Christianity’s Big Branding Problem

Editor’s Note: This was first published five years ago in the Huffington Post.

<p>Courtesy <a href=
Courtesy David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

Dear Christians,

I’m writing to you today to discuss a very serious matter. Your brand — and especially the realm of Evangelicalism — has been hi-jacked by extremists who are using it to advance political theories that have nothing to do with your beliefs. You may not have had anything to do with it personally, but this thievery has taken place right in front of you. It has been sinister and systematic, and we’ve arrived at a confused place today where the brand is now interchangeable with the extreme political right. I played a role in this maneuvering during the 1980s as the executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship TV program The 700 Club. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain.

The 1980s was the era that launched Christianity as a Republican political force. It has grown over the subsequent years and eventually energized the election of Donald Trump. Noted theologian Roger Olsen recalled for a blog commenter the very moment he realized what was happening.

For me the “tipping point” (almost driving me insane) was when television talk show hosts began inviting Jerry Falwell and his ilk onto their programs to speak for all evangelicals. Donahue, King, et al. Why didn’t they have moderate-to-progressive evangelicals on their shows to speak for evangelicalism? Because moderate-to-progressive evangelicals didn’t interest them. We speak with too many syllables and too much ambiguity. They wanted demagoguery, bluster, extremism. The fundamentalists calling themselves evangelicals provided it. Many evangelicals fell into line with this trend as did many fundamentalists. I am one of the few “hold outs” from the older, truer evangelicalism that refused and still refuses to go along with that narrative.

So the initial hijacking of the brand was the work of a powerful few, but it was aided in great part by a news media in search of cultural “sides” to explain conflicts between the right and the left. And this, of course, had to be done in a manner that would produce ratings or enhance readership. Hence, Dr. Olsen’s “tipping point.” Denominational Christianity was shoved aside by those who taught their flocks that political participation was a major tenet of living the Christian life. It didn’t matter that the GOP was the party of the wealthy, their “traditional values” synced so well with the faith that it was easy to convince Christian voters to support them — in fact, “become” them — and in so doing move conservatism even farther to the right through fundamentalist extremes.

They preach what I call the Gospel of Self, a self-betterment, self-improvement theology that can’t help but produce behavior contrary to the faith. Let’s face it: self is the very thing that must be overcome in the Christian tradition, not the building up of ourselves up so that we can run the world around us. That is called “idolatry,” and we all know the warnings about that. The voice reminds me of the voice who said, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” We need to restore the brand to its rightful place, or Christian evangelism will become nothing more than a useless attempt to protect our own asses from a future of hellfire and damnation. We will continue to push people away and lose those from our flocks that are weary of what they see as hypocrisy. We need to let God be God, and put a stop to this damnable crusade for power and influence within the culture. I believe there are a great many who see this as contrary to the Great Commission but don’t know what to do about it.

Chris Hedges is a longtime critic of this behavior speaks to it once again in a piece called “Trump and the Christian Fascists:”

“These believers … detest the reality-based world. They condemn it as contaminated, decayed and immoral. This world took their jobs. It destroyed their future. It ruined their communities. It doomed their children. It flooded their lives with alcohol, opioids, pornography, sexual abuse, jail sentences, domestic violence, deprivation and despair. And then, from the depths of suicidal despair, they suddenly discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God will intervene in their lives to promote and protect them. God has called them to carry out his holy mission in the world and to be rich, powerful and happy.”

It is the Gospel of Self. How to create satisfaction for yourself and your family in this life while fighting the battles of God in the political arena. This is the antithesis of what Jesus taught in the gospels.

“The just shall live by faith” is the very foundation of protestantism. God is not mocked, and all who call themselves “Christian” know in their hearts that faith doesn’t include what’s in front of us in our culture. God judges these things and acts upon him as the natural has always done the unnatural, and we need faith in order to let that happen without trying to move things along under our own power. Life’s usual method of dealing with our dissatisfaction is to keep pouring it on until we learn to truly trust Him, not our ability to do battle ourselves in hopes of “winning” a more comfortable living in this life. Don’t think that’s the way it works? Start praying for patience and watch what happens. We simply aren’t promised a peaceful neighborhood, a sinless, well-managed, and questionless society, or any other utopian fantasy that is trouble free for those of us supposedly in the know. What happened to our understanding that the corrupt nature of humankind is a trap for those who believe we have control over anything. We were promised that the poor would always be with us, and it’s by our reaction to and our treatment of those who live under poverty’s harsh taskmaster that we are judged. We cannot earn ourselves a rose garden no matter how badly we want one. That kind of justification would not be of faith anyway, so why do we try so hard to make ourselves feel so very special. Moreover, why do we attempt to force others to embrace that specialness?

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” the Bible tells us. There is no reference to denomination, doctrine, or dogma, because the term referred to the way those pioneers lived and taught others to live, their overriding behavior being the piety they displayed. They loved one another. Noah Webster, of the dictionary fame, was certainly a Christian and defined the term thusly in his 1828 dictionary, the one we all use when trying to understand terms used in documents of that era:

CHRISTIAN, noun 1. A believer in the religion of Christ. 2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. 3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. 4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a christian country or of christian parents.

So Noah Webster didn’t even come close to defining the brand by its position within the culture other than to identify piety with the term. And just so we understand number three, let’s also ask Mr. Webster to define “piety:”

PI’ETY, noun [Latin pietas, from pius, or its root, probably a contracted word.] Piety in principle, is a compound of veneration or reverence of the Supreme Being and love of his character, or veneration accompanied with love; and piety in practice, is the exercise of these affections in obedience to his will and devotion to his service.

