Using the Bible to justify selfishness

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Evangelical Christians were among Donald Trump’s staunchest allies during the 2016 campaign, and they remain a group the President can count on as he implements even the most extreme of the positions he proclaimed would make America great again. Chief among these for Evangelicals are: religious freedom allowing for rejection of liberal mandates such as being forced to serve those with whom they disagree theologically (and socially); the ability to have their children pray in school and be exposed to Biblical absolutes; returning to a culture within which access to safe abortions is illegal, and this despite the fact that the abortion rate is now where it was BEFORE Roe v Wade; eliminating the threat of evangelism from what they view as the false religion of Islam and in the process making sure their neighborhoods will be Muslim-free; and a return to a time when – in their opinion – the voice of Christianity was sought, heard, and embraced as relevant by the culture as a whole.

I remain convinced that this group is the most important to reach with the message of the potential for mischief and danger from an autocrat President of the United States. It also happens to be the most difficult to reach, for their perceived authority comes from a Bible that is taught to them as errorless and to be obeyed by those seeking the promised, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” and a guarantee of an afterlife of heavenly bliss. We will not succeed in efforts to convince this group without attacking certain assumptions they’ve been led to believe are absolute according to Holy Scripture. This struggle is private and behind-the-scenes, because it often takes place in forums not considered by those who view the issues as entirely political. These forums are then passed around for the horizontal consumption by others of their ilk.

Today, I want to delve into one of these private discussions, this one via a simple article on Herman Cain’s right wing website. There are a great many “Christian” blogs and websites, and while many bloggers using that label are not of the political right wing, it is the Evangelicals who make the most noise and speak loudest about the brand. Hence, the battle is entirely with those Evangelicals who represent the political opinions of the far right, which is what writer Dan Calabrese has done in this article headlined, “What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?” Here are a few pertinent quotes from Mr. Calabrese regarding the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which he views as wrongly exegeted by those arguing it represents God’s will for dealing with refugees:

“As liberals often do, they take directives aimed at individuals in the Bible and try to make them the responsibility of the state.” He makes the case that, because the Samaritan took the injured man to an inn rather than his own home, he was revealing the wisdom of not bringing a potential problem into his own home. Thus, he reasons, it’s relevant to the discussion of Syrian refugees. Of course, this is Mr. Calabrese’s opinion, his interpretation, not the Bible speaking directly to us, and this, of course, is the problem. The Bible says nothing about the Good Samaritan avoiding danger, so that is an assumption. “As liberals often do” is also a convenient, pejorative, and condescending put down designed to frame whatever absurdity follows as a given, when it’s at best a mere guess.  He goes on to add:

“What the left wants to do in the case of the Syrian refugees is use the power of the state to force an entire nation to welcome people into their midst without any effort to ensure that members of ISIS with evil intentions were filtered out. That’s not compassion. That’s national suicide.” How does one respond to the many assumptions here? One, refugees ARE vetted – often vigorously – so there doesn’t exist a zero-effort absolute when it comes to identifying members of ISIS. Two, the statement assumes that the President’s anti-Muslim initiative WILL effectively rule out those with evil intentions. This is utterly absurd in addition to representing a straw man that serves only to distract, for terrorism isn’t a problem of religion. It’s organized crime and needs to be treated accordingly. Finally, the statement assumes that the matter is black and white, that anything other than a unilateral denial of entry is self-inflicted death. It makes for a good soundbite, but it’s simply exaggerated illogic. But he goes on:

“It would make more sense for them to be resettled in majority Muslim countries anyway, and we can do a lot of things to support that process.” This has nothing to do with the Bible but speaks loudly about the writer’s religious bias. I’m sure the refugees would rather stay with their own homes in their own countries, but each has made a decision that such a proposition is untenable. They seek freedom, not further distress. To which “Muslim countries” would the writer have us divert the stream anyway? Has anybody inquired as to their willingness to participate? How does it follow that their faith has anything to do with where they settle anyway? I understand this absurdity, because it comes from Islamophobic thinking, which is really at the core of Mr. Calabrese’s reasoning in the first place.

The point is this is nowhere near the God I serve, and the interpretation of scripture in this manner is not only without merit; it’s entirely self-centered. It’s redlining on a national scale and against everything for which our country stands.

I’m not surprised at all, however, for what we have here is a generation nurtured on the Gospel of Self. It’s bad enough that we’re naturally inclined in that direction, but this is self preservation gone to seed. Not only that, but it also denies the very power that its proponents claim protects them, and it reeks of the very unBiblical “God helps those who help themselves.”

