Showing posts with label #Christianism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Christianism. Show all posts

Abortion, and Christian conservatives.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Many ancient cultures used to strangle or smother a baby after birth. Ex 1.16 Or drown it, either in a nearby river Ex 1.22 or the local bathhouse. The Romans were notorious for exposing their unwanted kids to the elements: If a patriarch didn’t consider their child healthy enough, or simply didn’t want another kid, he could order it to be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure.

The scriptures don’t specifically condemn such practices as murder… but neither do they treat ’em as if they’re not murder.

Miscarriage does come up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage.

Exodus 21.22-25 KJV
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“Her fruit depart” implies a premature birth; “mischief follow” implies the baby is born dead, or dies. So the guy who punched the mother could merit a life-for-life penalty. Unless the judge or her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—her patriarch, meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law, or whatever man had the care of her—had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

Now obviously there are Christians who read this passage differently. They figure “her fruit depart” means of course the child died, and “mischief follow” actually means the woman had complications, which varied. Hence that list of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etcetera: These were all the types of “mischief” which might follow. If the man knocked her eye out, he’d have to pay with his own eye. But if the man knocked her fetus out… he’d only have to pay a fine. Because a fetus doesn’t count as a life. And hey, they could always make another.

So, some Christians are adamant this passage proves a fetus is a baby, and other Christians are adamant this passage proves just the opposite. Which one they go with, largely depends on their abortion politics.

Because, like I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses. And frequently they take the scriptures out of context—because they’re not really interested in what these passages are actually about. They have an ax to grind. They’re entirely sure they’re right, and God has taken their side. True of most political issues, but abortion especially.

Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August
CHRISTIANISM 'krɪs.tʃən.ɪz.əm noun. A socially-approved worldview and belief system which claims to be Christian, but is not taught by Christ Jesus.
[Christianist 'krɪs.tʃən.ɪst adjective.]

I use the word Christianist an awful lot in this blog. Lemme ’splain why.

There are Christians who try to follow Christ Jesus. We don’t always succeed, but we try, which is the important thing. I write this blog to encourage such people to keep trying, same as I keep trying.

Then there are people who don’t try. At all. Instead they take whatever they’re doing, slap a Christian label on it, and claim it’s legitimately Christian. Often they do this out of pure hypocrisy; they know they’re not really following Jesus, but they want everyone to think they are.

But thanks to generations of such hypocrites, thanks to entire institutions and churches where depraved human behavior has been repackaged with Christian terms, we now have multiple generations of people who think this is Christianity: This is how Christians think, or oughta think. This is what Christians do, or oughta do. This is what Jesus approves of.

Every other Christian they know, thinks and acts this way. And if everybody’s doing it, must be Christian, right?

Okay. Y’know how there are two words, Muslim and Islamist? One means a person who actually practices Islam. The other describes a person who uses Muslim trappings to promote their social or political ideas. Well this is the Christian variant: Christian for legit Christ-followers, and Christianist for people who borrow the trappings of the religion, but Christ himself and his fruit are optional.

The header image for my Christianism essays is taken from Mormon artist Jon McNaughton’s painting “One Nation Under God.” It shows us one really common example of Christianism in the United States: Civic idolatry, in which we confuse our nation and its ideals with God’s kingdom. Much as we’d like to imagine the United States is an outpost of the kingdom, it’s not, y’know. Jesus is gonna overthrow it, same as every other nation, when he returns. And a lot of Americans have never even considered this idea. We’re a Christian nation, they insist. He’d never. But he totally will.

If you’re a civic idolater, you’re gonna be hugely offended that I used this image, or call it Christianist. Cease-and-desist order forthcoming.

But imagine McNaughton was from Mexico. Imagine he painted something with all Mexico’s founding leaders in the painting. reverently calling the nation to turn to Jesus, with Jesus holding up Mexico’s constitution, and separating the sheep from the goats by how good they were as Mexican citizens. Wouldn’t it bug you just a little?

How about if NcNaughton were Russian? Saudi? North Korean? Civic idolaters unthinkingly assume these other countries aren’t God’s chosen people in the same way Americans are. Jesus’ll definitely overthrow those countries when he returns. But not ours. Never America.

Christianists, justice, and social Darwinism.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 July

In the scriptures justice is defined on doing what’s just—what’s appropriate, what’s fair, what’s right, what’s consistent with the Law of Moses.

And lest you get the idea, “Oh, the Law of Moses; so it’s about breaking commands and meting out punishments,” no it’s not. Read the Law sometime and you’ll notice there’s a lot in there about doing for the needy and powerless, about loving one’s neighbor, about compassion and mercy and grace. Read the Prophets and you’ll see they get on Israel’s case not just for breaking the Law, but for shafting the poor and needy… which is forbidden by the Law. Anybody who thinks the Old Testament is all legalism, and the New Testament is all grace, clearly hasn’t read the Old Testament—or is projecting their own bad attitudes onto it. Plenty of grace in there… called “favor” or “mercy” or other synonyms, but you shouldn’t miss it.

