Judgment Day? Dear God, please start at the White House

For being “retired”, life sure is keeping me busy, too busy to find much time to blog. The thing about being retired is that you can do anything you want. For me this means doing more of the stuff I love, which is teaching and consulting, both of which provide some income too. Blogging doesn’t bring in any money so it tends to sit on the back burner some weeks. For the last two weeks or so I’ve had little downtime.

I’ve not been at a loss for topics though, which is why I’ve decided to skip for now my monthly Craigslist casual encounters post (sorry, fans!). Mostly I’ve been thinking about evil and by extension evil people. There are so many sterling examples of late, particularly the people in the White House. My brother-in-law, one of the few right-wingers in my life, posted a picture of Trump and a bunch of his execs in the White House praying, or pretending to pray. His remark was something like: “Something you never saw in the last administration, ha ha! Isn’t it good to have real Christians in the White House?”

Trump and staff hypocritically "praying"
Trump and staff hypocritically “praying”

Yeah, right. I’m careful not to leave snarky comments with Rick, my brother in law. I have to live with him and he’s a good husband to my sister too. We can easily push each other’s buttons but choose not too and arguably I’m more publicly expressive of my opinions than he is of his.

Yet the photo really irked me. First of all, I sincerely doubt Trump has uttered a sincere prayer in his life, unless it was to plead to God to bring him more money. Second, for all of Obama’s haphazard churchgoing, Obama is something of a regular churchgoer compared to Trump. As best I can tell the only time Trump goes to church is to attend weddings, funerals and more recently political events. At a prayer breakfast in February he used the religious occasion to pray for poor ratings for The Apprentice, now that Arnold Schwarzenegger in playing the boss.

As for the rest of these White House “Christians”, Jesus would not recognize any of them as his followers. I won’t expound here about hypocritical Christians in general because I’ve done so many time, including this post. I … just … don’t … get … it. I don’t get how these “Christians” can believe they are Christian. I don’t believe Trump thinks he’s a Christian and I doubt he spends a millisecond thinking about God or concerning himself with the poor, except to pick their pockets.

The whole lot of these White House stoolies are running as fast as they can away from The Lord, by doing their damnedest to make the rich richer and the poor poorer (not to mention kill the planet) while trying desperately to humiliate the poor in the process. Include in this bunch my brother in law Rick, a faithful Catholic in the sense that he goes to Mass weekly, tithes his share but otherwise lives values wholly inconsistent with Christianity. Ironically, some of the most Christian people I know are atheists. In the unlikely event of the Rapture, I totally expect most of today’s “Christians” will be dumbstruck when their atheist neighbors ascend into heaven while the pit of hell opens up for them. It’s like Matthew 19:21 is excised from their Bibles, you know: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’”

Speaking of brothers in law, I have another one, well, not quite a brother in law, but the husband of a niece. We recently got into something of a civilized rant on Facebook. My niece was wondering if there were any really great men in the world. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. I said: drive a couple of hundred miles south to Plains, Georgia some Sunday and watch the 39th president, James Earl Carter, teach Sunday school. Or watch him, age 90-something, nailing boards into walls at one of the many Habitat for Humanity houses he and his organization help construct. Jimmy Carter gives me hope that there really are some true Christians in the world. After all, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Carter Center has overseen more than a hundred elections, spreading democracy across the world.

But none of that mattered to my niece’s husband John. He has spent too much time watching Fox News. And somewhere in there he heard that Carter sent money to commies, Manuel Noriega of Nicaragua in this case, although we’re talking about the late 1970s. What a horrible man! Granted that history was not kind to his short presidency, but he did get a Nobel Prize from it and took unpopular but correct actions, such as agreeing to turn the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. We kept the discourse pretty civil, largely due to his wife Sandy who was probably sending him IMs saying she wanted to stay on my good side. Alas, neither John nor brother in law Rick have anything good to say about Jimmy Carter, the most prominent example of a true Christian I can think of in today’s world. Jimmy Carter is by no means a saint, but he is a saintly man. He is holy in my mind, one of a handful of holy men in this world for who this honor should be obvious.

But not to John, not to Rick, and probably not to any of them people in the photo, except possibly the minister leading these hypocrites in prayer. Doubtless immediately after the photo op, the base applauded their “true Christians” while the subjects went back to deconstructing the administrative state, the professed aim of Trump’s senior adviser Steve Bannon which hopefully will include a new world war too.