In all things as Christians, Jesus is our model, our example, our Lord, and the author of grace. If we have questions about any issue or behavior, we can look to Him for ourselves and not be dependent on what the preacher says or any so-called expert. This was the great cultural disruption in the West brought about by Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible with the first printing press. That invention — along with common English translations of the book — decimated the unquestioned power of Rome and spread that power across the land. So began the enlightenment, protestantism, and ultimately colonialism and a modern world governed by logic and reason.

Christians are still a great throng in the world, one represented as a tapestry of different practices and branches with no one granted the authority to proclaim themselves or anyone else the “real” Christians. Various creeds have been written to help better define our specific beliefs, although we cannot escape the truth that these were written by men. Some will insist that these men were guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore sanctified in God’s eyes, but fallen man is fallen man, and if we really believe that, it’s hard to blindly trust any such reasoning. I would argue, in fact, that we’ve used those creeds and such to create neat boxes within which we can place people who disagree with us, and that is not piety, not even close.

The natural inclination of children to love others is relentlessly “cleansed” by “Christian” parents eager to bring them into their separatist, nationalist folds, and the harm done in so doing is incalculable. Even within families, members who refuse to walk according to the beliefs of the patriarch or matriarch are privately and even publicly ostracized. Children grow up and become adults, and in many denominations, that means they leave, and, according to Pew, the “unchurched” population is growing at a pace unexperienced in times past. These young people are deeply turned off, and yet their antagonizers continue to loudly profess the very moral hypocrisy they see as they’re growing up. Lectures and disapproval are often tied to sexual activities and thoughts, thought to be immoral in the profession of many churches.

However, morality doesn’t begin and end with sex. It just doesn’t, yet these extremists argue morality entirely around the sex act. Abortion isn’t about killing babies; it’s about sex. If it were not, then why don’t these vocal Christians support birth control? The churches don’t talk about the statistics. Did you know that the abortion rate in the U.S. is back to where it was before Roe v Wade? It’s not a legal issue, and it never was. It’s about sex and the extremist view that the act is evil unless somehow made clean by the church’s sanctification through marriage. Gay marriage. Homosexuality. Transgenderism. They’re all about sex. We think it makes God angry, and we don’t want to get caught up in that anger, so we rail against any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman. We claim God is judging the world for this, and yet the Bible points out that Sodom wasn’t destroyed for its sexual sins but rather for its failure to take care of the poor and the afflicted. One is free, therefore, to ask that if God is indeed judging today, who exactly is He judging? Perhaps the very church attendees who plead the morality message at every turn.

That’s a very dangerous practice, because morality is a much, much broader matter. It includes, among other things, obscene CEO salaries, oppression of workers through poor wages and conditions, opposition to welfare, insider trading, tax loopholes, flouting avarice, and removing government programs that protect the poor and the afflicted. How Christian people can side with such immorality is the great mystery of the Twenty-First Century, but it begins with those who have seized the brand and run with it.

I use the words “Christian brand,” because it’s a marketing problem. We need to see it as such, if there’s to be any hope of correcting the extreme shifting of Christianity far to the political right. And if this is to be, then we need to create faith-based arguments about it and spread those far and wide. Political debates today are required to be entertaining, and that means extremes going at each other. Let’s take that debate into the church, for debating in the public square is quite useless. Let’s not be afraid to confront questions of mixing theology and politics from the pulpit, in our Bible studies, and in our homes.

The only thing wrong with error, after all, is the contempt it breeds for those who would disagree, usually without investigation. We’re better than that, aren’t we?

Why Members of the Clergy Cheat

Hillsong church in crisis? Wall of silence points to a brewing scandal
Courtesy Crikey.

in the wake of the collapse of The Hillsong USA Church leadership over confessions of sexual dalliances, there’s been a significant degree of tsk-tsking as usual. We’re seeing this often in the church today, but very few people actually talk about it. Perhaps it’s because we think of it as powerful men falling due to their own egos or character failings. It’s so simple, therefore, that it doesn’t require deeper types of thinking.

In my view, it’s the role of minister/leader that is a set-up for these men. So, let’s take a look.

Many who read this will think I’ve generated an asinine rationalization for males’ risky adventure with sex outside their own marriages, but I think there’s something else here to be considered. Surely, there’s more to it, as we examine the continual failures of leaders, church or otherwise, in having affairs or sexual liaisons with those under their charge. These cases are all lopped into the bins of failed character, narcissism, or some other pathological weakness of “the flesh.” So, we properly vilify them publicly, and we move on in search of the next perfect man to sit under and then later crush when they turn out to be human.

But I think there’s something else going on here — that could be prevented — if we only could speak honestly.

To set the stage, let’s begin with this wonderful quote by John R. W. Stott:

“And they who fain would serve Thee best are conscious most of wrong within.”

Honestly now, who can argue with this? Does it not stand to reason that ministers of the gospel — a.k.a. those doing the Lord’s work — would be the most conscious of their own sin and nature? This removes all doubt from the truth that these leaders are fully aware of the sin they are committing, which means they also know about the consequences with the God they serve. Therefore, we ask again, what is so compelling about this that these men are willing to throw away everything just to pursue it?

It’s not about the sex, the physical act. It’s about intimacy and how that influences a man’s ability to create. Let me repeat that. It’s about intimacy and how that influences a man’s ability to create. In this sense, it’s much worse than a simple slapping of two bodies; it’s about what happens with the man’s desperate need for intimacy. And, this ought to influence all wives of creative people, for intimacy is easily lost to feelings of rejection with these sensitive souls. This is the point at which our culture needs to invest, in ministry, in therapy, and in psychology in general.

