Friday, December 31, 2004

My Christian Jihad

Read this article first to put this in context

When I read this article in the wee hours of Monday morning, November 8, I became so distraught I couldn’t catch my breath. I went hot and then cold and then hot again. I felt faint. I felt like crying. I felt like screaming. My face flushed hot and my vision blurred. My mind went into a tailspin. I don’t know how long I remained in this state but the tempest in my soul, which temporarily churned my body’s chemical equilibrium, passed as suddenly as it arrived. I was left with one of those rare moments of extreme clarity. The confliction, which had been blocking my creativity for years--locking my words inside a molten cauldron of anger, shame and fear--resolved itself in that instant. I saw how my whole life had been leading me to this moment of decision. I knew then what was required of me if I was to maintain integrity and progress any further on the spiritual path that I set out on in November of 92. Before this moment of clarity could cloud and cause me to reconsider, or give my fear time to marshal rationalizations for caution, I immediately began an email to my sister, who was the one family member I had kept in the loop during my decade long quest and re-creation of my spirit. But I knew that I was about to move way beyond her comfort zone and I needed to let her know this. And I needed to have just one more heart to heart exchange with someone who had grown up in the same petrie dish as I had. The following essay is based on my side of the resulting email exchange over the next several days:

This is the last straw for me. It proves that theocracy is already here. This war has become a Christian Jihad--even worse, a Christian Crusade in the tradition of those fought in the Middle East a thousand years ago. But if this is Christian in any way shape or form, I can no longer even think of myself as Christian. If I must believe Christ countenances this, I opt out. That would make this hell so what do I have to lose? I can no longer keep my mouth shut or my words bottled up about it. I now feel compelled to participate in the ranks of the dissenters. Which is not an easy choice in this political climate. It may well become a criminal offence before long and dissenters be subjected to open ended confinement without legal representation, harassment, torture and even death a la the Inquisition of 600 years ago. My only hope against that was for Bush to lose the election. The right wing has been pushing hard to have dissent in a time of war criminalized as treason and since the war on terror is a forever war which cannot be won (which I can’t help but believe is designed to be un-winnable) the Bill of Rights will be eviscerated and this will no longer be the America of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.

But I know this will be the final straw estranging me from the family. I got my Joywrite web site up again and initiated my blog, Joystory. Will soon have Joyread posted too. I was excited about it and about sharing my triumph with the family. Now I don't think so. I need to feel completely free to speak my mind. So, since everything I think about, read about, and write about now is related in some way to these issues, I won’t be sharing the URLs to my websites, in order to keep my mind free of the anxieties of causing pain to my family. This breaks my heart because it means that I can no longer hope to be truly known by anyone in my family in this life. If they were to adhere to Scripture as we understood it growing up, they would have to forswear fellowship with me. As I can no long either love, worship, praise or surrender to a god defined as having any part in these things.
I repudiate the Dispensational theology which purports to explain this. They call the past 2000 years of soul slaughter the Church Age! AKA the Age of Grace?! There are nearing 7 billion souls on the planet right now and my heart breaks for each and every one. War, famine, flood, extreme weather and a global economy that is about to tank because the American economy was the main thing sustaining it and now it is about to collapse under trillions of debt. I empathize with the Iraqis as much as the Americans. And with every other nationality, religious or ethnic group. I cannot understand any world-view--philosophy, theology or doctrine--that writes off 99 percent of every soul born as a matter of course. I cannot imagine enjoying heaven if I were to retain any knowledge of the existence of those souls suffering in hell. And if the knowledge was removed from me that would be a kind of rape of my soul.

Nor can I understand, how the theology of redemption can countenance war, even a so-called just war. For it involves the killing of a soul who might have made a different choice in the next minute or the next day or the next year or even the next decade... How can that be justified by those who believe that the un-reborn are going to be tortured for eons and eons beyond comprehension with no further chance of changing their mind? How could anyone who believed that have a hand in the taking of their lives and then glorify it in the name of their god? They are reverting to the Old Testament and completely negating the New Testament message of forgiveness, redemption, and metanoia--repentance or change of heart, the possibility of a new life set on a radically different course. They set aside Jesus’ own words regarding those who live by the sword also dying by the sword as irrelevant. And with that, they have mutilated the Gospel. Thus I can no longer assent to it without mutilating my heart and mind.

Let me clarify some things. Note that I did say 'if' in several places. The weight is on the 'if'. I had found peace in the understanding that there was more than one way to understand certain doctrines and that one could have a personal and private understanding of them and a personal and private relationship to the Ultimate Other, the Source of All, the Ground of All Being. No matter how you name it a name cannot define it. Names by their nature delimit. Words in any language accrete new meanings over time as snowballs rolling down a snow-covered hill gather snow, gravel, twigs, leaves, gum wrappers, etc. The English word ‘god’ has acquired so much baggage, I find it difficult to use it at all without wanting to write whole pages of clarification, thus I avoid it when possible. It would be a misreading of what I admit was an emotional rant to assume that my disgruntlement is just a result of my filling my mind with things that support a false sense of the ‘True God’. The definitions of god that I was ranting against are not mine. Mine are rooted in the Fruits of the Spirit which are my guiding principles. I weigh all that I read, see, hear and experience through the lenses of love, joy, peace, patience, temperance--balance, equilibrium, tolerance and self-control are all concepts embedded in the Greek word translated as ‘temperance’ in the KJV--goodness, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. Also grace, mercy, justice, hope, liberty of body and mind, truth, logic or reason (though it has its limits) understanding, redemption, healing, forgiveness, compassion, beauty (as a spiritual concept) among others. I rooted my faith in my personal experience with these Fruits of the Spirit and a relationship with that Spirit as it was and is exemplified in the life of Jesus and the Living Christ.

