Religion, Ignorance the Problem, not Faith!

I was watching CBS Sunday morning last week (one of my favorite TV programs) and this particular segment on organized religion caught my attention.

Sometimes, I’m amazed at how many times we don’t think things through as a nation, as a people.  As advanced and thirsty for knowledge as we can be in other areas such as technology and science, we seem to be willingly prehistoric, simple and horribly less evolved when it comes to the subject of faith and religion than any other.

This all tends to create a major cluster-fu#! of ideologies.

Take this shirt for instance. (pictured below) After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, pictures like these flooded
Facebook and other social media timelines.  Let’s break down the dialogue and see if it jives with anything more than an ideological and political smokescreen:

dear-god-you-are-not-allowed-on-t-shirts

Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?

Signed a concerned Student

Dear Concerned Student: I’m not allowed in schools.

God

This sort of message comes from the perspective of some Christians.  It’s directly related to the Supreme Court’s Ruling in 1962 via the Establishment Clause of the Constitution that made it illegal for the government to endorse religious practices in public schools. Since that decision the cries have been frequently ongoing from the conservative right lamenting that this law is somehow an affront to God.

The two scenarios are as follows:

1) That this law literally takes God’s divine presence out of public schools.

2) That tragedies are God’s punishment to the law.

Let’s examine scenario #1: This is the message of the t-shirt.  When I grew up in church I was taught that God was omnipotent.  That God’s presence is everywhere in the earth and the universe for that matter.  I was taught that the presence of God dwells not in buildings, but in the hearts of man. (Acts 7:48, Ephesians 3:17)

When I was in school, I prayed all the time.  I prayed to pass a test that I studied hard for, (or didn’t).  I prayed at lunchtime before consuming some of the worst foods that could be served to children.  My faith in the Divine was always within me.  There was no law that could ever legislate that away.  And so it is today.  If one honestly believes God to be all powerful, then to say God could literally be limited in some way by government is ridiculous.  It’s impossible, illogical and totally antithetical to any form of sound teaching.  I mean either God is or is not who those who follow God say God is.  And if God is, then how in the hell can one keep God out of schools or any other place for that matter.

Banning public school endorsed religious expressions actually does more to protect students of faith.  Seeing that not all Christian sects share the same specifics, how are children who aren’t raised Christian supposed to function healthily in a hostile Christian environment.  Are Muslims or Hindu’s going to get to pray their way too without ridicule?  (Well all know the answer to that!) And what about those whose parents don’t subscribe to prayer at all?

How can one expect to learn math and English if there is constant fighting about Muhammad vs. Jesus?  Since we obviously can’t play fair and respect anyone else’s views, as far as the classroom goes I’d rather keep faith expressions where they belong, in the privacy of hearts, and minds.

dobson

The latest example of the 2nd scenario comes from James Dobson who said that the shooting was a result of God’s judgment or revenge against the nation for allowing gay marriage and abortion.

There are so many things wrong with this kind of rhetoric.  It bastardizes the hurt of the families in Connecticut.  Dobson is doing what others like Pat Robertson have done for decades.  Blaming high profile crimes and natural disasters on God’s so called hate of ‘fags’ and a nation that has turned it’s proverbial back on God.  Its ignorant and blasphemous!  These false “profits” (yes I spelled it correctly) are in effect blaming God for evil; for slaying adults and children as some sort of payback.  Dobson is making himself out as God’s henchman.  Like a gangster movie where the muscle comes to extort the local business owner.  “The boss says if you don’t pay him his cut, well, I hope you have fire insurance.”

This is part of the reason why there are so many of the so called nones in the nation today as illustrated in the CBS piece.  People have grown tired and irritated of religious zealots with these hair brained ideas about who and what God is.  To these idiots, God is a finger waging children slaying gladiator out to uphold all things politically conservative.  These same ‘profits of rage’ never speak of hunger, poverty, racism, classism, racial injustices, cheating and lying preachers as reasons for ‘god’s punishment.’

If their theologies were true of God’s punishment of America, there wouldn’t be a nation on earth that doesn’t proclaim to be a Christian one in existence today.  Their God would have already destroyed them.  That would include Israel in that they don’t believe Jesus is The Messiah.

mafia

Religion: The Enemy of Faith

These religious wars have always been around and will always be.  Unfortunately faith and relationship with The Divine has gotten a bad name.

