Albright labeled what we were witnessing as “fascism.”[1] Recently an answer presented itself:  the Christian Right supports Trump because they, the Republicans, and Donald Trump all share the same Biblical worldview, which is fascist in nature.

Worldview shapes individual and collective reality around a shared narrative that explains life, defines what is true and what isn’t, tells us what’s really going on, what we need to think and do in order to survive and thrive. Biblical and fascist narratives are a match, as follows:

  • A utopian past when life was good;
  • A fall from grace – a turning away instigated by the evil Them;
  • An awakened nostalgic and righteous yearning to restore lost utopia;
  • The need for a beneficent intervention – salvation – to get back to the good life;
  • The arrival of a savior whose charisma commands a following;
  • The emergence of the congregation of the faithful – a chosen population of aggrieved victims transformed into the superior Us;
  • War and final judgment meted out on Them;
  • The Golden Age of the victorious chosen ones.[2]

Politics makes the Biblical/Fascist Narrative normative in secular culture. It explains fascism as practiced 100 years ago by Mussolini and as carried on today by Trump and the Republicans. Mussolini’s version of fascism was “clerical fascism” – so-called because of its endorsement from Catholic clergy. Trump’s version of fascism is the theocratic political agenda of the Christian Right.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series looked at The Biblical/Fascist Narrative and fascism’s signature characteristics and practices for carrying it out, the circumstances in which fascism is likely to arise, and how fascism responds with extreme nationalism, totalitarian rule, the promotion of violence, and “unthinkable” assaults on law, democracy, and human rights. This Part 3 looks at how fascism carries out its first and essential task:  evangelizing its narrative to the point of cultural acceptance.

Elevating Subconscious Worldview to Conscious Narrative

Biblical worldview is deeply embedded in western thought, culture, politics, and history. Like any worldview, it operates behind the scenes, promoting its narrative through subconscious assumptions, perceptions, and biases. Fascism elevates Biblical narrative into the conscious awareness of the electorate, makes it normative for media coverage and commentary, and from there stokes it into obsession. Fascists make Biblical worldview newsworthy and sensational, invest it with power and significance until it becomes a populist rallying cry for God’s plan for the nation, including the nation’s deliverance from the threat of political infidels. The result is a default new normal that stokes survival-level fear spurred on by wildly fantastical conspiracy theories and channeled into hatred of the nation’s enemies – those most easily identified by civil rights criteria such as race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual preference, plus the free press, professionals, educators, the educated and intelligent, those with affinity for science and rationalism and objective reality.

The process follows the pattern of religious conversion. The nation’s citizens must be awakened to their plight and motivated to remedy it. The nation’s enemies have done this, but the government and its citizens have allowed it. They must be awakened and convicted, must believe, repent, amend their ways, and band together against their foes. They must become zealous for the Truth, arm themselves, enlist as soldiers marching off to war for the nation’s true destiny, and their own.

Fascism transports its converts to a populist and nationalist safe haven in the midst of too much change too fast, too much globalism and disruptive innovation, too much political correctness, too much of the elites telling them what they should think and do and believe and care about. They are free now. No one can tell them what to do. They see the state of the nation and their own lives for what they truly are. And now they’re part of something that is going to fix things, make their country and their lives great again. They belong. They have a new sense of meaning and a cause to live and die for. They can realize their highest calling. They can live purpose-driven lives.

The congregation of the committed organizes in service to their savior – the one who enlightens and informs them, tells them when to rally and when to stand down and stand by, the one who keeps the froth of outrage whipped to a frenzy of delusional thinking. Biblical-Fascist Narrative hones its followers to a keen edge of fear, outrage, and terror, feeds them a steady diet of righteous indignation, mobilizes them into marauding mobs.

Fascism achieves all of this through recognized, studied, predictable forms of mind control. Chief among them are “gaslighting,” cult indoctrination, and militant patriotism.

Gaslighting

The term “gaslighting” has been around for years, but the Trump years brought it into the vernacular.

“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. 

“In my book Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free  I detail how gaslighters typically use the following techniques:  

1. They tell blatant lies.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

4. They wear you down over time.

5. Their actions do not match their words.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you. 

7. They know confusion weakens people. 

8. They project.

9. They try to align people against you.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.”[3]

Cult Indoctrination

Cult indoctrination is an extreme form of religious conversion.Like gaslighting, ithas also become an active topic for psychological and psychiatric attention.[4]

“The cover of The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Controlsets the mood with President Trump’s last name as well as the ubiquitous red baseball hat worn by his supporters, embossed with the word “cult” in the center. Some psychiatrists may wonder if this book is breaking the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) “Goldwater Rule” (GR),[5] Rest assured, it is not.

“First, author Steven Hassan is not a psychiatrist and this ethical principle applies only to psychiatrists who are members of the APA. Secondly, and subtitle aside, the focus is on cults and how people become attached to them, with President Trump as a crucially considered example.

“The part of the book that focuses on cult followers is just what we need now. Certainly, there has been more than enough speculation on President Trump’s mental state by the public, media, some psychiatrists, and many other mental health care professionals. Less emphasis has been put on what psychologically drives people to follow President Trump, vote for him, and-for better or worse-stay so strongly attached. Whether or not there is really a ‘Cult of Trump’ is debatable, even after you read the persuasive arguments made in this book. At the very least, using the knowledge now available on cults is a helpful way to understand our national political scene and, as far as I can tell, does not violate the GR by focusing on the psychology of his followers.

“Unfortunately, psychiatrists as a whole, after a flurry of interest in cults in the 1970s and 1980s and culminating in 1992 with the Group for the Advancement (GAP) book, Leaders and Followers: A Psychiatric Perspective on Religious Cults, seem to have lost interest in the subject. But cults are still prominent. The author claims that there are at least 5000 destructive cults in the US, and they can range from two people to several thousands.

“According to the author, cults can be religious, political, sexual, educational, or psychotherapeutic in nature. If so, we have probably had members in mental health care, but it is hard to determine whether a patient is in a cult due to indoctrination. Therefore, it is crucial to look at control of thoughts and behaviors. Though the author never suggests this, the book led me to wonder if a slight case can be made that the GR holds such control. Indeed, why is an ethical principle like this a ‘rule’ rather than a guideline? In other words, why is it not called and conceived as what I would call the ‘Goldwater Guidelines,’ allowing more freedom of thought and speech for psychiatrists?

“All cults have something in common. They strip away freedom of thought and realign ideas with those of the leader. The author discusses his original way of conceptualizing cults, called the BITE model-the acronym for controlled Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion. Even more revelatory was his discussion of how hypnotic techniques such as repetition, subliminal messages, programming amnesia, and even guided meditation can be so effective in swaying followers.”[6]

Steven Harran, the cult specialist who wrote The Cult of Trump,[7] uses a BITE model to detail authoritarian mind control techniques.[8] His book details how Trump uses the BITE method to convert and control his followers.

Militant Nationalism

Fascism’s rise to power mirrors how nations justify war through heightened patriotism.

Biblical worldview includes the prohibition ,“Thou shalt not kill,” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17). This prohibition applies generally to human society, but an exception allows God’s people to go to war. That exception derives from God Himself, whom the Bible describes as a “man of war.” (Exodus 15: 3) In that identity, God can and does kill and direct His followers to do the same. To justify the mayhem and brutality, the nation’s patriotic causes become sacred, and secular life is anointed with the requisite elements of religious culture:  dogmas and orthodox language; rites of initiation and passage; songs, symbols, metaphors, and icons; laws and customs to honor heroes, demonize foes, discipline skeptics, and punish nonbelievers. Thus fascism’s war against Them becomes holy war.

“War celebrates only power — and we come to believe in wartime that it is the only real form of power. It preys on our most primal and savage impulses. It allows us to do what peacetime society forbids or restrains us from doing:  It allows us to kill.

“Because we in modern society have walked away from institutions that stand outside the state to find moral guidance and spiritual direction, we turn to the state in times of war… We believe in the nobility and self-sacrifice demanded by war… We discover in the communal struggle, the shared sense of meaning and purpose, a cause. War fills our spiritual void.” [9]

War requires a cause to rally around, and the Biblical-Fascist Narrative provides it.

“It is hard, maybe impossible, to fight a war if the cause is viewed as bankrupt. The sanctity of the cause is crucial to the war effort.

“The cause is built on the backs of victims, portrayed always as innocent. Indeed, most conflicts are ignited with martyrs, whether real or created.”[10]

The Biblical-Fascist Narrative provides the requisite cause, plus new vocabulary, beliefs, and customs for expressing it:

“War finds its meaning in death…. The cause, sanctified by the dead, cannot be questioned without dishonoring those who gave up their lives. We become enmeshed in the imposed language.