I began to relax when I finally understood that the Brethren of our meetings did not have any power over my life, my mind or my spirit. What is disturbing me now is that men like them have maneuvered themselves into power in our country which was founded on the principle that freedom of conscience was a profound human right. But these men do not believe that. I heard one interviewed on CNN shortly before the election. He said 'truth is not a democracy.' This statement scares me. I can not disagree with its plain meaning: that truth by its nature is not something which can be determined by majority agreement. But that was not the context in which this man spoke. The only ‘truth’ he was interested in was that which is defined by his Fundamentalist Doctrine and his implication was that those ‘truths’ needed to be imposed from above on all citizens. I remember how painful, how damaging to personal, familial and community relationships the power of excommunication was when the Bible Meetings I was raised in were disintegrating twenty years ago. It gives me shivers to imagine any of those Brethren having the power of life and death over those who disagreed with them? It has happened before in the history of the church. Many times. It had happened within the memory of America’s founders, which is why they created the separation of church and state. The state should not have power over people's consciences.

But the Fundamentalists who are now gaining power in the government have as their highest priority to abolish the separation of church and state. Once they have done that it won't be long before they begin to use their power over other Christians who disagree with them. The state has the power of the death penalty. They have other powers as well. Excommunication used at the level of the state would mean that dissenters could be denied things like jobs, voting rights, food stamps and other government aid, passports, bank credit, mortgages, public office, positions as teachers, civil service and other government jobs, business licenses, building permits, custody of their children, etc.

It is the Fundamentalist theology that I cannot assent to. It is their definition of ‘god.’ their definition of ‘doctrine,’ and their definition of ‘Christian’ that I opt out of. As long as they did not have the power and as long as their version was not the common understanding of the meaning of 'Christian' I still felt safe to think of myself as Christian. Now I feel a shame attached to that name. And not because I am ashamed of Christ or Jesus. But because I am ashamed of the arrogance, the mean-spiritedness, the narrow-mindedness, the hate-mongering, the warmongering, and the fear-mongering of those who have currently commandeered the common understanding of the meaning of 'Christian'--at least here in America and thus how American Christians are being perceived world wide.. And that is why I feel the need to join the ranks of the dissenters while it is still possible to do so without incurring dire consequences. Since word craft has been the gift I have been entrusted with and coupled with my strong sense of justice and my empathy with the vulnerable it could be a powerful force for re-awakening the American conscience. Not to mention the Christian conscience. I now feel obligated to use it thus.

I have been watching developments in America over the last twenty years--Reagan's second term on--and I have been seeing a pattern developing that is very similar to the rise to power of the Nazi’s in Germany after W.W. I And I am tired of just watching with trembling bones. It may be comforting to think that this fear is generated by my being hoodwinked by my sources of information--books, Internet, mainstream media etc. But, having once had to take back by force of will the authority over my own mind from inimical ideologies, I have been sensitized to the potential, which makes it unlikely. As does my extensive research into how knowledge is communicated in its various forms from the structure of language to the ligaments of rhetoric. I have studied logic and the uses of logical fallacies in propaganda and I have learned how to tell the difference between fact and opinion. I am a cynic and a skeptic when it comes to these things. That's why I like to trace the source material as far back as possible to primary sources or primary established facts before I solidify my opinion. But my opinion seldom gets solidified beyond the stage of Jell-O since I do not believe that humans have the capability of knowing anything with absolute certainty. I have learned how to get a sense of the underlying philosophy of a writer from the way they organize and present their material, how they use facts and the spirit that infuses their words. I am not easily snookered.

Having an open mind does not mean agreeing with everything your mind encounters it just means being willing to consider a thesis or hypothesis in light of presented evidence. But evidence can often be distorted or irrelevant and I understand that. And knowing that today's mainstream media is nearly 100% owned by corporations that also own defense industry or energy industry companies, I realize that although some facts still make it into the news they are always skewed to favor the interests of the owners. Then there is the fact that all mainstream news sources are supported by advertisements and this also effects what gets reported and what does not. As the media corporations’ bottom line is about profit before it is about truth. That is why I do not depend on them for facts or understanding. I only continue to watch and read those sources to keep myself informed on what most other Americans are being told, and to follow the trends in the propaganda. I have other sources online and elsewhere who add other facts that help me put information from the mainstream media in wider context. And it is some of those sources which have convinced me that our American liberties are in dire danger: Thom Hartmann, Orcinus, the Yurica Report, Public Eye’s watch on the far right, Alternet’s Rights and Liberties are just a few.

It just finally hit me that I needed to put up or shut up. That my unique experience could be of help in the struggle to maintain those liberties for all. In any case, I need to make my stand where my conscience is rooted no matter the cost. Isn't that the quintessential Christian concept? It is time for me to join the dialog because I have important insights to contribute to it. It was my fear of my family's alarm and disapprobation when they come to learn of my views on certain things that was holding me back. Thus I understood that my conscience was still constrained by fear of disapproval. That is unacceptable. That is as much a prison as the old doctrines. The moment I concluded that, the words that had been dammed up in my heart in a molten lake of dismay began to flow and they have not stopped flowing since. Day and night, asleep or awake, they flow. I can't catch them all on paper or keyboard. But this seems to indicate that I have found the meaning of my struggle--my personal Jihad--and my purpose. Maybe it is a futile endeavor. But many thought David's duel with Goliath was too. Sometimes the little people with an insight need to have the courage to stand up and speak truth to power. In a way, that is what every one of the O. T. prophets were doing.

0 tell me a story:

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