I wish I could be a Christian just long enough to believe in Hell. With a few exceptions, I’m having a hard time thinking of a group of people more deserving to spend eternity there than the hypocrites in the photo. Fortunately, Jesus loves even dregs of humanity like them, even though their sacred mission seems to be to facilitate Satan by making more Americans poor, sick, hungry, anxious and scared.

Well, I’m not a Christian. Although I don’t believe in hell, here’s a toast wishing them a speedy entrance to it anyhow. The whole bunch of you in that photo can go to hell.

Instead of ideal, try real

We humans are imperfect creatures. We all know this and can list our imperfections by simply examining our own mistakes and foibles. If we were perfect, we’d be God. It seems that many of us want to emulate God’s perfection. Maybe we spend a lot of our time in prayer, reading holy books and doing good works, seeking to be more like God.

With the exception of a handful of human beings like Jesus Christ, whose devotees believe was God in human form, none of us have achieved perfection. There are lots of reasons for this. First, we are born imperfect so it would be totally amazing if somehow through circumstance we never did anything imperfect in our lives, particularly when we are children and simply don’t know better. Second, what is perfect anyhow? Does this mean never missing an opportunity to help a little old lady cross the street? Or is doing it fifty percent of the time acceptable to emulate perfection? Perversely, perfection seems to be a lot like pornography: we can’t define it but somehow we think we know it when we see it. In reality, we tend to pick up from our elders and peers the criteria by which we measure perfection.

It strikes me though that if you are going to ceaselessly strive for perfection, you are doomed to fail. You are suffering the fate of Sisyphus, who as you may recall was doomed to push the same boulder up the mountain, always to have it fall back down the mountain due to the steepness of the mountain and his human limitations. So striving to be perfect seems ultimately pointless because there is no way that you will achieve it. Moreover it’s impossible to measure. Are you ten percent perfect? Fifty percent? Maybe you find out with death if Saint Peter let you through the heavenly gate.

To be truly perfect, in some ways you must cease to be human. A truly perfect person would never feel lust, and certainly not act on it. Maybe it was possible to feel it when they were imperfect, but when they have evolved sufficiently somehow they never will again. Instead, you become serene, eternally smiling, a lot like the Dalai Lama. (I must be imperfect, because I think orange robes look, well, pretty hideous on just about anyone.) Even the Buddhists are having a hard time with the brotherly love thing, showing their imperfections and humanity. Witness news reports out of Burma. Buddhists, feeling encroached on by Muslims, have been rioting, killing and maiming Muslims. Buddha would certainly not approve and would doubtless be aghast. Buddhists though are human and are just as capable of foibles and hypocrisy as the rest of us. As I have noted many times, the vast majority of Christians in American simply are not.

In fact, to be a hypocrite is to be human. The root of hypocrisy is the contrast between your behavior as it actually is and the behavior you profess to emulate. You cannot possibly be a hypocrite if you reject the meme that you must be perfectly consistent in all aspects of your life. The best way not to be a hypocrite is simply to stop proclaiming that you have some superhuman ability to live up to your ideals. Admittedly, this can be hard.

Take infidelity, as an example. It’s an easy example because all but a handful of people into open marriages set the bar too high. Most of us go into marriage publicly promising to our spouse, not to mention to everyone at the wedding, that we will foreswear all others but our spouse for the rest of our lives. No sex from someone else ever, unless of course you divorce, or your spouse dies. You take this vow even if your spouse decides to stop having sex with you. Your only honorable option is to first get a divorce and while separated not even date anyone else. That’s right, you are forbidden from creating profile on match.com until the divorce decree is final, and even though you are busting your nuts to get laid and feel as emotionally empty as a homeless man who spent the last decade inhabiting the underside of an overpass. To address the whole honor and consistency thing, you can’t take any steps to address your misery. You are required to be more miserable.

