Deconstructing the Sacrosanct Faith of Others

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

One afternoon while working at my desk overlooking the campus of the Christian Broadcasting Network, one of our 700 Club story producers knocked and asked if he could borrow a camera. He wanted to have one of our Vice Presidents interview him about his hand. This fellow had lost one of his fingers to an accident in the past, and he had spoken with this VP about God and his missing finger. They agreed such an interview would be useful to have in order to document the missing finger. You see, he wanted it on hand to use when God grew the finger back, because he “believed” that was God’s plan for him, or at least that it might be.

This may seem laughable to some, but it was seen as a reflection of the reporter’s faith, and questioning someone else’s faith was tantamount to a great evil among Christians of a certain variety. After all, the warning is there in Matthew 18:6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (NKJV)

I saw this reflected in letters Pat had sent to some questioning viewers. He used it to “edit” the program. For example, we were guided not to show fat people on-the-air, because it might lead others into sin. I saw it in the horrifying letter I received from a man in Pennsylvania — a member of a faith community — whose 10-year old daughter had died from cancer (because they wouldn’t take her to a doctor). Worse, he told me, than her death and suffering was the abandonment she felt from God, because everybody on The 700 Club got healed, so why not her?

I’ve written before that this letter was a major influence on my decision to first leave CBN and go back into local news. I couldn’t argue with our position on faith — it was an unspoken pall that existed just above the surface of every facet of CBN and the ministry of Pat Robertson. If somebody else believed, who were we to question it? It was our justification for reading “praise reports” on the air as they came in via phone calls from our counseling center without verification. It was to inspire people to great faith, even though roughly 9 of 10 of these praise reports were completely false. Who cares if they’re simply “claiming” a blessing ahead of time? It’s THEIR faith, and we cannot question it.

Yes, we are to never, ever challenge the faith of another believer, even if their claim is far beyond the rational. After all, it wouldn’t be “faith” if it was rational, right? After all, anything’s possible with God, right? And their claim must be held sacrosanct, for it’s a terrible sin to interfere with another person’s faith. Besides, we have laws against intolerable behavior towards another person’s faith. That’s in the first amendment, right? The actual word is religion, and faith can mean that, too.

So what IS this thing called “faith” anyway? I believe that it’s the evidence of a life in Christ, which is natural, a life lived in the moment, absent the anger and resentments of the past and the fear and anxiety of the future. This is the subject of my newest unpublished book, Life on Life’s Terms: The Remarkable Secrets of People of the Moment. I feel so strongly about this that it has become a regular part of my study.

Common phrases like these all speak to faith as what one “believes”: “I’m believin’ for a miracle — I’m believin’ for a new purse — I’m believin’ it’ll all be over soon — I believe I’m goin’ to Heaven — I believe in her — I believe that chair will still be there, when I get back — Y’all better believe that was God! — She believed all her life.” Therefore, is this thing called “faith” about what we believe? Many Christian teachings lead to that conclusion. There’s Hebrews 11.1 “Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.” This entire chapter is a Biblical history lesson about faith, and the important thing to notice is that each involves an action.

There are many commentators with views on this subject. Here’s one:

The Bible says that faith gives substance to the things you hope for. In other words, faith brings those things into your life. … The basic definition of faith, according to the Bible, is simply believing in God’s goodness and believing that He rewards the people who seek after Him.

A lot of people would “Amen” such, but the Bible also teaches that belief isn’t faith unless it’s accompanied by some attached work or effort or assistance to the creation as a whole. Read James, people. What’s that you say? Luther called James ‘the epistle of straw’? It may be straw, but it’s still an Epistle, right? I mean, really. Who was Martin Luther anyway? I’m sorry. Nope. It’s not enough to just believe; one must be involved in some act associated with that belief in order to accurately call it faith.

This is best exemplified by an exchange between the disciples and Jesus found in Luke 17:5–10. It’s a familiar — but often misinterpreted — piece of scripture. It begins with the Disciples asking Jesus to “increase our faith.” This timeline follows the teachings in Matthew 18 about causing others to stumble. That’s important, because the disciples certainly didn’t wish to be in that category. Besides, they were human, and it’s reasonable to add a parenthetical phrase to their question (“Lord, increase our faith, so that we can do the things that you do”). Jesus understood their ego was involved in the question, so He responded with two parables.

The first was the mustard seed. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Nowhere in the Greek text is there a reference to the size of the seed. Hence, a tiny amount of faith has nothing to do with the question. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Jesus says, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed…” He tells them the mustard seed has faith — absolute faith absent the ability to say no — and if they had similar faith, they could toss mountains and trees into the sea. However, this is followed immediately by the parable of the unprofitable servant, which tells them that even with such a power, they (we) are all still absolutely nothing in comparison to God. This is a giant stumbling block for many believers who think that all they need is a tiny bit of faith in order to move mountains or get to Heaven. Nonsense. It’s also a powerful reminder of the price we’ve all paid for the fall.

(I'm reminded of Joni Mitchell singing, "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden.")

So, now let’s return to the initial question, “If somebody else believed, who were we to question it?”

