Christian, Not Crazy: Some Almost-Organized Thoughts on Faith

Photo 176I struggled with this post.  It’s different from most in that I’m not writing directly about American politics and I am not trying to write on top of the news.  This post is about context.  Specifically, a context rooted in faith.  My faith.  Intellectual suicide?  I don’t think so.  Let me explain.

One of the things that most fascinated me when I started following American politics from across the Atlantic while I was living in the UK, was how openly politicos talked about faith.  If anyone with political aspirations in Europe did anything more than attend a sterile Easter service at a state church, Europeans would write him or her off as a religious nut.  Not so in the United States.

Despite his moral flexibility and playboy approach to saving the world, Bill Clinton was raised Southern Baptist and regularly sought the counsel of religious leaders like Jesse Jackson (who coincidentally was having an affair while counseling Bill on his Monica-related troubles).  We all know that George W. Bush was a man of faith.  His faith was positively troubling as we witnessed his crusade of a post 9/11 foreign policy that permanently sullied America’s image abroad and did more to draw religion-inspired battle lines than any American move in decades.  As cerebral as Barack Obama is, he was famously aligned with the controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright as a member of his flock when Wright spat out the words “God damn America.”  Multiple presidents have sought to address social problems through government funding of faith-based humanitarian programs.

Apart from the faith of recent and current American leaders, the American political landscape is hugely influenced by the religious right which, although somewhat fragmented currently, is enormously influential in any election.  This group of evangelicals ranges from run-of-the-mill casual believers with nominal conservative values and a penchant for apple pie and Nascar to raving lunatics that bomb abortion clinics, harbor closet (or devastating open) hate for minorities and spend their free time trying to legislate the teaching of Creationism in schools and the flying of racist confederate flags in front of state buildings.

More than once on CultureMutt, I have critiqued the evangelical contingent in America.  I grew up as Seventh-day Adventist and as a current member of this conservative evangelical community I feel particularly responsible for the messages that come out of the evangelical camp.  That’s why I:

Blasted Beck over his ridiculous critique of church social justice programs:  Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant

Found this way to lure young male congregants hilarious:  Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs

Thought that this approach to evangelical sexual morality was extremely naive:  Virginity 2.0 – Post Cherry-Pop Purity.

Sincerely hoped that religious crazies and their know-nothing dogma were losing steam:  Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo

As faith and politics are very intertwined and as I am so drawn to talking about both, I thought it only fair to say a few words about where I personally stand when it comes to religion.  Some of my readers have, in one way or another, asked me what I personally believe in.  If you have read CultureMutt over the past several months it won’t come as surprise that I am a cultural and political liberal.  When it comes to religion, I hate evangelical cheese and over-simplification of faith; I look for vomit buckets when I hear of attempts to legislate Christian morality; I am pro-choice; I am no literalist when it comes to my approach to reading religious texts; and I am all for gay rights, including the right to marry.

Having said all that, I do believe in the transcendent, that there is a presence that far eclipses the limited human perspective.  I am a religious tourist and have found meaning in all of the major world religious traditions.  My best friend is a Muslim and through my conversations with him I am drawn to a monotheistic approach to faith.  I am convicted by the Christian narrative of a compassionate deity that redeems humans in the grander cosmic sense as well as in our day-to-day reality.

What I feel most passionately about when it comes to my faith is this focus on bringing redemption in the here and now.  I don’t believe, as some do, that actively practicing faith requires an end to intelligent thought.  Rather, my faith challenges me to use critical thinking in finding a humane response to human problems.  I believe that authentic faith breeds understanding, generosity and compassion.  This is why I am passionate about fighting for social justice and finding systemic solutions for today’s social problems.  Poverty, illness, lack of education, drastic social inequality, racism – in my book these are very real manifestations of evil and I support a faith that combats each.

I don’t think I am entirely “right” in my articulation of reality and faith.  I know I have a lot to learn, that I am doubtless wrong on multiple fronts. I’ll listen to your thoughts because they will enhance my understanding of reality.  I intentionally held off on articulating any personal religious convictions on CultureMutt because this blog is not meant to be a forum for the discussion of the fine points of doctrine.  I simply thought that a little context at this point regarding my personal faith-related convictions would help explain where I am coming from.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

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Bjorn Karlman

32 thoughts on “Christian, Not Crazy: Some Almost-Organized Thoughts on Faith”

  1. When I was in 6th grade, my social studies teacher, a stanch republican, told the class that we could not give our country’s abundance of corn, which was being destroyed, to the poor starving people in Africa because it would hurt our economy. I have not been able to forget those words because, to me, it defines what is fundamentally wrong with the right. It is ok if children die, as long as my taxes wont go up 1-2% or the Dow always has a green arrow next to its name. we’ll just remember those starving children in our prayers. I believe Jesus compels us to act (clothing naked, feeding hungry, etc, not by ushering in the apocalypse as GW would have it), even if our economy has to go down a few points. As the beloved Dr. Land, who is retiring from Andrews this year, told me during freshman orientation, “I am a Democrat because I am Christian.”