“There is a constant act of remembering and honoring the fallen during war. These ceremonies sanctify the cause.

“The adoption of the cause means adoption of the language of the cause.

“The state spends tremendous time protecting, explaining, and promoting the cause. And some of the most important cheerleaders of the cause are the reporters. This is true in nearly every war. During the Gulf War, as in the weeks after the September attacks, communities gathered for vigils and worship services. The enterprise of the state became imbued with a religious aura. We, even those in the press, spoke in the collective.

“The official jargon obscures the game of war — the hunters and the hunted. We accept terms imposed on us by the state — for example, the “war on terror” — and these terms set the narrow parameters by which we are able to think and discuss.” [11]

Dissent has no place in the culture of war – to disagree is to join the enemy. The nation’s institutions and citizens are expected to speak the language of war, which frames and limits public discourse. Exaltation of the nation, faith in the cause, conformity to the language of war, and honoring of the dead make doubt and dissent damnable:

“When we speak within the confines of this language we give up our linguistic capacity to question and make moral choices.

“The cause is unassailable, wrapped in the mystery reserved for the divine. Those who attempt to expose the fabrications and to unwrap the contradictions of the cause are left isolated and reviled.

“The state and the institutions of state become, for many, the center of worship in wartime. To expose the holes in the myth is to court excommunication.

“When any contradiction is raised or there is a sense that the cause is not just in an absolute sense, the doubts are attacked as apostasy.” [12]

Crimes Against Humanity

Once the Biblical-Fascist Narrative has fully emerged as the nation’s new normal, fascism is empowered to pursue its agenda of purifying the nation by eliminating its enemies, which it does by means codified in international law as crimes against humanity:

1.. For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder;

(b) Extermination;

(c) Enslavement;

(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f) Torture;

(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;

(j) The crime of apartheid;

(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:

(a) “Attack directed against any civilian population” means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack;

(b) “Extermination” includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population;

(c) “Enslavement” means the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children;

(d) “Deportation or forcible transfer of population” means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law;

(e) “Torture” means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;

(f) “Forced pregnancy” means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy;

(g) “Persecution” means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;

(h) “The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime;

(i) “Enforced disappearance of persons” means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.[13]

War Crimes

Fascism’s war against Them begins at home — fascist supporters pitted against their fellow citizens. Fascism’s civil war is carried out by crimes against humanity. When fascism confronts its enemies internationally, it does so in like fashion – through war crimes.

We’ll look at war crimes under the Biblical-Fascist Narrative next time.


[1] Madeleine Albright: “The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). See also Madeline Albright Warms of a New Fascism, The New Yorker (Apr. 24, 2018).

[2] Wikipedia – Fascism

[3] Sarkis, Stephanie, 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting, Psychology Today (Jan. 22, 2017).

[4] See Collins, Glenn, The Psychology Of The Cult Experience, The New York Times (Mar. 15, 1982).; also Dittmann, Melissa, Cults of hatred:  Panelists at a convention session on hatred asked APA to form a task force to investigate mind control among destructive cults, American Psychological Association (November 2002, Vol 33, No. 10)

[5] Wikipedia – Goldwater Rule”  “The Goldwater rule is Section 7 in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics,[1] which states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person, and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss their mental health in public statements.[2] It is named after former US Senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

[6] The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control | Psychiatric Times Psychiatric Times book review (Jan. 9, 2020). Hassan, Steven, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control (2019)

[7] Hassan, Steven, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control (2019)

[8] Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, Freedom of Mind Resource Center.

[9] Hedges, Chris, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Rome Statute, Article 7.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 2

In this series, we’re looking at fascism’s Biblical roots. Last time, Part 1 distinguished worldview from ideology and began a list of fascism’s defining features. Let’s continue with the list.

Us vs. Them — Racism

Fascism thrives on identifying Us vs. Them. They look, talk, and act differently, follow different customs, traditions, and holidays, listen to different music and express themselves in different art forms. They are usually foreigners, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ[1] crowd, artists, intellectuals, and anybody else who’s not with you and is therefore against you. People of a different race are particularly easy to pick out of the not welcome crowd.

“American fascism… is a clear derivative of centuries of supremacy, slavery, and segregation. That old America never went anywhere, it seems — it was just hibernating. And now it’s back with a vengeance, seeking to reinstate something very much like the America it used to be. So where Islamic fascism is theofascism, American fascism is something subtly different: I’d call it proto-fascism.

“That means something like: ‘fascism before fascism’ or ‘the original fascism.’ I say that because the Nazis in fact both admired and studied America’s supremacist institutions — from Jim Crow to slavery to the elimination of personhood — and modeled their own new society after America’s lost one. So if America is reverting back to an older form of social organization, where whites lived above everyone else, where once they literally owned everyone else — who were the first fascists of all, the Nazis…or the Founding Fathers?

“I know that Americans won’t like to hear that. So go ahead and pick holes in it if you can. I have thought about it intently, and I have to concede, as much as I admire America, this logic appears to be immovable to me. Hence, I think what’s emerging in America is proto-fascism — the original variant, when settlers arrived on the shores of a Promised Land — and decided that it belonged only to them as masters and lords, hence everyone else already there was a subhuman, hence they needed slaves to till their fields.” [2]

Economics

Fascism thrives on economic inequality.

“America became the first rich country to collapse to the new wave of fascism. Why? Because it was the most capitalist country in the world. Capitalism implodes into fascism — inevitably. Why? Because capitalism concentrates capital among those who already own it, which starves labour of gains. That causes the middle class to crater, and inequality to spike. In their desperation and fear, the imploded middle begins to punch down, taking from the even more powerless what was promised to them — security, riches, stability, belonging, status. That sequence describes America perfectly, in hard empirical terms: the rich became ultra rich, but because they took more than 100% of the economy’s gains for decades, the middle class imploded. That fresh poverty produced a turn to a demagogue, who blamed everyone weaker for it — immigrants, refugees, foreigners, etcetera. The Trump voter isn’t the poor black — he’s the declining white.

“So the second half of America’s grim, weird collapse I’d describe as implosive fascism. Implosion of the middle, driven by economic stagnation, is a necessary feature of every fascist collapse — but it’s especially true in America.”[3]

Somebody’s got to pay for it, and rich supporters get richer through fascist cronyism. Meanwhile, the economically disadvantaged flock to fascism and support government policies that widen the inequality gap at their own expense. They do so for a lot of bizarre reasons,[4] but from a religious point of view, lifestyles of the rich and famous is their heavenly destiny — Heaven is where they’ve got a mansion waiting.[5]

Fascism’s Dismal Checklist

If we assemble the above together with the identifiers we saw in Part 1, we have guidelines for recognizing fascism.

Fascists prescribe simple fixes for complex problems.

  • It’s not an ideology, it’s a method, a system for thinking and doing.
  • Fascism feeds on grievances, identifies the enemies responsible, and sets the populace against them.
  • They take on the role of national saviors.
  • They expand their self-concept to the size of the state itself.
  • They subvert, discredit and eliminate societal and governmental institutions that defy or impair them.
  • They ascend to power through the ballot box and then undermine democracy from within.
  • They systematically eliminate opposition one small step at a time.
  • They attack the judiciary and the media.
  • They tell lies as the new truth, repeating them incessantly until they become the new truth, the new reality.
  • They denigrate science and academia.
  • They threaten political competitors and dissenters.
  • They foment bigotry and racism;
  • ,,,male dominance and misogyny;
  • …persecution of the LGBTQ community;
  • …stonewalls against immigrants and foreigners;
  • They praise autocrats and encourage worldwide drift to authoritarianism.
  • Fascism ascends in times of accelerated social and cultural upheaval.
  • …in the aftermath of demoralization and defeat;
  • …after great recessions and other forms of drastic economic displacement;
  • …during times of extreme economic inequality;
  • …in the waning stages of an economic miracle,
  • …when new artistic and creative forms are displacing the old standbys;
  • …when scientific developments offer shocking new perspective on the fabric of life and reality;
  • …when democratic institutions are unstable and the notion of “freedom” takes on new meaning;
  • …when there is widespread disorder;
  • …when a visceral, nostalgic appeal to tradition emerges.
  • Fascism promotes the heavy hand of authoritarianism, and a return to law and order.
  • Fascists promote extreme militaristic nationalism.
  • They use military marches and staged spectacles and rallies to stir up support.
  • They lionize the military and police.
  • They bully, abuse, threaten, intimidate, promote hostility, and encourage their followers to do likewise.
  • They belittle traditional heroes and societal role models of leadership.
  • They glamorize national history in ways that support their cause, and ignore national embarrassments, failures, weaknesses.
  • They adopt religious narratives and forge religious allegiances.
  • They equate national identity with divine purpose and chosen status.
  • They express contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism.
  • They endorse a natural social hierarchy that prizes social and economic elites.
  • They purport to support the vanishing and lost middle class, but only to the extent the middle class is willing to subordinate self-interest to the good of the nation.