Can you see how easy it would be to plant a suggestion in the mind of that believer, and for them to run with it? Take the average person’s daily struggle to get by, aided by faith that it’ll all work out in the end, no matter what. The church promises to give them hope through fellowship with other believers in such a way that it internally validates this person’s beliefs. “I’m among others who believe,” is a comforting justification for going along with the group. Add to this the heresy that God wants his children to prosper in every way between the present and Heaven’s gate, and there’s little others can do — no matter how much love they give — to help this person understand the self-centered nature of their thinking.

This person — and a great many others just like them — needs to have their faith challenged, not embraced as fresh meat for the grinder of religion. Religion needs fresh meat, because every believer that dies of old age means a loss to that place of worship, especially in terms of resources.

Today, the church has been swept up in the same lies that the ego has been preaching for centuries, that the culture can be theirs, if they’ll only bow down and worship their own ability to pull it off.

These people believe THEIR faith is enough to view Donald Trump as King Cyrus from the Bible. Cyrus was a reprobate foreign king that God used to send the jews home after years of captivity, and these Christian groups who supported Trump believe that they could simply speak this preposterous comparison into existence. Such is the license granted to anyone who cites religion as their motivation to manipulate the public square. It doesn’t have to be true — in fact, in many ways it’s better that it not be true. It simply needs to be stated as a statement of faith, something they’ve been taught not to question.

The true extent of the evil in our presence today won’t be known for at least a generation, and it’s because this idea of “believing faith” has deep roots within my generation and older. I call on young people everywhere to challenge their own assumptions vis-à-vis what it means to be a person of faith. There is an incomparable hope to those people who live in the moment and surrender to life on life’s terms.

That’s what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.

The Outrageous Malfeasance of the Press in the Trump Era

When I was in rehab long ago, I was taught how to “play the tape out to the end” when considering thoughts about drinking. This was a metaphor used to teach us that alcoholic thoughts never include the inevitable damage from our actions. Hence, the need to deliberately stop and think about how it will end, which reveals that we are the authors of our own bad habits and their results.

This remarkable exercise teaches us that we can’t always trust the thoughts that drift through our minds like a herd of wild horses. We don’t have to mount every single thought, and this is enormously freeing to the addict. Who knew?

This way of thinking is relevant in our politics today, for while we’re all thinking about today’s latest self-centered and damaging proclamations coming from the West Wing, we really don’t think much about where it’s all going. The press is ignorant of the truth about how we got here and where we’re going.

The press simply can’t believe what’s in front of them, because they try to understand it through their lens as “professional” observers.

The Trump administration was put in place as part of a vast criminal conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. Government using bogus tax exemptions to fund it. This conclusion is based on my own experience and the reading of Anne Nelson’s stunning investigative work in her book Shadow Network.

The Trump administration was not simply a political switch, because Trump’s organization functions more as a criminal enterprise than leaders of the free world. Bullying, suing, projection, and downright lies are the weapons of this régime (and that’s a good word for it). By any standard of thinking, this is evident above and beyond the mere distractions that the press attempts to report within the construct of our usual political system. The problem is that there’s NOTHING usual at all about what’s been foisted upon us by first class manipulators of truth. In fact, the Trump Administration exists as a conduit through which flows the aspirations of big, corporate business, also known as the one percent. Big business has overtaken the government, and there’s nothing “legal” about it.

Trump’s régime gets away with it, because he has tickled the ears of white evangelical Christians with promises that he really cares about them and serves their best interests. He doesn’t, because it’s not in his nature, which is to lie, sue, retaliate and threaten. Folks, he’s been doing this his entire life, and his most significant business history is bankruptcy and failure to pay his bills. He’s not the President, for he simply isn’t competent to handle such a job; he’s much akin to a crime boss, and it doesn’t take any “analysis” whatsoever to figure that out.

Good grief, where is the press?

They are far too busy being complicit in the takeover. In trying to shape the news based on old paradigms, including Daniel Hallin’s Spheres of Consensus, Legitimate Debate, and Deviance. But the Trump Administration violates our laws with impunity and the under the threat of lawsuits. It’s not the American way; it’s Donald Trump’s way. And, again, there’s nothing new about Donald Trump.

Attempts to intervene are painted as political, because that’s the only thing the “savvy” press understands. But they’re not political, because they flow from the hearts of people wanting nothing more than to inject a specific brand of religious fundamentalism into the public square. Unawares, these Christians are risking their own salvation in supporting the idolatry of political power over trusting that nothing happens under the sun without God’s approval. They are on very dangerous ground, because their zealotry has been manipulated by people much smarter than they are. Will God hold them accountable? You bet, because that’s the way life works.

The press ignores religion, which gives those driven by religion the ability to speak past the media and directly to their constituencies. And when the press actually “covers” religion, they reach into the sphere of deviance to do so. This is the great shortcoming of the press as it tries to make sense of the world around us in these troubled times. It’s terribly stupid, not to mention naïve and fearful.

It’s particularly gobsmacking to watch these high priests of journalism fawn over each other in their weak and pathetic attempts to provide us with insight and direction for the future. Wake up, press representatives, or we’re going to end up in serious trouble as a nation.