There is one thing that most of these men can claim: they are sensitive creatively and need (yes, need) to be intimately in love in order to tap into the source that feeds their imaginations. This is called the artist’s muse and is accomplished through the one-way flow of love from the source of all love, through each of us, towards another. It is an inbound flow that the man has felt before, and to him, it’s absolutely sacred and holy. He must give away what he receives, or the flow will stagnate, and he will be fully lost. It is a crushing experience for one’s creativity to stagnate, and it comes from shutting down the flow through any one of a number of emotions the man might be feeling. He must reactivate the flow through the giving of love, for then, the ultimate giver of love will replace that which he gives away, and in that refreshment comes more from the source. This is why being in love is such a phenomenal feel-good experience. The entire fruit of the spirit travels with that flow, so it “feels” marvelous.

I can hear the gasps even now. “C’mon, Terry, what about sensitive and creative women? Don’t they require this intimacy, too?” I’m not smart enough to figure all that out, but I’ll say this. Throughout history, the idea of an artist’s muse is always feminine. Besides, I’m speaking about men here, so just bear with me, because I believe there are great differences between the two sexes. Please. There will be others who’ll read this as a rationalization for my own dalliances, for I was once a chronic womanizer. There may be truth to that, but I’ll argue that it doesn’t change the reasoning presented here.

Culture says to creative people, “conform,” but they simply cannot. Can. Not. It’s always cannot; never will not. Creators value their sensitive source, not that which ignores the voices from beyond. Hence, society’s rules and regulations are actually designed to move away from the source. After all, chaos is the mother of pain to those who demand order. The problem with this is that creativity flows from chaos, not order.

He feels bad that his behavior has hurt others, but he’s not making decisions with the full weight of consciousness, and this is so important to understand. He knows what he’s doing is wrong. He knows the inevitable consequences. He is driven by a profound need to get to a place where he can receive. It overrides all decision-making filters, because it comes from beyond. When the prolific songwriter Bill Monroe told me in an interview that he never wrote a single song but simply “heard them first”, he was speaking of this flow. Richard Adams, in the forward to his little book “The Unbroken Web,” describes a moving web of creativity that encircles the earth constantly. It contains all of the creative efforts of humanity and explains how people from different continents told the same ancient stories prior to intercontinental travel of any sort. I hope this is well-known in the artistic community, because it is more real to artists than their own logic and attitudes towards process.

This is why the draw is intimacy, not sex. These men generally don’t do this just to get off; there’s something much more sinister going on, and we’re never going to fix the problem without this understanding. Our egos (a.k.a. the devil) are just waiting with the ammunition to corrupt this beautiful experience in order to take over. Most cannot put their finger on what’s actually happening (as stated above), so they go along with the ego’s prompting, which, as it always does, leads to devastation of the self.

If a minister’s wife isn’t also his muse, then trouble is on the horizon. This is a super important area to discuss with each other and perhaps a therapist, and it’s even more important for those in the counseling business to wrap their arms around. A creative man needs words of affirmation more than anybody could possibly imagine, and these come through the avenue of love. While it’s very true that preachers wives have their own set of responsibilities and duties to the ministry, she must NEVER drift far from the muse role she has held since they first fell in love. I simply cannot overstate the value of this in ministry relationships.

At sometime, somewhere, and somehow he has lost true intimacy with his significant other, and the creative blockage is palpable. He feels suffocated. He knows he needs intimacy as much as oxygen, but he cannot find it until he randomly encounters another searching soul. He thinks he sees it in her eyes, and her first encounter with him likely includes words of affirmation he is on the lookout for. “I love the way your personality shines through your messages,” or something similar. Suddenly, he is confronted with confusion and guilt, so he decides simply to dismiss what he’s feeling as chance. It’s at that point, however, that his ego has already begun the process of justification, and he is most likely a goner.

So, what do we do about these troubled souls? Do we not at least owe them for their revelatory inspirations that have blessed us? Yes, but does that, however, mean we must look the other way? God forbid. But let us always remember that this is a church, not some other form of institution.

Ministers know that forgiveness awaits their confession, and this adds to the problem of rationalizing infidelity. After all, why not proceed, if you know you’ll be forgiven up front? It is a very delicate and difficult manifestation of human nature.

Surely, they must face disciplinary proceedings and be given a leave of absence or be terminated. This is where it gets sticky, however, because he’s left with only one choice and that is to move along and start over in some other place. We see this all the time, but one session of chasing the wind easily flows into another, and the real matter is never addressed.

Let me repeat the basics. Creative men need feminine inspiration, even if its homosexual. It’s as important as air to breathe for these people. Therefore, their spouse must, above all, function as a muse to the preacher, and this is often expressed as sexual intimacy. This is why marital problems involving such servants can be so destructive for the ministry itself, and this needs positive, non-judgmental discussion between the ministers and their spouses. The remarkable thing here is that these men are naturally drawn to this feminine energy and often end up with a person who functions unknowingly as their muse.

Would that all such men would be so lucky.

A “Biblical” Worldview Deconstructed

God Inhabits the Praise of His People' Meaning

Continuing with my series of essays about the fundamental beliefs of contemporary Evangelical Christians — assumptions that drive the entire movement, including those who would identify as MAGA Christians — let’s deconstruct the idea of a “Biblical Worldview”, as in, “Our school teaches a Biblical Worldview.”

This worldview is then used to divide and separate the behavior of Christians from the rest of the culture.

So common is this phrase in evangelicalism, that everyone takes it for granted. I mean, if you believe every word of the book, why would you not wish to live by it? That’s the simplicity that it offers, and “I want all my neighbors to do the same thing. Therefore, I’ll do the best I can to recruit them into the way we live, and everything will be just fine.” It’s the ultimate disrespect for the beliefs of others, but it doesn’t seem that way to them, for they are “saving” their neighbors from eternal damnation.