Okay, that’s the bible. In our culture it’s assumed a very different definition. Justice in the United States is about upholding our laws. Particularly about punishing the guilty.

In so doing, justice has become another word for vengeance. Meted out by our government, but it’s still vengeance; check out all the people who push for the death penalty, or who stand outside death row while an execution goes on, pleased as punch that somebody’s getting what’s coming to them. It’s all about karma. It looks nothing like biblical justice.

Hence Christian activists have to distinguish biblical justice from unbiblical justice; from civic justice, which sues fast-food restaurants for making their coffee too hot, and from criminal justice, which gives people life sentences for stealing three cars.

This is where social justice comes in: It’s biblical justice. It’s nothing more than God’s admonitions to his people to do right by the powerless and needy. It’s helping those who can’t do for themselves—which is 180 degrees away from the way our individualist society tends to treat ’em. Society ignores anything Christ Jesus and his scriptures have to say about helping our neighbors, and instead holds to a very selfish, karmic attitude which blames ’em for their own troubles, blames ’em for being unable to escape their troubles, exploits or penalizes or punishes ’em for it, and (on the off chance we realize any of this is evil) justifies itself by inventing “biblical principles” which make it sound like it’s God’s idea.

God’s response to such folks?

Isaiah 1.16-17 KWL
16 “Bathe! Get clean! Get rid of the evil deeds before my eyes.
Stop doing evil. 17 Learn to do good. Seek right judgments.
Straighten out oppressors. Judge orphans fairly. Defend widows.”

Ancient Israel’s worship wasn’t working for the LORD, because they figured they could please him by sacrificing fields of animals to him—not by actually obeying him, and loving his people whom his Son would eventually die for. In Isaiah 1 he expressed his frustration with their rotten attitudes… and since American Christians are so biblically illiterate nowadays, of course we’ve fallen right into the very same behaviors.

Social justice and Christian history.

Lemme make this clear: Politics is about the pursuit of power. Both the Christian Right and Christian Left are regularly co-opted by politicians so they can gain power. So though I’m about to critique the Christian Right a bit, do not get the idea the Christian Left doesn’t have plenty to critique as well. I’ll discuss them in a bit. But first the rightists.

Historically the Christian Right in the United States has not been on the side of justice. It was on the side of slavery. And once slavery was abolished, it was on the side of segregation and the Jim Crow laws. The Christian Right baselessly believed blacks were “the sons of Ham”—descendants of Noah’s son Ham, who had mocked his father’s drunken nakedness, and as a result his son was cursed with servitude. Ge 9.20-27 As far as they were concerned, black people need to know their place and stay there. Their economy, politics, philosophy, interpretation of history, society, theology, everything, was designed to support their racism. Still does.

For a number of years, the Christian Right’s segregation and racism was largely outlawed and went underground. Oh, it still exists. It’s why black families still can’t move into certain suburbs; it’s why white people get plea bargains and black people go to prison; it’s why cops racially profile blacks, kill them carelessly, and get away with it. And while many in the Christian Right are now firmly anti-racist, many simply assume they’re not racist because they don’t hate blacks and browns—but they’re totally fine with leaving racially biased systems as-is. Because it doesn’t affect them negatively. Just the opposite.

It all goes back to selfishness and unaccountability. That’s always been the desire of sinful people. Slavery and racism gave it a theology, and justified it.

The Christian Right largely clung to their racism till the 1980s, when they realized the only way to join the political mainstream was to set it aside. In the meanwhile the main faction in American Christendom, from the founding of the colonies till the ’80s, was actually the Christian Left.

Most of the social reforms in American history were promoted by the Christian Left. Mostly this was because they believed in postmillennialism—the idea Jesus’s followers have to establish his thousand-year kingdom of God on earth so Jesus can come back and reign over it. (Nope, it’s no more biblical a view than the Left Behind novels.) Hence everything in the Christian Left was about progress, reform, and improvement. Read Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps sometime—the novel which popularized the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?”—and you’ll see what the Christian Left looked like in 1899.

Evangelicals and mainline churches were largely Christian Left, as was every evangelistic movement. Even the early Fundamentalists were part of the Christian Left. Yep, you could actually be Fundamentalist and progressive!—an idea today’s conservatives can’t imagine, because that’s how far their politics have compromised them.

Fr’instance. Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, California, was founded by J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of the Fundamentalist movement. Machen firmly believed in government reforms, social programs, and social justice. Westminster’s current president, Dr. Peter A. Lillback, occasionally appears on conservative talk shows to denounce such things. To decry “the roots of social justice.” To claim it’s unbiblical. Conservative Christians regularly assume their founders believed exactly as they do; that they’d be appalled by the directions our society is going. And maybe they would be. But the forebears’ solutions to these problems were not conservative solutions. Nor did they look back to the past, and insist things oughta return to the good old days… which really weren’t that good. They were looking forward—towards Jesus.

