The Terror of Sharia Law

Conservatives in the west, particularly in America, are terrified of what they call “Sharia creep,” that is the legal undermining of historic western democracy with the law-code based in the Islamic holy text, the Qur’an.

Here is what the Qur’an requires (in an excellent piece you should read):

Regardless of this nostalgia, the thought of living under any rules remotely “Islamic” repulses Westerners. Take comfort in that 99.99% of immigrant Muslims have no motivation to overthrow Western democracies. It is these republics that uphold Quranic principles such as freedom of religion and expression (2:256), equality before the law (4:135), presumption of innocence (49:6), gender equity (4:32, 33:35), social safety nets (9:60), rule of law (33:60), and strong ethics (70:21-70:33).
Freedom of religion? Gender equality? Social safety nets? No wonder conservatives are terrified of Sharia law. It represents everything they oppose in government and society.
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What Repentance Means

Cynthia Bourgeault’s wonderful book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message is an absolute delight. She is definitely onto something, even when I find myself disagreeing with her. The book is full of gems, big and little alike.

One that struck me was her understanding of the word “repentance.” She writes,

The Greek that it’s translating is metanoia. And guess what? It doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself for doing bad things. It doesn’t even mean to “change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness,” although it is often translated that way. The word literally breaks down into meta and noia, which, depending on how you translate meta (it can be either the preposition “beyond” or the adjective “large”), means “go beyond the mind,” or “go into the larger mind.” The repentance that Jesus really is talking about means to go beyond your little egoic operating system that says, “I think, therefore I am,” and try out the other one–the big one–that says, “I am, therefore I think.” (p. 37).

This is captivating stuff. Growing up, I was taught that repentance meant feeling sorry for sin. When I got older and started reading theology I was told that repentance actually meant to “change direction,” or to “turn around.” But Bourgeault is right, the word actually does not mean either of those things. It means to transcend our selfish, egoist narrative and see the bigger picture. It means “enlightenment,” “epiphany,” in just the mystical sense of transcending the self and seeing a bigger world, the bigger narrative of God.

When I view my actions from my egoist self, I can (and do) justify it all. They deserved it, or I was justified in taking the action or saying the thing that I said, or they had it coming. Our egoist mind conjures up justifications like the federal government prints money. There’s never a shortage. To enter into the larger mind, then, is to see ourselves from outside ourselves, to transcend our own perspective, and to move into a state of consciousness alive to the kenosis of God, the self-giving, non-dualistic means by which we experience God and his presence.

So the next time we read “Repent, and believe,” let’s try to remember that Jesus is actually saying, “Transcend the ego and love.”

The Paris Climate Change Agreement: Too Little, Perhaps Too Late

In an interview with Democracy Now in Paris during the climate talks, Kevin Anderson, who is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, admits that scientists are fudging the implications of their data, but in the opposite direction of what many think. They are not exaggerating the climate problem, but are afraid to state the full problem and so downplay the consequences of global warming.

Well, those of us who look at the—running between the science and then translating that into what that means for policymakers, what we are afraid of doing is putting forward analysis that questions the sort of economic paradigm, the economic way that we run society today. So, we think—actually, we don’t question that. So what we do is we fine-tune our analysis so it fits within a sort of a—the political and economic framing of society, the current political and economic framing. So we don’t really say that—actually, our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, and we’re very reluctant to say that. In fact, the funding bodies often are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions. So the whole setup, not just the scientists, the research community around it that funds the research, the journalists, events like this, we’re all being—we’re all deliberately being slightly sort of self-delusional. We all know the situation is much more severe than we’re prepared to voice openly. And we all know this. So it is a—this is a collective sort of façade, a mask that we have.

As if this was bad enough, leading experts and activists have said that the agreement made in Paris last week are simply not enough and will, simply as they stand, guarantee the deaths of millions around the world.

