I don’t care if you’re “just asking” with that passive-aggressive hooey or whatever. I’ll close threads when I see them, and if people start repeating them I just might ban the offenders. This is a political website. Take your religious wars elsewhere. – NS
I’m just asking–
Religion, as it always does, will play a significant role in the 2012 Presidential election. It certainly did in 2008. This is perfectly reasonable: After all, man is a spiritual–divinely engineered– creature. We think and ponder of God because God put a yearning for Him in our DNA. Of course He would enter the political discourse.
On a more prosaic note, religious bearing will be significant in our politics (if for no other reason) because we are at war against the radical elements of one of the world’s most populous religions, and the responses of our leaders posed by this tremendous challenge are bound to be colored by their faith–, or lack thereof.
One look no further for proof of this than President Obama.
He is a professed Christian (-more on this in a moment) that has gone to great lengths to prove how little his Christianity actually binds to his decision-making process: For example, he seems perfectly fine ignoring the 139th Psalm on a nearly minute-by-minute basis. But, no matter; I take Mr. Obama at his word that he accepts the salvation that Jesus offered, and that he is genuinely humbled that the God of the Universe laid down His life so that Barack Obama might join Him in heaven as a new and perfected creature.
I’m not a theologian. I’m a conservative. And, if there is one thing that delineates the baseline of conservatism, it is our reverence for the foundational. We revere our traditions, our institutions, our founders and their historical narrative. This can be applied to our faith-lives, as well.
We hold our religious teachings and traditions, and their historical underpinnings, in utmost regard. There is a reason that Luke goes to great lengths at the beginning of his Gospel to trace the lineage of Jesus back to Adam, on through Abraham and David: People that love God love His plan, and marvel in the utter ingenuity of it all.
So, let’s examine the religious historical narrative of the two supposed front-runners in the 2012 Big Game: One a Mormon, the other an African Congregationalist. We could subtitle it “Jeremiah Wright vs. Joseph Smith”
As an older teenager, Joseph Smith, pattering around his family home in Palmyra, New York, was a diviner, a treasure hunter, a finder of misplaced tools and such, and enjoyed the local repute of someone that could use his magic “peep stones” (-odd little stones with holes in them, fashioned into a sort of eye-glasses) to find lost possessions. He’d gone out on treasure-hunting expeditions with his father, convinced that the Spanish explorer DeSoto had buried his golden treasures in upstate New York (!), and that he and a squad of itinerant gold-diggers could find it with Smith’s magic seeing-stones.
The group dug and dug, but, of course, the treasure remained elusive. The men that had accompanied him in the dig were eventually convinced that Smith and his dad were humbugs, and were trying to relieve them of their money–; or, at least, their time.
The 1820’s and 1830’s was a wondrous period in America. Government in general was about as small as it ever would be in relationship to the exploding population. The slavery issue was finally engaged in serious moral terms, and was being battled (mostly in print) as a Christian religious revival was sweeping the land. It was called the “Second Great Awakening”.
Churches were springing up in the 1820’s and 30’s like gas stations would spring up in the 1960’s. All manner of religious teaching was available to a public that had almost no forms of entertaining diversion much beyond the village Meeting House– especially on the prairie and lands “out west” (-which, in the early 1800’s meant Illinois, and western Kentucky and Tennessee). A firebranding, hell-raising preacher with a commodious tent and alluring posters made a fantastic Wednesday evening spectacle.
It was in this milieu that Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses “Watchtower”, Millerism, and Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science were birthed, and garnered impressive followings. It was time ripe for new thoughts on old-time religion.
Back in New York, Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the Angel Moroni, who revealed to him the “Golden Plates” which were said to be inscribed with the proper version of the Scriptures in a language reported as “reformed Egyptian”. Smith said he was able to transcribe the plates using… well, a set of “peep stones” that the Angel conveniently also provided Mr. Smith.
After some time spent cloistered away with the plates and his peep stones (known now to Smith as the Urim and the Thummim– which have been described variously as “spectacles” of over-large size, or simple eye-glass style shades) Mr. Smith translated the plates into what today is known as the Book of Mormon. Not one Egyptologist has ever, then or now, heard or seen of “Reformed Egytptian”, and one such that was claimed by Smith to corroborate his story later said in a sworn deposition that Smith was lying.
Remember, the Golden Plates purported to be the true bible, free of translational errors committed over the centuries. Oddly, though, the Book of Mormon refers, at least tacitly or even explicitly about events that occurred oftentimes centuries after the last Revelation of John was written. It also contains little oddities, such as references to men that live on the Moon who look like Quakers.
