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The Idolatry of Americans

I confess that I have ceased to be surprised by the capacity of Americans to manufacture idols for themselves. In the interests of full disclosure, and as a member of this society, I acknowledge that I too am guilty of making idols for myself, or joining in the adoration of idols fabricated by others. I can be just as pragmatic as the next person when it comes to searching for, finding, and in the absence of finding, manufacturing an idol to my liking, one that serves my utilitarian purposes, buttresses my ideology, and renders concrete the object of my affection and need for ultimacy.
Having fully disclosed, I remain quite unsurprised at our ability and need to make idols for ourselves. We will attribute great importance to something or someone whose fundamental worth is paltry in comparison to the need out of which the attribution grows. We will invest an infinite significance in things and mortals that are finite and passing at best, wholly unable to bear interminably the weight o…

A Partisan Jesus

Why do you suppose that such different historic leaders as the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) and Mahatma Gandhi found something compelling in the figure of Jesus? What do you suppose would move someone like the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh or the East Indian spiritualist Eknath Easwaran to draw on Jesus as a presumptive model and authority for their meditation practice? For that matter, why would such disparate personages as Albert Einstein and Mikhail Gorbachev find themselves enthralled by the figure of Jesus as a moral guide?
The quick answer is that each, in their own way, found a Jesus tradition that was relevant to them and served to enlarge their own consciousness of their world; something about this historical figure shaped the way they perceived their context and offered an insight into how they might make it better.
Now suppose we were to do the same. Suppose we were to attempt to find a useable Jesus, a Jesus rooted in the biblical tradition but situated within our…

Thoughts on Religious Liberty, In-Waiting

Much has been made in the media about the memorandum on religious liberty protections issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week. That document is the result of a presidential executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” issued on May 4 of this year, in which the president directed that the attorney general “shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.” That guidance, in the form of the attorney general’s memorandum, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” is now creating something of a kerfuffle among both politicians, civil rights advocates, and religionists.
It seems to me that anyone with even an ounce of understanding of “religious liberty” ought to be very concerned about these documents and their effect on the exercise of religious freedom as well as the protection of civil rights. In the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2013), the court reaffirmed the applicability of lega…

What Jesus and Donald Trump Have in Common

Apart from the fact that they share a common humanity, Jesus and Trump are—for most people anyway—incomparable on every measure. Nonetheless, it is neither a religious sacrilege nor a political mockery to ponder the degrees to which they share some notable characteristics that reflect both their circumstances and the contexts in which they emerge as players in the public arena.
Let it be noted right up front that, though both have upset the apple cart, they have done so in inordinately different ways and for incredibly divergent reasons. This is not to suggest that merely upsetting the status quo, albeit in different historic periods, puts these two figures on the same plane. Neither does it suggest for a millisecond that Trump can or should be viewed as a sort of Jesus-figure or analogue to the man from Nazareth. Quite the contrary, by any criterion these two figures are to each other as unequal and unmatched as is socioculturally and religiously possible—except for their common human…

Faith and Public Life, Revisited

It has been three years since I last posted to this site. Much has happened since August of 2014, but I continue to reflect on my continually-evolving theological convictions and the ways in which they effect my views on public policy. I now resume regular postings to this blog, so I want to take a moment to think through again this matter of faith and public life. Bear with me…
From the beginning, this blog site has been about faith and public life. The fundamental contention that has informed the reflections posted here has to do with the intersection between faith as a mode of human existence in relation to a religious tradition on the one hand, and the public as the venue where our lives and well-being are situated and expressed in such a way that we affect—and are affected by—our manner of living among others.
As a mode of human existence, faith occurs in public; indeed, though it is often regarded as (merely) private and personal, inward in its location, it nonetheless occurs in m…

A Spark of Madness

I am stunned by the death of Robin Williams. I am only slightly less stunned by my reaction to his death.
I have known persons who have taken their own lives, and I have known the darkness that descends on those they leave behind. I too have struggled with depression, that pernicious consumer of emotional, physical and spiritual energy. Perhaps only those whose melancholy and despair have moved them to the boundary where life can morph into death by one’s own hand can truly understand the unreasonable weight of the burden of living. Surely we know that there are many in the spheres of our lives who are at, or moving toward, that boundary.
Mr. Williams once said, “You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it.” Aye, it is a spark of madness that gives birth to genius, but it is also a spark of madness to give birth to death, when we who are the beneficiaries of the gift of Life and Love overlook and ignore or simply discount the road signs along depression’s…

Changing Church

“The only thing that is constant is change; nothing endures but change.” So wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus in the sixth-century B.C.E. Supposing him to be correct in this observation, I find it strange indeed that so much of our outlook and activity is premised on the permanence of things, as though the status quo of the present has always been the case and can be expected to endure indefinitely. If Heraclitus is right, it is odd indeed that we should expend remarkable energy in preserving what is.
I thought of Heraclitus’s comment when I found myself seated among a group of friends one recent morning, engaged in delightful conversation on matters both trivial and profound. I listened carefully as the conversation turned to how difficult it is for the church to change. I must say, I was fully awake at that point, my attention focused and undivided.
“Why is it so hard to get the church to change?” one of the interlocutors asked, expressing both a thinly veiled critique of the …