Lillback claims justice only applies to individuals, not groups: It’s about resolving individual mistreatment. He points out the words “social justice” aren’t found together in the bible. He’s right; they’re not. They don’t need to be. Look up every instance of justice in your bible and you’ll notice it’s all social: It consistently pertains to groups.

Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
 
Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
 
Psalm 82.3-4 NIV
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
 
Psalm 140.12 NIV
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
 
Jeremiah 22.3 NIV
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
 
Luke 18.7-8 NIV
7 “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Apparently Lillback’s not done any word study on justice. Or he has, but he’s willfully blinded himself to the results ’cause they don’t suit his politics. As a conservative, he’s so fearful of collective responsibility—of communism, socialism, anything which interferes with his right to avoid a movement and do his own thing—that he’s even willing to dismiss God’s movements as Lefty inventions.

Social Darwinism in its place.

SOCIAL DARWINISM 'soʊ.ʃəl 'dɑr.wən.ɪz.əm noun. The idea individuals and groups are subject to the same fight for superiority and supremacy as plants and animals.

“Do for others” is a central tenet of Christianity, Lk 7.12 and “do for yourself” is a central tenet of total depravity. Yet “do for yourself” has also become a central tenet of American philosophy. Independence, individuality, freedom from co-dependence, freedom from external influence, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, learning to fish instead of being given a fish, making and running on your own steam: These are all qualities Americans consider admirable, and part of a good character.

But they don’t look like God’s kingdom at all. In his kingdom we’re called to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 love one another, Jn 13.34 encourage and build one another up, 1Th 5.11 and care for the weak. 1Th 5.14 Our churches, the kingdom’s outposts, oughta look like this. They don’t always. Because too many of us are Americans first, Christians second. Or we’re simply Christianist instead: We love the trappings of Christianity, but do our own thing.

Americans have largely adopted the philosophy of social Darwinism. Like animals fighting over prey, the strong will survive, the weak will perish… and that’s fine. It helps ensure only the genes of the strong will be passed down to the next generation. No it doesn’t account for time and chance, which can undermine the results. Ec 9.11 But then again social Darwinism isn’t actually a scientific description of the world. It’s solely a justification for letting the “unfit” perish—however we choose to define fitness.

The reason God calls for justice is precisely because the strong try to dominate the weak. He doesn’t want the strong to get away with sin, simply because they’re strong. Nor for the weak to perish, simply because no one offers them help. He wants Christians to treat both strong and weak equally. To stop favoring the strong, the popular, the winsome, the wealthy, the famous; and dismissing the weak. Especially since it’s the strong who exploit us Christians most. Jm 2.1-9 Historically, God takes the side of the weak against their oppressors. Far be it from us Christians to ever be found on the oppressors’ side—and suffer consequences either in this world, or the next.

We need to ask ourselves which side we’re on. In any issue. Are we helping the needy, or do our politics and personal behaviors do nothing for them, or even fight them? Are we helping the sick? The disabled? The mentally ill? The uninsured? Those people who work 60 hours a week and still can’t afford to support their families? The convicts who’ve served their time, yet still no one will cut them a break? Those people whose other life circumstances mean no one will ever hire them? Are we condemning them for their lack of skills, their lack of education, their lack of citizenship, their lack of drive, or any lack they have?

“They’re not my problem.” Wrong; they are. The default mode of every Christian must be that of a problem-solver. That’s why God gave us the Spirit’s fruit and gifts in the first place: To apply these abilities to others. That’s why the apostles instructed Christians to help the weak. 1Th 5.14 They’re precisely the people whom God’s strength is given to us to help.

This doesn’t always mean we gotta help directly. Sometimes we gotta connect people to better help. Nor does it mean we help con artists who steal what’s meant for the truly needy. Nor is the existence of con artists and lazy people an excuse for doing nothing. A lot of us Christians ought to be more generous with our resources, instead of looking for excuses to be bitter, and give less.

Helping the needy takes God’s side. Dismissing the needy—and helping their exploiters—opposes him. Our choice is clear: We must contribute to social justice, or we’re contributing to social Darwinism.

Society doesn’t know what to make of Christ-followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

1 John 3.1.

John didn’t write any of his books and letters with chapters and verses. Medieval Christians did it: They gave every line in the bible an address, so we could more easily find it. It’s great for that. But every so often, it splits a sentence, paragraph, or train of thought, right where it ought not. As a result Christians tend to lose the train of thought, if not miss it altogether.

  • Don’t love society, which is passing away. 1Jn 2.15-17
  • Don’t be misled by antichrists; you know better. 1Jn 2.18-23
  • Hold on to what you learned in the beginning. 1Jn 2.24-29
  • After all, society doesn’t understand us, or God, anyway. 1Jn 3.1
  • Meanwhile clean yourselves up. Jesus is coming! 1Jn 3.2-3
  • And stop sinning, wouldya? 1Jn 3.4-6

And so on. But today’s bit is gonna zero in on that bit about society not understanding us Christians.

The word I translate “society” is κόσμος/kósmos, and I already explained why I’m interpreting it that way: The KJV renders it “world,” but that’s imprecise. It means the social order—which ideally would be harmonious, but you know how society gets.