But of course fascism doesn’t run off a checklist. (“Let’s see, how are we doing on bigotry today?”) The list entries are embedded in fascist culture. They are socially normative. They serve as measures of allegiance and duty. They create a narrative of how life works, is and ought to be, and maintain practices that support individual and collective compliance with that narrative.

Fascism’s Religious Narrative

Fascism’s narrative is as follows:

  • A utopian past when life was better and people were better off;
  • A fall from grace – a turning away instigated by the evil Them;
  • An awakened nostalgic and righteous yearning to restore lost utopia;
  • The need for a beneficent intervention – salvation – to get back to the good life;
  • The arrival on the scene of a savior, whose charisma commands a following;
  • The emergence of the congregation of the faithful – a chosen population of aggrieved victims transformed into the superior Us;
  • War and final judgment meted out on Them.[6]
  • The Golden Age of the victorious.

The Biblical narrative is everywhere in Western culture – from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Yankee Stadium to the Capitol Building. And it explains fascism’s religious ties and obsession with holy war.

“Old fascism didn’t abhor ‘religion’ as much as we imagine. It was a deeply mystical exercise, steeped in its own mythology of sacred blood and divine…. A homeland of the pure, strong, and faithful. Cleansed of the weak and impure — who are dirty, filthy subhumans.

“A militant message broadcast by armies of demagogues…. Jihadis who took up the call. And destabilized society after society. By bombing and shooting up places where civilized and decent values were being enacted: hospitals, schools, festivals. Minorities targeted, jailed, imprisoned, hunted, eliminated. New institutions built — justice systems, law enforcement agencies, whole new kinds of morality police. Society finally reshaped in the image of the perfect and the pure and the strong.”

“Islamic fascism we might say is something like theo-fascism. It is explicitly ‘religious’ — and faith trumps nationhood. It isn’t mere ‘nationalism’ — its goal is something like a new caliphate, in the extreme, or at least a federation of united Islamic states, proudly clean and faithful.[7]

Mussolini – Fascism Christened

Mussolini gave “fascism” its name, which he took from an ancient Roman symbol.

“Fascism [is a] political ideology and mass movement that dominated many parts of central, southern, and eastern Europe between 1919 and 1945 and that also had adherents in western Europe, the United States, South Africa, Japan, Latin America, and the Middle East.

“Europe’s first fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, took the name of his party from the Latin word fasces, which referred to a bundle of elm or birch rods (usually containing an ax) used as a symbol of penal authority in ancient Rome.

“Although fascist parties and movements differed significantly from one another, they had many characteristics in common, including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: ‘people’s community’), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.”[8]

Mussolini’s “Clerical Fascism” and Trump’s Christian Right Fascism

Fascism seizes power by degrading legitimate government and spurring the electorate to rally in patriotic mob scenes, celebrating their own political disempowerment. And then get God on your side. Mussolini rose to power 100 years ago on the strength of “clerical fascism.”[9] “Clerical” referred to Roman Catholic clergy whose interests were propounded by the Italian People’s Party[10], which later split over whether the church should overtly support fascism. Fascist Italy recognized Catholicism as its state religion. Mussolini’s defining rally was his March on Rome.[11] A hundred years after Mussolini, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the Christian Right have followed the same historical blueprint.

Violence and “the Unthinkable”

What happens when fascism makes its move? As we saw last time, worldview resides with the most basic human impulses – where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[12] Fascism therefore asserts itself with crassness and brutality.

“What tends to happen is violence. Of a spectacular kind. War, atrocity, barbarity. Genocide. The unthinkable…. [T]here is only room for one master race, one Promised Land, one fatherland, one people who are the strongest and purest.”[13]

Violence? Check. Think of the Proud Boys. Think of Trump’s SS troops attaching citizens on city streets.

The unthinkable? Check. Thinks of Trump and the Republicans blatant all-out assault on the defining right of democracy – the citizens’ right to vote — everything from calling votes (only those against Trump) fraudulent to appeals for suspending the Constitution and imposing martial law.

And it all begins with a Biblical worldview.

The Fascist Bible

When I say “Bible,” I mean the Christian Bible. The first part is the “Old Testament” — God’s original deal with ancient Israel. The second part is the “New Testament” — God’s new deal that includes the “Gentiles” – the non-Jews. The second part is Jesus and post-Jesus, but since he was a Jew and it was mostly written by Jews, there’s a lot of carryover. Muslims and Jews buy into the parts of the Old Testament that include Abraham, so they and Christianity are called the “Abrahamic” religions. Therefore “Abrahamic worldview” could be substituted for “Biblical worldview.” It’s the same God in all three.

Extreme Nationalism

Extreme nationalism lies at the heart of fascism. It is also the essence of Abrahamic religion. God choses a nation to be His. That nation becomes Us, which makeseverybodyelse Them. God provides detailed laws through his representatives — prophets, priests, and kings — for how We are supposed to behave.[14] Conformity is the lowest compliance standard; loyalty and zealotry are preferred. Nonconformity, disloyalty, disrespect, doubt, dissent are crushed. One of the worst things God’s favored nationcan do is act like Them – take up foreign customs, marry internationally, etc. The Old Testament is therefore several hundred pages of rewind and repeat re:  how it goes for both Us and Them, and often it’s hard to tell who’s got the worst deal.

The Totalitarian God

Abrahamic religion imposes a hierarchical structure with God at the top. God enjoys absolute sovereignty and is not accountable to anyone for anything. God’s word is Truth, His will supreme, His power absolute. Totalitarianism is authority without accountability, therefore God is a totalitarian ruler.[15] Plus, because God is… well, God… He is in charge of not just his own nation, but all nations. All national sovereignty derives from Him. On this point, the New Testament section of the Christian Bible restates and summarizes Old Testament political worldview:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” Romans 13:1-5[16]

National sovereignty that derives from God is similarly unaccountable. Accordingly, “the divine right of kings” protected English monarchs with its declaration that “the king can do no wrong,” and the concept was imported into the Colonies as “sovereign immunity,” which protects federal and state officials.[17] The divine right of kings and sovereign immunity, like God’s rule, are therefore ultimately totalitarian. Which means that a fascist in power is God’s man and can do no wrong unless God intervenes.

Biblically-based national sovereignty answers the question I began Part 1 of this series with:  how is it that the Christian Right can support Trump? The answer is that Trump is God’s man in the same way that Mussolini was God’s man. They are because the Bible says they are. They carry on the succession of divinely-appointed national leaders all the way back to the Old Testament kings.

Farfetched? Fantastical? We need only listen to the rationale given by one of Trump’s Men –former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his defense of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, to learn that the Christian Right doesn’t find this farfetched or fantastical in the slightest. Instead, it is a validation of legitimacy.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you,,,, If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”[18]

Sessions invoked the Bible to substantiate the United States’ God-derived national sovereignty. The authority of God and the Bible is totalitarian, beyond accountability. Since the United States derives its national sovereignty from God and the Bible, it enjoys the same totalitarian authority, above any law other than its own. Its laws are good and moral by definition, and its government and government officials are free from fault because its laws say they are.

  • “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul.”
  • “God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
  • “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves.”
  • “Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful.”
  • “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

Sessions’ case justifies national xenophobic indifference to the plight of the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse. the homeless, and tempest-tossed.[19] Instead, the United States government is free to terrorize them at the border. The same concept applies to America’s national history of legal slavery and normative racism, as well as its institutionalized homophobia and misogyny.

Next Time

In sum, the Bible narrative – the story of God’s relationship with his people — illustrates the dynamics of fascist government. And the Bible’s God is a prototype of a fascist leader.

We’ll look further into these things next time.


[1] For an updated treatment of the acronym, see LGBTQIAPK: Let’s Unpack the Acronym, Harlot (Mar. 19, 2018),

[2] Hague, Umair, The (New) Fascism of the 21st Century, Medium (Aug. 7, 2019)..

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas, K R, Why DO the poor keep voting for the rich? Medium (Dec. 26, 2019)

[5] “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 NKJV

[6] Wikipedia – Fascism

[7] Hague, Umair, op cit.

[8] Fascism | Definition, Meaning, Characteristics, Examples, & History | Britannica

[9] Clerical fascism – Wikipedia

[10] Italian People’s Party (1919) – Wikipedia

[11] March on Rome | Definition, Events, & Facts | Britannica. March on Rome – Wikipedia

[12] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

[13] Hague, Umair, op cit.

[14] See the “blessings and curses” of Deuteronomy 26-28.