How long the misery lasts depends on how long your state makes you wait for a divorce. At least in Nevada they got it right: make it easy to get married, and easy to get divorced. This way you can move on. So a hint to those looking to get married: use the left part of your brain and get married at a wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. That’s because the odds are that about even that you will get divorced, so why make yourself needlessly miserable in the future? So many of us though adopt the hypocritical approach. This means infidelity, either sexual or emotional but perhaps both. We choose it because it turns out we are human beings. We choose it because we realize, in retrospect, that despite the considered thought we (hopefully) gave to the whole fidelity thing before getting married, we find in actuality that we can’t handle it. Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Anyone can file for divorce. Most infidelity is probably a result of the societal pressure to appear to be faithful no matter what. As I document in my monthly reviews of the Craigslist Casual Encounters section, there is an overwhelming amount of hypocrisy in this one area alone.

I pick infidelity as a prominent example of foolishly chasing at best improbable ideals, but of course there are so many more. My former stepfather was a secret boozer, something I was not aware of until my mother in law passed away. No wonder he was so often slipping off to the garage for a smoke, and a likely a swig from his hooch. In retrospect, I would have preferred to see him drinking regularly in his recliner. Even the most passionate vegan is likely to work in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich once in a while. Pick the “vice”: smoking, booze, drugs, sex; we’re all likely to have at least one of these, at least occasionally, and we are doomed to succumb to some of them from time to time. If we didn’t have vices, we wouldn’t be human.

So why not then just accept our flawed nature and stop pretending that we among all the other imperfect humans out there will be a perfect creature? For if we do so we actually gain a virtue: the virtue of honesty. If you think about it, being real instead of ideal is akin to being a revolutionary. It may explain why so many of us are attracted to “bad” people and why, perhaps, we avidly read any story about a Kardashian sister. It may also explain why we are drawn like moths to a flame to any story in which hypocrisy is exposed. It makes us feel good to know there are others just like us that simply cannot live up to their professed ideals. No wonder that so many women want to date bad boys. Bad boys may be flawed, but at least they are real. Similarly perhaps that’s why many men are attracted to loose women. We can’t admit it to ourselves, but perhaps secretly we are sick of the Stepford wives around us. All that poise and makeup and hoity behavior strikes us, and usually is, hypocritical and dishonest. A loose woman may be dealing with major issues, but perhaps they give themselves the permission to enjoy sex the same way many of us indulge at our local Old Country Buffet.

How would your life be different if you gave yourself permission to be yourself? My suspicion is most of us would be a lot happier. One thing is for sure: we could no longer be accused of being a hypocrite. Moreover, all the energy that we invest in striving for perfection could be used in other ways, perhaps to just enjoy the life we got, which is already full of hassles and heartaches.

Having produced what I hope is an eloquent essay, let me keep myself out of hypocrisy. Some part of me would like to be real instead of ideal, but it’s too engrained in me. For many aspects of my life, I will always strive for the ideal, even if I know it is impossible. Call it a Catholic upbringing or whatever, but it’s not something I can wholly stop. I do hope though that as I age and my attractiveness level recedes, I will hear nature’s call (which many seniors do) to stop living a good part of my life this way, and simply be my authentic self. Maybe I will be seen as a bit cranky, maybe I’ll come across as a bit inconsistent, but at least I will be real. And that sounds so much more comfortable.

Consider the price you are paying for trying to model ideal behavior. Consider being real instead of surreal. Maybe if you succeed you can channel your inner Dr. Martin Luther King: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.”

Decking the secular halls

So an atheist, a Buddhist, a Unitarian Universalist (me), his un-churched sister, her sarcastic college age son and the cynical brother who says he only worships Baal get together for dinner. The occasion: Christmas, of course.

That’s right, our Christmas tree is festooned with lights and bulbs. An angel adorns its top proclaiming the good news of Jesus’s birth. Our halls (such as they are) are decked out. There are cookie tins stuffed with ginger snaps and butter cookies.  Charlotte Church’s coloratura voice is coming out of speakers singing, of course, Christmas carols. Our porch and garage door are lined with blue lights that I put up weeks ago to celebrate the Christmas season. We have all the signs of Christmas except for the Christ part. We’re having ourselves a fully secular Christmas.

If you had to pick a Christian among us, I would come the closest. The roots of Unitarian Universalism are in Christianity. There are in fact many practicing Christian UUs, although I can’t find them in my “church” which seems to be at least half atheists. Still, UUs generally admire Jesus, such as he is imperfectly revealed to us in the gospels. I don’t think he was divine, as is true of most of us UUs. Also I don’t put much faith in prayer or miracles, but I do think Jesus probably existed and obviously inspired enough people so that his ideas carried forward after his death in a viral manner. There is no historical record of his existence outside of the Gospels, but that’s good enough for me; it passes my Occam’s Razor test.

