Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Haters Will Hate... and Stupid Haters Will Hate Stupidly

Today I read this "article" from NC State University's newspaper– or, at least my friend who attends State says that what is on this website is found in their paper. Apparently the writer (I am assuming it was Austin Bryan) was asked to write about Christians making social change or creating a more inclusive atmosphere in both governmental and social circles. This is indicated by the last (and very small) paragraph on the page: "Dear Christians, like these leaders, use your privilege to empower those without it. Use your privilege to create a more inclusive government—not just one that advances the needs of you and your Christian family." However, the entirety of the article, which read like a poorly written, highly polemical open letter to Christians, did not follow this goal. No, instead the writer understood this to be his opportunity to show the ignorant little Christians everything they are doing wrong. Oh, and he's not just doing this as an outsider who knows nothing of Christianity. He's doing this as someone who "went to church and prayed to God." Oh man! That really must make him the expert on all things Christian! From the beginning our friend Austin claims he was previously an insider. However, he changed his mind after being enlightened and discovering that he "only believed what [he] did because [he] was born into a system that privileges people like you [Christians]." Ah, there it is. Christians are privileged. That must mean that their belief system is wrong. Because we all know that the great Karl Marx definitively proved that the underprivileged are right in belief and action and that the privileged must be overthrown. Well, as privileged a place as Christianity has in America, it's not quite the Outopia Christou (Christian Utopia) that he describes. Just last year there was a court battle at UNC Chapel Hill over a professor being denied a promotion because he was an atheist. No, wait. That's wrong. It was because he was Muslim. No, wait. That's wrong too. He was a Christian. Oh! But I thought the venerable Austin told us that "when you’re in the classroom you don’t have to fear your opinion will be ignored or dismissed because of your religion." Oh, wow I guess it might be that way in the classroom, but not for the one teaching the class. Or, perhaps it is not actually that way in the classroom? Perhaps one need not have their ideas dismissed because they actually have a good professor that encourages an open exchange of ideas? Or a professor who would rather a student find their own way to a truth than have it forced upon them? Wow, and those are two options that I thought of right off the bat! What if I were actually to give it some thought? Perhaps it would make our friend Austin's assertions seem even more absurd!

Moreover, all of his accusations (1) are unfounded, (2) apply only to a small group of (generally fundamentalist) Christians (what if I were to do the same thing, writing an open letter to all Muslims and blaming them for Radical Islam and the way women and Christians and gays and everyone who is not a radical extremist are treated?), (3) are verifiably false, or (4) apply not merely to Christians. His rhetoric assumes that all Christians think alike. Oh, but he said that not all are sexist, racist, or homophobic, right? Well, yes. But the rest of the letter is addressing or naming the general term "Christians" repeatedly. What's more is the title of the article is "Dear Christians"! Not "Dear Small-Group-of-Racist-Christians" or "Dear Group-of-Christians-That-Doesn't-Exist-But-I'm-Using-You-As-A-Straw man-Attack-On-Christians-Everywhere," but "Dear Christians." But let's address some of the real problems so my point gets across and we realize how pathetic (in the most literal sense of the word) this rhetoric is.

Apparently Christians expect presidents to be practicing members of our religion. Some do, that's true. Most, however, do not. The prime example is Mitt Romney. He was a Mormon. Do you know who voted for him? The Republican party, who panders to Christians, yes, but is made up of far more than just Christians. If Christians have "attacked" President Obama for not being a Christian, surely, if we are going to be charitable at all, we should assume it is because he claimed to be. Perhaps they were setting him up as an example of how not to act (on that note, Austin, you shouldn't split your infinitives; it's bad form and bad grammar). You ask if it would have matter had he been a Christian. Well, probably not, except that they disagree with his decisions on religious grounds. But apparently that's unacceptable for you. Perhaps you would prefer if America didn't support religious freedom and therefore we could neither vote our conscience nor disagree with someone on religious grounds, which, incidentally, is the same thing as disagreeing with someone on ideological grounds because, ultimately, a religion is an ideology. So should we also forbid people to exercise their rights to vote their ideologies? If the answer is yes, then I guess one can no longer vote. And, while on topic, he says Christians "take advantage of government and blur the lines between separation of church and state." I will concede your point if you give specific examples, but Austin, you don't. You merely say that Christians pray in public areas. That is perfectly within our rights to practice our religion, just as it is perfectly within your rights not to pray or even to "pray"/hope to yourself or to the universe aloud as an atheist or an agnostic. That's called religious freedom. Christians pay their taxes, therefore Christians can practice their religion in the public (and governmental!) sector, no matter how much you dislike it. It is a constitutional right and no claims to "separation of church and state" (which by now I hope we all know is neither a law nor constitutional, but an ideological principle mentioned only in a letter by a founding father by which the country as citizens has guided itself) can change that. So long as Christians are tax payers, they are allowed to be on or around governmental property even as they worship or pray.