[15] For a breakdown on how the CIA categorizes dictatorial forms of government, see Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism, and Fascism — What Is the Difference? ThoughtCo. (June 5, 2020).

[16] See also Daniel 2:20-21, Daniel 4:17, Jeremiah 27:5, Proverbs 21:1.

[17] Wikipedia – Sovereign Immunity. See also Wikipedia – Sovereign Immunity in the United States. McCann, Miles, State Sovereign Immunity,” National Association of Attorneys General, NAGTRI Journal Volume 2, Number 4. Although the article is technically about state – vs. federal — sovereign immunity, the quoted text applies to both.  See also the following quote from this monograph from the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York based firm with a reputation for its commitment to diversity”  “At its core, the doctrine of sovereign immunity stands for the proposition that the government cannot be sued without its consent – that is, ‘the King can do no wrong.’ Sovereign immunity is simple in concept but nuanced in application.”. Pugh, George W., “Historical Approach to the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity,” Louisiana Law Review Volume 13, Number 3 (March 1953).. Citations omitted.

[18] YouTube. See Wikipedia — Trump administration family separation policy.

[19] The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty, The Atlantic (Jan. 15, 2018)

Father Abraham Had Three Sons

Father Abraham had many sons,
Many sons had Father Abraham,
I am one of them, and so are you,
So let’s all praise the Lord.

We need to move past the Sunday School doggerel. They teach children that stuff – bouncy tune, fun motions. I don’t remember learning it — obviously I did, because I remembered it enough to Google it. Click on the image and listen. I lasted one verse, then reality set in:  Father Abraham’s children are killing each other; they’re killing us; they could kill the whole planet. Father Abraham’s children are on the world’s longest running international crime spree – committed in his name, on his behalf — that old story, those old promises.

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:  1-3

And there was more:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.  Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,  “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 

I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Genesis 17: 1-8

That was a long, long time ago. And now a world Father Abraham could not possibly have foreseen is living with his progeny and promises. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”? No. Not that. It never has been that. It is not that now. It never will be.

.  .  .

Father Abraham has three sons, actually. They are, in the order they were born, Israel, Christianity, and Islam. Like father, like son:  each son is a Patriarch presiding over his own transnational clan.

The Abraham family chronicles begin in the most ancient part of the Bible. Each clan has its own Bible with portions added later, but all include the part where the story of Abraham’s family and legacy began, so the three are called the “Abrahamic” religions. Each of Abraham’s sons believes the ancient promises are his alone, and will one day be fulfilled on his behalf. It’s a vain hope and a senseless and stupid goal:  none of them will ever prevail, and here are billions of Abraham descendants in the world, far too many for every non-believer to ever be extinguished. But the sibling rivalry never lets up, never goes away, never leaves the rest of us alone.

Their battle lines of the family feud were originally drawn around “the whole land of Canaan”– a small patch of land outsized in ruin. But Canaan was only the staging point. From there, the family’s war has spread around the world. The three sons’ jealousy, treachery, and ambition – Abraham’s legacy – are everywhere. There are other family histories in the world just as enduring and rotten — in the East, North, and South – but the Abraham family conflict has drawn them in, too.

.  .  .

I can’t imagine, Father Abraham. I really can’t. I can’t get inside your head, what it was like when…

God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Genesis 22:2

Who was more deranged in that moment, you or your God? And what was it like to be your only son, whom you loved? Did you really? Love him I mean. Did he suspect that you were preparing yourself to slash and burn him?

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,  and through your offspring  all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Genesis 22:16-18

A story like that cannot have a happy ending. How could it ever go well for that boy ever again – that boy bound and waiting for the father’s knife to fall? I don’t want that story to have ever been written. I don’t want stories like that to be told. You were a beast in that moment, Father Abraham, and your God was a beast maker. But I don’t think you ever came to realize that, otherwise the story would have been told differently – maybe about how you were so deluded you almost went through with it.

But your sons, they revel in it. It inflames their allegiance to you — no, not to you, but to the idea of you and the idea of those promises. And especially to the idea of themselves as those who are the only ones who have the right to inherit what was promised. They have usurped you, usurped the promises, appropriated them, made them their own and only their own. It is through them that all nations shall be blessed, and they will destroy each other until that day comes, and then they will keep the blessing for themselves. Only the one who destroys his brothers will be forever blessed, and the others will be the eternally damned. But you’re dead, Father Abraham – you don’t know they believe that, have done that, are doing that. You can’t stop them even if you would, and the way that story went, and the way your sons all love it, I’m not sure you would.

.  .  .

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” Israel is the smallest, Christianity is the largest, Islam is almost as big as Christianity. Together the three of them make up about 3 billion people on a planet approaching 8 billion. Like the stars and sand…. yes. That promise has been fulfilled.

“All nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” No. That promise was a lie, or has become one, by neglect or inte4nt. All nations on earth have been terrorized because of you, Father Abraham. Your obedience was wasted. Your progeny has defiled the promise. There has been no blessing.

You couldn’t have known. Nobody could have. You were a patriarch, now we have your sons as patriarchs – autocrats as sovereign and unaccountable as you and your God. You fathered the Abrahamic nation; now we have extreme nationalists – each one of them divinely sanctioned by their own Godto destroy the infidels of the other nations who stand in the way of their promised destiny.

Your nation had its own God, now each of your sons has its own God, given to them to fulfill their destiny. They are not patient for the day; they rage against it. If each could just be rid of the others, be the last one standing, the favorite son and his clan left finally and forever alone in the divine favor of their own God, themselves and their God triumphant, the other sons and their Gods banished…. It never ends. It goes on, like the teaching of doggerel. It has never ended in all these thousands of years. The world lives on in thrall to their unfulfilled destiny – the promise of blessing not kept, the promise that never will be kept.

.  .  .

What was it like, Father Abraham? How did the Lord say to you, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you”? How did God say, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love… and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering”? How did the angel of the Lord call to you from heaven a second time and tell you not to do it?

That was long ago. Too long ago for anyone to ever know. Too long for the answers to matter.

.  .  .

Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.

Genesis 25: 7-8

What might the world have been if it had been left at that – you died, were mourned and buried, the end?

It’s a stupid question to ask – as pointless as this one:  What might the world be now if we could leave it at that?

What if this time you were gathered to your people… and left there?

Christmas — No Christ, New Merry

I take long “walks” in my wheelchair most days – long as in 5, 6, 8. 10 miles. Yes, in a wheelchair. True story.

People seem happy to see me – inspired maybe, surprised mostly. They say hello, good morning, nod, wave, sometimes comment, offer encouragement. Guy in a wheelchair, out here doing this? Show some love! Way to go, guy! I don’t mind. I smile, greet them back. People out here, enjoying this wonderful trail through the woods along the river? Way to go, people!

A few times lately it’s been “Merry Christmas!” I’m always surprised. “Oh yeah. Christmas. Merry. Right.” Seems the Merry doesn’t still go ‘round so much for me nowadays – hasn’t for several years, actually. For me, that’s not just 2020, when the Merry didn’t go ‘round for hardly anybody except the extremely annoying, apparently excused from reality few. I’ll leave them unnamed.

Christmas for me used to be… well, Christmas. I was self-righteous about keeping the commercialism out of it and Christ in it – also seriously deluded. Back then the kids were growing up and I had a career that paid (remember those?), so I loved to pull off commercial extravaganzas. Like the year the entire American Girl Dolls assemblage – clothes, furniture, stuff, stuff, and more stuff — flooded out from under the tree and across the living room, and no one had seen it coming.

I loved the art of Christmas – especially the places that had the quality gifts and the best gift wrappers – the way they filled their beautiful shopping bags – the big ones, with the handles – with works of art in ribbons and bows. Plus the lights – nothing visible from space, just enough cheer – and the Solstice bonfires and all the greenery and goodies and the you name it. If you’ve done it yourself, you know.

And yes, we kept Christ in those Christmases. Christ was still the reason for the season – observed in everything from schmaltzy bedtime stories and movies to the annual stately Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge and the packed candlelight Christmas Eve service in a church thick with incense. But then the light started dimming, eventually faded and died –the way potted plants die – not tragic so much as well, that’s over. Things end, we move on.

A couple days ago, I was trying to remember when exactly the Christmas Merry started to quit going ‘round. It think it was somewhere around the time we painted the basement and bought some mountain lodge furniture and a cool rug and put up surround sound and a wall TV and it was going to be a place for friends to hang out. Nice idea but a couple poetry slams and that was about it. But the first year we had it, I thought wow, I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, so I camped out in one of those comfy leather mountain lodge chairs and watched it, and there was plenty of Merry the whole Christmas season that year. But then a year later it was a little less oh wow, and by the third year it was, hey wait, this is just a big commercial launch – one long extended infomercial in praise of buy, buy, buy. Creeping cynicism. Peter Pan finally starting to grow up.