Of course there is no evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th anyhow, but it is convenient to the winter solstice, which was likely why it is celebrated on this date. There used to be a lot of heathens around and if you are going to convert them you have to work with their natural worship dates.  So most likely we are celebrating the birth of a man who might well be fictional, that most rational people cannot consider divine, whose birthday we don’t know and whose legend is known only because oral tradition was eventually written down and then rewritten, often with errors and omissions, over the centuries. Along the way we picked up saints, including a Greek bishop called St. Nicholas, and morphed this single aesthete into an obese citizen of the North Pole who dwelled in his own small kingdom full of elves and flying reindeer, and that fly despite the absence of wings. St. Nick magically supplies toys just one night a year to all the good Christian children in the world and keeps up an impressive schedule making appearances at local shopping malls. As adults we of course laugh at this childish nonsense, even while seventy three percent of us Americans also profess to believe that Jesus was born to a virgin.

Myth has morphed into rarely challenged creed. A compelling new book suggests Judaism was simply made up by a bunch of elders in an attempt to unite the Judeans and the Galileans so they could fight common encroachers. If correct there was likely no Abraham, no Moses, no enslavement of the Jews in Egypt (for which there is no independent record), no burning bush, and no forty years of wandering in the desert of the Sinai which, lacking an oasis, would probably kill a large group of Jews dead within a few weeks anyhow.

And yet still we celebrate Christmas, and this includes the hopelessly secular among us like most of my family who, sadly, were raised as devout Catholics. My adult daughter, a professed atheist and now back in her bedroom after graduation, is fully into the Christmas season. She was pushing us early to put up Christmas lights and the Christmas tree. She was ready to deck our halls and could be heard singing Christmas carols in her bedroom. She was aghast that I forgot to buy some kielbasa for Christmas breakfast, a tradition that dates back to my deceased mother and which we carry on, if I don’t forget about it, on Christmas mornings. So it was off to the Food Lion before they closed Christmas Eve for some of the sacred sausage, served with scrambled eggs somewhat hurriedly before unwrapping presents under our Christmas tree.

No White Christmas this year, which is actually par for the course here in Northern Virginia. You can expect one every fifteen years or so. However, it was cold enough to qualify for Christmas, with temperatures that never made it officially above freezing despite clear skies. Walking this afternoon for exercise and bundled in my warmest parka, I felt gratitude, not just for Jesus but also for warm houses. Living outside in this weather like our distant ancestors did must have sucked. The only people these days who have an inkling of what it is like are our homeless, the exact sort of people Jesus would have cared the most about. As we raise our eggnog and sing our carols, we try not to think about them. Let them sleep in the woods in a tent and get dinner out of a dumpster. Sadly, some of our leaders clearly want to increase their ranks, and in the recently passed budget agreement succeeded by reducing food stamp allowances and heating assistance and ending long-term unemployment benefits. This is based on the curious and erroneous belief that this will make them get off their duffs and earn a living, but really was done because they are sadists absent compassion for anyone not like them. For many of these poor, 2014 will be bleaker than 2013.

For those of us lucky enough to have some wealth and privilege, we can wrap ourselves up inside our houses, sing carols in front of a hearth (probably with a gas log), tell and retell dated family stories, eat too much food and mostly forget about Jesus. If he were alive he’d probably be suggesting that we bring some food and eggnog outside to our neighbors in the woods, or maybe invite them inside our house for some home cooking, a shower, use of our washing machines and a night in a clean bed. Most of us are not that brave, convinced that the homeless are mentally ill, thus likely to strangle us in our sleep. We like the idea of being kind to those less fortunate to us more than the soiling our hands through the actual doing of deeds. Some of us will work in a soup kitchen for a day or two. Some may even give out blankets to prevent hypothermia for the homeless. To the extent that I put my values into action this year, it was to talk for five minutes with the guy from Goodwill who empties my trash in the office on Christmas Eve, learn about his son and daughter and wish him a happy holiday. I also bought $75 in gift cards for a local 16-year-old teenage girl through the Secret Santa program at our church. I also give money to charities, but this is an implicit admission that I want others to do the work that I can’t seem to do personally. I too am hypocritical, although perhaps less than most.