But, no matter. Every religious text has its oddities. Leviticus, for example, reads more like the Federal Register than a faith-based tome. What is foundational in importance, though, is that Mormonism allows for the possibility of mortal men to become Gods unto themselves, and thus strip the sacrifice of Christ of its fundamental relationship to divine salvation: That is, that we are granted salvation by a loving, eternal graceful Lord irrespective of our works if we simply submit to the understanding that Jesus died for us, and invite him into our hearts and souls. For a Christian, this is the only path to salvation–even though, as the old Christian saw says, narrow is the gate.
Mormonism, as far as I can tell, (in a Willy Wonka sort-of-way) attempts to reestablish a bizzaro-world Levitican law based on a questionable, if not outright fraudulent religious tome. And thus, Mormonism is not Christian; it is, as Walter R. Martin so concisely lays out in his landmark book “Kingdom of the Cults”,–a cult.
Now, I do not in any way wish to cast negative light on the individual members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints. All of them (and I do mean ALL of them) that I have known personally are outstanding human beings and citizens. They are probably the most productive Americans as a sub-demographic. They are loving, gentle, strong folks. They have beautiful families. Their church life should be emulated by others. But, this does not absolve the doctrinal mess that the Book of Mormon and it’s history reveals.
Yeah, well– if God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, wouldn’t it seem probable that Moroni brought Joe Smith golden plates with magic Peep Stones to read them? No, not really. First of all, the tablets that God Himself inscribed were held for centuries in the Arc of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holys and were seen by scores of rabbis through the generations. The Mosaic writings dovetail perfectly with actual known historical events, and the life of Christ fits into the writing of the Prophets like imprinted divine DNA. By contrast, Moroni brought Smith a library book (golden though it was), and it had to be returned when Moroni departed this mortal coil. There were a handful of Mormon Witnesses that claimed to have “spiritfully” or “faithfully” seen the Plates, but there are internal inconsistencies with their narratives, and some later recanted.
Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ is a curious matter, too.
The roots of Trinity United go back into the very founding of this nation, to the Puritanical fathers, and, indeed, to the English reformation.
The Church had been roiling in foment for decades when the first separatist Pilgrims struck out for the new world, away from the religious persecution that the Anglicans and Catholics were igniting in England at the close of the Sixteenth Century.
These folks wanted to devoutly worship as their conscience dictated, but in a framework of communal and hierarchical method. It was really something quite new: No papacy, no crown, no ecumenical council was going to oversee their worship, or their lives. They would look after each other. Zealously.
After a time, naturally, some came to resent the austere and somewhat dictatorial rule of the likes of John Winthrop, and other Puritan Fathers who spoke of the “Shining City on a Hill”. There appeared, in the mid 1600’s, a sort of schism, where certain members of the Congregation thought that these self-same members ought to have more say in the religious and communal development. Soon, they split off and founded their own communities, becoming, at first “Congregationalists”, and, in the fullness of time, Connecticut.
Already, we are seeing the young shoots of “Yankee Independence”. Of course, there were many arguments about theology, and practice. Eventually, Maryland was settled by Catholic adherents. In a little under a century, the die was cast: Northern New England was of puritanical stock, New York and Connecticut were given to Lutheranism and Congregationalism, Maryland was Catholic, and the south was mostly free-wheeling Laissez-Faire.
In the words of Rodney King: Can’t we all just get along?
As I say, the America of the 1830’s was a spiritual brush-fire. Most of the kindling was provided by the tinder of slavery. Didn’t Christ admonish his followers to submit to earthly authority? Shouldn’t slaves submit to their masters? and so forth. It is really difficult, in 21st-century America to envision a land wholly given to Judeo-Christian theological argument and adherence as pastime: But it was. The wholesale butchery of a civil war, two bloodthirsty world wars, and a nuclear arms race would naturally diminish the thought that God was still working in the world. But, in the mid 1800’s, that was all in the future. In the meantime, America needed to deal with human slavery. Much of the arguments were fought in Church.
Clearly, when viewed as 1840s America, God was still working in the world, or at least some in the Congregational movement thought. Rather like Moroni’s chatter, it hadn’t all ended with John’s Revelation. The proof of this must be in the flow of popular thought vis-a-vis slavery and democratic institutions in general. God was still revealing His will to a fallen world. Thus, in stark contrast to the seeming unyielding rote ritual of Catholicism, or Lutheranism, the Congregationalists were creating a new church– one distinctly man-scented, but a new one nonetheless. One that at first investigated, and then became obsessed with, man’s earthly development– and became less enthused about his heavenly salvation.