In postmodern vernacular, this “world view” is the same thing as a “Grand Narrative,” the overarching story of what’s presented at all levels throughout the narrative. The difference, however, is what gives us the wiggle room to deconstruct the narrative, because these things are usually presented as fact, although we cannot fool nature into performing as we would wish. Many, if not most, grand narratives have at least an element of this, which is why deconstruction can very much become the monkey wrench in the plans of humankind. However, it’s also wise to question such narratives in order to gain wisdom and understanding and to prevent culture from completely running off any self-interested rails.

To have a “Biblical” worldview, we must first choose which Bible we’re going to use, and this alone can take a lifetime of study and still not completely affirm the grand narrative selected. At this point, many simply create a new translation, one that better fits the story being presented. Moreover, once a translation is selected, believers must completely believe in its inerrancy. So important is this belief, that movement leaders refer to it as “the WORD of God.” In other words, the Bible provides all that’s necessary to prove itself as the literal voice of God, therefore it proclaims the true wishes of the final authority. In this way, these people view the Bible and its words literally, at least so far as they help frame the narrative.

(Aside: If you wish to understand what is meant in the Bible about the Word of God, read the books of Adam and Eve, apocryphal literature that presents the lives of Adam and Eve and their progeny after the garden.)

It is this authority that has driven Western Civilization for over 2,000 years, beginning with the Council of Nice in the 4th Century A.D., through the Dark Ages when the church governed everything about salvation of the saints, including the selling of special dispensations to royals in order to keep its coffers full. Then came the printing press and decades of complaints from the church about losing its authority over the book. This led to The Enlightenment and the protestant revolution of “the just shall live by faith.” On and on, our history is filled with wars and other conflicts over the inerrancy of scripture. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” On the one hand, it’s nice to have the rules of life all handily laid out for us, so that we can “decide” if we want to follow them or not. This places the onus for what they view as “salvation” in our own hands, meaning we must live by these rules, which begin with “the just shall live by faith.” Confused? On the other hand, whatever happened to “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?

So, you can see the problem with this Biblical Worldview profession, because it turns out to be better for the evangelicals than those being recruited. I’m reminded of The Shirky Principle, that institutions will always try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. It’s very easy to do that when you insist that even though Jesus is believed to have redeemed humanity (“It is finished”), the Biblical Worldview suggests that we play a role in our own redemption, so much so that the word redemption itself requires its own deconstruction. Therefore, the correct response to this Biblical Worldview is one of separating ourselves from the sins of others, and maintaining that separation regardless of the begging and pleading of the have-nots. We’re taught not to link ourselves with such people, which is why this crowd feels its Biblical to reject others in the name of God, regardless of how it appears on the surface. After all, what’s to stop these heathens from taking what I’ve earned in following the rules? They are the problem, not me.

The elites of Western culture have always maintained a special relationship with Christianity, for the “saving” of heathen cultures was a fast-track to manipulation in terms of maintaining peace among the working class while profiting enormously from their labor. It’s no surprise therefore that the same is rampant today. The printing press temporarily disrupted this cozy relationship between man and mammon, prompting the powerful, 15th-Century priestly statement: “The jewel of the elites is in the hands of the laity.” The internet, however, is an even greater disruption to organized Christianity, because the web is a 3‑way communications medium. The top can talk “to” the bottom. The bottom can talk “to” the top. But the greatest cultural changes are coming from the 3rd way, which is that the bottom can talk with the bottom without interference from the top, and this is simply not compatible with the church’s one-to-many hegemony.

An important part of modern Christianity’s Grand Narrative is its relationship to Israel and how Zionism is a necessary part of Jesus returning to earth to claim the redeemed humans and take them to Heaven with him in what’s known as “The Rapture of the Church.” The Biblical Worldview teaches that Israel is sacred and that all promises made by God to the ancients still apply, and that to criticize Israel is to displease God or challenge God. Moreover, since the end will begin in a Jewish Jerusalem, we should support Israel’s existence at all cost. This is what authorizes Evangelical Christians to proclaim that the return of Jesus is near, a belief that has undergirded evangelicalism since 1948 and why the U.S. gives Israel so much no-strings-attached money. Call it a Strategic Defense Initiative if you’d like, but this is what a Biblical Worldview teaches. In addition, the Zionists will eventually have to replace the mosque on the Temple Mount with a new temple, which will result in violence and bloodshed on a scale we’ve yet to witness in the Middle East, but you won’t hear it condemned completely by the U.S. Why not? Because that’s where Jesus will return, so there’s nothing wrong with (wink-wink) helping it along.

If you actually believe this would be God’s will, I feel very sorry for you.

People mostly stay silent about these realities, choosing instead to trust the church overall or their place of worship and leaders who attended seminary and are professionally trained. How could such academic thinkers be wrong, right? Ask them questions, however, and they’ll refer back to their own catechism, which uses the Bible to teach the inerrancy of the Bible. It’s the greatest illustration of circular reasoning in the history of humankind. For example, is the story of God stopping the rotation of the earth for 24-hours to enable Joshua to completely conquer his enemies a myth or a true story? “Well, cough-harrumph, Terry, God can do anything, right?” What God “can” do is not evidence of what God did or didn’t do.

Walt Disney built his entire empire on the idea of “the plausible impossible,” which was a reference to the death-defying feats of animated characters. To be kind, let’s make the assumption that religions contain many elements of the plausible impossible, only Christians refer to them as fact in the name of the miraculous. This is a vain attempt to fool nature, but we buy into it with regularity.