We’re standing on the red line because policymakers and delegates debating at the conference of parties on global—on climate change have messed up, have ignored the crisis actual people are confronted with. They have failed to realize that every day’s delay means sentencing millions of people to death. Now they have crossed the line, the red line. They have crossed the red line by not setting real targets for emission reduction. We are hearing from the COP nice talks about 1.5 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees—below 2 degrees Celsius. Sounds very nice, but with all the commitments they have made, the intentions to reduce emissions is sentencing the world already to more than 3 degrees to 4 degrees Celsius, and that means many of our children and many of us cannot survive in a world like that.

One of the ways in which we are not even accurately measuring U.S. pollution is by excluding the military from such measurements, despite the fact that the U.S. military is the world’s largest polluter.

DEREK MATTHEWS: Well, the U.S. military is the largest polluter in the world, and so I think it’s difficult to have an agreement, at the COP agreement, that excludes U.S. military’s pollution.

AMY GOODMAN: How is it excluding?

DEREK MATTHEWS: Well, they’re not tracking the amount of pollution that is emitted from the U.S. military as part of U.S. emissions. In addition, the U.S.—the military, militaries across the world help enforce extractive economies.

We must keep up the fight if we want a planet inhabitable for life.

Cruel God Christianity

It wasn’t until 2010 that I realized how dangerous one’s beliefs can be. I was part of a church that was everything that conservative and fundamentalist evangelicals say they want in a church; patriarchal; authoritative, with an emphasis on church discipline and courts; courtship instead of dating; creation not evolution; women and wives made the food and wore the dresses; men submitted to the elders and the women submitted to the men; staunchly libertarian, strong support for men like Ron Paul; dominionist, liturgical, conquest-oriented; homeschooling not public or private schooling. Our pastor was friends with many of the bigwigs in homeschooling and conservative theological circles – R. C. Sproul Jr, Doug Phillips, Geoff Bodkin, Doug Wilson, etc.

When my time at the church ended and the smoke and debris of my departure had settled, I had a serious case of PTSD and could not drive past a church building, or look at my Bible, or pray, without being overwhelmed by panic attacks, nausea, and terror. This intense level of reaction continued for a full year, and in each year following has only gradually diminished. Today I still have mild anxiety about attending worship, and at least once a month simply cannot face the prospect of going.

What I learned is that certain forms of the church, certain structures, have certain results. What I discovered is that the thirst for authority frequently translates into a thirst for authoritarianism in doctrine, worship, and practice. The thirst for strong leadership frequently translates into dictatorial power.

Conservatives insist these are bugs, not features, of their beliefs.

In his fascinating book, Cruel God, Kind God, retired Presbyterian minister and psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo explores just how wrong these conservatives are. He shows how psychological and spiritual abuse are, in fact, the staples of conservative theology. His sub-title says it all: How Images of God Shape Belief, Attitude, and Outlook.

The thesis of his book is startlingly simple – our view of God shapes our view of everything. If the God we worship is wrathful, cruel, vindictive, and merciful only after being appeased by blood, only conditionally, then this leads to certain kinds of theologies, and people are shaped in certain kinds of ways.

In the book, he pinpoints the origins of what he terms “Cruel God Theology” and “Cruel God Christianity” in a system that he terms the “Plan of Salvation,” a system rooted in the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which then creates theological sub-constructs in the Latin (or Western, or Augustinian) doctrine of original inherited sin, the infallibility of Scripture, the predestination of the elect and damned (in some instances), and the doctrine of eternal torment in hell. All of these sub-doctrines are constructed to defend and conceal the vindictive core of Cruel God Christianity, a wrathful God that can only be appeased by death and blood.

Once exposed in this way, the consequences of such a view are easy to predict for anyone with knowledge of the psychology of abuse.