Again, one senses, in the age before even telegraphy, much less radio or television, there was a simple entertainment quotient at work here. After all, going to the church meeting house is much easier when you leave feeling good about yourself, versus feeling bad — especially when you have to spend the better part of the day to simply get there, after feeding and watering the horses, hitching up the dray, trodding through mud-rutted corduroy roads in even the worst of weather.
As the nineteenth century moved apace, and the culture became more urbanized, man’s condition in his relationship to God and other men started to receive some grevious blows. Some of the basic moral tenants, which heretofore were taken for granted, were under sharp assault. First the Civil War, where mankind was first exposed to the utter brutality of mechanized slaughter, brought about a fundamental questioning about man’s ability (and his much-vaunted democratic government) to even act as a moral instrument. Perhaps all of the divisions in Christs’ Church was to blame. If we all believed in the same God (an allusion to which even Lincoln had spoken), why do we have so many different denominations? Why all the doctrinal arguments? A United Church might bring about a sense of healing.
So, slowly at first, and then, by the 1930’s a torrent of disparate Protestant denominations began folding into one another. Covenant Christian Pilgrims, African Baptist, New Zionists; an entire M&M bag of churches absorbed one another in a series of ecumenical congresses. What seemed to bind them was their embrace of earthly grievance: Reconstruction, poverty, workers rights. In a sort of reverse Big Bang, the Congregationalists were reconstituting themselves. Thus, by the 1950’s, the United Church of Christ was born.
Like the 1820’s, the 1950’s were a convulsive time for theology in America. In addition to the founding of the UCC, Elijah Mohammed and Wallace Fard were creating a witches brew of black nationalism and Islamic storytelling, folding them into what became known as the Nation of Islam, whose main feature was to insist on the superiority of black contributions in western advance. Full-throated Black Christian Activism was blossoming, most notably in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Oddly, young Jeremiah Alvesta Wright wasn’t terribly swept up in these passions. Both his Dad, a prominent Germantown, Pennsylvania pastor, and his mother, a successful school administrator, raised their son Jerry in an exquisitely (for the 1950’s) solidly middle-class environment. He joined the Marines, then the Navy, becoming a medical specialist. Wright even received a commendation from Admiral George Burkley, JFK’s attending physician, for Wright’s later medical service provided to LBJ during one of his heart episodes.
Eventually, Wright felt the calling that had attracted his father, and he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1968. He was hired by Trinity United Church of Christ in 1972. He grew his ministry from some 90 worshippers to over 6000 by the early 1990’s. He did this, in part, by borrowing a page from Elijah Mohammed, and his predecessors at Trinity, insisting on the centrality of “Blackness” as a touchstone to personal growth in Christ. A bit odd when viewed from the outside, no doubt, but even Saul, later Paul, tailored some of his sermons to fit the local crowds.
I am not in any way comparing Jeremiah Wright to St. Paul. Clearly, Wright’s virulently Anti-American screeds, and his thinly veiled anti-Semitism are repellent. But, at least as far as Trinity goes, he attempted to tie the loose ends back to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and His eternal divinity. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, rather dismisses it.
And in this is the primary reason most Evangelicals, the most dynamic and motivated voter block in the Republican party, will not –I repeat will NOT– campaign or support Mitt Romney with much enthusiasm. And, if there is one required ingredient in the 2012 crushing defeat of Barack Obama, it is voter enthusiasm for his opponent, whoever he or she might be.
To the slinky-spined Chris Christy and Mitch Daniels types, this will seem a confounding bit of antique superstition. But, to Evangelical Christians, it is foundational.
Conservatives rightly revere the writings of our Founders. They are thoroughly taken with their ingenuity, their patriotic fervor. They take with utmost seriousness our Founder’s original intent, even inveighing future jurists to divine it whenever possible, however possible. Such reverence ought to flow toward the foundational rebar of their religious beliefs, as well, if consistency in world-view is considered important. The foundations of Jeremiah Wright’s, and Barack Obama’s church is also the foundation of John Winthrop’s. The foundation of Mitt Romney’s is sadly in a young 19th century New York con-man.
In a odd way, one of the few earnest utterings I’ve heard emanate from Barack Obama was a brief bit from an interview on the radio, in which he said,
…I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God. But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do. That’s what I pray to do every day. I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith.
As I say, I don’t see a lot of Christian fruit in Barack Obama to back up these words. But, that’s between God and Barack Obama. These words are not John Winthrop, by a long shot.
But, it’s not seeing the world through Rose Colored Peep Stones, either.