Dear Christian “Winners”

(Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

I’m sorry, but this is necessarily a little harsh.

You’ve won your Supreme Court Justice, and you must be feeling pretty good about that. After all, it’s just another indicator of how your interpretation was right, and God was at work in an unrighteous king to turn what was evil into good on your behalf. You can comfort yourselves now in saying, “Now at least we might be able to find some mercy for those poor babies being murdered, even when they’re late term and viable.”

Ah yes. The babies.

You finally can rest assured after this that the Republicans have your best interests at heart and will fight with you on social issues such as gender equality, sexual sins, pornography, and that catch-all, religious freedom. Surely God is at work to relieve our nation of the sin and moral decay of the modern age. Right?

All you have to do is their bidding, and what’s a little subjugation to the rich in the name of advancing the gospel? What could possibly go wrong?

You cry for religious liberty and then use that liberty to do the most irreligious things, especially as it relates to pleading the cause of the poor and the afflicted. What does God think about that?

Yours is a simple narrative that presents yourselves as the people of Zion under the yoke of Jehovah with Jesus Christ as your mediator. With Him on your side, all you have to do is plot a precise course towards eternity in Heaven, color within the lines of life, and recruit others for the cause. That’s it. That’s the deal.

I get it. It seems so real, because it’s based on thousands of years of history and 500+ years of “the just shall live by faith.” There’s also wonderful emotions that accompany the certainty of salvation, a giddiness that comes with the idea that you’ve joined the right tribe, the one that’s going to be with each other for all eternity in the ultimate land of milk and honey.

It’s something you want for your children, too, for you surely wish to be with them in the afterlife. After all, what’s the point of living absent winning-in-the-end as your ultimate purpose? My goodness. Of course, we want to protect our kids from the evil of this life by guaranteeing that at least we’ll see them again, safe and sound in Heaven. I mean, what’s a little suffering here, if that’s your bargain? Right?

Turns out, however, that your bargain is Faustian, that you’ve walked into a trap that isn’t going to end the way you think it will, that by denying Heaven in the here and now, you are ill-prepared for what’s to come, that by forcing yourselves on others — just as you did in 2016 — you’ve swapped your faith for political action, that God expects you to work out your difficulties with the culture via political means, which means you must surrender your tax exemption.

Heed well the story of the sons of Seth, who dabbled with the sin of worldliness only to discover they could not return to the Holy Mountain in the wake of having done so.

Your vast cathedrals shout “prosperity” for all who enter, assuming you behave yourself and do what your leaders tell you to do. Your prophets fly around in private jets and vacation in places that the rich and famous frequent. They rub their elbows with worldly leaders in the hope that some of what they have will rub off on their “ministries”. They preach that the only healthy congregation is one that prospers in all ways. Those Bentleys you see in the parking lot every Sunday morning remind you that this is the real prize of yoking yourselves with them.

And for God’s sake, stay the hell away from the poor and the afflicted! God forbid any of that should rub off on you or worse, your family. Let “them” not invade your peaceful neighborhood, for surely the blight they bring with them WILL rub off on you.

This is why you cannot abide the idea that abortion is legal. You think God is more concerned with the unborn than the born, but you’re really just protesting the idea that life includes poverty, oppression, racial discord, and, of course, the taking away of your right to defend yourself against such.

And now you have what you’ve demanded. That 6–3 majority means you can breathe easier as you go about your lives. So what if the mammon hoarders are calling the shots? They’re the good guys, right? And maybe, just maybe, God will bless you in kind.

What if, instead, God is saying, “What have you done?” What if He’s more concerned with what you haven’t done, with those very poor and afflicted you wish to avoid? What if He holds YOU responsible for trusting in the political process more than Him? What if He is bearing the shame of your actions as He wraps His arms around the very people you’ve shunned?What if He is judging the church right now, not the culture? After all, judgment begins at the house of God.

And now that you’ve turned to the world to get what you’ve wanted, here’s the thing about all of that:

Which would you rather have, your political clout or your tax exemption, because in this country, you can’t have both and claim the First Amendment as justification. So which one would you rather have, because I promise that those of us who have eyes to see are going to demand your tax exemptions, if you don’t repent and turn from your wicked ways. Just imagine the outcry from the haves, those who manipulated you into worshipping a demon unawares. You have a lot of explaining to do.

