Posts Tagged With: humility

Theology and Politics

Theology and Politics

Marion D. Aldridge

We are living in a time when politicians are trying to be theologians, and theologians are attempting to be politicians. It’s not working out very well.

Over the years, I’ve resisted the temptation to post my political inclinations on Facebook or my blogs. I’ve been a happy American, blessed beyond reason under both Democratic and Republican Presidents.

My specific concern this week is when people speak, as if they knew what they are talking about, in areas where they don’t know what they are talking about. For instance, the Bible.

I know little to nothing about economic theory or geological formations. Neither is a field in which I have expertise. So, I offer no opinions.

The Bible is a Big Book. It says a lot of things. If you study the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and take a course in systematic theology, and another in ethics, you will discover quite a long and complicated history about how people of faith should live in the secular world. Here are a few of my summary thoughts about matters of faith, as they relate to the law:

1) Jesus was clear when he said to let Caesar have what belongs to Caesar, and let God be in charge of the God-stuff.

2) Paul was a follower of Jesus, willing to go to jail for disobeying laws. In fact, when he named his top three motivators, the law did not make the list. He said the Big Three are Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of those is love.

3) The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and Paul all point us to higher ground: “What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The law is not to be our moral compass. Legalism is a methodology for defending, instead of fixing, a broken compass.

These are principles even a politician can use as an ethical guide.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations, South Carolina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Arrogance of Everyday Evangelical Anti-Semitism

The Arrogance of Everyday Evangelical Anti-Semitism

Marion D. Aldridge

The most obvious examples of intolerance in contemporary America are the obnoxious bigotry of the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Jews and Fags” fame) and the hate-filled prejudice of other white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. Fear, paranoia, and clannishness are the usual culprits, resulting in a worldview of Us versus Them.

Such hostility has been largely outside my ecclesiastical sphere, except when I see it on television. Though I’ve been to thousands of Christian meetings over my seventy years, I’m grateful I have no memory of hearing overt anti-Jewish political propaganda at any of them. I read about obsessed fanatics and the events in which they’re involved only when they emerge from the dark corners of humanity, committing some newsworthy atrocity against their neighbors.

Anxious, angry individuals, not part of any organized movement, also qualify as xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Hidden from public view, these shriveled spirits go unnoticed until they write anonymous letters to say something like, “Your type doesn’t belong in our club.”

Unfortunately, however, there is a subtler path that results in anti-Semitism, one not based on fear or paranoia, but on theological arrogance. It is created from the cavalier assumption that all Jews (as well as all Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims) who have not converted to Christianity are going to spend an eternity tortured by their Creator in a horrifying hell.

This is fundamental to the theology of many evangelical Christians. They thoughtlessly accept this belief as temporarily harmless dogma concerning a far away future. This doctrine, however, is a social malignancy, a casual contempt for our neighbors who do not share our faith. It is not a benign belief when a segment of the population contends that God condemns all Jews or Muslims, casting them into eternal torment because they are not “saved.”

Many of those same individuals will read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or Elie Wiesel’s Night, and be appalled that such events actually happened. They may visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and genuinely be moved by the displays there, finding it beyond comprehension that six million Jews were slaughtered during the reign of Nazi Germany.

Then they return, time and time again, to a hostile, hellish, and humanity-diminishing theology.

A survivor from a Nazi death camp may have visited their classroom when they were studying World War II. They were sickened by what they heard. Maybe they listened to the horror stories and saw the videos from the liberators of the concentration camps. They would quickly disavow any relationship of their Christian faith to such cruelties.

Yet they slip back into the habit of accepting, never challenging, the cruel, deadly doctrines concerning the perpetual punishment of Jews they were taught as children.

Some well-traveled Christians have visited the sites where the terrible events of the Holocaust occurred—Buchenwald, Auschwitz, or Dachau. There are no words to describe what they saw there. They returned home and mentioned the experience to their friends when they attended church the next Sunday. They might have even felt uneasy when the preacher insisted that everyone who is not a born again Christian is going to hell.

But their brutal theology never wavered. They had been taught, and so they believed, that Jews were not destined for heaven. They may remember that over half their scripture consists of the Hebrew Bible—from Genesis through Malachi. They may feel slightly uncomfortable when they realize there would be no Christianity unless there had first been Judaism. It might dawn on them that not only are Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Miriam Hebrews, but so also are Mary, Paul, and Jesus.