1 John 3.1 KWL
Look at the kind of love the Father gives us: We can be called God’s children! And we are!
This is why society doesn’t understand us: It doesn’t understand God.

The Textus Receptus left out καί ἐσμεν/ké ésmen, “and we are.” (Somehow John Wycliffe, who translated the Textus, learned these words oughta be included, and rendered them, “and be [his] sons.” 1Jn 3.1 WYC But the Geneva Bible dropped ’em, as did the King James.) John included it ’cause it makes clear we’re not merely called God’s kids, as if it’s an honorary title: He adopted us. We’re legitimately his kids, and he’s legitimately our Father.

Yeah. We are. Us scumbags. Well, many Christians are in utter denial about being scumbags, but the cold hard truth is we totally don’t merit adoption by God; we merit hell. But God loves us so much, he graciously offers us a route out of hell, a place in his family, a room in his kingdom, his presence (he himself!) to live within us and empower us to do mighty things in his name. It’s a hugely disproportionate response to humanity. It’s a massive act of love.

And society doesn’t get it at all. Because society doesn’t do grace. It does karma. If we get anything approaching this level of grace from our fellow human beings and our governments, society insists there be some level of merit and reciprocity as part of the package. We should only give vast fortunes to deserving people. And if they don’t deserve it right this moment, they’d better bloody well earn it, by spending the rest of their lives making themselves worthy.

The only exception society recognizes, is inheritance: If a billionaire begets a kid, the kid inherits the billions. Doesn’t matter how utterly useless and stupid this kid might grow up to be, or how dangerous it might be to put such a mighty estate into the hands of an imbecile. He might hire immoral managers for his companies, and create poisonous products instead of healthy ones. Or he might implode the companies, destroy jobs, and ruin lives. Even so, inheritance is largely accepted by society; if a rich mother wishes to indulge her prodigal daughter, people shrug and say, “Well it’s her money.” But if that same woman wishes to adopt some ill-behaved stranger, make her a daughter, and enrich her? Society will figure she’s lost her mind.

Well, our heavenly Father is lost-his-mind gracious to us. And likewise, society doesn’t get it. They think any religion with sense should make us earn our spots in the kingdom, not just get ’em free. (And the gnostic groups of John’s day didn’t just make their followers earn heaven: They had to pay out the yin-yang for it too.) Free, unlimited grace?—you gotta be nuts. Buncha liberals.

Having God in the family.

Y’may not be aware of this: In the first century, when John wrote his letter, Greco-Roman pagans believed certain individuals were literally the children or grandchildren of the gods. ’Cause you remember their myths: Zeus was super horny and didn’t care that humans were a whole different species. Heck, he’d disguise himself as bulls or geese, and get freaky with humans that way.

Zeus wasn’t the only randy god. His daughter Aphrodite had sex with a Trojan prince named Ankhísis, and five years later brought him their son Aeneas. Julius Caesar claimed his family was descended from Aeneas, so this made him part god—and after he died, Julius’s adoptive son Augustus additionally had the Roman senate officially declare Julius a god himself. Which meant Augustus could include Divi filius/“son of god” in his official name. Many in the Roman Empire could claim to be related to gods… and be believed, by most people.

Today we’d consider such claims to be ridiculous. But not all of us. Some Hindu sects believe people can achieve godhood; you can have gods in the family. And of course pantheists believe everything in the universe is collectively God, so they’d say everyone has gods in the family.

Thing is, if ancient Greco-Roman pagans wanted people to believe they had gods in the family, they needed proof. So what they pointed to was their achievements. The Caesars were rich and powerful; isn’t that a sign of divine favor from their great-great-granddaddy Zeus? Isn’t it a sign the goddess Fortuna is smiling on them? And yeah, people assume Fortuna is the god of luck—namely dumb luck—but that’s not what the Romans believed. Fortuna only blessed people of good and noble character. If you had good luck, it was only because you merited it.

Yep, it all comes down to good karma. You were prosperous because you were worthy. Social Darwinism teaches much the same thing: Work smarter and harder, and the universe will reward you with wealth.

It’s not how the LORD works at all.

Christians aren’t identified as God’s kids because of our personal success. In fact ancient Christians had the worst of circumstances: Persecution, poverty, misery, disaster, death. Our Lord Jesus got crucified, remember? To pagans, this stuff didn’t identify God’s children at all. It identified someone who must’ve royally pissed off the gods. Someone worthy of being an outcast, not inheriting a kingdom.