There is no greater mystery with these believers than the combining of the New Testament with the Old Testament in order to come up with cultural rules for believers.

To further study all this, let’s turn to an insider definition of a Biblical Worldview, and what better document to examine than one created by the monstrous heresy known as “Focus on the Family” and its prophet, James Dobson. The ministry calls its worldview a “Christian Worldview”, which is the same thing as Biblical Worldview. Here are just a few paragraphs that explain the concept.

A biblical worldview is based on the infallible Word of God. When you believe the Bible is entirely true, then you allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do. That means, for instance, you take seriously the mandate in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities by researching the candidates and issues, making voting a priority.

Do you have a biblical worldview? Answer the following questions, based on claims found in the Bible and which George Barna used in his survey:

- Do absolute moral truths exist?
- Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
- Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
- Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
- Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
- Is Satan real?
- Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
- Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?

Did you answer yes to these? Only 9 percent of “born- again” believers did (according to Barna research). But what’s more important than your yes to these questions is whether your life shows it. Granted, we are all sinners and fall short, but most of our gut reactions will reflect what we deep-down, honest-to-goodness believe to be real and true…

…Here is the big problem. Nonbiblical worldview ideas don’t just sit in a book somewhere waiting for people to examine them. They bombard us constantly from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books and academia.

Because we live in a selfish, fallen world, these ideas seductively appeal to the desires of our flesh, and we often end up incorporating them into our personal worldview. Sadly, we often do this without even knowing it.

For example, most Christians would agree with 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and other Scriptures that command us to avoid sexual immorality, but how often do Christians fall into lust or premarital and extramarital sexual sin? Is it simply because they are weak when tempted, or did it begin much earlier, with the seductive lies from our sexualized society?

Notice how this narrative forces cultural problems on those who don’t use their Biblical Worldview. This will forever keep their fingers pointed at others in their pursuit of happiness and is justification for not loving their neighbors.

You can see the requirement that the Bible be considered the absolute and infallible authority in order to live what’s called a Biblical Worldview. The irony is that the entirety of this worldview is in opposition to their claim that they represent love and serving God. The Bible serves as law enforcement here, which is inconsistent with the essential belief that the just shall live by faith.

The most astonishing claim presented by Focus on the Family here is that voting for Christians who share this worldview is a part of “honoring” the governing authorities. Again, this claim demands our deconstruction, but most followers simply say “Amen” and do what they’re told.

One of the most common phrases we hear from this group is that if you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime. It’s a nice sound bite, but it assumes an entirely level playing field for all. All have the same access to fish, the same equipment and techniques, and plenty of fish for everybody. I assure you that this not the case, and so the wording is at best wishful thinking, a thought that works only in the abstract but not practically. To many, it’s simply a statement of shirking responsibility to love our neighbors, if it results in us losing anything that we believe belongs to us.

The absurdities we’re hearing today from the Christian Right all stem from the grand narrative first considered at Roman Emperor Constantine’s Church Council at Nice, where concepts considered heresy were discussed and dealt with, especially involving the divinity of Christ. Faith was transformed into creed, and thus was born the “true” church, one based on the rules and regulations of how all “should” behave in order to form a better society. That it led instead to the Dark Ages should surprise no one,

We are heading in that direction once again, if the fascism of the extreme right becomes the law of the land. We are much closer to civil war than anybody thinks, as the 21st-Century searches for its identity. If the right gets its way, that identity will certainly begin with the authority of its Biblical Worldview, because most are afraid of it or ignorant to its real purpose, which is to support and strengthen the grip of self-centered capitalists on Western Civilization.

If you wish to study the Bible, make sure you include serious time in the Book of Ecclesiastes, which spells out the best way to live our lives “under the sun” — our lives as human beings on planet Earth. There is nothing in this book that’s altered by the redemption of the Christ, so its wisdom is universal in how to best live our lives. This book is extremely significant for ferreting out the religious, because it contains the “shit happens” realities of living under the sun. It contradicts those Christians who insist that they are somehow immune from tragedy, above the wages of sin, and the worst comforting statement ever made by Christian “friends” to the suffering: “there’s a reason God allowed this to happen.”

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

Time and chance? That can’t be part of a Biblical Worldview, and yet, there it is.

Trouble For The Town That NASA Built?

Northrop Grumman Facebook Ad for Huntsville

As people in North Alabama go about their daily lives, they do so without an active press watching out for their best interests. There’s no real newspaper to speak of, as Huntsville’s a part of the AL.com franchise. Huntsville is a boom town that recently captured the title of Alabama’s biggest city from Birmingham, so it stands to reason that it would support efforts to keep an eye on all that money floating around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and so residents here tend to whistle along in the hope that their leaders aren’t (just) in it for themselves. That’s what happens absent a press that takes its job seriously.

The emperor of Huntsville is NASA, and nobody here has the courage to call a boondoggle what it is, because it puts so much food in so many mouths that it would be inappropriate to say that NASA is leading the parade completely naked. There’s been a significant disruption to the space industry in the form of reusable boosters, led by Elon Musk and the team at Space‑X. While Huntsville relies on our government to support space efforts, the private sector is advancing by giant leaps and bounds.

NASA is well aware of what’s happening, as well as those in Congress who approve or disapprove the massive funding of NASA and NASA projects. SpaceX is winning NASA contracts with increasing frequency based on a history of innovation, expertise, and outstanding performance. When SpaceX won the $2.9 billion Artemis lunar lander contract over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, a Marshall Space Flight Center regular, Bezos sued NASA. The suit was tossed in court, and this was a bellwether event in U.S. space program history, although not publicly acknowledged in North Alabama.