Concerning the incident with Duke's chapel, I mostly agree with you. The only problem is that this doesn't represent all Christians. Just the hyper-conservative, fundamentalist variety. And most of those are at least a generation, even two generations before ours. Besides, if Duke is that willing to change their minds after a hyper-conservative asked that money stopped being given to Duke by his followers (very, very few of whom I would imagine give money to Duke– a typically left-wing school!) then perhaps your criticism should be of them. I won't deny that I disagree with what Frank Graham did, but I'm a Christian. Don't say (or even imply) all Christians bully people into making certain decisions. It's untrue.

Next, Austin, you said that Christians can wear whatever clothes or jewelry they want without fear of retribution? Actually that's not true either. Several of my friends were asked to go home (quite apart from any official school rules and quite against their rights!) from school as children when they showed up wearing Christian t-shirts or clothing items. Sure, it's not quite as extreme as a burka, but they were not allowed to wear them, that is, of course, until the parents actually pushed back and said, "By what law are you punishing us?" The schools were then forced to say, "Well, no law; just some people thought it was offensive." Well offensive doesn't always mean that it should be banned or illegal. Need proof? Here's a court ruling that exact thing. But, of course, you then go on to speak of hate crimes. Perhaps you could have connected the two thoughts a bit more clearly, but, hey, I'm no managing editor of a school newspaper. You say something about 1,340 hate crimes being committed in America in the last year. Not only do you make it sound as if Christians are the ones perpetuating these acts of hate, you make it seem as if Christians don't take a stand against it. This too is false. Just because the country is full of racists and bigots who are willing to hurt Jews and Muslims does not mean that there is something wrong with Christianity. Sure, you just want to make Christianity know how privileged it is. But isn't your whole point to get Christians to do something about it? Perhaps the best way to do so would be not to insult your audience as you incite them to action. Perhaps instead of trying to convince them to abandon their motivations and beliefs, you encourage them to add new ones or to build on preexisting ones (Galatians 3:28 and Matthew 5:38-48, anyone?).

To skip a few plainly stupid accusations and to get to a more important one, I'll skip a couple paragraphs and discuss your "law making" section. Christians limit civil rights? Oh, we do? Wow. And right after you speak about Christians assuming that other religions are monolithic, you do the same thing to Christianity. Heard of Stanley Hauerwas? No? I'm not surprised. Heard of Karl Barth? Heard of George Hunsinger? Heard of about a million other theologians who would (and do) support progressive parties. Plus, on the ground the case is similar. Christian politics are by NO MEANS (in the apostle Paul's words, μη γενοιτα) monolithic. They are extremely variegated. My sister is a Republican. My dad is a supporter of the tea party. I'm a hardcore Libertarian. My friend Matt is a Democrat. I have friends who are part of the Green party, and one idiot friend who joined (or at least said he did) the Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High party. To say we all support the abrogation of gay rights or that we vote against gay marriage is simply not true, even if we believe the act of homosexual sex to be sinful. Your claims are simply absurd and false. We infringe on others' freedom to worship? Really? Give me an example. Give me one. Don't make up accusations and have nothing with which to back them up. I'm a Libertarian and many of my Christian friends are as well, and all of us support every religion's right to worship freely, so long as it doesn't impinge upon another's freedom or commit a crime (with the libertarian rejection of the existence of a victimless crime in mind). You say we have it as our duty to God to make everyone's life like our own? Well, we do have the charge to go into all the world preaching the gospel, but there's no charge to do so through government. In fact, the whole Christian movement arose as a response to oppressive government and found its identity in being so– just ask J.D. Crossan.