God identifies his kids through our faith. If we trust him to save us, God considers us in right standing with him, and graciously does save us. It’s not by…

  • Our noble character: Our character might suck at the time we first turn to God. Stands to reason; we haven’t grown the Spirit’s fruit yet. But he’ll fix that.
  • Our wealth and success: The good news is primarily for the needy and poor, ’cause the wealthy and comfortable really don’t consider it any better than where they are.
  • Dumb luck, chance, or God’s mysterious whims. Determinists believe we’re not saved by grace; we’re saved by decree. God made some of us for saving, and the rest of us for destroying. We don’t deserve saving, which is why determinists claim it is so salvation by grace. But they themselves insist God’s sovereign determination comes before everything else. That’d include grace, right? His will alone would be his motive for saving us. Not his grace.
  • Our potential: God doesn’t save people because he foresees all the great stuff he can do through us. Some of us won’t achieve anything, ’cause we get saved on our deathbed. (Or our cross.) God isn’t a capitalist, who sees us as potential investments; he already owns everything, needs nothing, and saves us solely out of love.

All the things which’d make us merit salvation in society’s eyes? God ignores ’em and does his own thing.

Karmic Christians.

Not only does pagan society not understand this way of thinking, way too many Christians don’t appear to understand it either. ’Cause they don’t understand God. Whether that’s because they’re only going through the motions to fit in, or because the culture’s insistence on karma has overridden anything the Spirit’s trying to teach us, is debatable. (I’d like to optimistically think it’s the second thing. I might be wrong though.)

Hence many Americans think God’s kids are likewise identified by success, social standing, wealth, health, and other material blessings. It isn’t an idea which comes from Jesus, who shocked his students when he said it’s hard for the wealthy to enter his kingdom. Mt 19.23-26 But worship of wealth doesn’t just make it easy for some to ignore such scriptures; we’ve even invented a “prosperity gospel” which full-on swaps Jesus for Mammon. Follow Jesus and he’ll shower you with wealth. And the kingdom; but for now, wealth’ll have to do.

We need to watch out for such warped teachings. If God’s love isn’t at the center of everything we do, we’re not walking in light. We’re following a fake god, whether we call it Mammon or Fortuna or whatever. The rich use it to justify hoarding their resources instead of being as generous as God. The powerful use it much the same way. For the needy aren’t deserving; don’t have the proper karma. “If they only trusted God more,” or otherwise proved themselves worthy in some way, maybe their gods would enrich the needy too… though y’notice it’ll never be at their expense.

Such people’s churches don’t preach the good news, but libertarianism and social Darwinism. The needy get cursed for being a drain on society. The love of God is nowhere to be found among them. How sad for them: They’re not God’s kids, and despite their apparent riches they’re full of trouble, worthy of pity, fearful, blind, and naked. Rv 3.17

God’s love overcomes such things, and such delusions. If we’re walking in it, we’ll see the reality. If not, we’ll wonder why, despite our wealth, we lack peace. We’ll wonder about that nagging, in the back of our spirits, which warns us we’re not really God’s children. We’ll wonder if there’s something to it… but we’ll probably just try to drown it out by buying some Christian music and the latest devotional book. But I hope not.

The subtler type of racism.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June

I occasionally bump into an odd phenomenon; one I briefly mentioned in my article on white Jesus. In short, it’s racism—the type people tend to get away with because it’s subtle.

But first, a big long bit of backstory.

Robert Edward Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the United States Civil War. (The U.S. Army started burying soldiers on Lee’s front lawn during the war, as a way to stick it to him. It’s now Arlington National Cemetery.) Lee was one of the better generals in the war… and arguably it’s because he was such an effective general, the war lasted way longer, and killed more, than it ever should have.

Y’might get the idea I don’t think much of Lee, nor the reputation the American south has granted him in the 150 years since the Civil War. You’d be absolutely right.


Robert E. Lee, 1863. Wikipedia

Idol of Lee on his horse Traveller, erected in Charlottesville in 1925. Wikipedia

When Lee originally joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the man swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet he participated in armed rebellion, supporting a separatist nation whose primary reason for existence, explicitly stated in their new state constitutions, was to perpetuate slavery. Southerners reimagined Lee as a noble man, conflicted ’cause he didn’t want to shatter the union his own wife’s grandfather had created. (Her grandfather? George Washington. Yes, that George Washington.) Despite his moral quandary, Lee simply couldn’t bring himself to fight and kill his fellow Virginians. Marylanders and Pennsylvanians, no problem.

Do I sound harsh? I’ve been accused of that. But even by standards of the day, Lee’s behavior is inexcusable. George Washington had recognized the immorality of slavery and freed his own slaves. His adoptive son, George Washington Custis, had freed some slaves, and the rest of Custis’s slaves also expected to be freed at his death, but that didn’t happen. Hence Lee held these very people, hundreds of them, in captivity. Kept ’em in shacks on his land. Worked ’em without pay. Had ’em flogged when they displeased him. As general, he permitted his troops to enslave any free blacks they encountered. And of course they killed American soldiers so they could continue all these offensive practices. Lee never spent an hour in jail for it; he was graciously given amnesty. If anything I’m being generous too.

Southerners are slowly starting to come round to the fact Lee is an embarrassing part of their history. Not someone to be celebrated.

The reason this process is so slow? White supremacy.