Yet still we huddle around our tree on Christmas Eve, unwrap our presents on Christmas Day and listen to holiday tunes on the player, many of which proclaim a savior was born today. Looking at our actions toward each other, there’s not much evidence that Jesus succeeded. And while none of us believe in Jesus’s divinity, we do sort of wish, like Santa Claus, that he actually did all those wonderful things. We just haven’t drunk enough spiked eggnog to short-circuit the logical parts of our brains.

If we could actually minister like Jesus, well then perhaps Christmas would be worthy of our celebration.

Have yourself a Bob Rivers Christmas

Let’s face it. For most of us, Christ was taken out of Christmas a long time ago. This includes even many devoted Christians. It is only when watching A Charlie Brown Christmas that most of us give any thought at all to the true meaning of Christmas. Across the globe the Christmas contagion is spreading. This includes many non-Christian countries where Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. Instead, Christmas is personified by the harmless and benevolent presence of Santa Claus, in all his myriad cultural manifestations. In Tokyo or Beijing, you would have to look hard for a Christian church but Santas, Christmas trees and rampant holiday shopping abounds. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ birth, today Christmas is tangentially about a generic feeling of spreading good cheer. Mostly it is about buying and getting stuff. The world would sink into a depression were there were no Christmas economy.

Like most of you, I saw unwelcome signs of Christmas way back in September, when an aisle stocked with popular Christmas toys and artificial Christmas trees first appeared in our local BJs. Most retailers will refrain from playing Christmas music until Black Friday, but many are sneaking in Christmas songs starting in early November. It is obvious to me that capitalism is our state religion and mammon is our state god. The devout among us may hustle to church once a week or more, but given our super-sized houses and the SUVs lined up in our driveways, is there really any doubt about where are real values lie? Give all your possession to the poor and follow Jesus? That stuff is so dated. Today it is laughable and suitable only for Salvation Army volunteers and cloistered monks and nuns.

Given the hollowness that seems to be at the root of our modern Christmas, it is no wonder so many people like my wife would be happy to skip Christmas altogether. Yet like all of us, each year she is caught in its vortex. Denial does not work for long and only adds to the pain. This year she also threw a vertebra. She is still popping the pain pills and running to chiropractors. This meant that I have carried an extra amount of the Christmas madness this year. Increasingly I, like her, ask myself why I am doing this.

I am doing it in part because we always do it, and my neighbors do it, everyone except the Jews and the Muslims seem to do it (and many of the Jews do it just for the fun or to blend in) and because it is expected. In addition, there is this tradition in our house called The Christmas Dinner. My relatives from the immediate area descend on our house. There they revel in our Christmas tree, eat our highly caloric and fattening food and after a few hours shuffle back to their houses and their clean kitchens. Meanwhile, my feeling of good cheer is manifest in my dishpan hands.

Aside from writing checks to charities, which I do routinely near the end of the year, I did accomplish one small little act in spirit of a Dickensian Christmas. A couple weeks back I read how neighborhood food banks were running dry. People were going hungry at a time when food banks are normally overrun with food. The likely culprit is the higher cost of food, fed by our ravenous desire for energy. Instead of filling USDA warehouses, much of our grain crop is instead going into producing ethanol and bio-diesel fuels. I took the news article as my belated personal call to action. I went to the BJs and loaded the back of my car with nearly $200 in food. Only, I could find no place to readily donate the food. I did not particularly want to drive into Washington DC to donate it. I ended up waiting a few days and donating it to Reston Interfaith. The news reports were sadly accurate. I was hoping that more like me would feel called to buy food for the poor. Yet I arrived to find that their pantry nearly bare. My donations went right into food baskets for the hungry.

So what is Christmas really about these days? We need to face the truth. Christmas has become a reason to buy stuff for people we know, much of which they neither particularly need nor want. This giving is often done at the expense of the poor who need things like food to avoid hunger or money to live in some place bigger than a cardboard box. Perhaps due to this incongruity, as my daughter and I assembled our Christmas tree this year, instead of putting Bing Crosby on the stereo system, we put on Bob Rivers‘ CD of Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire instead.