Finally he exhorts us Christians to make a more inclusive government and society. Well then, Austin, become a Libertarian! I don't see why you would ask Christians not to use their influence over institutions to support an ideology you disagree with and then ask them to exert their influence over institutions to support an ideology you do agree with unless you're just wildly inconsistent and– dare I say it *GASP*– hypocritical. Perhaps you're not wildly inconsistent or hypocritical, but your article was quite foolish. Perhaps it's time for NC State to stop printing diatribes by those unfamiliar with Christianity, Christian theology, Christian belief, and Christian (T/)tradition(s). If you wish to change the world, I assure you, Austin, this is not the way to do it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Rhetoric of Dispensationalist Homiletics

Dispensationalism is, as I have said before, inherently speculative. Their interpretive lens, while in the name of literalism, is guided by current events, celestial portents, Middle Eastern politics, nuclear development, and myriad other things. One need not look very far to find this to be true. See anything written by John Hagee or David Jeremiah (even today I saw a book of his entitled What in the World Is Going On?: 10 Prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore). I speak as an insider (well, previously an insider who still spends far too much time around insiders), so I understand that dispensationalism pushes political and social agenda but is also interpreted by it. So it should be no surprise when what they have been saying comes true. "Look! Iran is getting Nuclear weapons and Netanyahu is asking for our help!" Well, duh. The Republicans have built an entire political party on the foreign policy best described as, "Standing with Israel against all others, no matter what they do or say, even when it's really morally reprehensible or bad for the US's welfare."

But this is not so much that which this post is concerned. This post is concerned with the rhetoric employed by dispensationalist leaders and teachers (you know, just your everyday, run of the mill, evangelical pastors). They employ several different rhetorical devices in order to get their points and agendas across. The first main point I'd like to bring up is the rhetoric of fear. They might not be hellfire and brimstone preachers, but these pastors employ the fear of the unknown for many reasons, but most often to get people to "get saved" or to strike them into some sort of social awareness that they need to vote republican/stand with Israel/be on the lookout for the antichrist (all the while condemning "undue speculation")/etc. etc. Whatever agenda is pushing the dispensationalist at the moment, the rhetoric of fear with accommodate, but it will almost always involve Middle Eastern politics and an exhortation to watch the news.

The rhetoric of fear is reinforced with the rhetoric of the unknown. The Bible, they say, contains codes and prophesies that one must work out before the dreaded and imminent end arrives. God gives us clues in the Bible (especially, for some strange reason, in the Old Testament, occasionally in the more obscure and/or apocalyptic teachings of Jesus, and, of course, Revelation; sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll get a line or two from something Paul has written taken out of context and interpreted unlike anyone in church history ever has done) and in the celestial heavens (which, I must point out, is astrology, not Christian theology). Blood moons, wars, the Middle East, nuclear weapons, Bush vs. Obama, Islam and Terrorism, all of these things figure into the rhetoric of fear but the unknown future and the somewhat unknowable "prophetic" texts supplement it as the rhetoric of the unknown.

The rhetoric of rejection is that which they use to speak of those who have rejected rapture theology. Those who have done so are regarded– and often labeled– liberals (those who reject premillennialism fare far worse and are called heretics, apostates, non-Christian, etc.). Do you believe the Word of God? Yes. Then you believe the rapture! It's as simple as that. Well, no it's not. But you will never hear that in these churches. Are there huge interpretive differences? Yes. Are they valid? You'll never hear if they are, because if they reject the rapture they must reject a literal interpretation of the Bible. And we all know what you are if you reject a literal interpretation of the Bible. That's right. A heretic and a liberal.

Perhaps the way to proceed is to encourage these folks to read their Bibles. Simply that. For if they take most of the proof-texts they're using in context, they will soon find out that they are taking a rather extreme interpretive stance on them which was never intended by the author(s). If they will get their heads out of the clouds (quite literally I mean; staring at the moon and stars was never an acceptable means of divination in scripture) and away from FOX or CNN for a while, they may find out that not much has really changed except, perhaps, technology. I for one will be ordering A Case for Amillennialism by Riddlebarger for the pastor of my parent's (previously my own, too) church and asking him to read it with an open mind. I think it dismantles the dispensational system better than any other book I know of, and I really, really hate dispensationalism. It's better he hear from Riddlebarger than from me because I am not quite so gracious with the system.

In any case, those are a few of the points I'd like to make about the problematic rhetoric of dispensational homiletics. Thanks for reading.

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