The scope of the battle over the minds of those so inculcated is enormous, but it’s quite likely the one that matters most.

Announcing my new book

contractI’m very happy to announce that OR Books in New York will be publishing my new book about my days as Pat Robertson’s producer with The 700 Club. We’re going to call it “The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP,” and it should be available by December, which is a pretty quick turnaround for a publisher. You will be able to pre-order via the web in a few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted about that.

This has been quite an adventure, and I’m very proud to be associated with OR Books. They are a unique independent publishing company embracing “progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” Believe me when I say we are a perfect fit, and I am so, so excited.

As you likely already know, I’ve been working on this book for 18 months and thinking about it since I left CBN in the wake of Pat Robertson’s run for President in 1988. It’s a book for Christians – especially Evangelicals – although its message will be a very hard sell to this group. It will do well with Christians on the left, but it’s really for everyone who was ever influenced by the hard wind that blew in the era of the televangelists in the 1980s. “The Gospel of Self” is my term for the broad use of the Bible as a self-help manual, a handbook for personal salvation, as opposed to the bigger issue of pleading the cause of the poor and the afflicted. I will get a ton of criticism for my views, but the facts are always what really matters in the telling of history. I provide documentation, including portions of my sworn testimony with the Criminal Investigative Division of the IRS. It’s a compelling story and includes my postmodern predictions for the future of the church.

I’ve been writing about online marketing for over 15 years, and this will give me a chance to try some things that haven’t been done as well as doing things the mass marketing way. Can you tell I’m pretty pumped?

A great big thanks here to Jeff Jarvis, my old friend and colleague from the trailblazing days of early blogging. Jeff is the one who opened this door for me, and I will forever be in his debt.

Another big thanks to my newer friend, Brian McLaren, who has been a strong supporter of this effort. McLaren is a prolific author and the key founder of the Emerging Church movement. His work dovetails nicely with mine over the last 20 years, and I’m proud to call him a friend. He has a new book coming out next month that I’m looking forward to reading. I could not have stayed the course of my vision without Brian’s encouragement.

The false narrative of right wing media

(Excerpted from my forthcoming book “How Jesus Joined The GOP”)

In the early 1980s – during my days with CBN – we innovated “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” a news animal that sang a different song from others in the journalism world, whether television or print. We knew what we were doing, and it was very clever. In the process, we built the philosophical model for Fox News and many others. Here’s how it worked:

The idea that the press represented only a liberal perspective was developed in the days of Richard Nixon, specifically by his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew argued that the President ought to be able to speak directly to the American people without going through what he viewed as a liberal filter, one that would distort Nixon’s views through its blurred lens. Nixon’s was the first conservative administration in the golden age of television, and it struggled with its inability to control the message during an incredibly volatile time in history. Many others took up the claim in the wake of Watergate. After all, only a political opponent would strive to take down a sitting President, surely not a press that advertised itself as objective.

These complaints fell on deaf ears, because the complainers lacked a media stage from which to make their case. As a result, they had to rely on that same blurred lens, so efforts to “speak against liberals” were dead before they started. We had such a stage at CBN, one of the original ten transponders on the first RCA communications satellite, Satcom 1. Moreover, ours was a video show, and we had the production chops to create whatever we wanted along the artificial plane known as political perspective. It didn’t matter that the press didn’t really belong on this plane, only that it was convenient for our purposes, which we claimed to be preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ.

So we publicly moved “the press” in its entirety to the left on this political plane in order to insert a convenient fence on its right edge. We placed ourselves (and the ilk of Rush Limbaugh, etc.) to the right of that fence, which gave the appearance of the bigger overall culture being represented under the banner of “news.” After all, most people were either liberal or conservative politically, and politics – or influencing politics – was our real goal. I can’t possibly overstate this reality. You don’t change the world by changing the press; you simply must make the case that the press isn’t neutral, and the rest is easy. The press, of course, helped us with this, because it was easy to pick news coverage hooks that represented a more progressive view of culture for us to hone in on. We were free to assign bias even in cases where the press was simply doing its job.

Dog bites man, it’s not news. Man bites dog, it is news. This simple old metaphor points to the false narrative we created, because the very definition of news is tied to that which is different, that which is, well, “new.” And new always means progressive, for basic conservative logic is tied to the status quo and the maintenance of tradition and its accompanying hierarchies. Many if not most journalists are educated, passionate about their trade, and ethical when it comes to the rules of professional observation. Only in the sense that some of this can be applied to “liberalism” is the press liberal. It’s a fake moniker given to them without their consent by people who need it to be that way in order to fit their own self-serving narrative. There is no conspiracy. Journalists don’t regularly gather to discuss how they’re going to manipulate unknowing masses with lies and deceit. That is much more likely to be found with those who claim participation in “right wing media.”

