Showing posts with label Christian fundamentalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian fundamentalism. Show all posts

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a book review

 

JESUS

Uncovering the Life,

Teachings, and Relevance of     

a Religious Revolutionary

By

   Marcus Borg

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W.Sutton

 

Jesus” is a scholarly review of Jesus’ life and times. Marcus Borg carefully examines the gospels and the small amount of extrabiblical sources to help us understand Jesus' mission in the context of his life as a Jew from a small town under Roman domination. Borg acknowledges that all historical studies involve a degree of subjectivity, which he tempers by providing cogent reasons for his perspective thus allowing readers to form their judgment about his interpretation of the gospels and other available records.

It is no secret that Christians are “A House Divided” about many matters. This is notably evident in the United States. And this is the author’s context. Borg begins by providing us with a perspective on divided Christianity. Instead of focusing on denominations, he refers to two broad views or paradigms. His terms (in parentheses) are different from the more familiar conservative (an earlier Christian paradigm) and progressive (an emerging Christian paradigm). He further identifies the conservatives as fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals and links them to the political right. In contrast, he presents the emerging paradigm as the “emergent church” and “neotraditional Christianity.”

The current presentation of Jesus’ life varies with the perspective of people writing from one of the two aforementioned major Christian paradigms. On the one hand, the earlier paradigm focuses on Jesus’ saving death on the cross, his divinity, and his moral teaching. When teaching about his life, these earlier paradigm Christians interpret the texts in a literal or near literal way.

Emerging Christians hold a view Borg calls “historical-metaphorical.” His short summary is: 

“...the pre-Easter Jesus was a Jewish mystic, healer, wisdom teacher, and prophet of the kingdom of God; he proclaimed the immediacy of access to God and the kingdom of God; he challenged the domination system, was executed by the authorities, and then vindicated by God.” 

Borg does not deny the importance of appreciating the “post-Easter Jesus” but Borg does want us to understand Jesus as a first century Jewish man who revealed God’s passion for the world as distinct from the way his followers wrote about Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, and Lord long after the resurrection.

Early in the book we see the two divisions when it comes to beliefs about Jesus life as described in the gospels. Early Christians developed a set of creeds or statements of faith. Modern conservatives expect Christians to affirm these beliefs, which are indicative of what it means to be a Christian. These beliefs include Jesus as the Son of God, born of a virgin, and eternally existent as God. Borg refers to this understanding of belief as “belief that,” which means belief in Jesus is a matter of believing statements about him. 

In contrast, Borg’s view is that an older understanding of the word belief is more accurate. That is, the word belief meant a focus on a person in the sense of being faithful and loyal to the person you follow. In this view, to believe in Jesus is to follow his way in contrast to affirming characteristics about Jesus.

Borg presents Jesus as if you were taking a class by a master teacher who offers us a grand overview providing the context of Jewish life at a time when Romans ruled the Jews' homeland. He then explains his historical method of examining the scriptures, considers human memory, and how to treat testimonies of historical events. Next he explains how we should understand metaphorical language in the gospels—we should consider the language as “more-than-literal.”

Having explained the scholarly methods, Borg tells Jesus’ story from birth to death and the resurrection appearances. We learn about Jewish life and the meaning of phrases like “kingdom of heaven” and “eternal life.” We gain an appreciation of Jewish perspectives on wisdom and the wisdom Jesus presented in parables and short sayings. Wisdom also includes an understanding of the way to live life—the familiar two ways of broad or narrow. The broad way means the way most of us live our lives.  Borg unpacks the narrow way in a series of contrasts to the broad way by exploring such common pursuits as wealth and honor.

As the Jesus' story nears an end, we learn more about Jesus’ confrontation of the Roman domination system and the symbolic language of the gospels in telling the story of the crucifixion. Finally, Borg interprets the texts telling of Jesus resurrection appearances beginning with the first comments on the event written by the apostle Paul before the first gospels were written.

**********

Jesus is worth reading by Christians who want to learn more about the life of Jesus from a scholar who understands the gospels in their historical context and takes a humble stance when presenting the reasons for his views.

Jesus is also worth reading by atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions who wish to understand Christianity and how Christians can be divided over matters of faith and practice.

What's missing is a full appreciating of Jesus' character. Jesus appears to be a somber and witty character. There is evidence of compassion. What we don't see is a man who enjoys family, loves to laugh and joke with friends, and feels the exhilaration of romantic love. That's not the fault of the author who avoids speculating about matters not included in the gospels. 

Perhaps of additional importance is an understanding of how Jesus and the first Christians mixed faith and politics. As Borg writes, the Christian story is not just personal; it is also political. Jesus and his followers presented a way of life that was different from the Jewish establishment and perceived as a threat to the domination system enforced by the Roman rulers in Judea. When Jesus' life is seen this way, it is no surprise that the earthly rulers attempted to silence him. Clearly they failed. As people continue to experience Jesus as a healer, teacher, exorcist, savior, and Lord.