And, I can also promise that God is telling you the same thing.

Sorry, not sorry for the umbrage.

New Final Chapter From My Book

When the publisher of The Gospel of Self wanted to distribute my book via Counterpoint Press, I was asked to re-write a final chapter more appropriate to the new subtitle: “How Pat Robertson Stole the Soul of the GOP.” Since many of you bought the earlier version, I wanted to share that new chapter with you today. Enjoy

PAT ROBERTSON TODAY

When Pat Robertson interviewed Donald Trump for The 700 Club in July of 2017, the press turned it into a pretty big deal. After all, the President didn’t do sit-down interviews, and while Pat was clearly in Trump’s camp, the press was still trying to figure out how he’d been elected in the first place, so there were hopes that the interview would generate news.  

The Huffington Post asked me to write a piece1 for publication the day after the interview, and the headline they chose was that there was nothing surprising: 

Pat was clearly very much in sync with Trump’s entire vision and government and predicted that he would be easily re-elected if he is able to get health care and taxation under control. He reminded the President that thousands and thousands of Christians are praying for him and will continue to do so. 

Nothing presented here today was surprising or revealing, but it was a strong reminder of how far to the right we’ve moved as a country. Pat Robertson was and always will be a representative of the aristocrats, and he views life through that lens. As such, he has made the beliefs of the ruling class the beliefs of the Gospel of Self, which is a living, breathing dream for the politically conservative. That those farther down the economic scale fully trust their “masters” is the single greatest cultural feat accomplished in the last 100 years or more, and it perplexes those who rely on education and reason. This is why I called the interview today “an important cultural moment,” for if the observers continue to ignore this happening, more surprises will be in store at the polling places of America. 

Pat Robertson’s vision includes building an Evangelical Christian “shadow government” that will eventually take over when the left completely fails. In Donald Trump, Pat has found his leader. 

This wasn’t an interview; it was a reverential hand job. 

Pat Robertson’s view of America under a God-appointed leader requires a willingness to step outside certain realities to embrace, and yet that’s exactly what’s happened since Donald Trump was elected. Evangelicals must force themselves to look the other way, as revelation after revelation about his personal life, false narratives, and management style become clear, and this seems to happen almost daily. Support him they do, and in words and ways that we cannot dismiss, for Pat’s “shadow government” seems to now be coming out into the light. 

President Trump’s highly controversial summit with Valdimir Putin in Helsinki during the summer of 2018 was bashed by Democrats and Republicans alike, but it was Pat Robertson – during that same interview a year earlier – who gave his blessing to the President’s fondness for the former Soviet Union. Here’s the way The Atlantic reporter Vann Newkirk put it after the interview. The article was headlined “Pat Robertson Finally Gives Up On Russia2

Robertson didn’t push Trump at all. There were no questions about evil Russian plots, and relatively few references to nuclear war. He accepted the president’s answers without any serious challenge. 

…If Pat Robertson says Russia isn’t a problem, then it won’t be for thousands of his evangelical followers. A good portion of Trump’s base—and perhaps even some religious folks outside the base who keep up with the 700 Club—might be persuaded that Russia is a non-issue by Robertson’s acceptance. And not only did Robertson accept Trump’s answers, he gave them his blessing as only a televangelist minister could, telling the president that “I want you to know there are thousands of people praying for you and holding you up all the time.” 

The astonishment over this is fully justified, because when I was Pat’s producer, the USSR was evil personified. Russia is widely regarded as the most significant opponent of Israel during the end times of which Pat preached often. He never had anything good to say about the Soviets, so his capitulation to Trump on the subject is highly noteworthy and speaks to the lengths that white evangelicals will go to support their man. 

According to studies by both Gallup3 and Pew4, Republican support for Russia has doubled over the past few years. Ronald Reagan, who tagged the Soviets as “The Evil Empire,” and this pro-Russia activity would not have gone over well with him. This is remarkable, because Pat Robertson loved Ronald Reagan and viewed himself as advancing the Reagan legacy in his 1988 run for President. This is apparently not the case anymore, so long as Pat can have his conservative judges, Israel, and religious freedom. 