That would have been… what?… 2009 or so? Right after the crash of 2007-2008, which I had observed by making possibly the most badly-timed, badly-conceived, and badly-executed Go-For-It, Live Your Dreams! launch in the history of life. (But I’m giving myself way too much credit – lots of people have of course done seriously dumb things in the name of living the dream. No way I cornered that market.) My big leap into dreamland bombed, of course. I deserved it. But the good news is, it changed everything forever. Mostly it changed me, But until we all had enough space to be philosophical or resigned about it, the family became post-Crash Okies, rambling toward being poor with all our belongings piled in the back, toward me being disabled with a crappy neurodegenerative… thing… and all of us trying to figure out what happened back there. It was somewhere around then that the Merry quit going ‘round. And it was also about then Christ either fell out of the back of the truck or we didn’t wait for him at a rest stop, and either way it took a long time to notice.

It’s hard to explain how it took 20 years to go from being a Christian – not just a “nominal” one (as we used to say, arrogant as hell) but a true believer hallelujah! – to an Atheist. Or to explain how one day I just sort of noticed that’s what happened and I was just kind of well okay then, would you look at that, I guess that’s what happened, and I guess I’m good with it. The Merry was gone, and so was Christ, and then came a few years when everything church went from normal to cringeworthy to annoying to revolting. I can’t explain it, but I’d see billboards and marquees and hear conversations, and I would shudder. Not quite gag, but my whole self would cringe and tense up and shudder. Writing that, I can just hear what the faith I left would have to say about it.

Fast forward to this year, to Christmas 2020, which you would have thought would have been the most run-screaming-from-the-room Christmas ever. But then – way more surprising than hearing “Merry Christmas!” from random strangers on the bike path – it wasn’t. Christmas 2020 was the year the Merry came back. Who could have seen that coming? Not me. But it did — Christmas without the baby Jesus in a manger – God the Father’s great idea for how to introduce his son to the world by putting an infant in a cattle feed trough, so we could all celebrate the maudlin reality of our crappy lives and prepare ourselves for what signing up for that whole story was going to be like. Also no shepherds or wise men from afar, being uncanny and insightful, and especially no angels trumpeting (have you noticed how hard it is these days to use the world “t-r-u-m-p” or any word that has “t-r-u-m-p” in it?) one of the biggest lies ever told (the Bible has a lot of those in it):

“Peace on Earth, Good will to Man!”

Seriously. We still get that every year.

And since you can’t go anymore in a pandemic, almost none of that endless and endlessly wretched Christmas music everywhere you go, except for where you can’t avoid going, like the grocery store, but especially not like Starbucks, which starts its Christmas soundtrack of dismal creativity on exactly November 1st so I have to boycott it for two months every year (not like that’s so hard to do). I could rant on, but I’ll struggle to overcome.

And I thought I was over the post-Christian shudder reflex. Maybe not.

Anyway, Christmas without any of that.

This year there was just some cheese and fruit on Christmas Eve, and fresh donuts Christmas morning, simple gifts opened and shared digitally on both occasions to account for different time zones here and on the other side of the globe. And then on Christmas Eve there was Klaus, which I read in my Medium feed on Christmas morning we shouldn’t have watched because it’s racist because there’s a hangman’s noose in it. (I’m sorry, I get it, but nooses weren’t always an icon for racism. Humans have been doing horrible things like hanging each other for a long time – a lot of them in the name of Christ.)

And somehow, after choking back the tears and loving the movie and then heading for bed without visions of sugar plums exactly, more like a sense of maybe pretty lights once a year in during the dark days around the Winter Solstice might not be such a bad idea… and then waking up on Christmas morning and finding that the Merry had come back.

I never saw it coming. Any more than I saw the big Follow Your Dreams crash coming. Any more than I saw 20 years of losing my faith coming.

Today is “Boxing Day” – and if you’re non-British like me the first time you heard about it you were like, what?! — so “Merry Christmas” is over, and I’m grateful that there’s a new Merry on the scene:  Merry without the shudder. Maybe Merry like that will be okay next year – which is surely another year in another time in another life. If another Christmas manages to arrive, which these days I’d rate about 50-50.

Merry like that.

The Religion of the Damned

You are damned. That’s the first premise.

You can be un-damned. That’s the second.

But it’s going to cost you. Third.

What it’s going it cost you is you have to live like you’re still damned.

Got that?

I’ll get to it in a minute, But first…

Welcome to the Black Parade – the congregation of “the broken, the beaten, and the damned.”[1]

How does New Jersey produce so many great bands? My Chemical Romance rode the seam between Gen X and the Millennials. Their Black Parade album and tour spanned 2006-2007. It was genius – it finally gave the Goths a place to belong. A friend of mine went to a concert. She was like, “All I could think was, where are their parents? Did they totally give up?”

It’s good to belong. Things are better when you belong. People rally, help each other out. Better to be a damned Goth and belong than to be a damned Goth and not.

“Now, come one, come all to this tragic affair
Wipe off that makeup, what’s in is despair
So throw on the black dress, mix in with the lot
You might wake up and notice you’re someone you’re not

“If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see
You can find out first hand what it’s like to be me.”

Genius Lyrics — “The End” My Chemical Romance.

Brilliant. Tour the world, and all the kids in black sing every word with you. Which is saying a lot, because there are a lot of words, staccato fast.

Now back to the Religion of the Damned. That’s where I started, following the “Jesus Rock” signs around campus to a guy named Larry Norman doing a solo show[2]. He had blond hair down to his waist, and sang songs with lyrics like,

“Sipping whiskey from a paper cup
You drown your sorrows till you can’t stand up
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats

“Why don’t you look into Jesus?
He’s got the answer

“Gonorrhea on Valentines Day
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay
You think rock and roll will set you free
You’ll be deaf before your thirty three
Shooting junk till your half insane
Broken needle in your purple vein

“Why don’t you look into Jesus?
He got the answer.”

Larry Norman – Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus? – [Janis Joplin Version] – 1972 – YouTube

Cool. Our version of The Black Parade. Religion for the damned.

Life was not going well. I wasted my way through freshman year, dropped out, played in the worst rock band to ever hit Denver’s church-basement-roller-rink-office-Christmas-party circuit…  Low-budget rock star debauchery wasn’t cutting it. I needed to not keep screwing up my life. I needed to get undamned.

I met my bandmates in a church basement, and in one of those you’re-making-that-up-right? moments, found myself teaching 7th grade Sunday school about Paul and Moses. I wanted to be like them. I gave our drummer some of my gear to sell and send my me the money (he didn’t), loaded up the rest and drove back to small town Minnesota. Some fellow sojourners pulled up next to me on the freeway and passed over a joint. We connected. We belonged. I didn’t think I wanted to belong anymore, so I pitched it once they were past.

Things weren’t going so well for my parents about then either, but they had found Jesus. I hung out with them and their new Jesus friends. They were Pentecostals – they got filled with Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Before long we became Charismatics instead – same deal, same people, but Pentecostals and Charismatics were downtown vs. uptown. Pentecostals lived in trailers. Charismatics went to college. Pentecostals had revival meetings. Charismatics had conferences in the Twin Cities. Technically everybody was equally damned, but most Charismatics were damned more respectably than in a Larry Norman kind of way.

College had Jesus Freaks by then. I went back and joined them  — 100 Christian students at war with everybody else. One day a religion prof brought up this Bible verse:

“Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

Psalm 137:9

That’s in the Bible, he said, what did we think? I still remember what I thought – basically, I didn’t. The verse just wouldn’t compute – it had to be there for a reason, it couldn’t possibly say what it said, the professor was just making trouble. That’s the way it was on campus – we were persecuted – proof that we were righteous. A few weeks later I wrote a paper that said Nietzsche got syphilis, went crazy, and died because he said God was dead. The Prof was disgusted. It went on like that for three more years. – no more partying, but totally blowing a shot at what a first class college experience might have been – although to be fair, it wasn’t all the Christans’ fault — I think I was just too downtown to handle it..

Christians at war with “the world” followed me into my career. I was smart and worked hard, people hired me, liked me, but I could never quite join in. I was too busy with “come apart from them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18) My disgusted religious prof morphed into perplexed bosses and colleagues. I was white collar and credentialed but my place was not with the damned so much as the trying-to-get-undamned, and sooner or later I’d quit and go off on my next living by faith adventure until I ran out of money and came back for another entry in my patchwork quilt resume.

Rewind, repeat.

