On Being Human

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifanakis.

Long ago, I made peace with the idea that ALL humans really want and need the same thing: to do the best we can with what we know. It’s the same in the physical, in the psychological, and in the spiritual. There’s nothing whatsoever “wrong” with this; it’s a healthy part of human nature.

And, in terms of judging the behavior of others, this is a wise position to take, because it strikes at the heart of what motivates people. We want to help ourselves, our families, our communities, and beyond. That only some are able to do this well is the thing that’s really wrong with our world under the sun. Sadly, these few are the ones with the dragons capable of raining down terror on the rest of us. Dracarys!

Those who associate with a God of their understanding — as a part of their teaching, training, and faith — fully grasp the significance of helping the poor and the afflicted among us. Chaos ensues, however, when even a few of these get the idea that helping others means personal loss to themselves, or even more deceptively, that the poor are somehow “out to take what’s ours.” This stance puts us at odds with God, no matter which religion we pick. It ought to concern those who do so, but it doesn’t.

For, no matter how we play it, those who are stuck in the rut of competing for what they believe to be “theirs” are at odds with others who are more giving. As a friend recently said, “It’s not a piece of pie.” Helping others is a natural behavior for humans, one that runs into conflict only when we put our spiritual selves on hold while we pursue getting what we can to better our physical lives. This produces the takers in a world of givers, and they are an abomination before God.

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you, rich ones, for you have your comfort!”

It’s a lot easier on all of us to view the realities of life through the veil of wanting to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. This knowledge (or is it a belief?) has a way of injecting compassion into those who are aware. Everybody seems to agree with the principle but not with how to bring it about throughout the planet. Resources to accomplish the task appear to the uninitiated as a zero‐sum game and one that requires that I take from somebody else in order to satisfy my own wants and needs. Once I’ve accumulated “mine,” I might be able to turn my attention to somebody else. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The fear that somebody else “might” take away my piece of pie is a powerful motivator to maintain the status quo, no matter who gets stomped on in the process. This, again, is human nature gone to seed, revealing the hidden motives of selfishness and self‐centeredness. And, if this is to be our stance, we are sad and to be pitied.

Those who know God, however, understand that His approach is for us to give of ourselves first in order to be filled fully via the spirit with what’s best for us afterwards (See: The parable of the garden hose). This is foolishness to the world under the sun, but those of us who also fully inhabit the spiritual see the wisdom of such an approach. God is fully committed to the poor, and that includes Jesus. You can’t go very far in reading the Bible until you encounter this truth.

And, this is why the Republican approach to religion is so off‐putting to me. To them, social justice is a major weakness in governance, and why Trump puppet master Steve Bannon said in 2017:

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the democrats.”

This is a crude albeit correct description of Republican Party Politics, because it seeks to benefit the status quo and by extension, the wealthy and the haves. The sole strategic thrust of the Democrats ought to be how their opponents only speak for the wealthy and the filthy rich, and the bones they toss to white evangelicals — like abortion and religious freedom — are only offered to ensure a larger support base. Republicans, quite honestly, could give a crap about fetuses being aborted. The litmus test for conservative judges is not abortion; it’s how business‐friendly they are. The price conservatives demand is support for the wealthy, and since a lot of these preachers consider themselves in that category, the match is perfect. Moreover, the wealthy give money to big churches and ministries (it’s called a tax write‐off).

And, no preacher worth his salt wants to turn that down, right?

This business of being human can give us all fits, not just the poor and the afflicted, so how are we supposed to judge others? the Bible says we should “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

They’ve taken the human idea of doing the best for ourselves, our families, and our communities and turned it into selfishness.

And, it’s not pretty.

Words DO Matter!

Let’s talk about the word “religion,” shall we? I’ve mentioned this before in other writings, but I thought it might be fun to do an in‐depth look at the subject. My thesis is that the word used in the First Amendment’s religion clause is not the same as the word that we use today to interpret it. In fact, the difference is so profound that the IRS was way off the mark in granting a religious tax exemption to The Church of Satan. As you’ll see, saying they make Satan to be their god does not qualify them for religious exemptions under the Constitution. But, the deed is done, and so it goes.

Note in this Google Ngram that the word “religion” was used in books a whole lot more in the early 19th Century than it was in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Those early writings emphasized God Almighty and not some watered down mush relating to anything that people believe. It’s a great illustration to how discussions of this important American institution have waned as the country has prospered.