NASA and Huntsville have long been the center of activity between the government and the private sector. One drive through Cummings Research Park, and you’ll see the logos of every private company involved in the U.S. space program, although many go back to the heyday of the race to space between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Huntsville is a museum for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs. The Saturn‑5 that stands along the interstate is a testimony to the gargantuan effort by Werner von Braun’s Nazi rocket team that led up to it and set the U.S. on the path to outer space dominance in a changing world. The problem is that the technology has passed us by. Being married to the archaic means we cannot — dare not — do anything that might conflict with the government. NASA is tied to taxpayers, and therein lies the real problem. U.S. Senators simply cannot continue to fund such a monster forever, and its end is likely to surprise everybody here, because no one’s really reporting about it. The government has watched as NASA has shifted its most precious cargo — astronauts — to SpaceX, which has handled the responsibility with class and perfection. SpaceX has successfully landed over 100 boosters, most of them via landing platforms at sea. Think about that for a minute. Its Falcon9 program has been incredibly successful, especially as it relates to delivering cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

But what about Huntsville? It’s all hyperbole and golly gee about the Artemis program and its Space Launch System (SLS) approved by Congress and taxpayer-funded. It makes much more sense for NASA to invest in the real future instead of one that’s built on politics and warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by. Cost overruns for SLS and its contractors (here in Huntsville) are enormous and continuous, and the handwriting on the wall is not favorable for a reliable future for the space program in Huntsville. And all of this is taking place without the watchful eyes of even the hint of a questioning press.

Absent a vibrant local press, information becomes public relations or some other form of favorable propaganda. The Huntsville Business Journal, for example, is producing a 3‑part series “Huntsville Takes the Lead to ‘Rock-it’ Back to the Moon” that goes far beyond the make-up of a simple puff piece. It’s hard propaganda that sings the praises of Huntsville’s businesses who are living off the nipple of NASA’s money. Here are just a few quotes from the series:

…Today, a new generation of space explorers is taking over. They are watching and learning and building their own bright futures right here in the Rocket City. They are the Artemis generation, who will once again lead the way as America returns to the moon, this time with the Space Launch Systems (SLS) – the most powerful rocket ever developed…

…“Currently, the SLS program has contributed $2.4 billion to Alabama’s economy; 13,000 jobs across the state; and generated more than $55 million in state and local taxes,” Mayor (Tommy) Battle said. “When you look at how much it is adding to our economy and then look at what it is adding to the world, you realize we are doing something no one else can do, that we’ve done it before, and we are doing it again…

…Home to the propulsion systems associated with the rockets we currently fly, and every successful rocket we have flown in the past, the Rocket City is once again at the heart of world-changing feats and life and death-defying technology.

Rocket scientists here in Huntsville are already working on hardware for five iterations of the Artemis Space Launch Systems (SLS), America’s next generation exploration class rocket, and the only rocket that can fly the manned Orion spacecraft safety to the moon.

Fifteen percent more power than the Saturn V, the SLS is the only exploration class vehicle capable of sending humans into deep space along with large systems that are necessary to live and work in deep space.

And none of these missions can get off earth and escape earth’s gravity field without the SLS, managed and for a large part, built here in Huntsville!…

I hope you can see the denial present in this “news.” The Marshall Space Flight Center needs a rock solid relationship with SpaceX in order to continue with the moniker “Rocket City,” because Musk and others from the private sector (who worry about things like cost instead of just dipping into tax dollars for more) are taking over everything. Likewise, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center needs “used” SpaceX props for its museum. Without those show pieces, the place is, again, a museum about the early days of space.

What does exist of a “press” here in Huntsville seems completely sold on the idea that SLS, Artemis, and the Orion lander are the future of space. Meanwhile, the open nature of SpaceX’s work gives us daily views of what’s taking place in Boca Chica, Texas and the SpaceX Starship program. NASA funds some projects, including a Starship orbit around the moon. Elon Musk, however, has his sights set on Mars and colonizing the red planet. SpaceX has yet to test its genius Starship booster and Starship combination and is waiting for an environmental impact study from the FAA (which certainly has the ears of NASA) before approving a test flight of Booster 4 and Starship 20. This system will destroy the Huntsville claim that SLS is the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Government-generated environmental concerns have kept SpaceX from testing its innovative system, and there’s talk of delays and even moving from Boca Chica to the Florida space coast. Meanwhile, Huntsville holds its breath, for this event is likely to get ALL of the global attention of space industry watchers (including Congress) and firmly place SLS in the junk bin of technological disruption.

Generally speaking, the press outside Huntsville includes skepticism about SLS, but it’s not something you’ll receive here. The bane of local media is always its relationship with local advertisers, and this is no different. Local news departments, for example, stay away from complaints about car dealers, because sales departments would have a cow!

The SpaceX vision includes fuel tankers in space, space stations, and everything else that would be necessary for humans to become an interplanetary species. And Elon Musk’s primary concerns are the outer space aspirations of countries like China, Russia, and other U.S. (business) adversaries. SpaceX gladly embraces these challenges, while NASA and Huntsville are hung up on the costly and time-consuming elements of doing it the old way. The damage to North Alabama’s economy will eventually be devastating.

The Government Accounting Office’s 2021 NASA report will be out this Spring, and it will describe even greater cost-overruns, errors, and delays in the SLS program. There’s talk of another launch delay, possibly to the summer of 2022. In the end, SLS will deliver on its promise to send Americans back to the moon, but as each month passes, Huntsville sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of yesterday when it comes to innovation and the future. There simply is no future in outer space without reusability, and that’s not what NASA is doing with SLS.