Nevertheless, they compartmentalize their lives—Jews (Them) over there and Christians (Us) over here.

Some Christians build sophisticated theological arguments around acknowledging Jews were God’s first “chosen” people. But, according to their worldview, Christians are now God’s favorites. The bottom line is that those who are not selected for inclusion as full partners into God’s Kingdom are secondary, not valued, worth less.

That sounds like the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism.

Making decisions about the eternal destiny of other people is above my pay grade.

What can I do?

“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8 NRSV)

(First published in the Holocaust Remembered supplement to The State Newspaper, April 6, 2018.)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

“Lukewarm” must mean predictable.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

A Book Review by Marion D. Aldridge

This was a good book for me to read, though I alternated between being energized by it and frustrated.

Brooks is a conservative columnist for the New York Times. Yet, a liberal friend recommended this volume to me. I liked the possibilities of that combination. As a reader, a writer, a political observer, and a theologian/ethicist, I tire of the predictable. Tire. Tire. Tire. I think “lukewarm” must mean predictable. There’s nothing there. Some emperors have no clothes. Blah blah blah…

Brooks is better than that. But “The Road to Character” is uneven. I accept some of what he writes, but it’s pretty random.

I like his premise in the first sentence, that, as we age, we ought to pay more attention to our “eulogy virtues” than to our “resume virtues.” His method, for a few chapters, is to tell the stories of men and women who are successful, who he believes demonstrate character—Dwight Eisenhower, Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day and others. Brooks lifts up certain words as important: perseverance, humility, dignity, and moderation. There also seems to be a lot of dumb luck involved in the attainments of his examples, not to mention some extraordinary intelligence.

Brooks attempts to make a case for character and morality. But it was impossible to figure out which traits I should be emulating. His examples are often people with giant character flaws. I understand that even the best of us have deficiencies, but Brooks’ analysis seems scattershot. What is the takeaway?

Brooks is of the “Life is complicated” school, as am I. Life is full of paradox. But it is the task of a non-fiction author to help the reader work through the contradictions. On one page, he writes, “The more you love, the more you can love.” Okay. Two pages later, he writes, “All love is narrowing. It is the renunciation of other possibilities for the sake of one choice.” How are both true? I have my own opinions, but I’d like for Brooks to help me understand how his ethical framework includes both concepts simultaneously.

Finally, in the last chapter, Brooks produces a “Humility Code” which, like the rest of the book, was fairly ambiguous—seven pages of a bit of this and a little bit of that.

Lots of epigrammatic hints from David on how to live a life of character, but if this was a road, I got lost somewhere along the way.

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Quotations, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Audacious Proposal

For a couple of thousand years, human beings have lived tribally: my clan against your clan, my nation against your nation, my religion against your religion.

My proposal: for the next two thousand years, more or less, we live as if all humans were part of the same family, and that we act compassionately toward one another.

I know nothing about statecraft, so I’ll leave that problem to people with different skills than mine. But I do know something about religion.

For instance, I’m aware that the Bible is full, exasperatingly full, of warnings about hanging out with those who are different:

  • “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.” Leviticus 20: 26
  • “Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Ezra 10: 11

Separate. Avoid. Shun. Sometimes, kill.

I’m sure the Koran and other holy texts have similar passages that counsel, “We’re the best! We’re number one. Our way is the right way. Other beliefs are false and dangerous. Stay away from them. Destroy them.” Hindus and Buddhists have also victimized others because of religious intolerance.

In the twenty-first century, the tribe that is threatened is humanity. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to some of the other texts in our holy books:

  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I Corinthians 13: 4-5
  • Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-40
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5: 7-9

 From the sacred texts of Islam:

  • “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (Holy Quran: 2/ 256)
  • “Show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. (Al Quran 4:37)

It’s time for two millennia of zealotry, persecution, argumentation, name-calling, and finger pointing to give way to something different. This doesn’t mean people of faith become less passionate about their beliefs—just less angry and arrogant. I can tell my story and I can listen to your story. Religious people are endlessly talking about repentance and transformation, but it’s funny how it’s always the other person who is expected to change.

Here’s my audacious proposal:

I ask my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and Hindu friends to love, to be kind, to be patient, to be gentle, to be good, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, to be gracious. If we don’t, according to a Jewish rabbi quoted in the Christian scriptures,

 “You may even be found fighting against God.” (Gamaliel, in Acts 5: 39)



Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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