Thus my career degenerated into a trail of regrets and disappointments – all for the sake of a religion where you start out damned but then you get saved, but you’re still damned, only sort of conditionally saved until a big finale coming one day soon that will set everything to right and then you get to be undamned forever while everyone else gets damned for good, but if you die before that happens you get to take a shortcut to being undamned, and some people think even if you’re alive when the End Times really get rolling you’ll get a free pass out so that you get to go to Heaven early while everyone else has to live through hell on earth until the final Hell with a capital H finally opens up and gorges on everybody except maybe a few who figured out how to get undamned before everybody else gets damned for good.

Got all that?

That’s the “good news.”

In the meantime you find out that your highest and best calling is to be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And the crazy thing is, the Bible comes right out and tells you that’s the way it’s going to be if you sign up. Here’s how it describes the highest and best of what it means to be a God Follower:

 “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”[7]

Hebrews 11: 35-39.

It’s like the religion prof’s Bible verse. The Bible can’t really say that, there must be something else going on. The best you can do is suffer, and not get what you were promised?

Well now, isn’t that a hell of a deal!

We could have seen it coming if we’d thought for more than a nanosecond about our religion’s symbol:  the most horrible, cruel, depraved, savage, barbaric, sadistic, blood-lusty instrument of torture the very worst of human depravity has ever devised. You see it everywhere – molded in gold and silver and bejeweled. Earrings. Necklaces. Bumper stickers. All over the place. Often a human is included — twisting and writhing as he’s being tortured to death.

Oh, and a father did that to his child. Because he so loved the world.

Which means we’re supposed to feel good about the torture symbol. take comfort in it, welcome it, worship it, revere it as the best thing that ever happened, make art out of it, make elaborate paintings of it on the ceilings and in stained glass windows of massive centuries-old buildings all over Europe that were constructed in its shape and filled with statutes and sculptures of it. There have been countless millions (billions?) of those death by torture symbols made and displayed all around the world for a couple thousand years now, evidence of an international colonization of a death by torture cult, one that reveres the bloody sacrifice of animals and humans, has done so since antiquity and still does today -– billions of people for millennia treating that death by torture symbol as holy, something that can be desecrated — as if it’s not desecrated enough already, not already beyond despicable, not already horrible beyond any vestige of human decency.

That’s the Religion of the Damned. That’s the one I joined. That’s the one I’m no longer part of. (You might have guessed.)

Can we talk?

All this being damned and suffering and death by torture is not just a religion, it’s a worldview. A way of looking at life that’s been dominant in western culture for thousands of years. You’re lost, and it’s your fault. You were born that way, and then you proved how screwed up you were by screwing up some more.  You missed the mark from the get-go. No wonder you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see.

And on it goes. I’m so sick of it, I can’t write about it anymore.

What if we’re not that? What if we’re not a bunch of born losers, what if we’re just humans… just kind of… well, living…?

Is there any way that could be good enough?

The final Black Parade concert pronounced that it was over. (Click the photo to watch the show.) Let’s hope not. What needs to be over is the Religion of the Damned. What needs to be over is the dogma that we’re not okay, we never were okay, we never will be okay, that the only way to be okay is be the wretched and poor, beaten and damned, sat upon, spat upon, ratted on[8]… in the name of God. There’s enough Hell already, enough torture. We don’t need any more.

All those Goths, everybody who looks like their parents gave up on them, they’re all better off than that guy whose father tortured him to death. How about we all join the Black Parade, learn the lyrics, sing them together, look out for each other?

How about we all belong?


[1] YouTube — My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade Is Dead! (Full Concert Film)

[2] Larry Norman – Wikipedia

[8] Simon and Garfunkel, Blessed.

That Dirty S-Word

An anti-masker holds up a sign — “Covid is about Socialist Control.” Betsy DeVos calls free college education “a socialist takeover of higher education.”[1] They’re mental and strategic twins. Don’t like something? Call it “socialist.” Instant photo-op. Instant sound byte.

This is post-truth in action:  gut words of meaning; inflame, don’t inform; stoke the rage.

It’s intellectually and ethically irresponsible – if you believe there ought to be some standard of knowing what you’re talking about. Some people do –they do their homework, actually think about it before they rebut or support.[2]

But never mind. Nobody reads that stuff. Only people who already agree with them.

If you’re an S-word user, all you need to know is that’s what the Nazis and Soviets called themselves. The Soviets called their country the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” The Nazis were the “National Socialist German Workers Party.” (How do you get Nazi out of that? In German it’s “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.“ N-a-z-i is there, in that first word.)

There!

Any questions?

Bernie didn’t help. He didn’t explain what he meant. Maybe he thought people would work it out on their own. Wrong. You got Stalin, you got Hitler, we’re outta here.

The Democratic Socialists of America hope it helps to put “Democratic” in front of it.[3] Theydo their homework, too:  historical socialism isn’t the same thing as democratic socialism, and neither of those is communism.

Too bad they’re polishing a turd.

Same for the people at Jacobin. I recently requested a sample copy from the library – the public library – if anybody gets “Democratic” it’s the public library. The public library declined my request -– the magazine didn’t “meet their standards.” We’re talking Jacobin, not Porn Today. (I don’t know if there is a “Porn Today.” I don’t want to find out.) If the public library thinks socialist is a bad word, it’s a bad word – an irredeemably bad word — a turd word.

I thought about trying for Monthly Review, but there it is, right on the masthead:  “An Independent Socialist Magazine.” What do you suppose are the odds Monthly Review meets the public library’s standards?

Monthly Review creator Nathan Robinson wrote a book with a bold full-disclosure title:  Why You Should Be A Socialist. The subtitle reached out to those who still might be willing to think: “A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it.” Nathan Robinson is trying, but again, what do you suppose are the odds?

I like how he approaches defining the S-word:

“More than half of millennials describe themselves as more sympathetic to socialism than capitalism. What do they mean by these terms? What are they actually endorsing? Do they want to live in the Soviet Union? Do they want a centrally planned economy in which there is a government bureau for every product and the type of cheese you are able to  buy depends on what the Bureau of Cheese has decided to make available this week?

“I haven’t asked them all, but I suspect this is not what they want. Instead, I think they are socialists of Terry Eagleton’s description:  people who are simply unable to get over the unfairness and brutality of the world, and who refuse to accept intellectual rationalizations for greed, bigotry, and hierarchy. They don’t like how undemocratic and unequal the world is, and they refuse to accept that this is the best we can do.”

“That, in and of itself, is not an endorsement of a specific “alternate” economic system. Instead, it’s a kind of instinct:  an instinct of solidarity and a disagreement with a number of consensus beliefs about how wondrous and fair certain features of capitalism are.

“You will find that if you speak to these young people, many of them will have a difficult time articulating what exactly they mean by socialism. That’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they are looking for a term that embraces a wide number of different feelings they have and allows them to show how disgusted they are with economic and political life in the twenty-first century.

“Twenty-first century socialism expresses a commitment to a certain set of values, values that are diametrically opposed to the dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire capitalism that both the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have fully embraced. It’s an expression of horror at “avoidable misery” – at long hours with low pay, at dying because you can’t afford medical treatment, at police shootings, at families being separated at the border.”[4]

That doesn’t sound too horrible. I mean, how bad could it be to avoid avoidable misery?

Really bad, apparently — if you’ve been infected with the “Free” strain that’s been going around. “Free” is another word that’s been gutted of its meaning. “Free” now means “everything that’s not the S-word.” The longer version is “I’ll take all of that avoidable misery – all those long hours with low pay, all that dying because I can’t afford medical treatment, all those police shootings, all those families being separated at the border… because at least I won’t have some socialist telling me what to do.”

“Free” like that is Libertarianism – the reigning intellectual capital of the post-truth world. Free in that world means “free no matter what.” But that leaves the Libertarians with the same problem as the Democratic Socialists:  look too closely and it’s got a lot of explaining to do, so they have caveats like the “nonaggressive axiom” to tone it down?[5] To the average Freemonger, “free” means you’re on your own to the point that misery becomes unavoidable, and that’s a good thing.

“A certain kind of thinking on the right goes like this:  if you’re sad, it’s because you’re weak; if you’re poor, it’s because you’re stupid; if you’re marginalized, it’s because you’re culturally dysfunctional; if you’re being screwed over, you shouldn’t have signed the contract; if you did something horrible, it’s because you’re evil; if you’re angry, it’s because you’re resentful; if you’re sentimental, it’s because you’re not a man.”[6]

Pretty wussy stuff, if you’re a Freemonger. I imagine Nathan Robinson taking a deep breath and writing on.

“I have to admit, I hate that kind of thinking, in part because all my life, I have had to resist it in order to maintain my self-confidence. When you start to believe that all of your problems are your own fault, you can begin to hate yourself. As important as it is to take responsibility for our actions, it’s also important to acknowledge that many things are beyond our control…. We can decide how to make use of what we are given, but it’s not an ‘ideology of victimhood’ to say that many people are, well, victims. Some people are destinated to try their hardest and still fail, and suggesting that they didn’t is adding insult to injury, tormenting them  by making them feel not of the pain of deprivation but guilt and shame. (And they say the left likes shaming people.)”