And now, with the President’s saber-rattling over a possible war with Iran, these same Christians will again be giving him their complete support. Iran is seen as Israel’s top enemy in the Middle East and represents Biblical Persia in terms of end times prophecy. One of the biggest problems Evangelicals had with Barack Obama was his efforts to deal with Iran as a nuclear power instead of taking a hardline position against the country. President Trump, however, and thanks to the support of Trump Christians, has a green light to even make war against Iran in the name of protecting Israel. 

The Gospel of Self is all over the relationship between the Christian right and Donald Trump. They helped elect a man with thoughts only of themselves and their relationship to the culture. Ignoring the red letters in the Bible, which charge Christ’s followers with care of the poor and the afflicted, these believers embrace the promises of a reprobate in the pursuit of their selfish gain. Pat Robertson was a Virginia aristocrat before he was anything else, and that backdrop forms the core of his politics. In his world, those who exhibit the worldly signs of success and happiness – primarily riches – are the ideal to which everyone should aspire. He preaches a form of good news that concerns believers not only after salvation, one that associates closeness with God to the blessings of possessions and ease in this life. Donald Trump personifies such a man, despite the immorality of his behavior towards women, his divorces, his bankruptcies, his language, his lies, and his overall character. 

But perhaps the biggest attraction that white evangelicals have towards Donald Trump is his willingness to pander to their wishes in turn for their support, especially in the areas of education, Israel, religious liberty, homosexuality, and, of course, the Supreme Court. It should be noted that each of these is a direct path to the Gospel of Self, for nothing the white evangelicals seek regards others; it’s all directed at making life better for those who imagine personal attacks around every corner from the unholy breed known as liberal progressives. “They” must be defeated! 

The Washington Post’s conservative commentator Mark Thiessen wrote5, “Trump has arguably done more in his first year in office to protect life and religious freedom than any modern president.”  

“Little wonder,” he added, “that religious conservatives stick with him despite the (Stormy) Daniels revelations. This is not to say that Christians don’t think a culture of fidelity is important. But the culture of life is important too. So is a culture that is welcoming to religious believers rather than waging war on them.” 

This motivator — the heartfelt belief that the Christian faith is under attack in our current culture — is one of the most important factors in Mr. Trump’s support. So persecuted are white Evangelical Christians by a rotting culture, the thinking goes, that we need to fight back with everything we’ve got politically, rather than just give the nation over to the devil by saying nothing. During his campaign, the President assured a drooling Christian right that “We’re gonna bring it back,” “We’re gonna protect Christianity,” and that “Christianity will have power if I’m President.” 

This issue of whether Christianity is under attack is complex and difficult to understand on every level. The parties involved have obviously differing views, but the arguments never really take place in the same contextual frame. One side argues that America was created as a Christian nation by Christians who came here to colonize in Jesus name, while the other side argues that such a belief doesn’t apply to the United States, because the country’s founders were an eclectic group and wrote documents to protect us from rule by religion. Moreover, the Christian nation argument is irrelevant in modern times, because humankind has come such a long way in the last few centuries. One is a spiritual argument; the other is an argument of reason. One touts Holy Scripture, while the other relies on education and knowledge. One is upstream with the saints of old; the other is downstream in a hundred human tributaries. One believes the Bible is a “living document” while the other sees a certain anti-progressive rigidity in a set of archaic rules. One claims to argue faith; the other claims to argue logic. One argues the Godly essence of justice; the other argues the Godly essence of mercy. These are opposites in human understanding, but the Bible teaches that God is equally both. To us, it’s a zero-sum view, and that is to our shame, for life is much bigger than our human minds can grasp. 

Any reasonable, objective study of early American history makes a convincing case that Christianity was so enmeshed in daily life at the time that one must conclude its governance and institutions were filled with people of faith. Arguing against this requires changing history, although there’s no real reason to do so. When English speaking people landed at Cape Henry Virginia in 1607, their very first act was to plant a cross and claim the land on behalf of their Savior. This act is significant in that everything that follows flows from it, including the documents that recognized the potential for mischief in taking such a proclamation too far. Hence, we have the establishment clause of the First Amendment. However, that doesn’t change the reality that the homes, by-ways, and communities of the colonies were filled with people of faith. Our democracy is based on oaths and promises that we make to each other, and there must be a form of personal punishment ahead for those who violate such, and it must be beyond what the law can provide. Hence, we swear to tell the truth by putting our hand on the Bible in courtrooms. Again, we can argue how effective it has been over the years, but this doesn’t alter the history behind it all. 