Words get bounced around over the years, but, like a stream wandering through the forest, they often pick up debris along the way. It’s made up of imaginative stretching, euphemism, hyperbole, overuse, and of course the biggie, manipulation. The word “gay”, for example, meant something completely different in the 20th‐Century than it did in the 19th‐Century. Same with the word “stoned” and many, many others. And it’s interesting how people will reject using the newer definitions when applied to old usage of terms, because the differences are pretty clear, and it just doesn’t sound right.

However, this isn’t the case with “religion,” and it really should be.

The reason it’s not is political propriety. The First Amendment is being interpreted today using a modern definition of the word that includes just about everything and anything people worship. While dictionaries list many possible uses of the word, they also each present choices in a descending list. Only one sits at the top. That is what we need to look at mostly, because it represents the most common cultural usage.

Here’s Dictionary.com’s current and primary definition of religion:

  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So, let’s look at what the word meant when the First Amendment was written. Here’s Samuel Johnson’s 1755 classic, A Dictionary of the English Language, and his definition of religion:

  • Virtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments.

The best source, however, is likely Noah Websters original 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language:

  1. religion in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.

So a simple word transformation gives us fits today in trying to interpret the religion clause of the First Amendment, as evidenced by the IRS action. This ought to be the business of everybody, because we’re the ones who must deal with the twisting and altering of reality through word manipulation. I don’t agree with those who say America was birthed as a “Christian Nation,” because Protestants (those English who planted the Cross at Cape Henry) had little in common with Catholics who dominated vast regions of territory.

The point is that early America was populated almost entirely by religious people, those who worshipped God Almighty (and, of course, the dollar). It was simply assumed to be a part of the culture, as in how Samuel Johnson didn’t think it was important to specifically define “God,” and yet the word was used throughout his dictionary in other definitions. That’s where we need to be with our current understanding, and if we don’t like it, we need to change the document, not the word. To do otherwise is dishonest, misleading, dangerous, and even contemptuous.

For all of its societal cockblocking, you’d think the right‐wing Evangelicals would be out front on this. The problem is they are too grafted onto the prime titty of the status quo to make any significant noise at the moment.

Trapped in the limbo of “be careful what you pray for,” these zealots march cheerfully to their doom, the smiles on their faces revealing the degree of their delusion.

A Kingdom of God Apologetic

Consumer warning: The following may mess with your faith.

Christianity has a lot more in common with other ancient religions of the world than most people think. It all depends on your view of a single word in the New Testament, the Greek word “Zoe.” In most English translations, it’s defined as “Eternal Life,” which is then further translated to mean the afterlife, wherein human kind lives forever in a good place or a bad place, depending on one’s behavior in this life. “Salvation” is then free to be interpreted as a rescue from the fires of eternal hell.

The word is better translated as “the life of God,” which opens the door to fellowship with the people of the world, for Jesus didn’t die just for those who believe, although believing is certainly a part of accepting this grace of living the life of God. It’s the connection with things unseen, sacred, and especially eternal that speak of how we are ALL connected to the basic simplicity that is life. If you have life, you have God, because God is Life. It’s in this same area, however, that those humans with the ability to do so have warped this basic fact into something ugly that pits brother versus brother in a relentless game of one‐upmanship in pursuit of the “right” position in the afterlife.

“I’m going to Heaven, and you’re not” is the statement of fools who are in it primarily to save their own asses at the end of the unbridled pursuit of happiness in this life. Fools are easily manipulated, however, and this is the topic of my new — although unpublished — book, “Life on Life’s Terms: Overcoming the Weakness of Christian Counseling.

The problem is that “Heaven” isn’t some place far off to which one aspires upon death. Heaven is here, right now, but religions that have at core the desire to manage people within the culture, it’s smart to make people work towards a righteousness in the afterlife. It keeps them competing with each other and from objecting too loudly over the poor conditions they accept as their unfortunate lot.

The most basic method of evangelism, regardless of who’s doing the evangelizing, is to provide the listener with a way to save themselves from the fires of hell in the afterlife. This is why the opening question of the discussion is very often, “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” Absent this knowledge, the door is then open for the evangelist to provide their specific formula for survival at the end. If you were a serf in medieval times, there were very few options available for people who suffered under the oppressive taxes and rules provided by the Lords and the church. So the teaching that one’s current lot in life will matter nothing when it comes to the joy and celebration of entering in through the pearly gates served an important role to the hierarchy, namely to calm the masses and maintain the status quo.