“Some people think socialists have a naïve view of human nature, that we think people are naturally good, and that once our horrible economic system is replaced, our inner perfection will be set free. This is not what we think. In fact, it’s because we recognize the everyone is a mixture of greed and goodness that we want to make sure greed doesn’t triumph. We went to encourage people’s best and most community-spirited impulses and discourage their nasties and most callous ones…. If you play a game in which selfishness increases your chances of winning, and notice that every seems to be behaving extremely selfishly, this is not proof that people are naturally inclined toward selfishness.”[7]

Never mind that the U.S. Constitution was written in part to “promote the general Welfare.” Trouble is, everybody knows that one person’s “general welfare” is another’s “don’t tread on me.” To a Freemonger, “general welfare” has “socialism” written all over it. Plus, if you’re a Freemonger who thinks – a Libertarian – you know that all this socialist touchy-feely-ism doesn’t work.

“Well-designed institutions don’t necessarily make people good, but they can incentivize constructive social behavior. Take the theory of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’ In a famous 1968 article, Garrett Hardin envisaged a situation in which village herdsmen use an unowned pasture for grazing. If everyone uses only the amount of land necessary to keep the land sustainable, there is not problem. But, Hardin said, ‘as a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain,” and “each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit.’ This means that each herdsman’s cows will gobble up more and more of the pasture, ultimately leading to the destruction of the commons that could have served everyone fairly well.”[8]

Oh I get it. Socialism doesn’t work because the Freemongers will ruin it for everybody else,

Except they won’t:

“In fact, as it turns out, that this is not what happens to commonly owned land. Elinor Ostrom’s fascinating Nobel Prize-winning work Governing the Commons goes beyond theory and empirically outlines the ways in which people actually manage public commons to ensure that they aren’t destroyed.”[9]

So what do we do? Stop using the S-word? Take another shot at educating and learning, at ethical knowing and speaking and sign-making?

Or how about if we think of it this way: “social” – you know, as “being sociable,” as in you and me trying to get along together?

Okay?

On never mind.


[1] Binckley, Collin, Devos Says Free College Amounts To A ‘Socialist Takeover’, AP (Dec. 1, 2020).

[2] The Hill, Forbes, New York Post, Market Watch, Black Enterprise, Washington Examiner, The Independent.

[3] “What is Democratic Socialism?” Democratic Socialists of America.

[4] Robinson, Nathan, Why You Should Be A Socialist (2020)..

[5] Britannica – Libertarianism.

[6] Robinson, op cit.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 1

I used to wonder how the Christian Right could support Trump. “They must be just like him,” I thought once, but that wasn’t strong or deep enough — it was too individualistic, made it too much a matter of personal choice. Same problem with shared ideology — libertarianism plus capitalism. Ideology gets way too much credit as a way to explain why we do what we do. We aren’t the free thinkers we believe we are. We don’t act from reasoned choice, we do what we’re predisposed to do on a subconscious level, then rationalize after the fact.

The ”Fascist” Label

Then Madeline Albright’s book pasted Trump with the “fascist” label. The past couple years of his all-out assault on democracy, discourse, decency, decorum… have left little doubt. The Democrats have sprinted to the intellectual and ideological high ground, gibbered among themselves, stirred themselves up, got indignant, and generally have been oh so reasonable and insightful. Their criticism and analysis have also been entirely ineffective against post-truth reality. Meanwhile, the Christians and Republicans have been unfazed – haven’t even bothered to respond to the fascist allegations with “it takes one to know one!”

Why not? “Fascist” explodes in the brain. Someone calls you that, you come up swinging. But that’s not what happened. The Christians and Republicans mostly yawned and nodded, only jumped up on cue now and then to make some noise.

Explain that.

A couple weeks ago I had a dream that did.

No kidding. The dream’s explanation was so outrageous, I probably needed it to come through my subconscious mind, break through my defenses like a thief in the night, like the Bible says.[1] Which is appropriate, because it’s about the Bible and the Bible’s God.

Here it is:  what sustains Trump’s support from Christians and Republicans is their shared Biblical worldview, and that worldview is essentially fascist in nature. The Bible is the ultimate fascist blueprint, and the Bible’s God is the ultimate fascist. If you want to know how to do fascism, just give me some of that old time religion.[2]

Like I said, outrageous. Let’s break itdown.

Worldview

Ideology is surface-level rationalization. What’s buried deeper down?

Worldview.

Worldview satisfies our need to survive and our urge to thrive. There are giants in the Earth:  to survive, we need to identify and avoid them; to thrive, we need to defeat them. Ideology gives us a plan for doing that – it’s worldview’s to do list, our executive function in action. Ideology is worldview’s conscious spokesperson making it sound like we knew all along what we were doing – we were mission- and value-driven, we were living purpose-driven lives.

Worldview is meta-knowledge, meta-consciousness, meta-awareness. It is the Reality Distortion Factor in real time – the perspective, bias, and prejudice lens that warps and sorts input — the knowing before knowing that skews, bends, and conforms.

Worldview comes from a long way back. It’s epic in scope –a long story arc spanning the globe. millennia in the making, a cast of thousands, played out on uncountable stages by an encyclopedic cast list of actors and an infinity of extras.

Worldview is pervasive, assumed, incorporated, inculcated. It’s not a topic for media coverage, it’s the fabric and essence of our lives — our personal and communal institutions, languages, customs, ways of navigating through life. Worldview is cosmic comfort food — it fuels everything we know about how life works, guides how we navigate.

Ideological logjam gives pundits something to be right about, media something to report, think tanks something to advocate, and fund-raisers something to sell. Okay for them, that’s their job. Meanwhile, worldview keeps the fire burning.

The Fascist Worldview

Worldview is why the Christians and Republicans didn’t budge when their critics threw the “fascist” label at them. Nobody’s Biblical worldview came unhinged. Not all Republicans and Christians are Christian Right, but all of them share the same Biblical worldview, and that worldview stayed intact while the “fascist” accusations treated the issue as an ideology. But fascism isn’t rooted in ideology. It draws its life from worldview. It touches worldview-level pain and vulnerability and offers worldview-level comfort.

Fascism thrives on identifying who They are – the giants in the earth, the beasts on the prowl. When fascist worldview holds sway, there is no moral or legal recrimination associated with being Us, only great pride and relief at being on the good side of eternal terror. And once you’re in, you get to bang the drums and chant the slogans as you set about exterminating Them – which is both your duty to the cause and your best service to yourself and your comrades, since fascism must destroy the infidels before the righteous can be edified.

Meanwhile, They mistake fascism for ideology, and trot out the intellectual, historical, and legal case against it — trying to move a mountain with a rock and a pry bar, not realizing that fascism’s Us isn’t out to win an argument, it’s out to destroy. Whenworldview is at stake, it’s not Debate Club anymore, it’s Fight Club. No wonder there’s all that rage. No wonder fascism wanders in the guise of populism. No wonder conspiracy theories abound.

Biblical Worldview and Fascism

What then is the worldview that creates and sustains fascism?

Trump himself told us – on Monday, June 1, 2020. That was the day he led a procession of sycophants and servants, devotees and disciples – among them Attorney General William P. Barr, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, daughter Ivanka, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (in camouflage), Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper – in a procession to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, the way cleared by the teargas and rubber bullets of his personal SS forces.

And then he held up a Bible.

That was it – a complete message delivered on the same level from which it came – from worldview – and delivered in the most appropriate way — in symbolic, pre-language form. Symbolic messages sneak past our defenses –like a thief in the night.

The media “lefties” called the stunt “vulgar.” Church leaders and religion academicians said no, this is not what Christianity is about. Reporters snarked about whether it was his Bible, if he ever read it, knew what it said. Lots of decent, thinking, believing people chafed and protested. They were earnest and brave. They interpreted Trump’s procession to the church for what it obviously was – racist backlash against the George Floyd protests.

And everybody missed the point. “It’s a Bible,” Trump said. He spoke, as he always does, with total transparency about his beliefs and intentions. The whole point was that he went to a church and held up a Bible. That’s it. Nothing more. But that “nothing more” had a whole lot more to say.

There was such a storm that his visit the following day to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine was barely noticed – a visit that delivered the same message in the same symbolic language and got the same disgusted response from the critics.[3]

In both visits, what Trump did and said was out of reach of consciousness, reporting, analysis, commentary. He spoke and acted from worldview, with maximum impact. Tyrants have an uncanny knack for knowing how to do that – how to tap worldview with profound symbolic gestures. The icons of ideology – metaphors, myths, symbols – land with far greater impact than words.