Jesus is a contemporary figure in American history. Europeans brought their story of Jesus to the Americas. Although the story is fading from an active role in American culture, a substantial percentage of Americans continue to embrace one or the other of the two paradigms, which affects how Americans love, work, fight, vote, and of course, worship.

A related book: A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

Buy on AMAZON    or  GOOGLE  and elsewhere

 


Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2022, January 1). Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a review. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2022/01/jesus-life-teachings-revolutionary-book.html

Reference

Borg, M.J. (2006). Jesus: Uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary. New York: HarperCollins. [AMAZON]   [GOOGLE]

  

Resources

Other books presenting Progressive Christianity

About the author: Marcus Borg on GOOGLE     AMAZON


Please check out my website   www.suttong.com

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 

 

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Bible Tells Me So- A Book Review

 

THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO:

WHY DEFENDING SCRIPTURE

HAS MADE US UNABLE TO READ IT     

By

   Peter Enns

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Bloody violence, talking animals, mysterious beings, rules for slave holders, and managing your bodily fluids challenge anyone who makes a New Year’s resolution to read the Bible. I could have used a book like The Bible Tells Me So when I was a teenager attempting to make sense of this holy book I was dutifully bound to read. And in those days, the Bible sounded even more removed from my reality in the language of Shakespeare.

Even with modern translations, some old stories still sound quite strange and leave an intelligent inquirer wondering about what kind of God kicks people out of their home for eating a bit of fruit, changes his mind about creating people because they’ve turned out so bad, or orders his people to kill an entire tribe of other people so his tribe can have their land?

Peter Enns offers some answers in seven easy-to-read chapters. The problem with the Bible isn’t the Bible. The problem contemporary readers face is understanding a collection of ancient texts free from a defensive posture created by religious leaders who do not take challenges lightly. In Chapter 1, Enns invites us to interact with the text and appreciate how ancient people understood God and their spiritual journey.

The bloodthirsty warrior God appears in Chapter 2. He’s the one who scared the hell out of children who, like me, grew up in fundamentalist homes. You knew God meant business, because he killed, or ordered the killing of, men, women, and children who were from other tribes. And he even killed off his own people when they stepped out of line (remember the flood and other stories). By the time we get to Jesus’ talk about a loving heavenly father, we may wonder what kind of love are we talking about?

So, how does Pete deal with the big killer question?

God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.” (786*)

I’ll comment on this later. It’s a big deal.

Chapter 3 is about ancient stories. Enns reminds readers that people tell and retell old stories based on imperfect memories and how the storyteller interpreted past events. The stories were told with a purpose that gave meaning to their present time and served “to persuade, motivate, and inspire.” (1085)

Peter offers a number of examples of different narratives about similar events from the Gospels and the Old Testament. He helps readers think about the big picture by explaining that the Old Testament was written during the period of the monarchy and exile. The early origins stories introduce the main story, which is Israel’s monarchy, exile, and return.

In Chapter 4, Peter explains why the Bible isn’t an owner’s manual explaining how to do life. Examples from what appear to be conflicting advice in Proverbs help make the point that wisdom is needed to deal with particular situations.

Jesus’ way of interpreting the Bible is the subject of Chapter 5. Enns illustrates how Jesus gets creative when he interprets old texts in terms of his present situation. This creative way of looking at the old text was not unique to Jesus. But Jesus stood out based on his claims to identity and authority. A quote offers a useful summary of Jesus’ way of introducing new perspectives: “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” is hard to square with a rulebook view of the Bible.” (2501)

In Chapter 6, Enns focuses attention on Jesus as the key to understanding what the Old Testament is about. The gospel stories introduce Jesus as the saviour of Israel—the one who will make good on the old promises and the one who is superior to the Roman Caesar. He adds Paul’s interpretation that the gentiles are now equal with the Jews before God and in Jesus all have freedom from the old laws. This requires faith in Jesus that what sets people apart as people of God is not circumcision but love evident in how people treat others.

Enns ends it all in Chapter 7. Readers are challenged to make an “attitude adjustment.” On the one hand, Pete writes “The Bible is God’s Word.” But on the other hand, he asserts: “The Bible is not, never has been, and never will be the center of the Christian faith.” Enns draws attention to God and God’s work in Jesus as the centre of faith.

**********

I recommend The Bible Tells Me So to all those Christians who have become disenchanted with literal, or near literal, interpretations of the Bible that produce feelings of being trapped, fearful, guilty, and struggling to make sense of ancient perspectives on science, history, and how God works in people’s lives. As a bonus, Pete’s writing is easy to read, provocative, funny, and snarky.

Ungodly Warrior

I recall a Christian professor commenting on the horrible murderous things God did to people in the Old Testament. I suggested, as a psychologist, that it seems a lot like war propaganda. The stories governments would come up with to convince their men to fight because God is on their side. And to convince the enemy that they, and their gods, are no match for what our God can do. Perhaps, it’s not unlike children having faith that when the chips are down, they can count on their dad to whip the opposition. I don’t claim to be right. And I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful reaction of the professor. It is hard to make sense of the God Jesus described as a loving father if the same God is not exactly prolife a few centuries before Jesus. In short, Enn’s presentation of the Warrior God should be helpful to those looking for an explanation that makes sense of the alleged atrocities.