The Christian version is especially distorted, because in addition to providing a soothing balm for the underclass, it also gives those farther up the hierarchy the license to advance themselves in this life. If this ticket to Heaven is indeed from God, after all, then how could those in positions of power be convicted of anything other than believing the same thing for themselves? If the end justifies the means, then the means must not really matter, and this is an easy message to sell to the rich, who in turn will gladly support the messengers. When we see the advancement of the rich, we can know in our hearts for certain that the church isn’t far behind, for their money — at least some of it — is there to help assuage any disturbing guilt that might be present.

So, what happens when the people of God figure out that this Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t refer exclusively to the afterlife, or may in fact have nothing to do with it at all? That which separates Christians from others is, at core, a wager that the Kingdom is a future world and not part of the present. On this hangs much, including almost the entirety of Western history and civilization. Salvation, in the language of believers, is the necessity of being saved from damnation and hell in the afterlife, known in the vernacular as “Eternal Life” or life everlasting.

Zoe differentiates from two other Greek words used for “life” in the New Testament, Bios, which deals with life in the physical (biology), and Psuche, which refers to the mind and the soul (psychology). Zoe, however, is the big one, the life of God, which must cross over from the eternal and include the here and now. Otherwise, nothing alive would have life, the Zoe that is the life of God.

How can humanity, which exists within the dimensions of time and space, possibly comprehend that which is beyond? We can’t, so we do the next best thing: we anthropromophize everything to make it more closely resemble us and our world. It provides understanding and context for certain studies of the Bible. Unfortunately, this shifts us from being created in God’s image to God being created in ours. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but we’re not actually human beings on a spiritual journey; it’s exactly the other way around — we are spiritual beings on a human journey — and nothing will change your life quite like this revelation.

But, the real problem here is how these Kingdom opinions are then used to advance a more self‐serving agenda, that this Kingdom means here and now prosperity for those who believe. My old boss Pat Robertson wrote his views on this in “The Secret Kingdom,” which was actually a self‐help manual for believers, and it still carries heretical weight today.

Frankly, we’ve had our fill of this self‐centered view of personal faith, and we need to look beyond the church, beyond the faithful, and beyond even the Bible in trying to discern what Jesus meant in stating that the Kingdom of God is at hand. If we can permit ourselves to set aside the teachings of the church (not God) for even a moment, this mystery becomes a whole lot less mysterious. That’s because a great many of these scholarly efforts all heap tons of baggage on the concept of two different and differing worlds existing at the same time and in the same place. If we could bring ourselves to simply stop and consider the essence of Jesus’ message, it would likely change a great deal about the entire Christian narrative.

Challenging the apologetic propositions advanced by the church over the centuries is often dismissed as a fool’s errand, but it’s always a useful exercise to challenge our own assumptions. It’s what gives us a seat at the discussion table in our increasingly postmodern world.

Let’s begin with the words of C.S. Lewis in his genuinely insightful book, The Screwtape Letters. Here we have a senior demon, Screwtape, giving advice to a young demon, Wormwood, on how to bring about the ruin of his human “patient.”

Dear Wormwood…Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change…

Wormwood is made to see that keeping his patient away from the “eternal object” and toward the ups and downs of life, the “changes” of existing in the flesh, is the way to keep him riled up and dissatisfied. So, the idea of blending the two worlds to assuage the self‐centered desires of humans (including and perhaps even led by Christians) is not an idea born of God, and this cries out for our attention. If a “personal relationship” with Jesus means comfort, safety, and protection as we seek the true reward of eternity in Heaven, then it is indeed every man for himself.

I object to those who connect this world with the otherworld of which Jesus spoke. Jesus, the most perfect human to ever walk our planet, the guileless One, the miraculous One, the gift of the highest gift‐Giver, the One sent to rescue us from the ravages of life under the sun, the anointed One — and much, much more — didn’t come to us as a conqueror, for that is the way of those locked into time and space. Of necessity, therefore, He spoke of this other world, what He called “the Kingdom of God/Heaven.” We’ve over‐spiritualized everything about this and have attached worldly things to it in an effort to be relevant ourselves. The sum total of everything He taught was that we could exist in the world without being married to it and thereby find immunity from being bounced around by events, experiences, and those around us.

It’s here, too, where the concept of the fall humankind and the redemption offered by the sacrifice of Jesus are made manifest, because awareness of our spiritual nature is blocked by our self‐centeredness, which was the real “sin” of Adam and Eve. In order to exist happily in the world of the spirit, one must give up selfishness, and therein lies the rub. When caught up in the zero‐sum game of competing for worldly resources, it’s very nearly impossible to think otherwise, for the seeking of personal gain is anathema to the goal of spreading the love and life of the Creator.