Anxiety, shame, and neurotic guilt are common consequences of such process. Less easy to detect but nevertheless perceptible in the attitudes and behavior of Christians who have been affected by conservative theology, is the inhibition of the full development of personality. In this case, intellectual and affective elements are sacrificed in order to achieve an inner appeasement that reconciles the contradictory attributes of God and calms down the feelings that stem from these attributes. (p. 5)

The suggestion that the anxiety, shame, and neurotic guilt which result from the abusive theology of Cruel God Christianity reduces intellectual and spiritual development is no partisan slight. It is well known from the investigation of other forms of psychological abuse that intellectual, emotional, and psychological maturity are hampered by such traumatic systems, and that the brains of those involved do not develop properly.

As Lotufo notes,

The doctrine of penal satisfaction is the dorsal spine of the plan of salvation and of conservative theology as a whole, so this book dedicates more attention to it than to other doctrines, but one must bear in mind that such conservative theology promotes a doctrinaire system and can be understood only in the context of this system. We shall see that there is evidence that shows that the beliefs that make up this plan of salvation are harmful to mental health and also to spiritual life. (p. 22).

Guns and Prayers

After the San Bernardino shooting, conservative GOP lawmakers rushed to tweet out thoughts and prayers to the victims and the community. They were quickly called to the carpet by twitter, who pointed out that prayers, if they are all we get, are worthless.

Cue the strangled wail of evangelicaldom, as though a great many voices cried out in horror, and were suddenly offended.

Evangelicals rushed to point out that prayers aren’t worthless, and to once more arrogantly presume that anybody who says anything against prayer must be a flesh-eating atheist.

Of course, nobody ever said that prayer was worthless. I’ve been following the progressive social media and web for quite a while now, and I have not seen one single person suggest prayer was worthless.

If evangelicals could get beyond their own shrill fit of the vapors, they might notice that.

What progressives said is that prayer is nice and all, but we need more than prayer. Notice the basic difference here, which conservatives seem unable to grasp. They want more than prayer, not less than prayer.

But basic logic and paying attention to what people say isn’t really in the evangelical wheelhouse, especially not when they can get the base all fired up over all them damn atheists waging their imaginary war on Christianity.

Evangelicals have dubbed this act of pointing out that we need more than prayer to be “prayer-shaming,” as asinine and absurd a reframing as one is likely to see, but one which plays into the evangelical-conservative alliance of delusional victimology and imaginary cultural persecution.

Quite frankly, I’m fed up with their nonsense and if it takes a verbal drubbing to knock some sense into them, then so be it, because this bullshit has about run its course.

Charles Pierce has some choice words for the evangelical wailers over at Esquire, and they are well worth reading.

It’s long past the time to break the power and influence held over our politics by a splinter faction of one form of American Christianity. It’s long past time to make refashioning the Gospel into talking-points—​and, worse, a vehicle for ratfcking—​a political liability rather than a political asset. It’s long past time to ignore the bleating of self-professed Christians who specialize in marinating in their victimology, who build their own Golgothas, and who drive the nails into their own palms. If so-called “prayer-shaming” is the first step in that direction, then Chris Murphy’s entire career in politics has been worthwhile.

I am heartily fed up with this nonsense. I am heartily fed up with people whose personal relationships with their personal Lords And Saviors lead them to knuckle the poor, subjugate women, brag about their gunmanship, and topple inconvenient regimes that happen to be sitting on an ocean of oil.

Better words may never be written about the present issue of “prayer-shaming,” and in sum, the fact that progressives (long believed the bastion of atheists and the dreaded secularists by evangelicals) have exposed the blatant hypocrisy at the root of evangelical life and evangelical theology.

The offense runs deep and wide. Progressives cannot be right, by definition, for evangelicals, and so to be called on the carpet for their shit so completely and so starkly by their enemies cannot be tolerated. So they push back about the value of prayer, completely missing the point that nobody was attacking prayer in the first place.

All they do is reinforce the cultural belief that all evangelicals want to do is pray, and this exposes the pietistic heart of evangelical theology they have been at great pains in the last thirty years to pretend does not exist.