Evangelical Christians almost always leave out the original pioneers in the pro-life movement, the Catholics. This is an important element in understanding right wing media, for the Catholic Church is hardly conservative. In addition to calling out the pro-choicers for what was actually taking place in the wake of Roe v Wade, Catholics also pleaded the cause of those “unwanted” babies after they were born, and also opposed the death penalty. That, my friends, is the very definition of pro-life. Catholics also tended to vote for the left, so their voice in the debate about abortion carried far more weight than that of any other group. But that voice didn’t fit the narrative of the right, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In seizing upon abortion as an Evangelical Christian cause, the political right gained an emotional grassroots appeal to which it wasn’t entitled. The same thing applies to many of the right’s causes, because political power is the real goal.

The mere suggestion that manipulation can result in rolling back laws that are tagged as culturally offensive to some is folly and a chasing of the wind. This includes the idea that if only conservatives could appoint enough Supreme Court justices, they will eventually overturn Roe v Wade. The odds of this ever happening are remarkably small for many reasons, and wishers would do well to consider anyway that the original opinion in Roe v Wade was written by conservative justice Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee to the court. Nevertheless, right wing media needs to continually dangle this carrot in order to maintain the hyperbole in its claims as members of the press, albeit with a different worldview.

Right wing media is not, nor will it ever be, a part of the press, for its core purpose is the manipulation of culture through distortion, the very thing it assigns to the so-called “liberal” media. Moreover, many contemporary right wing media outlets are nothing more than political operatives with the sole purpose of repeating over and over again their purely political arguments. To this end, nothing is out-of-bounds, for baseless and provable lies are fair game in a sea of ethical emptiness. Again, the irony is that these groups practice out loud the very things they accuse their political opponents of doing in disguise, as if that somehow justifies deliberately “balancing” the public square by any means necessary. Even when bonafide “fact checker” organizations prove beyond a reasonable doubt the falsity of certain claims, these political hacks continue to repeat the allegations, presumably because they feel under no obligation to retract or otherwise accept responsibility for such lies. Moreover, they know that as long as they can keep the drum beating, there are people “out there” who’ve been trained to listen regardless of the evidence.

The press is a political animal only insofar as it covers politics, and even I have to admit there can be mischief in this particular hen house. NYU journalism professor and author Jay Rosen has been studying this for 30 years and refers to the Washington Press Corps in particular as the “national press or political press.” He argues strongly for transparency and accountability and against opacity and demagoguery. He’s also acutely aware of the difference between “journalism” and this “political press.”

If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what’s going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work.

The press is the latter and politics is the former. Right wing media, however, claims to be the latter while functioning as the former, and this is why its narrative is a fraud. Again, there is no such thing as “right wing media.” It is entirely political, and we shouldn’t stand for it. Drudge is not a journalist. Hannity is not a journalist. Limbaugh is not a journalist. A thousand websites with “news” in their titles are not practicing journalism whatsoever. They are like the local advertiser who presents his commercial message during the 6 o’clock news disguised as a news bulletin. There are ethical rules against this, but in desperate times, there are also exceptions.

Finally, nearly every attempt to create a “left wing media” has failed, the most visible being Al Franken’s program on the Air America Network. Billed as an alternative to conservative talk radio, Franken’s show never garnered the ratings of his counterparts on the right and certainly didn’t inspire a generation of progressive radio talk shows. While there are some successful progressive programs today, there doesn’t appear to be a wellspring of an audience for this fare, perhaps because it’s so obviously there only to counter the right.

Right or left, these “media” are political activists and not members of any journalistic effort whatsoever. We’ve got our work cut out for us, if we are to educate the public about how they’ve been duped and manipulated by smart political operatives, those who only have their own best interests in mind. We pioneered this in Virginia Beach, and while our motives may have seemed to be just at the time, the truth is we were just another group of social engineers with the political motivations of power and influence.

Chapter One of my new book

As political events began to take shape last year in the U.S. and specifically with the candidacy of Donald Trump, I began gathering all of the documents from my days as Pat Robertson’s producer in the 1980s. I could sense what was happening and felt a sense of responsibility for at least some of it, for as producer of The 700 Club, I had played a key role in our efforts to influence Republican Party politics. I began writing my story – the story of How Jesus Joined The GOP. The book is about to be published, but the need to get at least some of the information into the public debate right now is great. Hence, I’m publishing Chapter One here today for your perusal.