  2. I would sum up Western Christianity in one word today – “Immature”. The ideals of Western Christianity are similar to the ideals of Western democracy – both are on the mission to carbon copy itself. The sad thing is that world caves in thinking that it’s the better way to live.

    I fact, to a certain degree, I’m ashamed to bring my non-Christian friends to my Church due to the level of immaturity and pretentiousness that goes around in modern Christianity during that hour. The basic message that is being peddled is:

    “BE LIKE US, OR ELSE GOD DOES NOT LIKE YOU”. That was the premise of crusade style colonialism, and you can justify just about any atrocity in the world by means of such premise.

    So there’s this duality of Christianity preoccupied with materialism, conformity to masses, expectation of immediate understanding and spiritual maturity… reminds me of kindergarten approach to education and understanding.

    For example, If I would to stand up and blurt out “Shit” in front of the mature audience, that would be the last thing you’d remember. If I do that in front of the Christian audience… anything that I would say after that would be invalidated. All people would remember is “I can’t believe he said that word!”.

    The same goes for virtually any aspect of Christian life. There’s this disconnect between the reality and the appearance.

    And that’s how modern Christians tend to live like… trying to sterilize their environments instead of seeking maturity, understanding and forgiveness.

    So, likewise, I am a Christian, but I have no expectation of other people to conform to my idea of this world. We can honestly discuss it, but in the end it’s their personal choice, which I’ll leave to God to judge. And I believe God is more mature than Christians paint him to be.

  3. One of my personal favorite parallel is people coming back from the mission trips, presenting the lifestyles in various countries… and then people murmuring:

    ” We have no idea how blessed we are in this country.”

    The thought of 10% of our military budget would get rid of extreme poverty in the third world… kind of makes me loose any trust in basic human decency.

    The truth is… both republicans and democrats support that kind of world order.

  4. Thanks, Homie for saying that.

    I lectured last week for a Social Psychology class (at a Christian University) and mentioned that most of the cocoa in chocolate sold comes from the Ivory Coast as a result of child slave labor a large (and rather vocal) group of students remained unmoved.

    Last night I was at a needtobreathe concert (side note: needtobreathe is made up of Christian Band members, and while their beliefs are reflected in their lyrics, they consider themselves a rock and roll band for everyone). After the concert I overheard a group of girls wearing tee shirts with bold letters reading “UNASHAMED” discussing their plan of waiting for the band to come out and confronting them as to why they didn’t and I quote “give God the glory tonight”

    As I was leaving the concert, I was handed a flyer with a tea bag stapled to it, encouraging me to vote for a certain politician and return our country to it’s Christian roots.

    I appreciate you posting this because when you mention that you’re a christian, people already have their minds made up about what you believe. And it doesn’t help the the most vocal of us encourage that stereotype. But I’d like to think that one day they will know we are Christians by our love. We might just need a better PR department.

  5. Ain’t it the truth, Andrey. When my (now 22 y/o) son was in kindergarten at Crescenta Valley Adventist School, we had a meeting with a bunch of parents about how poorly run the school was (at that time), and what we as parents could do to help improve the situation. I started my two cents’ worth with “I know that a lot of parents are pissed off about this situation…” and continued on for a couple minutes, making my points.

    Another (far more conservative in values than I) parent gave me a withering stare and said “Well, Kirk’s crude vernacular aside, I think… ” and continued with her thoughts.

    She was more fixated on what “vernacular” I had used rather than anything I said after the word “pissed”. Imagine if I’d dropped a few F-bombs.

  6. Republican aloofness when it comes to systemic change for social problems really kills me. They are great individual philanthropists (better than democrats) but writing a check here and there when it occurs to you (and funneling it through some rightist church org) isn’t going to cut it. In a democracy, government is we the people… why is that so scary and why can’t WE solve problems together for a change?

  7. Christian culture is like Christian Contemporary Music, boring, irrelevant and hysterical. It is the biggest turn off for anyone trying to seek out authentic faith. I go out of my way to avoid association with it.

  8. That’s precisely it… Christian culture has become this inflexible monster that has a stranglehold on the creative humanitarian potential of faith… It is sterile, obnoxious and off-putting.