Does anybody remember Steve Bannon and his vision to reinvent government? Friends, our government doesn’t need reinvention and especially not in the views expressed by Bannon. The press has forgotten that he was the architect of Trump’s victory in 2016. Just read his own words and draw your own conclusions:

I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

The women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England. That drives the left insane and that’s why they hate [conservative] women.”

Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to action.

And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

The church militant? Would somebody please show me this in the Bible? Are we talking about the Crusades? Onward Christian Soldiers?

Bannon has declared his intention to become “the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.” Right. And he needs the church for this? God bless America!

We need to heed well the words of John Milton in calling out certain people who similarly wanted power, “License they mean when they cry liberty.” Exactly, because this group doesn’t believe in responsibility to others; it’s all about power under the sun. They think their radical form of conservatism is something new. It’s not. We’ve seen this before from those who’ve wanted dominance over the planet.

“Conservative non-profit” is a euphemism for the radical right’s playbook. A tax exemption can be a license to steal, and the extreme right has used such to fund themselves illegally, for the IRS is (was?) very particular when it comes to political action funded through tax exemptions. I know, because we lost our 501©3 status at CBN for the years 1986 & 1987 and paid a substantial penalty for doing exactly that. You simply can’t use such tax exemptions for political purposes, but it’s a moot argument as long as Republicans control the administration. If the Democrats retake the White House in November, watch for wholesale actions by the IRS (something you won’t hear about from the press until it happens).

To be sure, there are facets of the press who are actively working to present our current danger to the people, but their efforts don’t speak to the underlying realities. Anne Nelson has done the initial investigation.

How about the rest of us pick up the ball and run with it?

Raise Your Hand If You’re Going To Heaven

Golf’s attraction for the rich isn’t merely the game

Private Country Club life is an important part of the American aristocracy, and not merely because they enjoy the game. Private clubs especially shield their members from those whom they deem unwanted, primarily over what happens after the rounds of golf, where privacy affords these mostly white, older men the opportunity to discuss maintaining their control over the masses in order to produce wealth for themselves.

They are very well-connected and serve their own best interests.

They are the Inner Ring of C.S. Lewis and the Shadow Network of Anne Nelson. They are the puppeteers of Edward Bernays and the invisible government made possible through his innovative propaganda.

They have their reward in this life, and as Jesus taught us, it’s harder for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than even shoving a rope through a needle’s eye. To them, the salvation of believers is made to order for their manipulation, because with eyes focused on their promised Christian afterlife, the things of this life don’t really matter so much. Christian believers, then, assert that their future is set and promised, which excuses any sort of behavior in the name of saving the lost.

Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate Inner Ring, which fills church halls with, “Thank God, I made it!” The hugs, the handshakes, the joyful dancing in the aisles, the lifting of the hands, the emotional worship, the altar calls, the music, all of it flows from their spirits to themselves and those around them in a relentless expression of “I’m going to Heaven.”

Dante’s Inferno begins thusly:

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.

‘Lest we find ourselves in Dante’s dark woods, let us heed the warnings of the Good Book about liars and thieves among us.

I may not be able to lose my salvation, but I can give it away. Free will, you know. Why would I do that? Because the devil is a liar and the father of all lies. What greater deception is there than to rest on one’s laurels, confident in our belief that we’re going to Heaven?

He is THE wolf in sheep’s clothing, so his evil intent is hidden from us.

I am saved, and I am free, but I’m not called to use my freedom to right the wrongs of the world under the sun. I’m given grace in the first place to safely ride out those storms, not to try and control them.

And this is how I lose myself amidst the shadows of Dante’s dark woods.

Until politically active Christian people (almost entirely white) can recognize and admit their role in all this, we’re going to have to deal with the fall-out. God’s judgment is upon us, but that judgment is reserved first for those who are called by His name. This is the great mystery to me. How can believers honestly think this way? Here’s an inconvenient little piece of scripture that contemporary Christians apparently don’t have to read:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Matthew 7:1-5

We all know the teachings of Jesus at the end of Matthew 25. He’s talking with the disciples before he is arrested and sentenced to die on the cross. As usual, the disciples want his insight on the end of all things under the sun.

This section of the Bible is highly relevant to today, for He speaks of who on earth will be invited into heaven and who will enter the fire. The dividing line is simple; it rests entirely on how each have treated their neighbors. Listen and be afraid, for there are elements among us today who skip this teaching in the name of advancing a political agenda.

"‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We need to be careful today in casting our lot with those who tickle our ears with the prosperity that takes from the very people Jesus mentioned in this sermon. Despite what others are telling us, we need to stand with Jesus in how we deal with our neighbors, for ethnicity and legal status don’t matter at all.

Christians today don’t want to assimilate with a culture they see as corrupt and secular and non-white. Hence, the mistaken belief that they are supposed to fix it politically or “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” This would be fine, if it didn’t bleed over into every nook and cranny of the culture, especially with those who don’t believe the same things.

"There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." Proverbs 6:16-19

The mistake of the white evangelicals is the insistence that God’s Word speaks to the culture and not the church. It eliminates the need for self-examination, that God’s judgment begins at the house of God.