Let me be perfectly clear here: there are no rules for living in the Kingdom, because it is not influenced whatsoever by how we approach it. The Kingdom of God does not require any sort of process to get there, because it’s already here and available to everyone, thanks to the sacrifice and death of the Anointed One. The only requirement for us is to believe, and that’s the faith that we’re called to express (and which, without works, is dead).

An old Zen axiom applies: “He who is in the sun and in the fire and in the heart of man is One. He who knows this is one with the One.”

As such, Christianity ought not require that its “members” follow Jesus, for He came to us as a doorway, not a leader of day‐to‐day living under the sun. This mistake in the study of Christ is understandable, because humans will always default to the self, that creature who, at best, can only try to better their own place in the world. Christianity is human‐created belief system designed at core to advance the system throughout the world. Among many, many others throughout the globe, just ask the Cherokee Nation about how they were treated by these white Christian “explorers.”

And, Jesus never said that we should bear suffering in this life, because we’ll be rewarded in the next. That’s because “the next” is irrelevant when it comes to life on earth. No, the message of Jesus is how we can live today, in this life, without being miserable when the mountain top becomes a deep valley in the dimensions of time and space, and so forth.

But it seems old Screwtape’s advice has been well adapted in modern times, for humanity is certainly busy chasing its tail and not the Kingdom.

The Twelve Absolute Beliefs of Trump Christians

Evangelicals pray for President Trump through the laying on of hands

The postmodern exercise of deconstruction is a useful tool when trying to understand any of the various complexities of contemporary life. It’s especially useful today in the determination of why a large and polarized group of Americans — white evangelical Christians — could have put Donald Trump in office. As is often the case, the complex is merely the simple turned on its head by the self‐serving justifications of those who benefit from the complexities. By deconstructing these characteristics, the deconstructor looking for answers can ask better questions in their quest.

The relationship between President Trump and these Christians is something I understand particularly well, for I once served the cause as Executive Producer of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. The core discovery in my book The Gospel of Self is that Trump’s election was no accident but a carefully conceived and executed long‐term strategy of the Christian Right. This knowledge is essential as we face another election involving this same man and his flock. Try as they may, the press is simply incapable of seeing what’s really taking place, because it involves the belief that these Christians get their marching orders directly from God. Arguing against their beliefs, therefore, places one in an argument against God, which is then laughingly dismissed by the faithful.

So, let’s deconstruct the grand narrative that places white evangelical Christians in a most powerful position in our politics. In order to pull this off, these twelve specific and absolute beliefs must ALL be in place:

  1. Salvation means that one’s final destination is eternity in Heaven, and demonstrative belief in Jesus as savior is the ONLY path to salvation. Period. Behavior in the here and now, therefore, must line up with what’s required to maintain that promise. However, occasional bad behavior doesn’t necessarily mean loss of salvation, because it’s all based on faith alone. This opens the door for basically any kind of behavior, for there’s always God’s promised forgiveness.
  2. The human condition defaults to corruption and requires a spiritual conversion in order to rise above it, to prosper, to live in peace with ones’ neighbors, and especially to enable a comfortable place in the afterlife. This is the why of Christ, and no one can escape it.
  3. The saving power of Jesus via the born again experience is the how of Christ, a manifestation of faith. These are “the elect,” Heaven‐bound believers who are in fellowship with one another and with God. Again, this leaves room for behavioral lapses, because this same Jesus is good for forgiveness in the end. This is often the justification for oppression and evil in the name of God.
  4. These beliefs, according to white evangelical Christian thinking, must be held between individuals and God, for Jesus functions directly in the role of high priest for our confessions. Therefore, one’s penchant for mischief doesn’t require redemption from anyone within the church, which puts the onus for participation between the believer and God Himself (yes, God is a He). This also puts into play the significance of the “personal relationship” with Jesus and, by default, the importance of the individual in God’s mind. That’s not to diminish the role of the pastor in pressing these beliefs, but church members are constantly reminded that God speaks directly to individuals. Our job is to have “ears to hear.” White evangelicals believe it’s the responsibility of the individual to “work out his own salvation,” and therefore the correct response to poverty is to teach others how to feed themselves rather than feeding them through any human institution. “If I can do it without complaining, so can they.”
  5. We must, as Martin Luther did, acknowledge that the Epistle of James is impossible to blend with evangelicalism and therefore think of it as “the Epistle of Straw.” This means we can dismiss James’ main concern that “faith without works is dead.” Either the “just shall live by faith” or not, evangelical thinking goes.
  6. The Bible is the actual Word of God (well, except for maybe James) and to argue with it, as a whole or in part, can and often does lead to eternal damnation. And, again, this is a responsibility of the individual, for no one but God has any real authority over the believer.
  7. Following Jesus is the real determinator of happiness and contentment in this life, no matter what. This allows the believer to feel justified in looking down his nose at others from even the gutter. It feeds the pride that he is actually better off than those at the top of culture’s ladders, those who don’t need God for success and happiness. After all, the Bible says “the last shall be first.” It’s another promise directly from God to believers and the source for manipulation by those higher up the pyramid of human life. The believer is supposed to be perfectly content in this life, because life in heaven afterwards is worth the suffering of the elect.
  8. We are currently living in “the end times” — Jesus return is imminent, as in the next few minutes kind of imminent — wherein Christians must use extremely good judgment to guard against false teachers who would lead the elect to destruction. In order to recognize these false teachers (having “eyes to see”), the believer must have God’s help through men who have “knowledge of the times” as determined by God’s Holy Book. These are then equipped to truly interpret God’s will in analyzing current events through the true eyes of the Word.
  9. This is evidenced largely by the return of so‐called promised lands to the Jews (which happened with the 1948 Nakba, forcibly removing the current residents, a.k.a. the Palestinians). Moreover, the real prize for Israel is Jerusalem, which is both the why and the how of looking the other way as Israel does whatever it wants to the human beings standing in the way of their promised place of privilege on the earth. Jesus, you see, is coming back via Jerusalem. Hence, nothing else matters, not really.
  10. Liberal theology is a manifestation of end times living and, therefore, should be dismissed as heresy, the devil, or the “broad road” that leads to destruction.
  11. Donald Trump is another special gift from God to the elect, much as the Biblical King Cyrus was to ancient Israel, and he was elected to restore the (evangelical) church to its rightful place atop the patriarchy of all human institutions. In this way, the (evangelical) church represents the rightful leaders of the earth and must, therefore, assume positions of power at all levels under the sun.
  12. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, one faces the likelihood of eternity in the fires of Hell, if they don’t vote and vote for the conservative candidate (who is therefore bound to act against the murdering of babies through abortion). This is a risk the white evangelical Christians aren’t prone to take.

In her brilliant October 2018 essay for Sojourners — “Getting Over The Threat Of Hell” — Author Nancy Hightower writes that Donald Trump exploited this fear in his run to the White House.

If you have never believed in hell, it’s easy to mock the idea as ludicrous, or at least very archaic. Many who may have grown up in a faith household and left might remember the fear it instilled in them…I think it’s time to suggest that the Christian focus on hell is helping to drive evangelicals into Trump’s camp, and keeps them there.

And so, we’re now beginning to see mainstream news articles that tout the rise of angry liberal Christians. CNN published an article with the headline “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” which uses the mayor’s candidacy as one example of evidence that not all of Christianity is under the spell of the white evangelicals.

“©onservative provocateur Erick Erickson started attacking Buttigieg, implying that because Buttigieg is Episcopalian — a denomination known for its more progressive positions on social issues — “he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

This is a common trope among some evangelical Christians on the right, impugning other more liberal Christians as somehow less “real” or authentic in their faith.”

I must admit to a certain joy upon reading all this, because the 2020 election will put the faith of Americans to the test. It’s not nearly as exciting a story as the horserace coverage (in the minds of the press), but it’s a highly‐relevant discussion we’ve needed for a very long time. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are labels long used by theologians to assert theological differences of opinion, and it needs to form the basis for our understanding of politics as well.

Historically, culture wars in the United States have all had a foundation in religion, and we now have a chance to move it to the front burner in terms of issues facing democracy itself. Nobody understands this better than Professor Stephen Prothero, author of Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars (Even Though They Lose Elections). Whether it was the election of 1800, the mid‐ninetieth century assault on Catholics by Protestants, the anti‐Mormon campaign, the debates during the Scopes Monkey Trial, the battle against Supreme Court decisions of the 70s and 80s, or the current battle against Muslims, Prothero argues the outcome of culture wars historically favors the progressive perspective even though they were started by conservatives.

Donald Trump is an evil man with evil intentions, for his only true “accomplishment” as President is widening the gap between the haves and the have‐nots. He placates these right wing Christians, because he knows their support will be lasting if he does, and just because he does, it does not follow that he is a “Godly President,” as some believe. The culture cannot stand this for much longer, and the discussion of faith as the dominating factor in this election badly needs to be center stage. Perhaps debates involving Buttigieg will help, for he seems not only willing but capable of speaking on behalf of his faith.

