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A Discourse on Discourse

To say that our nation is deeply divided would be akin to saying the Plague was a little bug or that World War II was a tiny skirmish. From every corner of our country, people are taking to Facebook, Twitter, and online communities to share their expertise on everything, from politics and religion, to social and economic issues. That, in and of itself, is a fine thing. The issue is that most of these folks are coming from the perspective that their opinion is the only valid one, and if you disagree then you are an idiot.

This is what happens when the whole world gets a voice.

But honestly, I don’t think much has really changed. If 1860 America had Twitter, I’m sure the political tension would be just as vicious (I recall smear campaigns against Abe Lincoln criticizing him because he looked like a monkey; I can envision the memes now…). We haven’t really changed all that much: we are a society of people with opinions. In days gone by, our upbringing and our personality played a role in how vocal we would become about those opinions. These days, however, the internet has afforded an anonymous platform from which every self-anointed armchair expert can shout their views for all to hear..

Sadly, that simple anonymity has also allowed for the gloves to come off. Instead of civil discourse, angry rage and vicious attacks seem to be the order of the day. While there’s technically nothing wrong with this, I can’t help but feel that a truly decent society would take umbrage with making every political and religious argument a necessary bout of “I’m right, you’re stupid.” It is truly reprehensible, to see how human beings have decided to treat other human beings, all because they feel their opinion is the only valid opinion. And it’s very easy to find a group of others who share your opinion, isn’t it? When you surround yourself with like-minded people, your conviction in your beliefs grows and you become unable to see any other path except the one to which you passionately subscribe. While this may make you secure in your own beliefs, the lack of challenge and discourse eventually breeds an inability to properly defend your position. Thus, you fall back on other tactics. Attacking grammar. Implying stupidity. Making it far too personal.

If a person only ever goes to church, they’re only going get that point of view. You have to engage with others, to have that point of view challenged. It doesn’t have to be so that someone can change your mind. You grow in your belief and your position when you’re forced to defend it or explain it so that others understand.

But in hiding behind our glowing rectangles and squares, we have all but ruined our ability to have productive discourse. The notion that you don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company is now more a necessity than an exercise in social grace. And that’s a shame, because no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, no matter what religious views we hold, we should always be open to discussion on them. We should always be ready to have our views challenged. Defending one’s beliefs is a rigorous exercise that requires truly understanding WHY you believe what you belief. Why do you support this candidate? Why do you follow this faith?

This is explicitly stated for those of a Christian persuasion. “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). I cite this as an example because I am familiar with it, but I would be surprised if most faiths didn’t express a similar sentiment. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Why do you believe what you believe? Too many of us don’t have answer. We blindly accept what we’re taught, blindly accept the “news” we watch on TV or read on Facebook. We don’t challenge it, and we don’t challenge ourselves.

Debate is good. Discourse is good. It’s a healthy, necessary component of an intelligent, functional society. The fact that the vast majority of Americans cannot tell you why they follow Christ, why they’re agnostic, why they’re liberal, why they’re conservative, is incredibly disheartening, and even dangerous to our society. Facebook and Twitter have created a country full of “bumper sticker philosophers” – people who perpetuate short buzz words, phrases, or topics that are expressed in oversimplified terms, that appeal only to emotion and not to intellect. Most of these things cannot stand under thoughtful scrutiny. Yet, we allow them to pervade our news feeds every day, never giving them a thought. The idea of a longer discussion, the idea that maybe I could learn something if I listen to the other side, has been replaced with the very simple, primitive mindset that I am right, and they are wrong.

I am guilty of this. I’ve flooded my Facebook feed with enough political memes to sink a spaceship. I’ve chosen to give that up recently, in the hopes of making more thoughtful posts about issues and maybe stimulating some discussion. Granted, there will still be many people who glance at these and shrug. They’re too busy with their own concerns to worry about it. They have their opinions and that’s that. No room or need for change or growth. That is everyone’s choice, of course. But I’d like to use this space to maybe start some conversations. Because I need to feel like this divided country can come back together again. I know there are people on every side of every argument that hold out that hope. We just need to find each other.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Blogging, Current Events, Faith, Writing

 

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Pact with the Devil, Indeed

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love.”
– Buddha

It’s true that a great majority of people hear the word “Christian” and shudder.  So many people have had negative experiences with people who throw that word around like they know what it’s supposed to mean.  Self-centered, self-righteous assholes get up on their soapboxes and claim that God has foretold the world will end on a certain day, at a certain time.  Or that if you are getting sick or if you are poor it’s because you don’t have enough faith.

People like that piss me off.  They are swindlers, schemers, and liars, false prophets every one of them.  Yet these are the “Christians” who have the most exposure.  These are the Christians who found non profit organizations (yet somehow they themselves are always sporting elaborate wardrobes, new cars, and a wealth of materialistic delights) and who beg you to send them money to support their so-called ministry.  God will heal you if you just send us more money.  So they can afford to buy themselves more exposure.

A variety of “Godly men” have been in the national spotlight over the years, at first for their ministry and then usually again because their dirty laundry finally catches up with them, or they put their foot in their mouths and swallow it to their thighs.  Jim Bakker (a master scam artist who suckered gullible Christians out of billions of dollars in the 1980’s) is a well-known example of the former.  Jerry Falwell is a perfect example of the latter, with his horribly divisive comments about September 11th.  Perhaps also worth noting is “faith healer” Benny Hinn, who predicted the destruction of the gay community in the mid-90’s (must have slept through that) and the resurrection of dead people who tuned into Trinity Broadcast Network if loved ones pressed the hands of their departed family against the television screen.