Chapter One: The Seeds of Modern Discontent

If I must publish the whole book online, I’ll do it, for the people addicted to Donald Trump are ushering in something they really don’t understand. Trump supporters represent a serious and significant threat to freedom, and the sad thing is that most of these people formed the core of our audience target back in the early 80s. The fears they express were planted by us, and while I’m not saying it was insincere, cynical, or corrupt, I am stating that it was a deliberate attempt at social engineering. People need to know this, for we preached what I’m calling “the gospel of self.”

I hope you will take the time to read this, and that you will share it with your friends.

Of course evangelicals can vote for Trump; they just shouldn’t

Donald TrumpEvangelical Christians face a quite a quandary this election season, because they’ve painted themselves into a narrow corner when it comes to politics. It’s the right-wing conservative way or no way, and that forces them into the camp of Donald Trump, a slick, self-promoter with questionable business and personal ethics. Mr. Trump also comes off as pretentious, racist, bigoted, and uninformed, and watching Evangelicals rationalize their support is frustrating, confusing, and sad. Were it not, it might actually be humorous.

Believe it or not, the biggest issue for these Christians is who will appoint perhaps as many as four Supreme Court justices over the next four years. That’s it. That’s issue number one for Evangelicals. This is what Christians are willing to roll the dice over in electing a man who admits he will stretch the truth to get what he wants. Read his book. He’s a salesman for whom it’s all about closing the deal, not about how you get there, and that disqualifies him for anything other than being one of the globalist corporate menaces that he accuses others of being. Anyone who believes anything that comes out of his mouth is dangerously misled, and that includes my Christian friends.

jackgrahamLast week, Mr. Trump met with certain hand-picked Evangelical Christian leaders (who were publicly referred to as “Christian Leaders,” a bad joke) where he selected a board of advisors and spoke to them about why he’s the only candidate on their side. In the wake of that meeting, evangelical pastor Jack Graham of the mega Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas published an article titled “Of course, Evangelicals can vote for Trump.” He gave three reasons why “I could easily vote for Mr. Trump this November without endorsing him, his behavior, his language or his “temperament,” adding, “I would vote for Donald Trump because he has convinced me he will fight for the issues that matter most to conservatives.”

He then lists these three issues: the Supreme Court, abortion, and religious liberty. Pastor Jack notes that Mr. Trump’s opponent “promises” she won’t support any of those, and so he’s willing to roll the dice on everything else required of the President of the United States, just because he’s got us covered on the Supreme Court.

If this is at all representative of other Evangelicals (it is), then the faith has gone completely mad. I got into a discussion about this with Christians yesterday on Facebook, and here’s a portion of it:

LL: And to me, SCOTUS is the ball game when you will have as many as 3-4 justices appointed that could affect and dictate policy for the next 50 years — and on much more than just abortion. I’ll pass on Hillary, whose intentions are clear, and go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with…

Me: L, it would be more honest if you were to say “go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with, no matter what.” I appreciate your candid position otherwise.

LL: Not sure I understand your first point, but thanks for the rest…

Me: That you’re fully prepared and content with whatever might happen with him as long as you get your Supreme Court justices.

LL: Let’s say I am willing to take my chances with Trump, and consider it a calculated risk. I am also about derailing globalism, and feel he is our best chance for that as well.

‘Lest you think I was speaking with a fool, this person is very intelligent and has done her homework. However, she believes Mr. Trump is a fine family man and would give her the Supreme Court justices she requires. Where did she do her research? I don’t know. Most of the conservative talking points come from the many loud fearmongers who filter everything through a sky-is-falling lens that distorts the reality of liberalism. But I digress.

Donald Trump’s very own life has proven him to be a tickler of the ears, and he admits as much in his book. Remember, he’s trying to sell us on the idea of himself as U.S. President:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

He is utterly untrustworthy, my dear Christian friends, and even if he’ll give you conservative justices, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved. Even if he’s pro-life, there’s no assurance that will mean anything in real life. And even if he is stating how much he supports Christianity (not religious freedom), there’s zero assurance he’ll ever be able to act upon it. Of course, I don’t believe he ever would anyway.

He just wants to close the deal, and we can’t let him.

The devil and the ego

Courtesy Slideshare.net

Courtesy Slideshare.net

We talk a lot about ego in AA, for the ego is the real enemy of any addict. Alcohol is but a symptom of our disease, the book says. The real problem with alcoholism is the “ism,” which stands for “I, self, me.” I’ve heard many people refer to their minds as “a dangerous place, because I’m not alone in there.” In fact, learning to separate those voices and identify especially the voice of your ego is one of the most valuable tools in addiction treatment and in psychology itself.