It’s true that traditionally we’ve considered a person’s religion to be a private matter and, therefore, untouchable in terms of debate. This was a part of the election of a Catholic in 1960, putting John F. Kennedy into office. Today, that position has overstayed its welcome, as Trump Christians publicly flaunt their man as God’s answer to prayer for America.

It will take directly challenging these twelve beliefs, so the discussion must involve those who think theologically but speak in plain English, and that will rule out a press that believes such discussions are not a part of its sphere of legitimate debate.

And that is to its great shame.

Postmodernism Marches On (Although Most Still Don’t See It)

Postmodernism — that is the new cultural era brought about by the advent of the internet and the web — is advancing far from the sight of those whose oxen are being gored in the process. Call it what you wish, but long after I’m gone, and on into the centuries to come, the empowering of the people will continue. Chaos will be the on‐the‐table discussion item in the years ahead, because those people who are latched onto the tit of logical and rational modernism can see only chaos with anything else. Always remember the precision of Henry Adams’ observation that the way of nature is chaos, but the dream of man is order.

Let me state emphatically, too, that chaos is in the eye of the beholder. To the postmodernist, there’s nothing inherently chaotic about this new era, only that it is a welcome change from the silos of logic and reason to the breath of creative fresh air.

Even now, the evidence of the conflict between the old (modernism) and the new (postmodernism) is everywhere. It’s in every human institution, like a slimy monster that fits itself into places where it seemingly doesn’t belong and challenges us to rethink just about everything and especially the form of personal advancement known as “credentials” or “expertise.” Jeff Jarvis refers to such as “the high priests” of culture, those who’ve managed their way to the top through their lineage, schooling, hard work, luck, and especially through the protections in place to help those already near the top and to make it difficult for everybody else. Witness the current scandal involving the purchase of bogus “scholarships” to access the best universities in the land. This is a logical behavior in a world that values credentials based on schooling.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his commencement speech at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 titled “The Inner Ring,” once a person makes it into the inner circle, she defaults to making it harder for others to get inside.

“…your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

Protected knowledge is that which separates everyday people from the experts in a logical, modernist culture. For example, it’s what gives doctors the fortitude to suggest that their medical degree beats Google searching, but this is merely self‐preservation in a chaotic tsunami of informed patients. This will rage on, and it has already partially disrupted the authority of the physician. It’s not that she isn’t an expert anymore; it’s just that her expertise — with its incumbent authority — isn’t what it used to be. This conflict will continue until we find and accept that we’re all better off with such knowledge. The medical industry? Not so much.

We all have personal stories of how the institutions of the West have failed us in one way or another. The simple truth here is that the “push” world is being replaced by one that “pulls,” and no matter how many lawyers get involved, the rise of the people — those who’ve today known a freedom that our ancestors never imagined — will not go backwards. Look, information is power, and power that is distributed horizontally in a democracy will forever tip the scales away from absolutism at the top, much to the dismay of those at the top of the modernist pyramid.

Try to search ANY medical condition, and you’ll find at least one group of people with that condition who are ready and able to help those newly diagnosed. If one’s medical degree is, in fact, the be all and end all, then why are these groups forming? It’s because, for a great many people, medicine has its own fatted calf to protect, and its needs are not always in the best interests of patients. As long as the A.M.A. governs medical practice in the U.S., the practice of medicine will never be fully patient‐friendly. The demands on practitioners is so great each and every day now that they simply don’t have the time or the inclination to discuss or argue medicine with patients. And that is to their great shame. Higher education doesn’t make you smarter; it merely positions you for scaling the imaginary cultural ladder.

In his seminal argument, Everything Is Miscellaneous, Harvard author David Weinberger makes the case that no knowledge storage retrieval system that humans can possibly create could ever outdo basic search. This is the “pull” concept in long form. Knowledge can’t be sorted into any directory system that can compete with search. From grocery store shelves to libraries to any institutional silo, it’s impossible to even come close to the efficiency of search. And search has gotten so good that even coming close on a guess often leads to what the user is actually seeking. This is not about to go backwards, so those who insist that THEY can organize their goods in such a way that physical proximity is necessary are being quite ridiculous. After all, these sorts of organizations exist to advance themselves, and it doesn’t matter to them if consumers are inconvenienced.