Ancient Views

Enns points about interpreting the old stories may also help people avoid the futile efforts of trying to find ways to match biblical understandings of the world and the universe to the ongoing discoveries of modern science. Peter’s call for readers to be careful about their expectations of the Bible is on point. Reading very old texts with expectations that they are like contemporary history or science books doesn’t make sense.

Memories

Enn’s doesn’t say much about the fallibility of human memory and that’s ok—his expertise lies elsewhere. He doesn’t ignore the fact of problem memories. Fortunately, even evangelical scholars like Craig Keener are aware of the limitations of memory established by psychological scientists like Elizabeth Loftus. The problem of memory is just another important factor to consider when reading ancient texts based on distant memories of events. The limitations of human memory do not detract from the obvious history of the Bible as an enduring source of inspiration unless readers insist that all the writers had perfect memories.

God’s Word

I am inclined to give Enns some slack for his comments in Chapter 7, which I noted above. Considering the Bible as God’s Word and then saying it is not the centre of faith is a bit of a stretch. So much depends on how one interprets the phrase “God’s Word.”

In one sense, the notion that the Bible is God Word suggests an untouchable sacred document that cannot be challenged. In fact, modern fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have elevated the Bible to a lofty place as if it were God. Of course, each Christian group reserves the right to interpret God’s Word for their group creating a foundation for doubt about what it might mean to say something is “God’s Word.”

I see Enns phrasing here as a way of taking the edge off his unfundamentalist approach to biblical interpretation. Given the first six chapters, Enns’ view of the Bible is not at all like the perspectives offered by Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. And that is why Enn’s book is worth reading.

Reference

Enns, P. (2014). The Bible tells me so...why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. New York: Harper-Collins.

Notes

* The numbers in parentheses represent location numbers in the Kindle Edition.

About Peter Enns

Peter Enns has a PhD from Harvard University along with other degrees. His recent CV identifies his position as professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.

About the Reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a licensed psychologist with a PhD from the University of Missouri. He is the author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures.  He has worked as a clinician and research professor. Now he studies and writes about psychology and religion. He no longer provides clinical services.

 

Please check out my website   www.suttong.com

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 

 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE - A book review

 

JESUS AND

JOHN WAYNE

How White Evangelicals       

Corrupted a Faith and

Fractured a Nation

By

   Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

 

Kristin Kobes Du Mez begins and ends her assault on militaristic white American evangelical men with their contemporary sociopolitical leader, former president, Donald Trump.

In the Introduction we learn the short doctrinal list of what it means to be a Bible-believing evangelical, but the author posits that American evangelicals are more than a set of theological statements. Instead, since the early 1900s they have embraced a John Wayne view of what it means to be a Christian man—a powerful warrior for country and God—a man who leads his troops into battle to uphold the values of God’s chosen people, the Americans.

It was the title, Jesus and John Wayne, that was off-putting. I didn’t grow up with John Wayne films or a love of American westerns. I was after all British and even after living in America, we were more likely to watch sitcoms on TV rather than see Westerns in the movies. But my Canadian friend, Martin Mittlestadt, kept mentioning Jesus and John Wayne. I’m glad he did. Here’s my review.

**********

As we follow the evangelical troops through history—mostly the last 50 years—we learn about the power of high-profile white men whose vision of American Christianity has dictated the distinctive roles that ordinary evangelical Christian men and women should play if they want to make America great. According to Du Mez, the current state of Christian America has been long in the making.

We saddle up in Chapter 1 when Americans are off to fight in World War I for God and country bolstered by the powerful voice of Billy Sunday and his contempt for pacifists. After a few more pages, we learn that a group of fundamentalists (her label) formed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. America was of course at war battling evil empires, which fits well with the image of what makes America Great. So far, I don’t see a problem. We British were fighters too and American troops and fire power saved the day. What’s not to like?

Soon, evangelicals would embrace a handsome “All-American” man, Billy Graham, as an unofficial leader. His rise to prominence was fuelled by the media and the conversion of cowboy Stuart Hamblen. Graham supported a growing evangelical network that included Wheaton College, Fuller Seminary, the National Religious Broadcasters, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to name a few well-known evangelical outposts.

Billy Graham hardly seemed like an extremist. True, his views on women are outdated but they weren’t unusual for the 1950s. And even looking back, he hardly seems like an aggressive religious bully. I’m not riding with the same posse yet.

Graham’s entry into politics had a rough start with President Truman, but he encouraged WWII hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. He did. And Ike invited Billy to help with religious support, which he did. Thus, early on, we see the link between white evangelicals and conservative politics. I get this as an important connection but, we British liked Ike too.

Our author pauses to backtrack a bit to trace the rise of John Wayne as his movies showed boys how to become swaggering men with a funny accent and led them to embrace a fierce anticommunist conservatism. Now I remember my boyhood friends trying to walk and say stuff like John Wayne did. I don’t know what they said but one old quote captures a lot of meaning:

“If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

Du Mez brings Jesus and John Wayne together in a quote from Baptist Alan Bean:

“The unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass.”