I have faith in The Divine.  I believe that I am an extension of The Divine.  I believe I have been created, that I have a purpose in this life and what I do, and how I relate to others who were created by The Divine matters.

My mother is a great woman of faith.  She will swear that who and what I am now is a direct result of years of nightly prayers for me.  Who am I to argue with that?

I, and many people like myself are people of faith who don’t subscribe to the character of The Divine being defined for us by people whose ideology are so flawed that only their own arrogance keeps them from recognition.  I support a faith that loves all of man kind.  A faith that comforts the lonely, feeds the hungry and have compassion on the sick.  I support a faith that protects, nurtures and trains children to inherit the next generation and take it as far as they can.  I support a faith that loves justice and compassion equally; that explores the individual and the collective benefactors of the human and humanity.  And I’m good with that.

Relax, God has NOT left the room!

From a child I have been a person of deep faith.  When my mother took me to church unlike most my peers I actually wanted to sit towards the front instead of hiding in the balcony.   I wanted to be up close so I could especially hear what the minister was saying.  If I sat too far back, I would get lost and eventually fall asleep.  Learning about God and the characters in the bible was a fascinating thing to me.  I took those opportunities seriously.

My spiritual journey has taken me through many places.  One principle that has reinforced and remains with me is that my faith is a very personal journey.  The journey itself and the fruits thereof may be shared with the public at large.  But the beauty of it being a personal journey is that no one can prevent my soul from connecting or communing with my creator.

I thought about this when I came across an email recently that suggested (not the first time I’ve heard) that a major downfall of this country happened when the Supreme Court took corporate prayer out of public schools.  Since that time lack of prayer has been blamed for dropout rates, teen pregnancy, school violence etc.  Years ago I was lukewarm on the subject at best.  I remember having corporate prayer in school and the benefits of it was debatable.

There was still mischief, bullying, drugs and pregnancy.  Nowadays I have strong opinions that taking public prayer out of public schools was not the tragedy people made it out to be.  Especially considering the world we live in today.  I’ll make my case:

Religion is Polarizing

We live in a society that is more diverse than ever before.  With that comes faith with all sorts of flavors.  Who gets to decide what brand of faith is emphasized for public schools?  The general consensus among those desiring prayer in public schools is Christianity.  But which kind of Christian; Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist?  Of course not only would either of these choices leave out another Christian persuasion, it would also exclude and isolate people of other faiths that do not include Christianity.

The natural strife would distract from the original emphasis of primary education which is to teach the basics of reading, writing (typing) arithmetic, and now technology.  Remember we are talking about publically tax payer public schools.  This brings me to my next point.

This is what private schools are for

In any given metropolitan area, there are hundreds of private schools which in addition to academics emphasize their faith.  There is nothing wrong with a family choosing a school based on their own faith.  Some schools have struggled to remain solvent as the economy has suffered making it more difficult for parents to afford tuition.  And some have been vibrant enough to offer scholarships to those less fortunate.  I have several close friends who put their children in private school for both religious as well as academic purposes.  All of them are not coming straight out of pocket either.

Some live in public school districts known to be inferior.  Some seek Catholic institutions for their young though the parent’s faith is far from Catholicism.  They simply believe the quality of the Jesuit education will prepare their children for college better than the local public school will.  It is a beautiful thing to have educational choices for American families.  Still, I have never heard one parent tell me that they chose a school because there is corporate in it.

God has never left the building

While I never attended private school of any sort, it never stopped me from praying neither in school nor out.  I prayed for good grades on test before and after I took them.  I prayed to make it off school grounds fast and slick enough to avoid bullies and being jumped on.  I prayed not to get thrown out of school for fighting.  I prayed my team would hit the jump shot or score the touchdown against the cross town rival to win the big game.  Since I believed that God and prayer were within my grasp as surely as my own personal belief, nothing could prevent me from making a connection.  No politician, no school administrator, no teacher.  I didn’t need my relationship with God legislated to make it any more legitimate.