The betrayal of the church in these days is leading their flocks to despise and reject their neighbors in the interest of ultimate self-protection in the afterlife.

And that, my friends, isn’t Christianity at all.

Thinking About Death During the Great Quarantine

What a better use of time during this isolation than to talk about human death and dying. After all, isn’t that what’s really on our minds as we sit in our own homes awaiting the all clear? We can’t help it. We’re afraid of our own deaths, so as best we can (which is probably not much), let’s take a walk down the path of what that means.

We’ll begin with life, that misunderstood and grossly underestimated aspect of being human. In the Bible, there are several words defined as “life,” including the remarkable book of Ecclesiastes, which describes life “under the sun.” This is the world of our senses, and this book describes it as “meaningless” or “vanity.” Within this marvelous scripture are thoughts of great wisdom for our lives within the context of living here on planet Earth. It describes seasons of living that go far beyond Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. It’s often referred to as the book for cynics, because its wisdom is confined to life under the sun, the world we understand only through our senses.

It’s important we begin with life, because, in thinking about our own deaths, we can only consider that which we know, and that means leaving everything familiar — no matter how good or lousy it is — to move into the unknown. Religion complicates things by attaching future meaning to present behavior and dangling a rich and wonderful afterlife to those who follow. It’s the most manipulative game in town and has been for a very long time, for it asks that we believe only that which our religion teaches, and this can be a serious trial for the very logic and reasoning that life has given each of us. The choice that religion offers us in the West is an afterlife in heaven or its opposite, hell. If offered a deal that connects our current behavior with one or the other, who would choose the latter? Nobody, of course, and that’s the plan to recruit others to our religions, where they pay tithes and offerings that benefit the religion in the here and now. It is impossible to take religion seriously when representatives of the institution benefit so greatly in the process. This ate away at my soul during my years of service at CBN and The 700 Club and eventually led to the writing of my book, The Gospel of Self.

We must train ourselves to seek that which is beyond life under the sun. The problem is that science gets in the way by insisting that the ability to measure something is what gives it meaning or “reality”. Therefore, that which we can’t measure doesn’t belong in our studies. The entire “Make America Great Again” thinking — while fully embraced by White Evangelical Christians — actually gives life under the sun preeminence by wanting to go back to the more ordered times of the past. In so doing, it refuses to acknowledge the prophets of today who are leading cultural progress. We err when we do this, because we’re suggesting that we have the power to control our own lives, and this is quite contrary to our religious teachings.

It’s a part of being human to question, to ask about those who don’t know or believe our religion. What happens to them at death, if we’re all going to “heaven”? If our God is both just and merciful, how does it follow that eternal fire is the end of those who don’t know? This is the fuel that evangelism, regardless of the religion that practices it, uses to motivate people to convince others of their rightness or righteousness. This is sold as an act of love, but benefits to the evangelist include that which profits the evangelist, and this cannot be set aside in our reasoning. We humans can be a sneaky bunch.

It’s important here to note the division in Christianity between those who follow the red words and those who prioritize, for example, the writings of Paul. Muslims question Paul’s contributions to the faith, for the New Testament was penned largely by him. They argue that we only have his word that he ever even interacted with Jesus, and for some, that’s just fine. In asking questions, however, it’s an important perspective for our consideration. Regardless, the words attributed to Jesus, to me, carry weight beyond the other writings, those deemed holy or otherwise.

For example, we learn so much about this “Christ” in three verses of the The Gospel According to John.

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

John 10:9–11

People of faith can argue as they wish about these words, but let’s just take them at face value. Jesus describes himself as a door or a gate, which is a powerful spiritual metaphor. He equated entry through this door to being saved from the thief. This is because, he said he had come to provide life to those who passed through Him. But “life” here doesn’t mean the same as the word used in Ecclesiastes. The word in this passage comes from the Greek word Zoe, which means the life of God, terribly translated in English as “eternal life”. This is then taken to the extreme by religion to mean the afterlife in heaven, but with these words, Jesus himself describes a life that’s here with us today thanks to the sacrifice of the Son of Man. In this passage, he says nothing about belief in him as a prerequisite for the results of his sacrifice. It’s simply the mission he was given, which has little to do with our response. We — as in humanity — are spiritual sheep who need this sacrifice in order to put an end to the rules and regulations of the church — even God Himself — because we could never fulfill them on our own. Such is the depth of our fallen nature. In this case, Jesus is referring to Judaism, because God knows the heart of man has an evil core and cannot be trusted to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.

Our views of death are many. They’re reflected in our art, our literature, and especially in our music. Here are the first two verses of the bluegrass tune “Someday” by Blue Highway:

Some day when my last line is written
Some day when I’ve drawn my last breath
When my last words on earth have been spoken
And my lips are sealed in death
Don’t look on my cold form in pity
Don’t think of me as one dead
It’ll just be the house I once lived in
My spirit, by then, will have fled

This is a very common view of death, that we are spiritual travelers who’ve left our human bodies to return to the source of all life. I can’t tell you how this narrative has influenced my own life here on earth through the process known as recovery. I’ve been sober over 20 years, and I’ve learned much in that time. Like, I’m a spiritual being on a human journey, not a human being on a spiritual journey. I can’t do anything in this life to make myself any more spiritual than I already am, but there’s plenty I can do to become a better human being. This knowledge will absolutely change your life, if you’re open to it. It puts everything into a proper perspective, because if it’s true, then we actually are “going home” upon human death, and who could possibly be afraid of that? Known or unknown, we’re going back to the place from which we came, the world of the spirit, no longer prisoners of time and space.