  9. Wow, I am ASHAMED of the teenie boppers… but it isn’t their fault, they have been conditioned to demand isolationist irrelevance in their brand of faith.

    And I’m bummed I missed the tax day tea party protest in Chico, CA…. I’d have stayed around until I had a free year’s supply of tea…

  10. Yeah, I hear you Andrey… when Ron Paul talks about the military-industrial complex I can’t help but listen even if I am the libertarian antitype.

  11. There’s a concept of the idealism and appearance of reality vs. the actual reality.

    I don’t think that you honestly can say that our government are “we the people”. It’s one of the largest misconceptions. Governments today do just enough to be re-elected, the rest goes into making sure that the lobbyists are satisfied and that their future is taken care of.

    The unfortunate reality of modern politics is that you have to buy an election bid. It’s obscenely expensive to run for anything. I hardly would even call it a democracy, when money rules the scene.

    If you want a look at true Democracy… see how they ran things in ancient Athens. We are FAAAAAR for that ideal.

  12. Bjorn-for as much as I know you and some of your ideas and thoughts, I figure that I can tell you that although I do agree with you on most of your mutterings, there is one thing that I do NOT agree with you on. We can talk later. Good faith Blog though!

  13. I don’t really know where to begin. Aid does not alleviate poverty, wealth create and free markets do. Capitalism has done much more to end poverty than any amount of aid could ever do. That is the problem with the Democratic approach. If you see a problem, set up a pyramid scheme that is a fiscal black hole and you can never get rid of.

    As for the corn thing, I am not sure if that is or ever was our actual policy. Also, memory has a way of distorting the truth.

  14. I don’t even know what this means. So when you want to change the world, f the idea of being the change you want to see, just force it on everyone. That is how we get government retard programs that can never be reformed. When an individual acts unilaterally, they are more free to change with the times and situations. Isn’t a systemic aid program inherently less open to change than a decentralized one?

  15. I am agnostic and probably a year or two away from being completely atheist. I try not to think about it because an existence without a god disturbs me. That said, America isn’t controlled by the religious right, it is religious right. Even people who consider themselves liberal in this country are often much more conservative and religious than people elsewhere. That is America. That is one of the characteristics that makes us distinct from other countries and it has benefited us without a doubt in my mind. The reason it has been a benefit is not because religion is inherently good, but because religion as practiced in the US, has been generally good. People have a right to practice freely, their beliefs did not require them to force other people to do their good will for them, and people took the initiative as a result. It keeps peoples spirits alive when they are needed. When a certain group of people decides that the government should do ‘x’ it takes that initiative away from the people. I really don’t know where liberals get off saying values shouldn’t be forced on people. Without forcing their values on people, liberals would not exist.

  16. Bjorn,

    This was one of my favorite posts you have written. I know you don’t want cultremutt to be a forum for your personal religious views. However I really enjoy reading how you feel. Thank you Bjorn!

  17. David, I see your point and I am a fan of capitalism myself. And greed does motivate – I’ll give you that. When do you think aid is justified though? Surely it makes sense in some cases?

  18. David I think the answer lies somewhere between left and right extremes. Of course there has to be individual responsibility. That is what kills me about Swedish society – a lot of social problems are treated with a shrug and comments about how the government should take care of it. At the same time, I think systematic aid on some level is vital for their to be some kind of basic infrastructure to fall back on.

  19. So why do you feel you are headed for atheism? I think I agree that American religion has allowed America to make progress. It is a religion of self-sufficiency as much as it is a religion involving a deity. To me, a log of American religion boils down to self-help and personal success and social conservatism – this is what distinguishes it from the approach to faith elsewhere. Pretty fascinating. Joel Osteen is the epitome of American faith. And yes, both right and left love to legislate their values.

  20. I think aid is justified, but only as a one time thing. I don’t mind us helping Haiti after an earthquake, but I have a problem with us setting up systems to give people automatic help if they meet certain qualifications basically indefinitely.

  21. If I don’t become atheist it will be because I tried my hardest not to become one. lol.

  22. Good job Bjorn, I think this explanation of your beliefs and where you come from is great and I happen to agree with most of the way you think. I am tired of people who do not think or narrow God down. I am going to get Biblical here, but one of my favorite verses in the Bible is when Jesus talks of His coming and he has the sheep on the right goats on left and he says enter the kingdom, “for I was hungry and you fed me, in prison and you visited me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me.” This is the God I want to follow and I hate it when people get too religious and political and forget that it is human hearts we are dealing with here.

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