Behind all the public cheerleading for NASA, leadership here knows of what’s happening, and that may be the biggest story of all. Hush everybody, for as long as the emperor THINKS he’s clothed, what’s the problem?

Loving Neighbors “As Ourselves”

Feeling Comfortable In Your Skin - The DMC Clinic - Counselling Wexford

The inability of many humans to love themselves is the root of great mischief in the world of life under the sun. It’s why trauma — especially childhood trauma — is such a great evil, for how can one love their neighbors, if they cannot love themselves? Those victims of such often wrap themselves in shame by blaming themselves for the trauma. These people feel unlovable and do their best to bury this truth rather than allowing others to see their pain. Who wants to appear weak in a world that associates success with godliness?

Acts of charity are often self-centered — even just to receive a simple pat on the back or a tax write-off — instead of simply loving our neighbors in the eternal moment of the here and now.

It Is the great lie of the devil (a.k.a. the human ego) that any of us are unlovable, for life views each of us exactly the same. As such, we’re all lovable and connected in the moment. Emphasizing only our behavior towards others, however, traps us in the worlds of time and space, because that is where behavior resides. This is why we can never “perform” in such a way that guarantees a right relationship with God and others. We cannot pray enough to make ourselves more righteous, worship enough, attend church enough, do enough good works, meditate enough, read the Bible enough, or do any of the acts usually attributed to holy living.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.”

— I John 4:7–8

If we don’t or can’t love ourselves, it’s impossible for us to love one another.

This is pretty serious stuff to those Christians who believe they’re following the great commandments of Jesus:

“… and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

— Matthew 22:35–40

The implied aspect of commanding us to love ourselves is missed by theologians who are hung up on our behavior towards others, including God. However, the love of self isn’t universal with the interference of ego’s two-sided coin. Who, after all, has the time and energy to love oneself when we’re just trying to make it through the quagmires and quicksands of everyday life? Self-protection isn’t self-love, although it sure seems so at times. For sure, the providing of food, clothing, and shelter for oneself and family is a part of loving oneself, but not to the exclusion of all the other aspects of the commandment.

And love is a one-way street, from the source, through us and to others. Love doesn’t seek itself, as the ego does, and this forms the basis for human conflict. So, what does it really mean to love yourself? Here are ten concepts for your consideration: (Also see The Parable of the Garden Hose)

1. It begins with ruthless honesty, starting with the idea that we are ALL corrupt and cannot be trusted to behave selflessly. This would be a problem were it not for the sacrifice of the cross, because we are now capable of great good, although we mostly choose to care only for ourselves. Notice that even the gospel itself has been corrupted by this, as described in Pat Robertson’s discussion with me about why people give to ministries:

It helps me
It helps my family
It helps my community
It helps my state
It helps my country
It helps fulfill the great commission
It helps others who are less fortunate

The Gospel of Self

Notice that this is an ever-widening circle that begins closely wrapped around self interest. That is a great illustration of the heresy currently practiced by a great throng of “Christians”.

2. We are residents of Earth, because of God’s (Life’s) grace. We did nothing ourselves to get here, so the idea that we can actually “manage” life while living under the sun is the disaster undergirding contemporary hierarchies. We “deserve” nothing, because we are nothing when compared to life overarching. We “deserve” vanquishment, because faith is built upon the foundation that we are ALL “unprofitable servants” of the most-high God. In other words, we don’t move mountains to draw attention to ourselves, regardless of how “good” those works are. Our right relationship with life, therefore, is that it has all the power and we have none.

Apple trees would die everywhere, if they tried to manage the growth and development of their own fruit. They are merely unprofitable conduits in life’s production of apples. They don’t question; they simply produce. What could the human race accomplish, if we could behave in the same manner? Anything.

3. Everybody has difficulties. In accepting our own, we are more likely to have compassion for others, and this is an essential part of loving our neighbors. In so doing, we also give ourselves permission to fail, for we all WILL certainly fail. We simply cannot be perfect, despite our own desires to be so, or at least to project ourselves as perfect for the benefit of observers.

4. No one is better than or worse than the rest in the moment. We are all human and impacted in human ways. It matters not how we feel. As a doctor once taught me, “People are like snowflakes, all different, but all the same. Put a flame to snowflakes, and they melt. Stab us with an icepick, and we bleed.” This part of loving ourselves is critical to a right understanding of life under the sun.

5. We should not be overly critical of ourselves, for such is a trap that our egos present. We need to criticize ourselves with great care, for in so doing, we will be much less critical of others. The greatest weight we carry through life, the baggage that we often put on others, is the angry and critical spirit that grows from imperfection’s soil.

6. Joy — and even great joy — is carried by loving ourselves, for it is a fruit of the spirit. Happiness depends on what’s happening and is, therefore, a useless pursuit. If eating chocolate, for example, makes you happy, then it follows that you must always be eating chocolate in order to “feel” happy. Loving ourselves has little to do with feelings, for emotions come from the senses, which accompany our animal nature. If you know joy, you will be happy.

7. Given the above, we also love ourselves when we open our minds to life and its great possibilities. There is no greater block that our egos can use to defile us than a closed mind, one that is rule-bound and carefully boxed, so as to present ourselves dishonestly as obedient, committed, and, well, perfect. Remember always the words of Henry Adams, “The way of nature is change (chaos): the dream of man Is order.” Those who stress law and order over compassion are closed-minded, self-centered, and not loving of themselves. They are then unable to love their neighbors.