From the end of the war till 1877, white supremacists were suppressed by the Army. That stopped after the Republicans made a deal so they could steal the 1876 presidential election. Back then (before the parties traded worldviews in the 1960s), the Republicans were the liberal equal-rights party and the Democrats the super-racist conservative party. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden had unexpectedly won. Republicans were horrified. Congress had to ratify the election, so Republicans held it up for a bit while they struck a deal with the Democrats: If they conceded the election to Rutherford Hayes, the Republicans would pull the Army out of the south, and let the white supremacists do as they pleased. Whatever happened thereafter, happened.

What happened was Hayes was a useless one-term president. And southern Democrats created racist “Jim Crow” laws which made life utter hell for southern blacks for a century. White supremacists repainted the Civil War as a noble but failed cause, just like Gone With the Wind depicts it: They were just fighting for their slaveholding way of life; for their slaveholding heritage; for states’ rights to perpetuate slavery; nevermind northern states’ rights to not return runaway slaves.

And that’s when all the pro-Confederacy idols cropped up. Yes of course it’s civic idolatry. Racist style.

Including the idol of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was commissioned in 1917, built in 1925, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Currently the state of Virginia is trying to take it down in response to the Black Lives Matter protest—and it’s about time. But white supremacists have been fighting that for years. A judge is currently blocking its removal.

Back in April 2017 the Charlottesville city council decided to sell it, and rename Lee Park as Emancipation Park. So white supremacists threw a big rally in August at the University of Virginia campus, where one of the white supremacists ran a car into counter-protesters. Some of ’em were waving Nazi flags right alongside their Confederate flags. (Nazis are another group white supremacists are trying to repaint as a noble but failed cause.)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had tweeted at the time,

I don’t care for everything Huckabee tweets (I don’t share his sense of humor at all), but I liked this one so I retweeted it. Didn’t take long before I got these two responses:

  • “[It’s wrong] for ANY race to think they are superior to another. There are racists on both sides.”
  • “No worse than black racism. Racism is racism. There no runner-up prize.”

And someone who tried to pivot to a discussion of black people’s sins. See, when you can’t defend your own behavior, deflect as best you can.

“Don’t forget there are black racists.”

Of course black racists exist. I’ve met a few. When I went to college in Sacramento, I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. Worked for a black newspaper. And every so often, someone would come into the office who was a little bothered there was a white guy in there. Shouldn’t the jobs at a black newspaper, they figured, go exclusively to black people?

I tell this story to people and they respond, “Ah, that’s reverse racism.” Nah, it’s just racism. “Reverse” suggests maybe it’s normal for whites to be racist, and I definitely object to that idea.

Some of the racism came from the Nation of Islam. Its leaders have notoriously taught that white people were invented 6,600 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub, who bred people till they turned into white devils. (I’m not kidding.) True, many whites have acted profoundly devilish towards blacks and Muslims, and not just in the past. But their Yakub myth guarantees whites and the NOI aren’t gonna reconcile anytime soon.

And some of the racism came from people who had awful experiences with whites in the past, and didn’t expect me to behave any better. Kind and friendly to me to my face, but I overheard ’em when my back was turned. Sad to say, it wasn’t my first experience with this type of racist: My relatives are just the same. Friendly in public, racist in private. Any people of color they personally know are “one of the good ones,” yet everybody they don’t know is gauged by whatever offensive stereotypes they persist in believing.

Still, Huckabee’s comment is about how white supremacy is evil. Why’re people suddenly bringing up black racists? Yeah they exist; it goes without saying. So why do people suddenly feel the urge to say it anyway?

It reminds me, I told the commentators, of a little kid who’d just been caught disobeying. The parents told him, “Stay out of the cookie jar,” and caught him with his hand in it not two minutes later. As kids do, his defense was, “But the other kids got into it too.” Not too dissimilar from Adam pointing the finger at Eve when God caught ’em eating from the wrong tree. Ge 3.12

I hadn’t accused any of my Twitter followers of white supremacy. I’d simply agreed with Huckabee’s statement. And their response wasn’t, “That’s right, white supremacy is evil.” It was, “Don’t forget not all racists are white.” It’s the reaction of a kid whose hand was in the cookie jar.

Is that the button I pushed? Of course it is. These people identify with white people so strongly, they feel they need to respond to any objection to white misbehavior. They’re speaking up for their race. I never asked ’em to (and certainly don’t recognize them as any such spokesperson). But they felt it necessary.

Pity instead of defending themselves, or joining the condemnation of a sinful fringe group, they chose to point fingers: “Don’t forget their sins.”

Yeah yeah yeah. But let’s return to yours, shall we?

Passive racism.

A lot of racists are entirely sure they’re not racist… solely because they don’t hate other races.

Because they assume hatred is how we define racism. Racists hate. Ergo if you don’t hate, you’re no racist. That’s why the president says racist things, creates racist policies, yet insists he’s no racist: He doesn’t hate other races, so he’s clearly not racist.

These folks don’t love other races either. But all they focus on is how they don’t hate them.

So they imagine they’re not racist. Even as they quietly discriminate between one person and another, for better or worse, entirely based on the stereotypes they hold about different races, ethnicities, nations, religions, and cultures. That’s why my family members believe they’re not racist when they totally are.