To believe that I don’t support God or prayer within the scope of society or youth would be the furthest thing from the truth.   As I’ve stated I have a strong faith in God and a deep appreciation for prayer.  When I go to some private schools as a sports official, some of them conduct pre-game prayers.  I participate in these prayers with the kids and coaches.  Not because I have to, but because I want to.  When a school is private, they have a unified point of view that everyone agrees to following before enrolling.  No one is singled out or ostracized in the midst of any of those prayers.  Prayer should be a unifying tool, not a dividing one.

I’ve heard it said many times that Christianity is under attack.  I believe that in the United States of America that sentiment has been greatly exaggerated.  It’s easy and historic for most all religions to claim victimization.  Certainly there is conflict and strife among people of faith vs. those that claim none.  The same can be said about differing Christian organizations/denominations etc.  I explained all of this in a previous article titled, “Why I Refuse to Join A Church Part 2”

The reason I say that Christian ‘martyrism’ has been overblown is because there are thousands of churches in any given metropolitan area.  Startup churches are being formed daily.  Nothing is stopping them.  There has always been a running joke about the city I’m from that on every block, there is a Rice House, (Chinese take-out restaurant) a liquor store, and a church.  I don’t call that an attack.

Faith is as American as our desire for freedom.

Finally, I’m not some ACLU honk.  While they have served a good purpose at times, they are also often more zealous and ridiculous as any raving mad TV evangelist.  I look at some of the causes they take up and just wish they would go away.

What I am saying is that at the end of the day prayer is a private and personal thing first.  And if we do well others will be attracted to our faith through our displays of character that reflect the love of our creator.  One doesn’t need religion to have character.  But without character, religion is tyranny.  There is a scripture that says “they shall know me by the love you show one another,” That carries more weight than a nativity scene on school property.

Meanwhile I’d just assume teachers and administrators do what it takes to make our schools better and prepare our youth to create and compete in this ever increasingly competitive market.  I don’t need James Dobson trying to ‘take my local school for Jesus.’

I’ll pass the concept of faith to my children at home.  I’m just saying.

Preach Preacher! Obama Chooses Right “Man of God”

Obama's inaugural  choice ignites outrage

I hear liberals are in an outrage that President elect Obama chose Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration next month.  Supposedly the most vocal resistance is coming from the gay rights movement.  On the heels of the gay marriage ban in California as well as a few other states, they aren’t too keen on the idea of an evangelical Christian praying the president into office. 

I have a message for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters on this one.  “Stand down and pick another battle!”  Its is silly and short-sighted to raise hell over this one.  For one, Rick Warren isn’t being appointed to any office here.  He is a minister and author.  He is not going to set forth any policies that affect the gay and lesbian communities.  If you do some research on him, you will find that he is one of the most forthright, honest and fair ministers in the country.  Warren is no James Dobson or Pat Robertson.  Billy Graham, (the traditional presidential preacher)  walked away after the election became official cause he didn’t want to deal with a black man.  Warren was the only minister who could pull off a presidential form the way he did.  He allowed each man to speak on his faith and not offer an opinion on who he thought was “morally right.”

Does Warren believe in gay marriage?  No.  But everyone who does not agree with you is NOT necessarily your enemy.  Faith as well as the precepts that support that faith are a personal issue and he has a right to his beliefs as you do yours.  Again if you read his works and listen to his messages, you won’t find a person preaching today who is less judgmental than Mr. Warren.  He’s been on the forefront of using his influence for AIDS prevention and awareness, holding an AIDS Summit at his church, with none of the slandering or gay blaming of other ministers.  Who was speaking against Warren as he reached out to Obama for support of that program?  People like Dobson and Robertson who are notoriously anti gay.  Additionally, he is a guy who will listen and dialogue with the gay community.  If one is willing to listen, you never know what could come of it.

I did a post on Rick Warren earlier this year when he was on Meet The Press with Tim Russert.   In the midst of evangelical leaders vying for position to bring more of the divide and hate tactics to the campaign, Warren’s words were so bright and encouraging, I could see the glow in Russert’s face to have a minister of the gospel speak with such love and perspective.  As a man who grew up in the church, loving its virtues and hating its hypocritical and judgmental ways, I felt good about Warren’s message, and even more so his presentation.  This guy has it together.  Of course you should fight on for what you believe in.  However, Warren is the wrong target!