Such absurdities may be easy to dismiss for most rational people.  It’s not that I doubt God’s ability to raise the dead.  It’s that I doubt he would use a pompous, self-absorbed asshat windbag like Benny Hinn to do it.  Sure God can use who He wants for what He wants.  But there’s a long recorded history of the types of men God has worked through, and none of them dressed in brand-new clothes or built elaborate sets or begged for money.

Ranking right up there with these so-called righteous men of God is Pat Robertson.  Mister Robertson is the founder and head of the Christian Broadcast Network and the well known television show, The 700 Club.  I admit that in my nascent years of faith, I watched the show a lot.  It was one of the only shows that I could really stand on the local Christian television station.  I also had a more personal tie to the show, in that my one-time friend and schoolmate’s sister had been featured on the show after surviving what could have been a fatal accident.

But in recent years, I’ve grown more frustrated and skeptical with the message I am hearing from these people.  When Jerry Falwell suggested that this country deserved the 9/11 attacks, Robertson agreed with him.  He has personally attacked and denounced a variety of denominations and groups, has made false prophecies about world events that he claims were God-inspired, and has had some very strange financial controversies.

I take it personally to a degree, because he supposedly represents my faith.  Yet the more I see of him, and others like him, the more I realize it’s not my faith at all.  It’s a corruption and perversion of it.  The men and women who represent MY faith are toiling in relative obscurity, with little or no money of which to speak.  They are languishing in prison cells in other countries for their faith.  They are out there personally making a difference every day.  And it is a very unglamorous job.  But I don’t remember Christ driving a new luxury sedan or wearing the latest in Jewish fashions of the day, either.  And the differences between Him and the men who claim to represent Him today don’t end there.

Robertson’s comments regarding the situation in Haiti are appalling.  If you haven’t heard, the man has suggested that Haiti made a pact with the devil himself to get rid of the French, and have been cursed ever since.  Such a statement is staggering – it truly calls into the question not only the faith of this man, but his very sanity.

The people of Haiti amaze me.  Haiti may be a poor country, but it was a country born from a slave revolt.  To suggest that the people of Haiti were WRONG to want freedom from a foreign power invading their land and enslaving them shows a staggering lack of comprehension.  Our country wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the colonists’ desire to be free from Britain.  Israel herself was enslaved how many times – yet Pat Robertson apparently has no problem with them shaking off their oppressors and finding freedom.

I hesitate to even dignify the “pact with the devil” comment with my time and attention.  It stands on its own as a mind-numbing display of ignorance and stupidity.  I cannot even fathom a motive for this statement, short of perhaps the need to drum up new members for the 700 Club by creating a media controversy that brings Robertson more attention.

Yet Robertson’s words are echoed by literally thousands of Christian pastors across the country and across the world.  Divisive, hate-filled, judgmental comments that serve no purpose except to sow hatred and reap conflict.  And the prophets spewing forth this poison fashion themselves as soldiers in God’s army, fighting the good fight against the evils of this world.  It’s us versus them.  Good versus evil.  No shades of grey.  No room to judge individuals – only entire cultures and religions.

They rally around Christ’s words that “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34)” and, like countless others before them, they wage unforgiving Holy Crusades where their way is the only right way.

What they fail to do is interpret Christ’s words in the context which He was speaking!  This is something I expect to be posting more about in the days to come, but put simply, you cannot pick and choose random phrases and make them mean what you want them to mean.  You have to put aside your own preconceptions about what you think it meant and look at the text.  Let it stand on its own.  Look at the original context in its entirety and form your opinion based on that. 

Christ wasn’t saying that His message was meant to be divisive and that everyone who stood against that message would be punished.  He was saying that the words He spoke were going to cause conflict because they flew in the face of everything the Jewish people understood about how God operated at that time and what their place was in his plan.  Certainly there is some “trickle down” in that anytime one’s preconceptions are challenged there is the potential for conflict.  But that doesn’t mean you gird up, strap your sword on your thigh, and charge off to judge the enemy.

The 700 Club is doing its part to send help to Haiti, which is admirable.  But you can bet they are also spoon-feeding the suffering people their twisted version of the Christian faith.

The time is long past to wake up and realize the staggering contradictions in this old school, hellfire and brimstone doctrine.  Has the church been missing the real message all this time?  Was the true focus of Christ’s message and ministry about damnation and judgment?

I recall incredible acts of compassion.  I recall a focus on restoration – on making people whole.  And not just certain people.  ALL people.  That is why he brought “a sword” – the Jewish people were no longer the only ones with free access to God.  Now, everyone could be restored.

I’m not going to dwell too much on this right now.  I do have many more thoughts on this topic and I will definitely post them sometime soon.  But now is not the time for preaching, it’s the time for compassion.  It’s the time to reach out to a suffering nation and do what we can to help them.  And it’s the time to silence the boneheaded, thoughtless ass clowns who spew out venomous bullshit at suffering innocents.  I implore readers to realize that this idiot does NOT speak for the Christian faith.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2010 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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