Wednesday 1/4/17

  1. Heretics at the Inauguration
  2. Meatloaf in the Pulpit
  3. Humility, Charity, Epithets
  4. Gullible Press
  5. Motes and Beams
  6. I Erika, take me, Erika …


1

Inaugurations are always curious rituals of American civil religion. It would not be surprising to see a non-Christian religious leader participating. But what’s problematic for me as an evangelical is how Trump’s ceremony is helping to mainstream this heretical movement.

The prosperity gospel — the idea that God dispenses material wealth and health based on what we “decree” — is not just fluff. It’s also not just another branch of Pentecostalism, a tradition that emphasizes the continuation of the gifts of healing, prophecy and tongues. It’s another religion.

In terms of religion, this inauguration exhibits the confluence of two major currents of indigenous American spirituality.

One stream is represented by Norman Vincent Peale’s longtime bestseller “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952) …

Another stream is represented by the most famous TV preachers, especially those associated with the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Paula White are the stars of this movement, known as Word of Faith.

The headwater for both streams is New Thought, formulated especially by Phineas Quimby, a late 19th-century mesmerist whose mind-cures attracted Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. The basic idea of his “gnostic medicine” was that we’re sick only because we think bad thoughts. Illness and death are an illusion.

Harvard’s William James took note of the phenomenon in his 1902 classic, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” He described it as “an optimistic scheme of life” rooted in Emerson and “spiritism,” suggesting that even “Hinduism has contributed a strain.” “But the most characteristic feature of the mind-cure movement is an inspiration much more direct,” he surmised. “The leaders in this faith have had an intuitive belief in the all-saving power of healthy-minded attitudes as such …”

(Michael Horton, Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy, Washington Post)

Yes, they should, but I’m not sure many Evangelicals can spot any but a few heresies, particularly the ones that comes wrapped in a proof-text or two.

2

Classically, there are three ways people try to find transcendence:

  • The ecstasy of alcohol and drugs — chemically-induced transcendence.
  • Recreational sex.
  • The ecstasy of crowds.

Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but at least in America, almost never against the crowds.

This thought was attributed to Eugene Peterson, a retired Presbyterian pastor, author and mensch, by Krista Tippett in her interview with him. Peterson was one of the best contemporary Christian authors I knew as a young adult Protestant. I particularly enjoyed his reflections on the Psalms of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Society’s even more instant now: you can get the book immediately on Kindle.

I’m tempted to say that “the ecstasy of crowds” is a major tool of many American pastors, but I won’t. Instead, a musical offering comes to mind:

3

Sometimes reality outdoes the imagination. Some theologians at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University recently got together to issue a statement. Its authors “invite others into a larger conversation about life in a deeply divided country.” A fine sentiment—immediately followed by an expression of “grave concern” that Trump represents “homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, as well as hatred for Jews, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, and Hispanics.” Let’s not leave out that “he advanced misogyny, bigotry, distorted piety, racial hate, contempt for science, and mockery of prisoners of war and the disabled.” The statement goes on to say, “The ascendancy of Trump to the Office of the Presidency reflects a politics of fear and loathing sustained by a misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist nationalist ideology that offends moral decency and distorts the deepest values of life and civil discourse in our constitutional democracy.” All of this is “alarming, dangerous, and of grave concern to anyone mindful of the core values that unite us in this constitutional democracy.”

Well, that’s quite a bill of indictment. But have no fear: Those who signed the statement are firm Christians. They “seek a politics of humility, charity, and justice,” though neither the humility nor charity seems to extend to anyone who voted for Trump.

(R.R. Reno, While We’re At It)

I have never heard anyone speculate on the origins and functions of irony, but I can say with confidence that it is only a little less pervasive in our universe than carbon.

(Marilynne Robinson, Cosmology, an essay in When I Was a Child, I Read Books)

4

The media spent the better part of a decade swearing they wouldn’t be fooled again by intelligence assessments the way they were before 2003. So why do they now seem prepared uncritically to accept President Obama’s conclusion that “the highest levels of the Russian government” had directed “data theft and disclosure activities” to influence the election? Why are we supposed to believe, as ironclad certainties, the judgment of intelligence officials who recently failed to anticipate the rise of Islamic State?

If these are the reasons for Mr. Trump’s skepticism, so much the better: “Intelligence,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “is not to be confused with intelligence.”

(Bret Stephens) The Washington Post more recently reported that Russia had hacked a Vermont Electric utility, then ate crow the next day.

5

Obama’s state department replied to these remarks by saying, “We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry’s speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and others.” Invoking Qatar and Saudi Arabia as a character witness for the United States’ defense of human rights and building of peace is contemptible, considering that conversion to Christianity is a capital crime there.

Next there is the way the Obama administration has treated Russia as a newly menacing and strangely omnicompetent rival. Last week the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and their families in retaliation for their government’s supposed hacking. But when the Obama administration presented its evidence for Russian hacking to the public, it was so weak and circumstantial, it almost invited those perusing it to disbelieve the administration’s claims:

Instead of providing smoking guns that the Russian government was behind specific hacks, it largely restates previous private-sector claims without providing any support for their validity. Even worse, it provides an effective bait and switch by promising newly declassified intelligence into Russian hackers’ “tradecraft and techniques” and instead delivering generic methods carried out by just about all state-sponsored hacking groups. [Ars Technica]

These tantrums are not without reason. One prefers to lash out at an enemy beyond the border than to look at one’s own failures square in the face.

(Michael Brendan Doughterty)

6

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” she’d noted on the wedding invitations. “I had cold feet for 35 years. But then I decided it was time to settle down. To get myself a whole damn apartment. To celebrate birthday #36 by wearing an engagement ring and saying: YES TO ME. I even made a registry, because this is America.”

(Erika Anderson via Rod Dreher) Yup. ‘Fraid so. This is America.

And we’re baffled at fake news?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.