It comes as a surprise to most that our thoughts are provided by different characters in our minds. After all, our experience often is that there’s really only one “voice” in our heads, but in actuality, there are – or at least can be – many. Separating them and understanding each’s purpose is a lifetime study, but it’s remarkably rewarding, for the ability to shut down negative thoughts becomes a simple practice of ignoring that particular voice. I’m often reminded of the biography of mathematical genius John Nash by Sylvia Nasar “A Beautiful Mind.” Nash suffered from schizophrenia and was able to help himself by isolating those voices and ultimately ignoring them. Nash may have been an extreme case, but the point of those voices is very useful on the path to self actualization.

Freud was the first to identify the ego as “the part of the psyche that experiences the outside world and reacts.” The psychological world has gone far past that simple understanding. In the mid-twentieth century, psychiatrist Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) introduced the concept of “ego states,” and the work of Don Carter has taken that even further. Carter’s “Thawing” book series helped me in my own self study. Dr. Berne’s TA work was influenced by a seminal thought of Freud’s, that the human personality is multi-faceted.

These works all influenced me, but none moreso than The Addictive Personality: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behavior, the 1988 book by Craig Nakken. Nakken’s little book (120 pages) is packed with original thinking and states that the personality of addicts is also multi-faceted: The Self and The Addict. The Addict very closely resembles The Little Professor ego state, but Nakken paints a remarkable picture of an inner war between The Self and The Addict. Suicide, he writes, is a defensive act of homicide wherein The Self finally kills The Addict. This is a remarkably accurate portrayal of what takes place inside the active mind of one so lost in the sea of conflicting inner thoughts that she can’t distinguish between right and wrong.

C.S. Lewis viewed the mind as multi-faceted in his remarkable “The Screwtape Letters” that described the efforts of an experienced demon attempting to teach a youngster how to best influence his “client” to turn away from thoughts of God. It’s the same internal struggle described by Nakken.

In my view, these kinds of conflicts are evident throughout history and literature, although the writers didn’t necessarily speak in this language. This goes all the way back to the Bible, which is a book about “regular” human beings and how they responded to inner voices often falsely depicted as external. There’s nothing sinister about it. It’s simply human beings attributing a “holy” sacredness to these stories that is not justified by the stories themselves. The booming voice of God shouting from the sky – like a hovering aircraft with a megaphone – is more wonderful and fits the story better than some guy who’s “only” touched the internal voice of the Creator.

Was David’s lust for Bathsheba a thought from his Self or his Ego?

Then there’s the story of Jesus in the wilderness. The story goes that “the devil appeared unto Him” and tempted him three times. Rather than assign this to some creature with red skin and a pitchfork that just happens to show up, let’s put on our inner voice glasses and take a different look at what it means to have the devil “appear unto” Jesus. Think. Here’s this fully human person whose been fasting for many weeks. He’s starving, so he says to himself, “You know, self, you could change that rock into bread and satisfy that hunger, right?” Jesus, however, recognizes that voice and quotes scripture to it.

This is exactly what psychology is trying to pin down here in the twenty-first century. We go about our lives with multi-faceted personalities, every single one of us. Nobody’s unique. We’re all just garden variety human beings with clay feet. Nobody’s perfect. If the fall of humankind was about anything, it was about the addition of this other voice into our heads and the bad behavior it brought with it. Annual sacrifices atoned for the behavior of the Jews, but what did the Christ accomplish, if not the promise of a life with authority over that voice? It doesn’t happen automatically when somebody “accepts Jesus.” The work has already been done, and knowledge of that authority is just the beginning anyway.

The religions of the book have distorted this by emphasizing the behavior (a.k.a. “sin”) instead of the cause. Bob Newhart did a wonderful take on this with his “Stop it” therapy sketch, but as any addict will tell you, emphasizing behavior does little to bring about the psychic change of recovery. That requires work, effort that I think actually belongs to the church in our postmodern world, because the solution, it turns out, is a spiritual one. We need to be talking about how we overcame those voices, sharing our stories with each other rather than preaching from some hierarchical platform that exists primarily for itself. The brilliant Clay Shirky noted a few years ago that the role of institutions is to preserve the problem for which they are the solution, but that is becoming increasingly apparent to those who’ve relied on the institutions of modernity to support the pursuit of happiness, including the church. It’s not working anymore, and to those who can reinvent themselves will go the prize of relevancy in the centuries to come.

As the incomparable Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine Jones used to say, “The devil made me do it.” There’s a deep truth to that but one that the institutional Christian church is unable to see.