Moreover, any fair reading of early documents – including those of the Founding Fathers – can only be done using the language of the time, because the meanings of key words have changed over time. That means one must use the dictionaries of the era, Samuel Johnson’s classic of 1755 and Webster’s of 1828. When that is done, it takes considerable manipulation to conclude anything other than the truth of the claim that Christianity played a significant role in the formation of the U.S. It didn’t need to be specifically spelled out, because it was assumed at the time. This in no way means America was birthed as a theocracy, but rather a country based on the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” meant that those same people were already self-governed through their faith. After all, it was John Wycliffe who first uttered the phrase when, upon completion of the first common English language translation of the Bible, he said, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is why those same founding fathers saw the need to include the establishment clause in the First Amendment. No single representation of God could never rule a people educated in the truths of the Bible. 

As the country has become more secularized, therefore, it’s been easy for Pat Robertson and other evangelical leaders to stir their followers over the actions of contemporary progressive thinkers. It forms the controversial pot within which the fundamentalists brew their self-serving anger demanding a return to the way it used to be. In this way, they became suckers for the flimflammery of a huckster in the 2016 Presidential election.  

And progressives have played right into this longing for the good old days by visible actions that offer evidence of an alleged conspiracy against Christians. For example, who authorized academia and government to change our most basic calendar headings from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – year of our Lord) to BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era)? There was no debate. No hearings. No input from others whatsoever. Suddenly, textbooks that our children used to study everything were printed using only BCE and CE, and all devout Christians could do was to loudly cry, “foul.” There are also the matters of School Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the personal politics of gender. Is there a battle underway for the soul of the West? The answer is irrelevant, because the appearance of such a war is enough to make a political difference in the U.S. The fact, too, that progressives don’t feel it necessary to argue the grounds of these complaints is problematic, because the assumption that it’s unnecessary adds to the perceived arrogance that Christian conservatives use to argue their point. 

Like most things in life, this is not black and white, for it involves a great many other cultural considerations. Moreover, the strict “Christian Nation” crowd deserves its own blame for gutting the fatted calf it now wishes to protect. Besides, the more important matter is that even if we agree that America was birthed among people who practiced differing forms of Christianity, what are we to do about it today? The wise answer is nothing. 

Christianity is so divided into subsets that no one speaks on behalf of the whole. It’s just not possible. Each denomination makes a case why theirs is the path to righteousness and an afterlife in heaven. Therefore, there really is no such thing as the “Christian perspective” we used to espouse back in my days at The 700 Club. Is that the Catholic perspective or the Protestant perspective? Is it premillennial or postmillennial? Is it Pentecostal or reformed? Is it liberal or conservative? Black or white? Judeo-Christian or just Christian. You can see the conflict, which is why the establishment clause is there. 

Therefore, by self-division alone, Christianity has lost its influence on the culture, and the voice that’s complaining the loudest is the one that has the money and the resources to be heard, the white Evangelicals, eighty-one percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election. And so Evangelical Christianity is the branch that is trying to drag us all in the direction of the theocracy the founders hoped to avoid. This is the group who has joined forces with the Republican Party – literally stolen the soul of the Republican Party – to “make” things happen that benefit their congregations and their point-of-view. Of course, the GOP of the Reagan era was quite happy to invite this crowd into its midst, never thinking it would produce what we have today.  

Think about it. For these people, God apparently doesn’t need our faith alone; He wants us to be a powerful political voice as well. This is the group that wants a war with Islam, because it leads to their premillennial one thousand years of glory in the name of Jesus. This is the group that needs Republican leadership in Washington to keep them tax free and thriving, so they can recruit support from the mountain top of the one percent. This is the group that wants their prayer to be in public schools, their self-centered gospel to govern programs for the poor, their self-righteousness to dominate human hearts when it comes to personal medical or relationship decisions, their way of life to be the norm and to frame the melting pot, their comfort to be the guiding light regarding who we allow into the pot in the first place, and their music, film, books, and art to be the only choice for all. 

As my friend Jeff Jarvis said, “Sharia Law? That’s nothing compared to Armageddon.” 