**As an added feature, I am posting the participants of proceedings on January 20th.  You will also notice that Rev. Joseph Lowery (a pro gay rights minister) is also speaking and giving the benidiction.  Obama said this morning that the fact that Lowery and Warren do have some differences of opinions reflect why he chose them both as a reflection of our nation.  Thats a good thing.  What do you think would have happened with a McCain administration?

Pastor Rick Warren – A Faith and Visionary Leader

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama

A Model of A Man of God

This is truly a blog that I am happy to write about.  Over the weekend there was a historical event that took place.  In the home stretch of a presidential election, the pastor of a church was able to bring the two main candidates together under one roof – for one on one questioning.  Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA had both Obama and McCain at his church with a crowd of parishioners and onlookers.  Why am I so glad about this event?  Because in this age of extreme conservative evangelical ministers who want to stake their claim in the political game, Warren is a man who totally gets it!  

Most people know of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, after some 25 million copies have been sold.  Some may even know how he does not accept a salary from his church, how he paid back the salary the church had given him over a 20 year period one he started to benefit from the book, how he tends to preach most sermons at his church in blue jeans.  My impression of Warren took another turn when I saw him featured on Meet The Press last year.  (See Transcript) Listening to him talk about faith and politics was so refreshing.  In this day and age where men representing faith, mainly Christian faith come in the persons of Pat Robertson and James Dobson, guys who are dogmatic in their approach and single-minded in their schemes, Warren is a man who talks about his faith as a committed Christian man who has a worldview that is inclusive towards others in the country – even those who may not subscribe to his specific faith.  He understands that this time, this nation more than ever multi-cultral, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and yes multi-religious than ever before.  And yet we all have a stake in the plight of America and the direction we are to take.  He understands the big picture – and in that his love for mankind is actually a reflection of that of Christ himself.  Warren is a brother who’s spirit is attractive and therefore he is able to engage wonderfully with other people.  Now here is the best part.  Warren is not some ultra-liberal crack preacher who has an anything goes philosophy.  He has a set of values that are very fundamental to traditional Christianity.  The difference is that he does not behave as if he should damn the rest of the world to hell.  Neither does he act as if Christian beliefs are the only ones under attack these days.  Many evangelicals often play victim and act as if the whole world is conspiring against their beliefs.

As a result he was able to have enough influence to command the audience of THE two major candidates in the heat of the campaign.  In the sermon the following Sunday he spoke of how voters should respond to the candidates. 

Don’t just look at issues, look at character. Look at the candidate and say,  Does he live with integrity, service with humility, share with generosity, or not?’

This is much different from the approach I have heard for years where unless a candidate is dead set against gay rights, abortion etc., that vote is in effect a vote against God himself.  Warren understands like many of us that there are many other issues as well that are just as important to Christian and non Christian alike.  Issues such as poverty and education – these are American issues.  I would also argue that these are also issues of faith when you look at the complete teachings of Jesus.  Regardless a president has to be concerned about all of America – not just a segment that shares his faith – even as he holds dear to his own convictions. 

As good as the forum went, it wasn’t quite perfect.  In total fairness Warren had a set of questions and he used those same questions in the same order to both candidates.  Obama answered first.  And although McCain was said to be in a room tucked away until his turn came, it turned out he was not even in the building.  Where was the dear senator?  Somewhere tuned in watching the pastor interview Obama so that he could be ready for the questions himself.  As I watched McCain’s interview, I was surprised as to how easily he answered Warren’s questions – though McCain claimed them to be hard questions.  Some of them he seemed to rattle off before Warren could get the whole question out.  So as impressed as I thought I was with some of McCain’s answers, he was cheating and thus prepared with his script.  Look at the tape.  You can easily tell that there was virtually no reflection whatsoever – but a rapid fire of ready answers given.  Warren said initially that McCain was in another room.  Later he admitted that McCain was not in the building.  For the sake of my original point, I am going to give the good pastor the total benefit of the doubt here.  I believe he conducted an interview for the American people – specifically American people of faith with total honesty and integrity.  It was McCain who messed things up.  Of course Warren is too polished and graceful to accuse the senator – but he also knows that we can judge the facts and issues for ourselves.

Keep up the good work Pastor Warren.  I hope to meet you one day and enjoy some vigorous discussions.