But, Terry, what if shoppers need what they’re seeking NOW? Enter Amazon’s new “same day” delivery. This is a powerful game‐changer that’s getting very little publicity, but just try to imagine a downstream scenario in which such a service is thriving. Amazon has turned the entire retail system on its head already. People will soon come to accept such and will revel in the magic of it all. Imagine the time saving! Shoppers won’t have to go store‐to‐store in order to find something; they’ll simply search for it online, and it will come to them. This is uniquely postmodern, because stripping away hierarchies is the logical future of empowered people. Grocery chains offer pick‐up service, and while that’s nice, it can’t compete with same‐day home delivery via Instacart. This will change. I promise you.

And now comes Amazon Prime Wardrobe, where the company will send a box of clothes pre‐selected by the user along with a handy convertible box which is used to send that which the customer doesn’t want back to the company. This eliminates the need for the store and the booth in which we try on clothes and moves the whole process to the living room or bedroom (or whatever). So, the customer gets a box of clothes, picks out what he wants, is charged for those, and returns the rest at no cost to him. This is designed to further destroy the value proposition of retail clothing shops, and for Amazon, it’s a way to say “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Those who fear that this horizontal empowerment itself will lead to future hierarchies are stuck in the past and fearful of Orwell’s 1984. The problem with this thinking is that the web provides the same opportunities to Aunt Helen that it does to Big Brother, for the web views them as identical. This is just one of the many reasons we fought so hard for net neutrality. The internet belongs to the people, and although we lost the first round on the issue — it’s a modernist response to the loss of control — we’ll be back and better prepared for what happens next.

Postmodernism is moving power to the base of the pyramid, while institutional power must be at the top. When people at the bottom seize the power given them through the net, they’ll never give it back willingly. So, we’re in for turbulent times as the culture groans in reaction to what it views as an assault, and there’s nothing new to this. The same thing happened with the dawn of the printing press and for the same reasons. At that time, the power was with Rome and the church. When Gutenberg had the audacity to print a Bible, the shit hit the fan, for the priests knew well the danger of putting “the word” in the hands of everyday people, and they were right. The reformation would never have happened, if only Rome held access to the book’s contents. It was John Wycliffe’s common language translation that led him to say, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The same concept is alive and well today.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the years following Gutenberg produced the same kind of Western response that we’re seeing today. Erotica was one of the first genres to be printed. Rome wanted to establish a licensing arrangement where only they could approve of those who wanted to print the Bible. It didn’t work, and the power of the Vatican in all matters cultural slowly but steadily slipped away.

Christian institutions ignore the web today and press for top‐down control, which is kicking against the pricks of culture’s progressive but steady march. It’s not hard to understand, because all they know is a stage and the audience. They want little to do with the work of a more horizontal experience, because they simply cannot trust people who aren’t on the podium. “They’ll never get it right,” the thinking goes, “if they don’t have a group of educated higher‐ups holding their hands.” Such nonsense. Look where we are today with Christian leaders saying that Donald Trump was ordained by God in the manner of the ancient Persian King Cyrus. This flagrantly false and misleading reference is so dangerous that we’ve become a people tripping up a step that isn’t there.

The hue and cry over fake news is another example of the modernist crowd screaming for control. I don’t deny this is an area that needs our attention, but it’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse foisted upon us by the top‐down and right‐wing crowds in an attempt to frighten us into submission. The originators of fake news came from the law and order right wing of American politics. In olden days, we used to call this “propaganda,” but it reached new pinnacles with the horizontal nature of the web. The right wing’s response to the clamor was simply to label opponents “fake” in order to hide their own mischief. In the wake of New Zealand, we now have people demanding that we regulate social media. This is akin to swatting a fly with an atomic bomb. We wish to shield our children from everything we went through (or “could” have gone through), and in so doing we’re preventing them from experiencing the very things that shaped our own character. It’s like beating our kids over the head with a 2x4 rather than giving our permission for them to scrape their knees.

The managers of the status quo come from two different groups — the lawyers, those rule‐bound grifters who suck the life out of everything they touch and turn it into profit for themselves and those they represent — God bless ’em — and the world of business, where players sell their souls for profit and suppress anyone who stands in the way, including the government and especially the poor. The more people become aware of this, the more they’re going to object, and nothing will be impossible for them.

After me, there will be a sweeping constitutional convention to address all of this, because our government was formed in a previous cultural era and is insufficient to govern people who are connected horizontally. Traditions will be given more weight than today, perhaps even equal to laws, for traditions can be discussed and argued whereas our laws are currently given to us by lawmakers, those who exist at the pyramid’s top and therefore have their own self‐centered wants and needs. Influence will slowly move to the bottom, although new forms of hierarchies are quite likely. The buck still has to end somewhere, at least that’s the way I think today.