“As he took up his post before the church, which was partially boarded up after a minor fire that broke out during a recent protest, Mr. Trump set his face in a stony scowl and held up a black Bible, tightly closed.… There Mr. Trump was, holding aloft this mute book — neither opened, cited, nor read from — in the shadow of a vandalized church, claiming the mantle of righteousness.

“After all, that was what he had come to do. A ruler maintaining order strictly by brute force has a problem. Such regimes are volatile and fragile, subject to eruptive dissolution. Mr. Trump may lack the experience or interest to even pantomime genuine Christian practice, but he has acute instincts when it comes to the symbolism of leadership. He seemed to know, as he positioned himself as the defender of the Christian faith, that he needed to imbue his presidency with some renewed moral purpose; Christianity was simply a convenient vein to tap.

“‘I think that’s a standard trope in American political frames of reference,’ Luke Bretherton told me on a Monday night phone call. Mr. Bretherton, who is a professor of moral and political theology at Duke University’s Divinity School, cited Cold War efforts to demonize socialism as viciously atheistic and amoral. It was work undertaken with anxious eagerness precisely because socialist criticisms of American life were substantial and compelling.

“‘It’s significant that Trump did this alone,’ Mr. Bretherton observed. Unlike prior presidents who sometimes appeared on grave occasions with priests or pastors, Mr. Trump ‘doesn’t need a Billy Graham figure to give divine sanction. He doesn’t need a priestly figure. He himself can be the mediator.’” [4]

Fascism is salvation, nationalism style, and fascist leaders are saviors. We the people have forsaken our lost glory, grown lax, allowed an enemy to break in and steal our divine destiny. But God’s Anointed One can restore us. Trump has proclaimed all along that he is the only one who can restore the greatness of America’s lost Eden and lead us to the Promised Land, MAGA style. His detractors call politicking and ideology, but his devotees know, and rejoice. Biblical worldview applied to extreme nationalism saves them from the deranged liberals at our gates and counters the wickedness of globalism. The Bible puts Truth with a capital “T” on our side. Suddenly the Founders who took great pains to be sure there could be no national religion were founding America as a Christian country. Suddenly eternal and unchanging Truth is on our side. Truth stops the world so America can get off. No need to adapt, grow, change. No need for the wretchedness of globalism. No need to deal with the shithole countries or the refugees wo come from then, scrounging for our shelter. We can circle around, hunker down, banish the foreigners from our midst and send the miscreants begging. To him who has will more be given. We’re the ones who have more, and God bless the child that’s got his own.[5]

This is worldview-based fascism grown from the most ancient of roots of Western civilization.

Now let’s break that down.

The Elements of Fascism

First we need a definition of fascism so we’ll know it when we see it. According to Madeline Albright, that’s not easy to come by.

“I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. ‘Defining fascism is difficult,’ she responds. ‘First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.’

“It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting ‘the people’ against their ‘enemies’. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about ‘plucking a chicken feather by feather’ so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

“In her book, [she labels Trump] the first anti-democratic president in modern US history’. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

“Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. ‘Outrageous,’ says Albright. ‘It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people…. I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.’ He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism.”[6]

Runway Change

Social and cultural upheaval breed fascism. “Progress” is too fast and innovation too disruptive, social norms are uprooted and culture comes unglued. Strong-armed “leadership” steps in to restore order, to bring us back to the standard of Truth.

“Sometimes social development is just too fast, too chaotic, too disorderly, and ultimately doomed to fail. In the aftermath of defeat; in the dislocations of great recessions; at the tail end of an economic miracle, traditions can melt away, making everything seem possible. But it is at just such moments that higher development all too often fractures and fails.

“The artistic and intellectual innovations of the early twentieth century can make those of the early twenty-first appear unimaginative and conventional… [for example], the social and artistic innovations of the ‘roaring twenties,’ which saw literary forms dissolved in Joyce’s Ulysses and sexual norms exploded in Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. It saw the emergence of Art Deco and Bauhaus in architecture; the popularization of jazz; and the rise of cinema…. [The] erosion of forms accompanying these developments left all too many people feeling unsettled and shaky, as if walking along a slippery slope at too high an altitude.

“Yet innovation by itself is not enough to sustain freedom. True freedom takes work to sustain, and is everywhere reliant upon settled institutions, like freedom of speech and assembly, the rule of law, and the right to vote. These were unstable in Italy and Germany following the First World War, as they were in Russia at the turn of the millennium, and are in Central Europe today. Where democratic institutions are unstable, freedom tends to be suspect; where accompanied by widespread disorder, a visceral appeal to tradition often emerges to shut it all down. With the past exploded and social progress unsustainable, those inclined to fascism have nowhere to turn but a re-imagined past, decked out with all the paraphernalia of the future from which they run for their lives.

“Fascism… meets the premature dissolution of social norms with the heavy hand of authoritarianism; the sudden fracturing of settled forms with the illusion of law and order. It meets surrealism with classicism; atonal composition with military marches; and the liberation of women with a return to the kitchen. But while fascism may romanticize the past, what it actually presents is a brutal alternative to rapid social development.” [7]

Patriarchy and Misogyny

Strong-armed “leadership” always has a patriarchal face and a misogynist underbelly.

“The US may now be on the cusp of similar developments. Women are continuing the slow decades-long rise in the workplace. A younger generation of women is increasingly assertive and confident of its ability to succeed. The movement to end sexual harassment is overturning workplace norms. Gays and lesbians are coming out of the closet; gay marriage has been institutionalized; the transgender rights movement is bringing the scrutiny of gender itself—long an academic and feminist preoccupation—into mainstream debate. Conservatives have reacted with a backlash, reviving a virulent form of patriarchy, which sanctions unrestrained masculine impulses and the denigration of women by powerful men.

“Whether the reason lies in biology or cultural conditioning, men tend to locate themselves in hierarchies of other men. Conditioned to find their place, they typically maneuver through such hierarchies with alacrity, thus faring better than women in more hierarchical societies. Most try to hold their own in the pecking order, but “alphas” aim for the top, and fascists attempt to overturn traditional hierarchies altogether, setting up their own alternative orders, behind which their followers might line up. These newer orders tend to be punishingly vertical, as in the case of the Republican Party, where stepping out of line now ends careers—for their principal organizing mechanism is the ability to bully others.

“Patriarchies are generally understood as hierarchical orders dominated by men. Pre-modern societies are typically patriarchal, with males dominating politics and the family. Gender roles are circumscribed and human freedom is limited.

“Stable democracies are rarely patriarchal, but the regression to patriarchy is typical in failed or failing democracies….

“Fascists do not try to prettify their actions, but rather use them to hammer liberals and minorities into submission, for domination is essential to cowing the opposition and assimilating the weak. Women are vulnerable to this kind of intimidation, for they are seldom as well-schooled in the arts of oppression as men, and are typically more vulnerable to physical attack.

“American Republicans chose their most abusive bully and lined up behind him as he broke all social and political norms to tear down perhaps the most powerful woman in the world for a reason. They chanted “Lock her up!” not simply because they viewed her as a criminal, but because they were reasserting their patriarchal right to power.

“The early twentieth-century social psychologist Wilhelm Reich believed fascists relied on this kind of sexual and emotional repression to foster a masculine aggression that could be directed against outsiders.

“Fascism cannot be properly understood without some consideration of this reversion to patriarchy. Eugen Weber has written that fascism always emerges in response to the rising power of women. The Nazis entered office after a long decade of democracy in which women gained the vote and children won legal protection. The patriarchal family broke down in Weimar Germany, amid an open gay scene in Berlin, and a flourishing of the experimental arts, to which the Nazis responded with a dominant father-of-the-nation, who sought to re-establish patriarchy.

“American Republicans have long sought to re-establish a traditional order that puts women back in the kitchen, but Trumpist fascism represents a more visceral form of domination. Studies have shown that, while support for previous Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and the late John McCain was loosely correlated with more chivalrous views of traditional gender roles, support for Trump is correlated with outright hostility toward women.”[8]

We’ll look more at fascism’s characteristics next time.


[1] “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2; “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” Matthew 24:43; “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Revelation 16:15; “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3:10. (All quotes English Standard Version.)

[2] The Johnny Cash Show – Give Me That Old Time Religion – YouTube.

[3] Catholic Archbishop of Washington Slams Trump’s Visit To John Paul II Shrine, The Washington Post (June 2, 2020).

[4] The Last Temptation of Trump, The New York Times (June 2, 2020).

[5] God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday song) – Wikipedia.

[6] Madeleine Albright: “The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). See also Madeline Albright Warms of a New Fascism, The New Yorker (Apr. 24, 2018).

[7] Fascism:  A Forced Regression to Patriarchy, AlJumhiriya (Oct. 16, 2020)

[8] Ibid.