 

We’re in the 1970s now and learning about women.

Marabel Morgan writes a bestseller defining evangelical womanhood in The Total Woman. I remember that book, but I never read it. Apparently, evangelical women learn the secret of a happy Christian marriage, which involves treating their men like kings, catering to their needs, and admiring their masculinity. The biblical fix for marital strife: wives living in submission to their husbands—including sex. My wife says she had a hard time with the old traditional marriage vows in 1973—that bit about “to obey.” Anyway, we pledged our troths and we're still married.

**********

Du Mez takes us on a rough ride through the manifest destiny of evangelical history. Story after story reveals generation after generation of white evangelical men preaching a gospel of male headship in the home, in the pulpit, and in society. Of course, men as preachers is normal in church, where men have ruled for nearly 2,000 years.

Here’s the genealogy in the gospel according to Du Mez. In the beginning, God called Billy Graham and he begot Franklin who lived as a fundamentalist leader unto the present. Jerry Falwell begot Jerry Falwell who declined in influence after Jesus and John Wayne was published. James Dobson dared to discipline and created a family-values empire characterized by strong men, disciplined children, and loving wives. Bill Gothard begat a decades-long ministry promoting men as leaders in a god-to-man chain of command. By the 1980s, Tim and Beverly LaHaye joined with Jerry Falwell and they created the foundations for the Religious Right. The Moral Majority was born at the end of the 70s in time to support the highly popular Hollywood Cowboy, Ronald Reagan and the Christian conference warrior favourite, Oliver North.

And that’s not all. Some golden oldies from the 80s were: Phyllis Schlafly, R. J. Rushdoony, Howard Phillips, Gary North, Pat Robertson (God told him to run for president), D. James Kennedy, Tony Perkins, Bill Bright, Ken Starr, Michael Farris, Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Richard DeVos, Elsa Prince, Erik Prince, Wayne LaPierre, Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Paul Weyrich.

This is the era of the televangelists and their sex scandals: Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Marvin Gorman. These evangelicals happen to be Pentecostals--a group I have studied a lot. I guess their moral failures required a mention. Perhaps Du Mez wants us to see a preview of evangelicals gone wild, which will come later.

You might recall that the Clintons weren’t the kind of Christians loved by the evangelical juggernaut. But Bill does provide justification for the Religious Right to call attention to the need for men of character when choosing a president. You can tell Du Mez is setting us up for a “go-figure” moment with The Donald.

In the 1990s, the Christian culture war gets some powerful support from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the cast at Fox News. Bill McCartney kicks off Promise Keepers and a revival of Christian manhood. On the clergy front, John Piper and Wayne Grudem explain “complementarianism”—that’s God’s design for the two sexes who are equal before God but different when in comes to their gender roles. (In case you didn't know, evangelicals generally believe God created only two sexes and each matches their gender.)

Another component of the evangelical good news is that God has given his people sex to enjoy. So, sex evangelists Josh McDowell and Josh Harris become popular. Sex also gets a boost from the likes of Mark Driscoll on Mars. Stay tuned, the purity ball will get tarnished by the end of the book.

Through the decades, high profile white evangelical men have one target or another to galvanize the troops’ hunger for an enemy worthy of righteous anger and godly hate. You know the phrase, “hate the sin” to which some add, “and love the sinner.” Two persistent top ranked sins are abortion and same-sex relationships. These two sins have stood the test of time when it comes to defining features of who is an American evangelical.

Somewhere along the line, anti-abortion becomes pro-life. And, in one form or another, the evangelicals in this litany will remind America about homosexuality—it’s a word with considerable purchase unlike the preferred letters LGBTQ+. Du Mez repeats the abortion and homosexual issues, perhaps because they occur so frequently in the ongoing culture war, which has not yet ended. By my Kindle count of her book, abortion = 51 and homosexual = 32 occurrences.

After 911, Islam replaced communism as the major threat to Christian America. Socialism is in there somewhere too but Du Mez doesn’t make much of the socialism taunt.

The evangelicals are rocked by the election of president Barack Obama—no surprise there.

All this history leads up to the red-capped Donald Trump 2016 election triumph for white evangelical Christians. Du Mez traces his rise in the primaries and the powerful defences evangelical leaders deliver to cover outlandish comments and hypermasculine sex-infused juicy stories in the media. We are reminded that 81% of white evangelical voters carried Trump into the White House. What about his immorality…his foul mouth, divorces, and Stormy’s sex? Du Mez recaps the evangelical defence. I refer to John Wayne: 

“Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.”

In the final chapter, Du Mez leaves the presidency to focus on the demise of hypermasculine clergy. One after another, men fall from positions of authority. They are tagged for their aggressive leadership or their sexual abuse. Du Mez strips so many men of their moral robes that it seems like a sexual pandemic. They stand before us naked as their violations of women, girls, and boys appear in the media.

Du Mez concludes her cultural critique:

…understanding the catalyzing role militant Christian masculinity has played over the past half century is critical to understanding American evangelicalism today, and the nation’s fractured political landscape. Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.