8. In everything give thanks, for we’ve done nothing on our own. Be thankful even in times of deep darkness, like the death of a loved one, because joy will return after a season of grieving. Let’s permit ourselves to grieve in times of loss, for such suffering is the key to downstream wholeness. Even setting a time limit for deep grieving is an act of self-love, and one that our lost loved ones would desire for us.

9. I’m sure there are many other aspects of loving ourselves that could be inserted into this list, but this an important skill that’s possible for each of us, and that is to recognize and therefore acknowledge the voice of our ego. When we talk to ourselves (everybody does) who’s talking with whom? This is a great place to begin our study. Remember that the ego is a liar (and the father of all lies) and that he lives in our heads. When we question ourselves, don’t be surprised if he answers, and we can usually determine which voice is which.

10. Finally, remember the paradox of prosperity, that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it. This is the trap that leads (mostly) the rich to never be satisfied with what they have, and this is one of the most common ways that we fail to love ourselves and by default, our neighbors.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The Rise of Women’s Volleyball

2021 NCAA DI women's volleyball championship selections announced | NCAA.com

The 2021 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament gets underway this week, and the quality of the teams this year is pretty staggering. I’ve become a super fan of women’s volleyball, and (you know me) I’m seeing some things that need discussion, because this sport is outgrowing its parochial infrastructure. If the powers that be play their cards correctly, this could become the new rage in televised sports.

The bottom line is this: Volleyball is not only the top participatory sport for girls in the United States, but it’s also the fastest growing participatory sport for girls. Girls don’t just play volleyball in school; there exists a rapidly-growing club level volleyball that is expanding to handle the demand. This is producing REALLY talented players who then go on to scholarships from NCAA teams each trying to build the best volleyball programs possible. It’s impossible to overstate the upward pressure that all of this is putting on the sport.

Upward pressure is also coming from social media and the tools available for preparing and presenting promotional videos of their daughters and sisters for recruiting. YouTube is a goldmine of such videos and provides a service previous generations didn’t have. This is only going to get better.

Florida State is in the tournament with a remarkable team of almost entirely freshmen. They’re about to get even better next year with the addition of Audrey Rothman from Spring Park here in Alabama. I’ve seen this girl play, and she’s the top volleyball player from the state. She’s 6′4″ and a 6‑rotation player that will fit in beautifully with Florida State’s system. But, for every Audrey Rothman, there are hundreds of others talented enough to play in Division I, and that is raising the level of the game throughout every conference in the NCAA.

I love the game and the talent it takes to play at the highest levels. Every aspect of the game is getting better and better, because coaching and preparation have also evolved to accommodate the interest from young girls. NCAA Volleyball women are terrific role models for girls, because there’s a certain elegance, fun, and glamour that accompanies the sport. Volleyball players are by nature VERY smart and capable leaders, and who would argue that our world needs such people?

With all of this, you’d think that the sport would be considered among the other potential moneymakers of college sports, but that’s not the case. On some campuses — especially in the Big Ten — a women’s volleyball ticket is the hardest to get. These schools have given resources to the sport and have been repaid with creative fans who turn each match into a loud and fun campus event. From bench dance contests to playing The Beatles “Let It Be” complete with phone lights waving whenever their opponent challenges a call that went in their favor.

With all of this going for it, women’s volleyball is suffering badly from growing pains, especially with television. ESPN gives cursory scattered matches on its channels, but there is no overview media assigned to the sport. Conferences operate with autonomy, each advertising that only volleyball from THEIR conference is worth watching. These conferences have their own cable or streaming channels, and the result is a high degree of parochiality in the sport. Certain conferences are stronger than others, but all are judged by their records and statistics, which are skewed by the level of competition in each. For example, there are eight teams in the tournament from the Big Ten, and it’s more than likely that all will make it to the second round. That means that of 32 teams, 8 would be from one conference.

But that, too, is facing the upward pressure from the younger girls. Conferences other than The Big Ten (who’s the genius who came up with B1G?) are rising to the very top, and the Louisville Cardinals are this year’s example. The competition will only get tougher throughout all conferences.

As an old television guy, much of my focus has been on how the sport could become more television-friendly. There are plenty of good announcers to handle the sport, but they aren’t helped much by production. Graphics, statistics, and personal accomplishments could be presented so much better. Key to games are the challenges to referee calls, which require replay. However, the sport moves so fast that the points of contention aren’t easy to “see” absent very high speed cameras at the net and the court’s out-of-bounds line. Storytelling is also weak, because there aren’t the resources dedicated to making it better.

There is no news report that covers volleyball thoroughly, and this is important to establish and maintain the growth and evolution of the sport. No reports on upcoming high schoolers. No reports about club tournaments or human interest stories of young girls playing volleyball. A weekly, one hour program with Paul Sunderland and commentators that covered everything in the sport would be very useful for the growing competition level. Somebody needs to track all of this.

There needs to be television coverage of the sport from outside the bubbles of the conference networks. This coverage would include news and updates from around the NCAA.

There is no America pro volleyball league, and it’s inevitable there will be one. The sport is simply growing too fast to not give these women a chance to pursue careers in volleyball. I’d run a slate of games on Sunday afternoon to compete with NFL football. Perhaps an Alumni League would serve the same purpose.

At some schools, the sport isn’t promoted on campus, which results in light crowds on hand to set the excitement level during matches. Obviously, there needs to be drives on campus to recruit students for the gallery, but teams could also reach out to the local club and high school scenes to fill those stands, even if it means comping the tickets. A televised match with little audience is bad TV.

Volleyball is filling a need by providing a sport that is actually more fun to watch when women play the game, not men. That makes it unique in the sporting world and another powerful reason for college athletics to take notice. Remember, it’s the fastest-growing participatory sport for young girls in the U.S.

ESPN, are you hearing this?