Much is given to the politics of those who have the final say in our laws, the Supreme Court. The law says there shall be no litmus test for the selection of those who make it to this upper bench, but that is just lip‐service. And, while we are kept busy with arguments about, for example, abortion or religious freedom, the most glaring political difference in the selection of nominees is the extent to which each supports business or the rights of workers. This is the real differentiator, because real power in our culture is a struggle between the top of the pyramid and the bottom. Everything else is a side show.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us, and it’s our reaction to this truth that is the great determinator of our response. If it gets in the way of those at the top, then it’s thought to be a nuisance to be ignored or even made worse, and this is another revelation that comes with empowering the bottom. Civil war in America today would not be political nearly so much as it would be class‐motivated, and this energy has grown, in my view, during the Trump election and administration. So far, Republicans (the silk stocking crowd) have been successful at keeping the truth from their bottom supporters through arguments about religion and abortion, but that will not last forever.

Information is power, and power has a way of opening eyes.

Look, I know we’re in a season of cynicism and confusion, but please do not underestimate — under any circumstances — the power of the masses in determining their own government. This was Wycliffe’s point back in the 15th Century, and it’s the point today in the wake of the web.

If I had any influence on the Democrats, this is the message I would pound home to the people. It’s the money. It’s all about the money. Modernist thinking, however, forces the discussion to the box of “what new policies will you put in place instead?” This moves the narrative away from simply fixing what’s wrong to providing solutions ahead of time, so that they can be analyzed and dismissed by those at the top. That’s the cart before the horse and the source of our current gridlock.

If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will have no backs on which to stand. Think about it.

An open letter to the church at America

Dear Church,

Fake Christians and Fake Christianity! That’s what they’re saying about you. Imagine that? Oh, you’ll likely just dismiss this as the name calling of those evil liberals, but this cry comes from the inside, from Christians who want no part of what you claim is the real faith. These people view with righteous skepticism your willingness to support a political party whose highest priority is the wealthy. If you aren’t fabulously rich, then you, like the rest of us, are sucking hind titty with this administration when it comes to your wants and needs. The counterculture nature of Christianity has always been towards the poor and the afflicted and against the rich, and yet, here we are in a real crisis over the state of our country.

You got your so‐called Conservative Supreme Court, but the price for that is that history will tag you forever as fake Christians. Why? You are an affront to those who live simple lives in just trying to make the best of what they have and raise their children in the fear of the Lord. This is what happens when you mix politics with religion and why we have a First Amendment. It is by affiliation — the unrighteous yoking of yourselves and those who seek their reward at the expense of others. This is not Christianity, and it’s time we all came to agreement on that.

Christianity Today (or is it Fake Christianity Today) published a piece last week (The Current Storm and the Evangelical Response) by our old friend Ed Stetzer, who tried to justify all this in the name of the faith. Ed used a statement by Howard Dean on MSNBC as a springboard.

(Dean) gave his take on the state of the current GOP, saying it has “the same meaning as evangelical Christianity with young people, intolerance, bigotry and a lack of respect, not just for women but for anybody who is not on their team.” Stetzer chose to base his entire argument on the belief that this doesn’t describe all of the people or groups he knows. He called the statement by Dean “incomplete and unfair.” He’s able to indict those Christians who behave in this manner, but concludes that it’s really just a big misunderstanding.

No one can deny that the reputation of evangelical Christianity has been significantly diminished as a result of some pursing (sic) the acquisition of power and influence and blurring the lines of faith and politics.

But this does not, and cannot, change the facts: thousands of years of evidence have pointed to the true mission of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ—we seek to live humble lives of faithful service so that Jesus will be lifted high.

Howard Dean isn’t the first—nor will he be the last—to criticize evangelicals. We need to hear their critiques. But, we also need to respond in a such a way that others exclaim, “So that is what it means to be a Christian!”

And they, in turn, will turn to Christ as well.

To the church at America, if you don’t like the generalizations of Howard Dean, first remove your own generalizations about those who oppose you politically. Then, we might be able to have a discussion. Nobody is going to buy your arguments as long as your behavior represents the extreme. What’s needed is repentance, not justification for the unjustifiable. In your zeal to be models for everybody else, you’ve actually become that which you despise, the fat cats who take their ease among the refuse that’s left behind, including the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the refugees and their children, the unemployed, the strugglers and the stragglers, the lost and alone, and the people of the world who don’t have even a breath of what we possess.

Salvation promised sometime in the future is a cheap substitute for our lack of concern in the present.

Your servant,

Terry