**********

Some Thoughts

Du Mez writes in an easy-to-read style as she weaves together quotes, survey data, and historical events to show the close connection between white evangelical male leaders and Republican politics, which culminated in their greatest moment in recent history with a friend in the White House who served four years as a John Wayne-like cultural warrior for their agenda. Like knights at the proverbial round table, evangelicals finally had a king they could follow. They won a major battle and they remain in charge of vast cultural, religious, and geographic territory.

I recommend Jesus and John Wayne to anyone who wants to understand the powerful connection between militant white American evangelicals and their champion, former Bible-carrying President, Donald Trump. However, I have a few thoughts about the psychosocial implications of her work.

1.  Du Mez is a historian, and I am not. I won’t pretend to critique her work as history. However, I am aware that the biblical authors praised the ancient warriors who, credited God’s leadership as they killed the inhabitants of Canaan and reached their promised land. And thanks to the evangelical’s American president, Israel’s capital at Jerusalem was finally recognised with an embassy move. The history of the warrior God is thousands of years old. And anyone familiar with Christianity knows evangelicals believe Jesus will come again to ride a crimson tide of sinner’s blood in the final battle of humankind.

So, I think what’s missing from Du Mez castigation is an appreciation of the way fundamentalists read the same sacred text known to Du Mez. John Wayne is a crusader by another name. True, the gun is mightier than the sword. But in the hands of fundamentalists, the sacred text is a powerful two-edged sword dividing truth from error, right from wrong, good from evil. The sword cuts in two-ways.

I doubt we would have a Jesus and John Wayne moment if Christianity did not have a warrior God who, according to classic theology, never changes. 

And I doubt we would have a large militant evangelical force if American clergy learned to read the sacred text in a less fundamentalist manner.

Psychologically, fundamentalism is quite appealing. A clear-cut narrative separates good from evil, fits ancient traditions, and reduces the need for that slow cognitive effort (see Kahneman) needed to find nuances in old texts and contemporary issues. (More on the psychology of fundamentalism.) In my view, to undo the connection, Christian leaders will need to deal with the warrior God and consistently communicate more viable interpretations of the sacred text.

2.  I don’t see a lot of women in the battle. Du Mez does not ignore women’s voices. And of course, she is a woman with a strong voice. Perhaps it’s not her fault. I mean, the point is that evangelical women were good women if they submitted to a man’s authority. However, there are evangelical women, many of whom are in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tribes, who believe in equality (see pcpj position). If Du Mez revises her work, I’d suggest she consider giving more time to evangelical women who don't affirm the submissive rhetoric.

3.  My study of moral philosophy and psychology suggests the importance of emotion as vital to understanding the powerful forces at work beyond the beliefs documented in Jesus and John Wayne. Du Mez has aptly exposed the considerable downside of slavish support for the moral virtues of authority, loyalty, and that which is sacred and pure without a consideration of the importance of such virtues to a well-ordered society. Her focus on the harm done to women and society as well as the damage caused by inequality is noteworthy and should not be missed. 

I suggest a broader moral sense (see The Righteous Mind) and a recognition of the depth of emotion giving rise to the powerful motivations she documents would provide a stronger basis for considering how we might undo the damage of an extremely divided society. Fundamentalist morality is broadly based on foundations or authority, loyalty, and purity, which Du Mez does not fully consider as she focuses on the morality of equality and harm.

4. The conclusion leaves us wanting a solution. Consider this quote from the conclusion:

Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.

I agree that a cognitive appreciation of what happened is important to undoing the harmful effects of vicious rhetoric, misguided “all in” obedience to self-styled authorities who rob us of freedom even as they claim the banner of freedom, and a shameful call to uphold that which is sacred and pure while supporting immoral conduct with excuses and misplaced loyalty; however, understanding does not lead to change as any psychotherapist knows. Galvanizing action to change evangelical minds requires a strategy that recognizes the powerful role of human emotions coupled with widely promoted militant interpretations of the Bible that give rise to unrighteous minds and the concomitant violent behaviour that threatens the foundations of democracies. 

For now, it seems evangelical culture has been bifurcated. Fundamentalists have captured more and more cultural territory including evangelical colleges and universities. Many elites have escaped to find a home in progressive Christianity leaving behind an unarmed remnant to anxiously survive in no man’s land.

About Du Mez

Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of A New Gospel for Women. She has written for the Washington PostChristianity TodayChristian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

About this reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, and author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures and over 100 publications.

Reference

Du Mez, K. K. (2020). Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright: New York. AMAZON LINK

Book -- technical notes:

Introduction + 16 chapters + conclusion in 304 pages followed by acknowledgements, notes, end matter for 356 pages.

Related posts

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (Reviews)

The Better Angels of our Nature

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

The Righteous Mind

The Bible Tells Me So...

Please check out my website   www.suttong.com

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Dr. Kristin Du Mez on Jesus and John Wayne




An image I saw in a local store comes to mind.




Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Why I am not a Christian - Bertrand Russell - A book Review

 Why I Am Not A        


Christian

By

  Bertrand Russell

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

 




I am still surprised by the memory of a professor at a highly conservative college who included Russell’s book, Why I am not a Christian as assigned reading in a Philosophy of Christianity class. I don’t recall what the professor said about the collection of essays so many years ago. However, it is a classic work and deserves at least a look by those like me interested in the psychology of religion and related fields like philosophy.

The lead essay answers the author’s question in the title. It was presented as a lecture at the Battersea Town Hall (London, England) in 1927. His logical thinking is evident early on as he attempts to define the concept, Christian. He considers a few options and concludes first, that a Christian must believe in God and immortality, and second, a Christian must at least think of Christ as the “best and wisest of men.” The essay proceeds to explain why he does not believe these two attributes are true.

In the section about the existence of God, Russell reviews the traditional arguments are not very convincing. The arguments and problems are well known to philosophy and theology students, so I won’t repeat them here. I am referring to arguments known as “First Cause,” “Natural Law,” “Argument from Design,” and the moral arguments.

His comments on Christ are different. He takes the words of Christ reported in the gospels quite literally. He notes some of the positive teachings of Jesus and notes the lack of following these teachings by Christians. In a different approach, Russell challenges some statements such as the immanent return of Christ which has not happened. A challenging section is his opinion that Christianity is a religion built on fear.

The rest of the book is a collection of essays on various topics related to Christianity or religion in general. These include his views on life after death, sexual ethics, and freedom.

**********

Nearly 100 years later, the arguments put forth by intelligent writers like Russell are familiar. Perhaps what made Russell’s work seem relevant to my philosophy professor was the fact that Russell focused on Christianity in a way that raises issues that an intelligent believer ought to either have satisfactory answers or give up their faith. However, in the years since I took that course, intelligent Christians have taken a different path to dealing with the problems of belief.

On the one hand, fundamentalists continue to uphold traditional beliefs to the point of denying scientific evidence or identifying one conundrum or another as a “mystery” that will be resolved someday—presumably in a literal heaven. Thus, the attacks of atheists seem to make sense only when challenging literal interpretations of old beliefs that seem implausible or lack adequate defenses (I am using adequate in these sense of logical arguments based on some sort of premises that all arguers can agree upon).

On the other hand, other Christians have de-emphasized belief statements, qua truth statements, in favor of experience and offered many metaphorical interpretations of religious claims that appear fantastic from the perspective of a contemporary understanding of human nature and the natural world. In this view, Christ’s calls to address injustice and pursue peace, kindness, and a moral life justify following Christ.

I chose the path of psychology rather than philosophy. This leads me to wonder if my old professor was dealing with doubts about his ultra conservative tradition, which would not permit him to express any personal doubts in front of students. Critical thinking in that context meant thinking critically about people outside the faith rather than about all subject matter.

FOR Related books on Atheism CLICK HERE

Reference

Russell, B. (1957). Why I am not a Christian and other essays on religion and related subjects. New York: Clarion.

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Meeting Jesus Again by Marcus Borg- A Book Review

Meeting Jesus Again     

for the First Time

 By

  Marcus J. Borg

 Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

 


Borg begins his re-introduction of Jesus by telling us he is writing from the perspective of two worlds—the world of a religious scholar and a Christian.

Chapter 1

Images of Jesus are important. As children, Christians learn about Jesus as divine savior and teacher, but there’s more. He then tells us of his spiritual struggle as a teenager.

In my early teens, I began to have doubts about the existence of God. It was an experience filled with anxiety, guilt, and fear. I still believed enough to be afraid of going to hell because of my doubts. I felt that they were wrong, and in my prayers I would ask for forgiveness. But I couldn’t stop doubting, and so my requests for forgiveness seemed to me not to be genuine. (p.32)

As many have before, Marcus prayed for help.

“Every night for several years, I prayed with considerable anguish, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” (p. 33)

Following years of study, Borg came to see differences in the gospel texts. The early gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) offer glimpses into the life of Jesus the person, but the Gospel of John presents the Christ of Faith. Borg sets up a division between two images of Jesus as pre-Easter and post-Easter. Borg closes with his new understanding of the Christian life as one of relationship with God rather than an emphasis on beliefs.

Chapter 2

In chapter 2, Borg introduces us to scholarly work on the pre-Easter Jesus. Scholars look at the various stories of Jesus’ life with a view to separating the sayings and works of Jesus from the views of the Christian community that developed following Jesus life on earth. Scholars also include information from the Gospel of Thomas. Like other writers (e.g., Spong), Borg reminds us that Jesus was Jewish. He sets aside some of the folklore to emphasize Jesus as a “spirit-person,” wisdom teacher, social prophet, and founder of Christianity as a movement of Jewish renewal.

Chapter 3

Two concepts are central to Jesus–his spirit and his compassion. Borg sees Jesus’ compassion as a key to understanding what it means to live a life centered on God. This compassionate view is not just about individuals but about community. Later, Borg contrasts Jesus' compassionate foundation of morality to a morality based on purity or holiness. Examples show how Jesus attacked the “purity system” of his day. This purity system was a political system that structured society into people, places, things, times, and groups that were either clean or unclean.