Bob Rivers is a radio personality on KZOK in Seattle, Washington. This present, thoughtfully given to us some years back by my irreverent and atheist brother Tom, is the perfect rejoinder to our overly commercialized Christmas season. It is actually one of a number of Bob Rivers’ irreverent Christmas CDs. You can order these CDs from his web site. Finally, you can laugh along to new lyrics to those Christmas carols so burned into your brain you wish you could purge them but cannot.

Given the recently released Chipmunks movie, Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is especially relevant this year. I do not know about you, but I hate those damned animated chipmunks. I hated them even when I was a small child. They were even more annoying than that prancing and singing purple dinosaur I had to endure when my daughter was growing up and whose name I loathe to repeat. Few images conjure up more delight in me than having those three chipmunks dripping in barbeque sauce over a hot hibachi. Yet, as delightful as this song is, the most apropos for the season was actually Christmas Money (sung to the tune of Money, That’s What I Want), which hilariously summarizes the mindless greed of the holidays. On the Bob Rivers’ web site, you can listen to samples from this CD.

Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is bawdy, hilarious, irreverent and helps put our whole strange modern manifestation of Christmas season into its proper place. Bob Rivers must have good connections in the Seattle area because he gets some amazing imitators for famous singers. For example, he highlights a singer who imitates Karen Carpenter so well that it is as if she is still alive. Other songs ring surprisingly true. Homeless for the Holidays, for example, captures quite well the true feelings many of us have toward the homeless, given how we tend to ignore them except for during the holiday season. Decorations, sung to a Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations song, parodies our excessiveness with Christmas lights. Pokemon (sung to the tune of Tidings of Comfort and Joy) hilariously makes fun at the craziness of getting your kid that impossible to find toy for Christmas.

Every song is hilarious. Of course, you cannot get these songs for free, at least not legally. However, if you shell out $13.98 on Bob River’s web site you can get it as well as purchase many of his other likely hilarious musical parodies.

It is wrong to be evil during the Christmas season, but in my mind, it is okay to be a bit naughty. Next year, let loose the phoniness and sanctimoniousness of the season. Fill yourself with irreverent holiday mirth instead by listening to Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.

The End of the Angry God

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“, 1741

Homosexuality is Satan’s diabolical attack upon the family that will not only have a corrupting influence upon our next generation, but it will also bring down the wrath of God upon America.

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)

On Monday, the Reverend Jerry Falwell passed away and entered the great hereafter or nothingness, depending on your beliefs. It appears that he died at age 73 of congestive heart failure. What I really suspect he died of (based on recent pictures) was obesity. Presumably, he did not view gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins. However, it might have had the effect of helping him commune with his Lord a bit earlier than he expected.

Falwell, of course was the famous televangelist and creator of the so-called Moral Majority. He went on to help found the Christian Coalition, which yielded surprising political clout over the last quarter century. The Christian Coalition was instrumental in turning the GOP from the Goldwater Republican set into the God-fearing all pomposity all the time set. Perhaps the last great triumph of this group was the election of George W. Bush in 2000. Arguably, Bush would not have won Ohio (and the election) without their help.

As a progressive, I find that it is hard for me to shed tears over Falwell’s passing. When I envision the words sanctimonious and chutzpah, Falwell’s image will indelibly come to mind. Falwell was the epitome of both: utterly certain about everything, and not afraid to use his mighty pulpit and TV ministry to tell us about it. He wielded disproportionate influence from Liberty University (which he founded) there among the rolling hills of Lynchburg, Virginia. His choice of residency is perhaps a bit ironic given that in one of his more flamboyant quotes he actually said:

I had a student ask me, “Could the savior you believe in save Osama bin Laden?” Of course, we know the blood of Jesus Christ can save him, and then he must be executed.

I have little doubt that given the opportunity Falwell would have been glad to lead the lynching of Osama bin Laden. I am sure he would have a Bible in one hand as he kicked the chair out from under him.

Falwell’s God is choosy and apparently has an inner circle, of which he confidently claimed membership. He told us that God must love homosexuals in spite of their perversions, but apparently, not very much, because they ignored 3000-year-old advice in the Book of Leviticus that Jesus repudiated. So in the unlikely event we feminists, secular humanists and homosexuals do make it into heaven, we will be firmly escorted to the cheap seats way in the back. This is just as well because even in heaven, they have their standards. Any flagrant sinners who through God’s grace somehow manage to escape Hell do not get to mingle with the premier elect, you know, people like Jerry.