At the foundation of all this is total depravity: Humans are self-centered. We primarily think of ourselves, and not so much others. We don’t love our neighbor as ourselves; we love ourselves, and don’t hate our neighbors, and figure that’s just as good. We love ourselves, our own, and however far we care to extend “our own.”

For some Christians, they love their fellow Christians. Or at least their fellow Protestants, or fellow Evangelicals, or fellow conservative Evangelicals. Or pretty much their own denomination. Or not even that; just their church. Or not their church either; just the people in their bible study. Well, a few of them.

For some Americans, they love their fellow Americans. So long that they’re “real Americans,” by which they mean Americans who share their politics. Or who “act American,” by which they mean act like them… or to be blunt, act white. Because white is “normal” and “regular,” and everything else, not so much.

Once we finally define those boundaries, whether they’re wide or narrow, we humans figure we’re in competition with everybody outside the boundaries. Us versus them. Our team versus theirs. Needy versus wealthy. Progressives versus conservatives. Christians versus Muslims—sometimes teaming up with the Jews, sometimes not. Whites versus nonwhites.

Usually we’re competing for power. Sometimes political, sometimes economic, sometimes for attention and resources.

So when white people get accused of racism, they defend the team, and counterpunch at the other team: “What about the black people?” After all, if we’re in competition, we’d better not be the only group getting a yellow card. Black folks have their racists too!

Yep, that’s the mindset behind their slogan, “All lives matter.” It’s their tone-deaf response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was created to address the very real problem of institutional racism: When a black kid walks down the street, far too often white cops don’t think of him as a pedestrian, but as a perpetrator. They don’t know what he perpetrated, but they take it upon themselves to find out. And way too often it ends with a dead kid. All my life I’ve walked through neighborhoods at night, and never once been questioned by police. But my black friends got questioned as they were waiting for the morning school bus. Police departments need to train this mentality out of their cops, and some do… and some don’t. Hence Black Lives Matter.

The “All lives matter” slogan would make sense if all kids were hassled by the cops. They aren’t, so it doesn’t. It’s really just white idiots who don’t understand the issue at all… but they still want equal time. If it’s not about them, they wanna shoehorn themselves in there somehow. It’s more selfishness than racism.

But it does stem from racism: The passive stuff. The subtle racism. Closet racism. Whatever you care to call it: When people don’t love their neighbors enough to identify with them, come alongside them, love them, and surrender their power and privilege if only it might help them.

It confuses people because they realize something’s wrong with this mindset, but they can’t pinpoint the problem. They figure since they tend to see it among conservatives, it must be a form of conservatism. It’s actually not; I’ve known liberal and progressive racists who are insultingly condescending towards nonwhites. The jerkish behavior has nothing to do with politics, although it becomes painfully obvious when politics come up. It has to do with the absence of love. They don’t love their neighbors.

So call it what it is. Out it whenever it’s practiced. Rebuke it.

If Christians find ourselves in any position of privilege whatsoever, we’re meant to use it to help others So do love your neighbors. Speak out. And, in case you don’t figure these people legitimately are your neighbors, love your enemies and opponents too. That’ll work just as well.

Instead of spiritual warfare… a culture war.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January

Spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation. It’s about fighting our own self-centeredness, our tendency to produce works of the flesh, and anything which tempts us to choose ungodly, evil behavior. Tempters might be evil spirits, but more often it’s just our own corrupt nature. Regardless, we gotta fight it and follow Jesus.

But to many Christians, spiritual warfare doesn’t look like this at all. It’s about being a “prayer warrior” and praying really hard for things. Because our prayers somehow provide energy to the angels fighting the demons in the clouds above. Or so the Frank Peretti novels tell us.

And to Christianists, spiritual warfare has nothing to do with praying away the demons, nor self-control. Spiritual warfare is solely about fighting Satan and its evil plan.

What’s its evil plan? To take over the world. Didn’t Satan tell Jesus it already ruled the world?

Luke 4.5-8 KWL
5 Taking Jesus up, Satan showed him every kingdom in civilization in a moment’s time.
6 The devil told Jesus, “I’ll give you all these powers and their glory: It’s been surrendered to me.
If I want, I can give it to anyone. 7 So once you worship before me, all will be yours.”
8 In reply Jesus told it, “It’s written you’ll worship your Lord God and serve only him.”

Thing is, Satan’s a dirty liar Jn 8.44 and we can’t trust a thing it tells us, so why should we believe it when it claims to rule the world? Especially since Jesus states he conquered the world, Jn 16.33 and he’s eventually coming back to take possession of it. But meanwhile we run things… and we’ve made a mighty mess of things, and since humans don’t care to take responsibility for our mess, we blame Satan. It wrecked the world; not humans who exploit one another and vote for morons.

Anyway, blaming the devil for everything, and presuming spiritual warfare is about fighting the devil, means logically these Christians think they’re at spiritual war with everything. Seriously, everything. They’re fighting the world—however they define “world.”