In so doing, all of our happiness, travails, lessons learned, wisdom garnered, truth known, ideas we’ve shared, love that we’ve known, all that we are as individuals separate from our source, gets thrust back into the entity known as life, and everybody else gains through what we bring back with us from our journeys as human beings. That’s because, life, too, is ever evolving and growing, and those who are ignorant of all this tend to stifle that growth by returning prejudice, hatred, lust and the other deadly sins — and above all arrogance — to life, which speaks loudly about the need for us to be more human when we’re here and not trying to be more spiritual. This knowledge would change the world, but there are powerful forces at work under the sun that prosper through this arrogance. They prove a formidable foe in this life.

My most intimate encounter with death occurred in the Spring of 2006, when my beloved Alicia died from an accidental overdose of opiates. It was the worst experience of my life, because it was so unexpected and she was only 41 years old. On my knees next to her empty body, the 911 operator instructed me to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and pump her chest. If you know what the “death rattle” is, it’s not something you’d wish for anyone to experience. It’s what comes back from a dead body after deep breaths and chest pumping. Her body lay there before me, but Alicia was already gone and not coming back. I couldn’t even grasp what that meant for me, and I was very afraid of that particular unknown.

Those first few days afterwards were filled with pain and God’s grace, for I was suffering the most awful pain humans can know. Two things happened during the first 24 hours that helped me greatly. The first was the strong smell of sulfur coming from the vicinity of her pillow on our bed. It was also very strong on her mother’s pillow just beneath our bedroom. I can’t describe the feeling of awe when I was later told by a friend with deep roots and connections in the occult that such occurrences are common when someone dies before their time. It’s deemed an attempt by the lost loved one to reach out back to this life to express that they are alright.

The day after her death, Alicia’s family gathered in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee to mourn. I was outside on this otherwise beautiful day crying and in pain. I was arguing with God and begging to know that she was safe on the other side but mostly fearful about what was going to happen to me. “Just tell me it’s gonna be okay,” I repeated over and over. After a period of grieving, I went back inside and sat in a recliner alone in the dining room with her pictures everywhere. Two of her nieces that she dearly loved, ages 8 and 10, came into the room and sat on my lap. As they cried with me, the 8‑year old whispered in my ear, “It’s gonna be okay.” In that moment, I knew she was with us and trying to comfort us. That event led to my eventual acceptance that she was gone, that I’d never hold her and kiss her again, that I’d never again read the Bible to her as she snuggled up against me, and that I’d have to go forward without her.

I also had to forgive her for leaving me alone, and that was made easier by my acknowledgement of her presence despite being on the other side of the veil.

It also helped shape my views about death and dying. For one, I don’t believe we lose our individuality in the process of reuniting with life. In this life, we call it consciousness, through which we accumulated the wisdom and experiences that life needs to advance. Any other view is a stretch for me, because life wastes nothing and our lives under the sun matter. For example, life is currently defending itself against our selfish intrusions into the sanctity and real power of life’s leadership. Think global warming is a hoax? I feel sorry for you and your progeny. Life will protect itself.

When Israel’s first king, Saul, badly needed Godly advice in his battle with the Philistines (I Samuel 28), he tried ungodly means. He traveled to meet a woman known as “the Witch of Endor” to conjure the dead prophet Samuel to advise him. According to the story, Samuel “came up” and was not happy with Saul. He told the king that he and his servants would be killed the next day for disobeying the Lord, just as Samuel had prophesied when he was alive.

This story is remarkable and controversial, for it reveals that the dead don’t lose their individuality or consciousness; they are simply transformed, and this should provide a great sense of comfort to the living. Will I know Alicia after I’m gone? I think yes, although the senses, which are bound to life under the sun, won’t be a part of it, and that has to include emotions. Even the word “comfort” is a word we can only understand as part of our human experience.

This leads us to two important warnings about death and dying, our own and that of others. One, life doesn’t want us to play in this realm, because it’s a path to danger, for deception is likely and we’d be led right back to knowledge gained while under the sun anyway. Hence, it’s a self-centered act, always, and life abhors selfishness. Two, our tendency as humans is to anthropomorphize when we don’t have actual knowledge. This is why we give heaven “streets of gold” and mansions for a dwelling place. We were built to handle the comforts and discomforts of life under the sun, and it’s a fallacy to assume that human methods of living and communicating are even a part of life beyond.

We’re not here to understand fully the things of death, because we were created to serve and rule in the realm of life, human behavior under the sun.