In general, Falwell had nothing but thinly disguised contempt for gays, feminists, secular humanists and pretty much anyone who did not think exactly like him. That was because his God was actually a jealous and angry God. Hey, it takes a mean God wielding a big stick to get us sinners into line. Nonetheless, you would think that after repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth with his outrageous comments that he might have modified his behavior. But no, not his type, not when you are consumed by righteousness. He went through life with religious blinders on. His path to God was straight and he walked it with complete ease and confidence. All we had to do to get there too was to act just like him: a weird, loud but generally kindhearted and sanctimonious bigot. God and the Bible gave him certainty that eluded the rest of us fallible mortals.

Now Jerry is gone. I would like to think that maybe no one will rush to fill his shoes, but as we all know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Ted Haggard of course got his comeuppance last year, so he is not available to until he is sufficiently forgiven by his fellow elect. In time, doubtless sooner rather than later someone will take that first audacious step forward. However, it is unlikely he or she will be able to command as much attention from the media. Falwell innately understood that evangelists who do not want to be footnoted by history must put on a wild show, and he rarely failed to deliver. Most of us are more circumspect.

In the 21st century, Falwell’s oratory, for all its pomposity, huffiness and vitriol, now looks both pathetic and comic. Those damned secular humanist forces, which I guess includes me, seem to have gained the upper hand. Apparently, I am a servant of Satan or something. Damned people like Jon Stewart can now dismiss people like him with a single smirk. Yet in fact, Falwell was just the latest and most prominent pompous leader whose time has passed.

There will doubtless again come a time when we will be vulnerable to those who propose simple solutions to complex problems. For now, the public is still reeling from the effects of having its hand pressed on the hot stove by people like Falwell. In truth, modern demons like Osama bin Laden are manifestations of the sanctimonious black and white thinkers like Jerry Falwell, rather than the result of societal debauchery, homosexuality and rampant secular humanism. In fact, many of those “sins” are the wreckage from people like Falwell trying to make us square peg Americans fit into the round holes of their conformity.

Now we know that if we are to slay these demons of stupidity (as Dogbert would put it), we need to use more intelligent tactics. The straightforward path apparently goes right into a brick wall. A more circuitous but rational path seems to be in order. That means application of reason, science and rational tolerance, you know Jerry, that secular humanist forebrain stuff instead of that primordial limbic brain stuff. Rational leadership eschews launching impossible crusades and worrying later about whether it was a good thing to do. The Crusades, by the way, never succeeded in removing the alleged apostasy of Islam or in permanently liberating the Holy Land. As a tactic, crusades suck.

So perhaps Falwell has left something of a positive legacy after all. By being such a pompous and egregious example of what not to do and by exercising such disproportionate political influence he may have moved America more quickly toward its progressive, more tolerant, more diverse and secular humanist future. I will note that since Western Europe has gone secular, it has not experienced a single war. Maybe some of that secular stuff will rub off on us when we come back bloody and defeated from our latest crusade in Iraq.

If that turns out to be the case, then thanks Jerry.

Hypocrisy is, after all, only human

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

That is what the Rev. Ted Haggard would be saying in confession today, were he were a Catholic. Alas, he is not a Catholic, just a prominent evangelical minister. You might say that until yesterday he was the nation’s No. 3 evangelical preacher, right after Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Before yesterday, Haggard held the lofty title of the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now, as you have likely read, Haggard appears to be the latest casualty among prominent Christian hypocrites. Specifically he is accused of buying methamphetamine and paying for sex once a month over a three years period with a gay Denver masseur. Both are vices far removed from those he has consistently preached.

It should be time for a full confession from Rev. Haggard. What we got today was a qualified confession: while sorely tempted, he never really succumbed. So what he did was okay, sort of, except for the hypocrisy thing and the small fact that buying methamphetamine, even if you never use it, is a serious crime. He is like Bill Clinton claiming that he never had sex with Monica Lewinski because intercourse never occurred.

Needless to say, I do not believe that Haggard passed on either the meth or the gay sex. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. He too was tormented by the Devil. Reputedly, he succeeded in keeping Lucifer at arm’s length. Haggard may want to emulate his Lord but Jesus did have the tiny advantage of being God. Haggard, however, is not God. He is a human being like the rest of us. Therefore, his assertions are not plausible. They fail the Occam’s Razor test, to say the least.