If there is but one truth about this particular group of Christians that should make us all wary, it is this: they will never be satisfied with just one victory in the culture wars. You can take that to the bank, and it represents the only tape that must be played out to the end for us to realize that – as a self-governing people – we cannot and must not let our guard down. The history of humankind is littered with the tragedies of those who fell for idolatry, the promise of magic, failure to take care of the poor and afflicted, and the fallibility of human nature. You want civil rights rolled back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want women to return to the status of chattel? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want slavery brought back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want corporal punishment in the public square? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want a culture dominated by fascist fear and bayonets? Say nothing. Do nothing today. 

From an historical perspective, there’s a great difference between a culture being overthrown and one that self-destructs, which is what’s really happening here. If, as the Evangelicals insist, they were the ones who built this country, then its collapse must be birthed in the same womb. You cannot claim leadership for the one without responsibility for the other. This is the major blind spot of those who argue that the devil or the liberals or the communists or members of any other group are at fault. Therefore, positing that Christianity itself is the victim here is utterly self-serving, and it’s also useless in trying to do anything about the evils around us. A slipping culture needs no outside help, if the ruling class within that culture cannot or will not accept responsibility for the slippage. 

The ruling class in America today, we must now conclude, includes certain powerful and vocal elements from within the entire Judeo-Christian Western hegemony. The nobility of yesterday has been replaced by panting thieves for whom license, not liberty, is the desire demanding to be fed. Thinking has been replaced by a mindlessness not found among past generations, who survived and even thrived despite having to solve real problems like slavery, sickness, world wars, and the rights of individuals. 

Those past generations wouldn’t recognize the Christianity that’s “under attack” today, which includes truly remarkable claims and warnings from diehard leaders.  

Author and Christian leader Mary Colbert6He (God) works through the ones he chooses. We don’t choose them. All we have to do is recognize them and when you recognize a chosen one and you have the discernment to know that they’ve been chosen and know that that’s the will of God, then your life will be blessed. And if you come against the chosen one of God, you are bringing upon you and your children and your children’s children curses like you have never seen. It puts a holy fear in me. 

Newsweek7The first Bible study group held for the U.S. Cabinet in at least 100 years is led by a pastor (Ralph Drollinger, a pastor and president of Capitol Ministries: an organization which aims to “evangelize elected officials and lead them toward maturity in Christ.”) who believes homosexuality is “illegitimate,” who doesn’t believe women should preach and has described Catholicism as a “false” religion. 

Prosperity Gospel Evangelist Kenneth Copeland8If Christians don’t support Trump, they are risking the wrath of God. Trump has been chosen by God, and by rejecting him, they are rejecting God. They could be punished with barrenness, poverty, or even having a gay child. 

The press generally doesn’t keep track of statements like these and that doesn’t help. As long as the press keeps religion — especially Evangelical Christianity — in its “Sphere of Deviance,” it will operate within a narrative that does not include the role of religion in the culture. This means the press operates outside the views of those for whom their faith is a working dynamic in their lives. This makes it impossible for reporters and commentators to ever figure out what really happened that put Donald Trump in the White House. They know nothing of the Gospel of Self. They’re willing to discuss issues important to Evangelicals, but they will always underestimate and minimize the importance of the faith’s role in history and especially current events. It’s simply not enough to cite ignorance and apply reason, when reason itself is a proclaimed enemy of the faith. The problem, then, is that both sides in the great American split are debating on different playing fields. It would be like the Dallas Cowboys playing the Philadelphia Eagles with the Cowboys playing in Dallas while the Eagles playing in Philadelphia.  

So important questions are left out of the discussion entirely, such as the matter of whether Donald Trump “belongs” in the White House. Did, as the Evangelicals claim, God put him there? Mr. Trump has been in office two years, and it’s gotten so that the only voices with good things to say about the man come from his own administration, a few extreme right-wing pundits, and the very core of his support, those white Evangelical Christians. He’s made enemies of the press, his own party, and two-thirds of Americans, but to those who practice The Gospel of Self, these are all to be tolerated in the name of a God who has heard the cries of his people and decided to save the country. The response of the press is a shrug and an “oh come on!” In other words, there is no response from those who don’t believe this other than that it’s laughable. By their inability or unwillingness to respond in kind, they are not playing in the same stadium as the Evangelicals. The Gospel of Self has taught Christians that they should be fighting in the political realm today for those who would restore righteousness to America and the world. And so, we go around and around in an endless series of meaningless echo-chamber debates, yelling and screaming. So, let us instead consider an argument that assumes the Evangelicals are right but alter the narrative just a bit. 