Chapter 4

Wisdom is about how to live life. In Borg’s view, Jesus is teaching a way of wisdom that is about a relationship with God and not about living well in our contemporary culture that emphasizes the “3 As” of achievement, affluence, and appearance.

Chapter 5

Borg continues the exploration of Jesus as the wisdom of God. He notes John’s metaphors of Jesus as the Word of God and the Son of God. In short, these are more images to consider when understanding the Jesus of faith.

Chapter 6

In this final chapter, Borg presents Jesus in the context of three “macro-stories” within the Bible as a whole. Two of these are from the Hebrew Bible—The Exodus and the Babylonian exile and return. The third is the Jewish way of worship involving the temple, priesthood, and sacrifice. Borg brings these stories together in themes of liberation and life as a journey of compassion as one lives in relationship with the Spirit of Jesus.

The Truth of Easter. Borg presents the importance of the Easter stories by looking at the metaphors of grace.

**********

 I recommend reading Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time to those who find the childhood stories about Jesus lacking in credibility and value for life. Too often we have seen “bumper sticker theology” and trite posts or uncontextualized bits of Scripture posted on personal social media pages and platforms. I am also aware of many friends who have walked away from Christianity because no one engaged their minds to see the powerful story of compassion and depth of spirituality present in the metaphors spoken by and about Jesus.

This is not a book for those who are happy with a fundamentalist view of Jesus and the Christian life. It is not a book that encourages seeking God for earthly or heavenly rewards. As with his other works, Borg takes the Bible seriously but not literally. Meeting Jesus Again offers a spiritual path to inner peace, rest for the soul, and compassion for others. At a deep level, Borg understands our psychological need for relationship and entices readers to find a spiritual relationship with God as revealed in the Jesus’ way.

Marcus Borg on Why Jesus Matters YouTube


Cite this book review

Sutton, G. W. (2020, September 1). Meeting Jesus again by Marcus Borg. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/09/meeting-jesus-again-by-borg.html

Book Reference

Borg, J.S. (1995) Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. New York: HarperOne.

Marcus J Borg Bio

Marcus J. Borg (1942-2015) was an American theologian from Fergus Falls, Minnesota whose research focused on the historical Jesus. He was educated at the University of Oxford, Concordia College, Union Theological Seminary, and Mansfield College. He was associated with the Anglican communion and was a professor at Oregon State University until his retirement in 2007.

Author Bio

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology whose research focused on various topics in the psychology of religion. He earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Missouri. See below to find books and other publications.


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My Books  AMAZON          and             GOOGLE STORE

 

FOLLOW   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

 

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Articles: Academia   Geoff W Sutton   ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 

 Related Posts

Reading the Bible Again (Borg, 2001)

Speaking Christian (Borg, 2014)

 Progressive Christianity - Book summaries and reviews

 

 

 

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Color of Compromise-Racism in Church


The Color of Compromise

The Truth about the
American Church’s
Complicity in Racism


Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton



“On July 4, 2016, as my social media feeds filled with images of American flags and friends’ backyard barbecues celebrating America’s independence, I took to Twitter and posted a picture [sic] seven African Americans picking cotton in a field with the following caption: “My family on July 4th 1776.” (From the forward by Lecrae, p. 9)

Few would disagree that American slavery was immoral. As I examine The Color of Compromise in July 2020, I am keenly aware that my lessons in American history were whitewashed. And worse, I was never exposed to the degree to which the American Christian church failed to address slavery and its legacy of racism.

Tisby tells the story of American anti-black racism in 11 chapters arranged in chronological order. However, The Color of Compromise is not just the story of racism; it is the story of what Christian leaders said and did that supported slavery and the post-slavery stereotypes, prejudices, and acts of discrimination that persist in overt and covert ways to this day. As Tisby says, racism is adaptive.

It is surely axiomatic by now that humans prefer to hang out with people like themselves. As an immigrant family, we interacted with other immigrant families as if we had a common bond. Strangely, I recently realized that a substantial proportion of the people in my book study group were born outside the US. We humans tend to like, help, and prefer those within our groups. But that natural tendency is far different from creating an economic system based on enslaving people with black skins. As Tisby writes in chapter 2, in the early years of colonial America “the colonists had not yet cemented skin color as an essential feature of life in their communities. Race was still being made (p. 26).”

In chapter 3, we are reminded that liberty was white and not black after British North Americans fought against their countrymen for liberty and justice for all. Africans fought on both sides but, as we know, the thirteen United States would not deal with the matter of slavery. By the time of the Civil War, Americans had built structures and economies based on slave labor for over 300 years1. Following the War for Independence, Christian revival meetings led by Methodists and Baptists won converts to these enthusiastic and less formal worship styles. Tisby adds the story of two famous slave-holding clergy to illustrate the support for slavery in the 1700s—George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards.

We learn more about the ugliness of chattel slavery in chapter 4. Thus, American slaves were not just men or women working to gain their freedom like servants could. Tisby quotes African American minister James W. C. Pennington:

“The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.” (p. 60)

The Civil War (chapter 5) not only spilled the nation’s blood, but it split the Methodists and Baptists too. In this context, we learn how the church found a biblical basis to defend slavery.