I am sure the 14,000 members of his New Life Church are very loving and forgiving people. Yet somehow, I doubt many will accept his explanation. Evangelicals may be passionate in their faith, but they still inhabit the real world. Likely, many of them are struggling with their demons too. Their demons may not be gay sex nor getting high. Yet it is clear that they do not go to church because they are saints. They may want to become saints, but, like their minister, they remain fallible human beings. They are searching for a permanent way to act contrary to their innate and fallible humanity. Like their minister, they are likely searching for Godot.

Likely, the full scandalous details of his relationship and drug use will soon come out. Perhaps he can join former Florida congressional representative Mark Foley in rehab. The parishioners of the New Life Church will be left scratching their heads wondering why they had such faith in this charlatan. Maybe the devil led them astray.

Haggard preached against homosexuality, although curiously not as forcefully as other prominent evangelical ministers. It is unlikely he found the masseur Mike Jones by thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Moreover, I doubt he was complaining to his wife about lower back pains before making those many trips to Denver for “massages”. Finding vice is now very convenient. My bet is that he simply used his local web browser and searched through the Denver Craigslist erotic services for men looking for men. To find the meth, perhaps he browsed the Craiglist casual encounters page and looked for homosexual men who wanted to go “skiing”.

There is no question that I do not like hypocrisy. I have railed against it with politicians, and it would be inconsistent of me not to decry preachers who are also charlatans. While we should be used to it by now, we should not be surprised when it happens. For none of us are perfect: we are all human beings.

Yes, we are all sinners, and that includes prominent evangelicals. We are all driven by itches that we need to scratch, but we know we should not. Therefore, while I castigate Haggard for his predictable hypocrisy, I also feel a small sliver of compassion for the man. For I know, like everyone on this planet, I have a few demonic itches lurking inside of me too. While a prominent part of me does not like having these itches, in one sense they give me comfort. They tell me that, thank goodness, I am no saint. I am a human being. Moreover, as a human being, I have free will. I can choose to “sin” if I want to. Having these itches means that I am free. It tells me that I am alive. It tells me that at least someone else cannot control some part of me. Perhaps these sins are tickets to our own personal destruction. Nevertheless, these sins might also be something else: messages asserting that there is an authentic human being inside of us. It is not necessarily God-like, but it is genuine 100% authentic fallible humanity.

Since we are human beings, sinning is in our nature. We can no more purge sin from our lives as we can change our eye color. However, sinning is not the only thing in which we can excel. We can also excel in loving. And in taking pleasure in food. And in drink. And in enjoying a good joke. And in swearing. And in having good, dirty sex. And in the pleasure of hearing an opera. And in feeling some vicarious satisfaction when a hypocrite like Haggard gets his just deserts. By accepting my humanity, I even have the freedom to feel defiled and loathsome about myself if I want to. All this freedom may not bring me happiness, which by its nature is elusive, but it at least it demonstrates that I have free will, and that I am someone entirely unique. I am not just alive, it means I feel alive.

So welcome to the human gene pool, Reverend Haggard. I am sure you genetically were programmed to excel in informing the rest of us on how we are sinners and how we can move from sin toward holiness. Still, you remain a sinner just like me. I take both pleasure and comfort in this fact. I do not want you to be the upright and moral man that, until a few days ago, you appeared to be to your congregation. I want you to be a human being with failings just like me.

I am a human. You are a human. We are sinners. We are brothers too. Perhaps instead of drowning yourself in a predictable orgy of repentance and confession by parroting someone else’s words and ideals, you should say some things that perhaps are authentically you instead. My guess is they would go something like this:

“I am a human being. Like the rest of you, I make mistakes. While I try to learn from my mistakes and become a better person, some part of me will always be a sinner. I accept that this is part of the human experience. It is part of who I am and always will be. I will do my best to live my life by being faithful to the person I really am, rather than the one I want you to perceive. While I have hurt many people, including my family, and myself I have also learned some important things about myself. I have learned what it means to be a human being. In some mysterious way, perhaps God wants me to embrace both my good and my bad sides, and be humbled by the complex, fallible, mysterious but embracing mystery that makes me a human being.”

I wish he would say this. I would chime in “Amen, brother!” That is what I would like him to say. Somehow, I doubt this will be forthcoming.