Perhaps God actually did put Donald Trump in office. Now, we’ve moved the game to Dallas, where the offenses and defenses of both teams can take the field. 

Sometimes, the most likely and obvious answer to the question of whether something “should” be is its existence, and this forms the essence of the right response to certain Evangelicals regarding the behavior of “their man.” Donald Trump IS the President, and to borrow the language of the faith, he’s there because he’s supposed to be there. 

We must remember that Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians take their cues from the Bible, which they believe instructs them on how to respond to the cultural shifts in front of them. They’re “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore” when it comes to morality, jobs, taxes, security, safety, freedoms, and education. It’s no coincidence that these were the planks on which Trump campaigned, so it’s easy to understand their excitement with the candidate and now President. However, the Bible is filled with stories of people who stepped outside the will of God and were destroyed as a result. Therefore, let’s frame an argument that begins with an agreement that God put Donald Trump in the White House. The theological question then becomes why did He do that?  

If we can bring ourselves to ask this, it’s completely fair to then ask the question “what could be going on in the realm of the spirit in such a scenario?” The political Evangelicals – the ones who stole the soul of the GOP — think it’s to help them in their quest to fight against “sin” in the culture, to restore things to a time when life was supposedly easier or better. “Make America Great Again” fits this narrative perfectly. But what if the “sin” is within God’s own people? Could God be judging His own people and not the culture? Perhaps God is the One who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. Asking God — in prayer or otherwise — to judge the world can be a dangerous proposition, because God’s judgment, the Bible clearly teaches, begins with the “house of God,” His people. This view is prophetic and in line completely with the teachings of both the old and new testaments. We only need to look at what Ezekiel9 said about Sodom to find prophetic parallels to today: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”  

Life destroys kingdoms that neglect their obligation to the poor and afflicted, and if that doesn’t bring a shudder to your spine, you have no conscience. This is exactly what’s taking place in America with the election of Donald Trump, and his policy decisions in the first two years of his administration prove it. The GOP – under the guidance and direction of white Evangelicals – has devolved us into the overfed, arrogant, and unconcerned culture that always precedes cultural destruction, and this – as Pat Robertson’s former executive producer – is my great fear today. On the other hand, it could be the time when we as a people rise up against it and proclaim a resounding “No!” 

Everyone knows there is a great divide between us in the West, one that life cannot tolerate forever, and perhaps that’s what the Trump presidency is all about. Could our current chaos be the very path for resolving the great divide in our midst? Frankly, if anything, that “divide” is contrary to what life could want from any of us, so again borrowing from the language of the church, perhaps this is what God is trying to show us. After all, how often does life lead us through our own difficulties by forcing us to deal with them over and over until we get it right? If Evangelicals can point to Sodom and its destruction (for homosexuality), then are we not able to use the argument above to refute that? 

The rise of Trump is a false promise to those extreme fundamentalist believers who “just know” that he’s right, because their church, their faith, and their families and friends all say so. It’s a false promise, because truth is one of those things that has a way of surfacing no matter how many times people try to hide it. Life’s way has always been to let humans do what we wish and watch as our efforts collapse. It’s the hard way, but it’s the way we learn as a species. Honestly, there’s no way we can avoid pain and suffering as this split continues. 

Our mistakes matter in our willingness to fulfill the potential of the human race. Could this be one of those times when we’re able to fix some of the big ones? 

Pat Robertson and those of us who labored alongside him in the 1980s nudged the country to the political right in ways that were more brilliant than devious. He sincerely felt and still feels, among other things, that the U.S. would be better off with teacher-led prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments back on public walls, abortion returned to illegal status, overturning the Johnson Amendment (prohibiting political involvement by churches), stopping the inflow of Muslims into America, and tax cuts that would permit the wealthy to give more to charities, including his own.  

In so doing, Robertson wrote the strategy for not only Republicans but also for other white Evangelicals, which is why Christianity’s brand is in so much trouble today. His influence cannot be overstated, because without the foundation laid by Robertson and The 700 Club, Donald Trump would never have been elected and the country wouldn’t be nearly so split as it is right now.   

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.