In chapter 6, Tisby traces the rise of white supremacy and the increasing oppression of black people through intimidation and restrictions on important dimensions of life like voting. As the new century dawned, so did the promise of Pentecostalism (chapter 7). Unfortunately, the Pentecostals became segregated like the rest of society. The two world wars do not get much time in Tisby’s story. I suggest they should as President Truman ended segregation in the military in 1948.

Unfortunately, the church did too little during the 1950s and 60s (chapter 8). This is the era of Emmett Till and Rosa Parks, the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that North Carolina moderate, Rev. Billy Graham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a temporary high-water mark.

In chapter 9, Tisby reminds us of the rise of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority. For those who are not old enough, or who forgot, Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion in some cases before the Row v. Wade decision on abortion. Southern Baptist leader, W. A. Criswell’s view was:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother . . . that it became an individual person.” He further explained, “It has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” (p. 181)

However, that view of abortion was about to change. Desegregation moved forward. Segregationist Bob Jones University (BJU) admitted black students, but mixed dating was prohibited. That race-based dating policy led to a loss of tax-exempt status in 1976. The Moral Majority rose to power on a platform of restoring Bible reading and Christian prayer to public schools and the wedge issue of abortion. The movement strengthened as Falwell and his organization blessed Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke at BJU in 1980 and soon thereafter, their tax-exempt status was restored. The marriage of evangelical Christianity to the Republican party and an antiabortion rallying cry remains strong.

Chapter 10 takes us through the end of the 1900s and into the 2000s. Promise Keepers promotes racial reconciliation and offers some hope. Some Christian churches begin to diversify and in fact want to learn how to improve diversity. But the religious-political rift is exposed as black people are killed (Trayvon Martin, 2012). “Black Lives Matter” becomes a rallying cry only to be slammed by Christians who recoil at organizational links to LGBTQ rights. Tisby explains there’s a difference between an organization and a movement, but I doubt this will undo the emotionally tagged mental connection between Black Lives Matter and traditional enemies of conservative Christian America. The chapter closes with a picture of a divided church and the 2016 presidential election. Tisby reports the statistics-- 84% of Blacks voted for Clinton and especially noteworthy, 94% of black women. In contrast, 81% of white evangelicals voted for the Republican ticket.

In chapter 11, Tisby evaluates American progress. Although the external "whites only" signs are down, Blacks and Whites are segregated in society, politics, and the church. He reminds us of differentials in unemployment and incarceration. On page 195, Tisby responds to questions of “What can I do?” We can increase our awareness through books and videos and connect with Blacks and other minorities. And we can use our other gifts or talents like writing and speaking to address issues of racial and social justice. There’s more here, which makes the chapter a useful guide to readers who have now developed their awareness of racism in US society.

Tisby concludes with a short essay on the importance of being strong and courageous.

**********
I recommend The Color of Compromise to all Americans and those who want to understand racism in America. 

The years of chattel slavery and the subsequent century of oppression are unique among the world’s wealthy modern nations. The legacy of slavery has resulted in decades of white control of the federal and many state governments, wealthy multinational companies, political parties, and large church bodies. Tisby’s book will further enlighten sensitive white Christians and has the potential to energize some to act according to their gifts and resources. I do not think The Color of Compromise will reach those who do not identify with the blatant racism of the past or who are focused on the fetus and concomitant perceptions that they are fighting a spiritual battle against socialists and Marxists intent on destroying Christian America. I hope I am wrong.

The Color of Compromise is a Book and a Video Series



Watch Jemar Tisby's Trailer on YouTube



Note
1. Although Tisby gives the short story of slavery, the first slaves entered Florida in 1539 where they built St Augustine, America’s oldest city.

Worth Quoting from Tisby

“The failure of many Christians in the South and across the nation to decisively oppose the racism in their families, communities, and even in their own churches provided fertile soil for the seeds of hatred to grow. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.”

“History demonstrates that racism never goes away; it just adapts.”

“Being complicit only requires a muted response in the face of injustice or uncritical support of the status quo.”

“there would be no black church without racism in the white church.”

“Another definition explains racism as prejudice plus power. It is not only personal bigotry toward someone of a different race that constitutes racism; rather, racism includes the imposition of bigoted ideas on groups of people.”

“Through the centuries, black people have become the most religious demographic in the United States. For instance, 83 percent of black people say they “believe in God with absolute certainty” compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of whites. Additionally, 75 percent of blacks say “religion is very important” to them compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 49 percent of whites.”

“History and Scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”

About the author
Jemar Tisby is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Color of Compromise, president and co-founder of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and co-host of the podcast, Pass The Mic. jemartisby.com

About the reviewer
Geoffrey W. Sutton is an author and research psychologist with over 100 publications. His website is www.suttong.com 

Cite this review (APA)

Sutton, G. W. (2020, July 3). The color of compromise: Racism in church. SuttonReviews. https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/07/the-color-of-compromise.html


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