One of the greatest riddles of human existence is why our understanding of life under the sun reaches its greatest depths just before the end comes. This seems such a waste to those in their senior years. It’s also the primary reason Hollywood gives us fantasies of going back to relive our lives while retaining the knowledge discovered in later years. The allegation is that we’d then be able to “correct” mistakes made through those discoveries. This is nonsense, because the purpose of life is to advance life. Everybody gains for our individual knowledge and experiences, and this cannot occur until we leave life under the sun. That knowledge and those experiences are what advances life for future generations, and why we seem to always be struggling with the same struggles as those before us.

Life is waiting for us to learn.

So, everything that’s living comes back through life, and we know so little about what this means. In writing about my experience with a Questionmark Butterfly, I noted the impossibilities of the same butterfly returning to my Louisville balcony a year after I’d first seen the little guy perform, and the only explanation defies logic. These types of occurrences are all around us, but we’re much too busy just surviving to notice. Life is preeminent.

Death is the enemy of human existence, but it is not the end of life.

I don’t believe that readers here will find any of this out of line with their own deeply-held beliefs, but the reality of this doesn’t depend whatsoever on your belief or faith. Death is the way of life, but life under the sun is for us to build towards tomorrow by acting according to the proposition that we’re already joined together throughout our individual journeys here on earth. The author C.S. Lewis understood this more than most, which is why his writings are so useful for all of us. In The Screwtape Letters, he writes that humans are like amphibians, able to live in two completely different worlds at the same time.

This understanding is the gift of people of the moment, for we know that the only place that the present life meets the life beyond is here, and the only time they meet is now, for even time and distance under the sun are vanity.

Can we blame sin as our culture’s underlying problem?

The assertion by the white evangelical crowd that the culture has been lost to sin is worth examining as we attempt to process the disaster that has been Donald Trump. Moreover, if the culture is lost to sin, has it always been that way, or is this merely a contemporary phenomenon? And, if it’s only a modern-day problem, does the slogan “Make America Great Again” reference a period of time in which the culture wasn’t awash in sin? If so, when exactly was that?

In the world of televangelism, few things are as important (and telling) as fundraising telethons. For all the hollering about faith and how God will sustain them, these telethons are methodical, systematic, manipulative, and self-serving. Nothing is left to chance. Hot buttons are pushed relentlessly. Anything goes when it comes to raising money for rich Christian ministries, something I participated in as show producer, senior producer, and then executive producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club during the 1980s. I was there during the height of the televangelists, before scandals ripped the genre apart, and I was there when Pat ran for President in 1988.

The theme of our telethons was always a variation of how the world was going to hell, because we had lost our Biblical guidance. Therefore, the solution was for viewers to give us the money to combat this through “outreach,” ministry, education, and action. I need to state clearly that this strategy was extremely effective, in part, because the culture wasn’t hearing this kind of message from its leadership. Although very old, the message seemed new, because it was on TV in easily-digestible form. The television rule for audio-video linkage was manipulated, so as to match our words about sin to pictures of calamity big and small. Consequently and for a season, we sat in the position of prophets calling down hellfire and damnation on the culture for its dreadful sins, and it’s a short path from there to blaming the sinners, a.k.a. those demon liberals.

We attributed this conflict to cause and effect without proof whatsoever. That gave us license to say anything we wanted about the culture and attribute it to the loss of Biblical “authority” in our society. In so doing, we completely dissed the blood that was shed on behalf of our rights to self-determination, and, frighteningly, rejected all of those battles as being of the devil.

Who knew that one day we would actually be taken seriously?

This is the underlying pretext for everything from the Christian Right, and it’s why people who have no business being yoked to the extremely wealthy find themselves supporting everything the group tells them to support. The most obvious is in the appointing of judges who pass the litmus test of supporting business owners in all matters regarding business. Moreover, when we hear the phrase “religious liberty,” we must translate that as white evangelical Christian liberty.

If we’re ever to truly understand what’s happened to us over the past four years, we MUST not be afraid to examine these kinds of questions in the light of day. This was modern journalism’s great failure in the run-up to the 2016 election, for reporters simply didn’t see it coming. It’s a cornerstone of the Trump phenomenon, so we’re simply unable to get to the truth absent the deconstruction of this critical influence. Is sin the culprit for which we all must repent, or is something else going on? We must examine it historically, but we must also consider basic Christianity.

Basic Christianity
There is no Biblical entry whatsoever — not even one — that suggests it is the mission of believers to force a non-believing culture to repent. The most oft-quoted Bible story concerning this comes at the end of Solomon’s rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, when God spoke to Solomon thusly:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 (NIV)

In this statement, we learn a great many things. One, that God is the one who’s responsible for those cultural/natural events that believers find so discomforting. Two, the responsibility for these “punishments” is with the believers, not the unbelievers. Three, the land can’t be healed from these pestilences absent the repentance of those He holds responsible, namely those same believers.

Therefore, it’s beyond misleading to claim that God wants to heal the land from sin, so that the righteous can live in peace. Seriously, who do we think we are? Watching people of faith yell and scream about abortion, prayer in schools, and Christian liberty, all the while aligning themselves with the vast wealth of the few is a bastardization of everything that’s truly holy. Period.