Yet, clearly, prayers are not enough. Jesus himself was the first prayer-shamer:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full (Matt. 6:5)

13Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of Gehenna as you are.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as full of justice but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the just. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna? (Matt. 23:13-15, 23-31)

Prayer without deeds is worthless, as is evangelical theology if it does not take immediate pains to reform itself.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Holy Impatience

Western theology has often been focused on future events, somewhere off over the horizon. Walter Brueggemann seeks to challenge this notion in his book In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith.

A provocative title for a provocative book. In this book, Brueggemann looks at wisdom literature in the Bible, particularly the life of David, and finds that wisdom sets us free.

Thus, the life which wisdom sees as the goal and meaning of human existence is the well-being of the community and each of its members, i.e., shalom. Moreover, “peace” for the whole community is intensely here and now. There is no “reward in heaven.” There is no deferred dividend. Rather, the life which results from wise action emerges together with the wise action.

Wisdom does not ask a person or the community to wait. Well-being comes in the process of choosing wisely. Thus, wisdom affirms that the goal of responsible living is intrinsic in the very process itself. Being able to live shalom is both the wise action and the happy consequence.

Wisdom represents a protest against such a deferred goal. It is pragmatic and impatient. It affirms that life’s values are embraced or rejected here and now–any other approach which lets us off the hook is quite irrelevant. Any talk of the will of God which doesn’t lead to life for the community here and now is idolatry. Anything which creates life for the community, no matter what its source, is the will of God. (pp. 15, 16, 17).

The Problem is All the Liberal-Communists

Zizek reflects on how we are distracted by being thrown from crisis to crisis rather than evaluating the broader issues that give rise to the crises themselves: the real problem is capital and its ability to co-opt anything that sets out to resist it.

It is the self-propelling metaphysical dance of capital that runs the show, that provides the key to real-life developments and catastrophes. Therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective,” systemic, anonymous. (Zizek, Violence, pp. 12-13).

In short, because nobody is directly responsible for such “objective” forms of violence, they tend to be more or less invisible to us.

Zizek points out that there has been a great merger between the Right and the Left under the shadow of global capitalism. Capitalists like Bill Gates can now fund anti-capitalist poverty and development programs.

The new liberal communists are, of course, our usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as their court philosophers, most notably the journalist Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology has become all but indistinguishable from the new breed of anti-globalist leftist radicals… Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalised Struggle against Capitalism, are today’s true conservatives fighting their shadow-theatre struggles and out of touch with the new realities. (Zizek, Violence, p. 16).

These new conservatives have managed to unite the old Right with the old Left in the favor of capitalism itself. State redistribution has failed, or so the argument goes, and thus the only means to redistribute wealth is by volunteer charity from the wealthy and the corporate powers. The leftist radicals inherited or built their giant companies and now operate a kind of capitalist-communist charity fund that focuses on counteracting subjective violence: homelessness, poverty, racism, rape, etc. Such a position is not laudatory because it refuses to evaluate what causes the problems of poverty and h0melessness in the first place. Capitalism causes the problem and is, magically, somehow, the solution as well.

We need to ask ourselves whether there really is something new here. Is it not merely that an attitude which in the wild old capitalist days of the U.S. industrial barons, was something of an exception (although not as much as it may appear) has not gained universal currency? Good old Andrew Carnegie employed a private army brutally to suppress organised labor in his steelworks and then distributed large parts of his wealth to educational, artistic, and humanitarian causes. A man of steel, he proved he had a heart of gold. In the same way, today’s liberal communists give away with one hand what they first took with the other. (Zizek, Violence, p. 21).

This is why the delicate liberal-communist–frightened, caring, fighting violence–and the blind fundamentalist exploding in rage are two sides of the same coin. While they fight subjective violence, liberal communists are the very agents of the structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence. The same philanthropists who give millions for AIDS or education in tolerance have ruined the lives of thousands through financial speculation and thus created the conditions for the very intolerance that is being fought. (Zizek, Violence, pp. 36-37)

We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every progressive struggle today. … Precisely because they want to resolve all the secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system as such. (Zizek, Violence, p. 37)