This command to repent was directed towards God’s people, not the culture at large. It came at the end of a great accomplishment, which is when humans are most vulnerable to deception. Rather than pat them on the back for such a feat, Solomon called for the Jews to repent, which I’m sure shocked many. The only lesson here for today is that God’s people — if in fact they have won a battle against cultural sin — ought to be on their knees begging forgiveness rather than prayers of thanksgiving and celebration in the White House. The fact that they aren’t is a dead giveaway to the unrighteousness of their behavior.

These are modern-day Pharisees, for God’s book isn’t a message to the culture; it’s a message to individual hearts.

The entire story of redemption is corrupted by the actions of this religious group, for Jesus Himself refused to call for back-up when He was taken to the cross. Spiritual warfare takes place outside the confines of our senses “under the sun,” but these self-centered warriors view the battles as among each other, right here within the whole of creation.

Why is the press unable to argue this? Rationalizations include it’s too complicated, it’s hard to be neutral, and there’s no consensus to fall back on. This is a blight on the practice of journalism, one that has been used to manipulate people and the press itself. There’s no fence to ride here.

Setting Aside History
In their zeal to advance THEIR religion, white evangelical Christians have disregarded the history behind that which we as a nation hold dear. In many of these events and instances, blood was shed — sometimes a lot of it — and lives were sacrificed in order to make these rights worth keeping. However, these elitist representatives of God that we have today think THEIR way is the true path to righteousness and that nothing else matters. It is with haughty, self-centered goals that these people piss all over the sacrifices of history as if they never mattered in the first place.

We fought a civil war over racism, unity, and the extent to which states within the union can try to distance themselves from the rest. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty, and immigration became the bedrock of our fledgling economy. We fought the First World War to spread our thoughts and ideals of freedom to the rest of the world and to protect our rights at home. We went through a Great Depression and came out on the other side determined to protect the poor and the afflicted from ever suffering again due to the lack of basic necessities. We determined that the market for liquor was so strong that we ended prohibition, because that market led to violence and death in the government’s efforts to press an alcohol-free society. We fought the Second World War to again preserve our freedoms in the face of fascism and its intolerance for personal rights. We helped dismantle Communism. Add to these the efforts to secure women’s rights, labor rights, civil rights, gay rights, and even the “rights” of our planet itself. It’s easy to understand why opponents of the current administration are not only opposed to shoving all of this aside but appalled and infuriated at the mere suggestion. Who knew we’d have to fight all of these battles again?

Governmental regulations of businesses, such as environmental mandates, didn’t just suddenly appear in a vacuum. These were hard-fought victories for all of us, as we tried our best to advance not only our culture but the human race in total. Did this burden the business interests of the country? Of course, but it had long ago been determined that they helped foster environmental concerns and human rights violations in the first place. There is nothing inherently righteous or evil about Capitalism. It’s an institution of humankind, and profit can be a highly selfish motive for cultural behavior.

This is now all being set aside by the good intentions of the few, and that is the real tragedy of our current dilemma. Add to this the idea that foreign leaders are willing participants through subversion, and we have very real dangers to consider. It is a real slight-of-hand to incite disputes among us when the truth is that we are not our real enemies. There are others who want what we have and will do anything to disrupt the unity that we struggled so dearly to gain and protect.

Adverbs like forward and backward are used to describe culture but only by those making self-serving judgments as to its governance. Both are pejorative and ineffective descriptors, because cultures don’t actually do any moving. There is only the present. Sure, there’s history and there’s the future, but we can’t do anything about either. We only have the present, and that’s where our efforts are best presented. We must always guard against those who will direct us to the future, for such is a license to deceive.

So, let’s go back and repeat our central question: Is America so corrupted by sin — especially the sins of those atheistic liberals who want to destroy the church — that only a revival of religion (specifically, white evangelical Christianity) will solve what ails us? I’d argue strongly that the answer is no, but even if there’s a grain of truth to it, the correct spiritual response is prayer, not political action.

Today, there are those who think the world is going to hell due to Trump and his cronies pressing absurd demands based on their beliefs in absolute certainties. Those who pointed to corruption of the culture have now themselves become the real corruptors, and it’s going to take more than our votes to sort it all out.

Honestly, we’re going to need the chaos of Life to fix this terrible mess, and that’s exactly what I choose to see happening today. To paraphrase George Carlin, if we’re going to have a disaster, make it so big that we destroy everything and have to start over.

Even so, let it be.

Donald Trump’s Spiritual Problem

Donald Trump in prayer with his Christian advisors

The press is struggling with covering the split among white evangelical Christians over the editorial in Christianity Today (and a similar commentary in The Christian Post) calling for the removal from office of President Donald Trump. The struggle is not new, and those without knowledge can’t possibly understand what’s really going on here.

Disclaimer: This is not an Academic theological paper. Many books have been written about the subject, none from my pen. The views expressed here come entirely from my own research and experiences primarily as former Executive Producer of The 700 Club, Author of “The Gospel of Self: How Pat Robertson Stole the Soul of the GOP”, author of the 1988 television news series on religion in the Tennessee Valley (“I Believe”). and subsequent studies and writings on the subject.

In response to these messages from evangelicalism’s main editorial voices, Trump has scheduled a January 3rd rally (of course) called “Evangelicals for Trump” at a venue that’s a giveaway for anybody with an understanding of the split. The rally will be in Miami at the West Kendall Church, an “Apostolic” megachurch run by Pastor Guillermo Maldonado, a man calling himself an apostle. This church practices “the gifts of the Spirit” which includes speaking in tongues, interpretation of those tongues, dancing in the Spirit, prophecies, laying on of hands for healing, and words of knowledge and wisdom straight from the Holy Ghost. This is from Paul’s writings to the Church at Corinth during the First Century:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:4–10.

These practices were limited primarily to primitive, smaller rural Pentecostal churches until the Charismatic Movement of the 60s counterculture spread “the gifts” to more mainline churches. Pentecost, the event found in the second chapter of Acts, is cited as the first example and forms the basis for such beliefs. Early Charismatic prayer meetings in the 60s and 70s would find folks from Catholic and mainline protestant denominations gathering together to worship God in such a manner, and the foundation created through these meetings led ultimately to the televangelists who practiced these “gifts” during times of prayer on television. Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and many others bound themselves to this burgeoning growth. It seemed so new and fresh that people were drawn to the practice and demonstration of faith they viewed on television. The scandals that hit in the mid-80s were tied to these ministers. At the time, the most prominent, non-tongue-talking televangelists were Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham.

When Pat Robertson decided to run for President, I had to make choices for who would play Pat’s role of news commentator on the show while he was off on his campaign, and I chose Chuck Colson, a brilliant and wonderful man who didn’t practice the gifts of the spirit. I loved Chuck Colson and felt a kinship with him that was rare. I was at core still a journalist with a modicum of skepticism about generally everything, including all that we practiced theologically via The 700 Club. In discussing this with Chuck one day, he told me a story from his experience with Robert Tilton, an extreme practitioner of speaking in tongues and words of knowledge while praying on his program. Tilton was later found by the press in Dallas to have questionable practices and financial dealings. Chuck Colson told me that Tilton had told him that Chuck needed to get into the same sorts of things, “because that’s where the money is.” Colson knew then and there that he wanted nothing to do with what Tilton was practicing. This observation explains much in today’s contemporary arguments about what does or doesn’t represent the faith. When all else is stripped away, the bottom line is often cash in the form of contributions to continue such ministering.

At The 700 Club, we practiced these gifts during prayer time, which was often at or near the end of the program’s first hour. I recall one focus group discussion about the program in which one man described it as “progressively subjective”. He didn’t care for the prayer segment. The program was shown to people with like/dislike hand-held meters that they could turn in one direction or the other, depending on what was being shown. By the time we got to the prayer segment, these meters registered at polar opposites, suggesting that the viewers either really liked or really disliked the segment with nothing in-between.

Here’s more from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Corinthians 12:28–30.

When Christians unfamiliar with these writings were first exposed to them, there was a boom in the growth and development of these practices, which is where we find ourselves today. This is how the pastor in Miami can identify himself as an apostle, while others just look the other way.

These “gifts” are offered to the public via the euphemism “full gospel”, and followers are drawn to the expression of emotions, including those which “prove” to practitioners a level of internal reality that is passionate and highly addictive. They feel special in the eyes of God and cling to what they view as Biblical validation via Paul’s and Mark’s canonized offerings. Here’s Mark testifying to what Jesus told the apostles after His resurrection, that they should make disciples of the whole world:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Mark 16:17–18

Of course, most Christians don’t handle snakes to demonstrate signs and wonders, but some do. In the series “I Believe,” we attended services of a snake-handling church in North Georgia, and one statement by the pastor was most memorable: ““If you reach your hand into that box (of rattlesnakes), you’d better have faith.” In other words, these Christians practice an extreme — perhaps the most extreme — version of Christianity in the world today. And they are completely supported by scripture in so doing. Most people, however, feel that this is “testing God” and reject it as dangerous and unhealthy.

The point is where do you draw the line? Moreover, those already predisposed to “the full gospel” are more willing and capable of believing the more extreme examples of faith spoken of in the New Testament, and this is where Donald Trump finds his most ardent support. Hence, the meeting in Miami.

To be sure, not all of Trump’s support comes from full gospel practitioners, and many of his advisors are more conservative, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Junior, whose support is more political than spiritual, but these differences in theology still are significant. Pastor Maldonado’s church is Hispanic, which also played a role in its selection by Trump, but the message of this church is no where near embraced by Christianity as a whole. That’s important.

In another place in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes “We are fools for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10). These same ministers use this as a hammer to tap the minds of followers who would find discomfort with emotional displays of worship. If you’re not willing to be a fool for Christ, the thinking goes, then you lack the wisdom needed to be a “real” follower, and this is a divisive preaching that they believe separates them from others who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

In my view, the discussion about this in public is long overdue. History will record this time as one in which we dealt with expressions of faith as a people. It will be one significant aspect of Trump’s legacy, because he uses his affiliation with such to separate himself from others who occupied the White House.

There is, of course, much more to this story. The press, however, doesn’t have a clue, so for now, it’s a subject discussed mostly in secret.

That needs to change.