In practice, this usually means the things they personally don’t like. Like the opposite political party. Like all the forms of entertainment media they don’t like: Television, movies, music, video games, and certain sections of the internet.

And if they’re bigots, it includes all the people they don’t like. Like foreigners. Coloreds. Rednecks and white trash. The poors. The one-percenters. Queers. Incels. Hippies. Millennials (which they still think means “college students,” ’cause they don’t realize millennials are in their thirties now). Non-Christians. People of other churches, whom they’re pretty sure aren’t real Christians. People who live in liberal enclaves on the coasts, or conservative enclaves in the “flyover states.” Anything “other”—meaning other than them.

However tightly they define their circle, their spiritual warfare consists of fighting everyone else, leaving ’em all alone in the world. It’s just them and Jesus.

Well… Jesus left to join all the people they’re persecuting. But they don’t wanna hear it.

Yep, this is some dark Christian stuff. It’s how Christian terrorists get developed: They think they’re right to even descend to violence in the fight against “evil.” So they build bombs, shoot “bad guys,” and imagine themselves righteous. Hey, didn’t people in the bible kill bad guys? Why not them?

And in so doing, they utterly lose the real spiritual battle. And think they’re victorious as they become less and less like Christ Jesus every day.

Your politics don’t matter.

You may presume I’m writing specifically about people on the Christian Right or Christian Left. Certainly you can think of more examples in the opposition party.

I’m not. I know bigots on both sides. I grew up conservative, so I knew plenty of people who think the entire reason we join God’s kingdom is to become his culture-war foot-soldiers. That’s all they focus on. Meanwhile they make excuses or cover up their own temptations and sins, they don’t develop any fruit of the Spirit, and they don’t rid themselves of their old bitterness, hatred, and anger. Why should they?—they can use ’em to fight the devil!

But in the workplace I’m largely surrounded by progressives, and man do they hate conservatives. Mostly because they’ve got conservative relatives who are jerks, and they imagine all conservatives are like that. (To be fair, many are.) But same as conservative Christians, progressive Christians figure the battle’s with the forces of evil without, not within: They don’t concentrate on overcoming their own selfish impulses, but on political victories, large and small.

So this isn’t a political problem. It’s a human problem. Politics are the distraction. They’re the means by which we figure we can conquer the world… forgetting, ignoring, or even dismissing, the fact Jesus already has conquered the world. (To their minds, he’s simply not conquered it enough. Not to their satisfaction!)

I’ve heard a number of Christians claim politics is the way the devil gets us to miss the point. Ugh… again with the devil. Yeah, I’m entire Satan gets a kick out of the way we self-righteously tear at one another, and enjoys tempting people to join in. But the devil doesn’t have the power to fuel all that rage and bile. That’s humanity. That’s all us. We don’t need a lot of provoking to do what comes, thanks to our fallen nature, naturally. We just need to take our eyes off Jesus.

So don’t.

Our duty is to fight our own sins. Quit being distracted by other people’s sins: Look at your own. Stop getting so angry at their misbehavior that you feel the urge to fight them: Fight your own misbehaviors. Stop putting all your energy into changing the world, and put it into changing yourself. Because until we’re able to conquer our own sins, we’re in no position to tackle the sins of the world. We’re just hypocrites.

Yeah, the sins of the world frustrate me. The misbehavior of my elected government officials outrages me. But what should outrage me is my own misbehavior—the stuff I know better than to do, and you’d think I’d’ve stopped doing it by now! Resisting temptation is a constant fight, and one we can’t let up on. But that’s the battle we must win first. Till we do, we simply contribute to the world’s problems.

Worldviews: What Christianists promote instead of orthodoxy.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September
WORLDVIEW 'wərld.vju noun. A particular philosophy about life, or concept of human and social interaction.

When Christians talk about worldviews, we’re talking about politics.

Yeah, Christian apologists who examine “the Christian worldview” claim they’re talking about how we Christians understand the world around us, based on what God created it to be—as opposed to how pagans and nontheists interpret things. But three things you’re gonna notice really quickly about their interpretations:

  • It invariably leads to a politically conservative point of view—regardless of whether Jesus even addressed, much less supports, their favorite conservative views.
  • It invariably leads to their particular church’s views on God. Fits extremely well if you’re Calvinist or Fundamentalist… and less so if you’re not. (God help you if you’re Roman Catholic.)
  • It doesn’t promote loving our neighbors so we can point ’em to Jesus. More like being appalled at the stuff they’re trying to sneak past us, and therefore angry with our neighbors.

Anger’s a work of the flesh, folks, and one of the faster ways to get people to stop thinking, start reacting, and follow whoever riled ’em up. It’s what got the crowds to shout, “Crucify him!” It’s a very useful political tool. As are worldview studies, ’cause they’re basically political apologetics disguised as Christian apologetics.

Our word worldview was borrowed by Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer in the 1960s from the German word Weltanschauung 'vɛlt.ɑn.ʃaʊ.ʊŋ, “world-outlook.” German linguists coined it to describe how language grows to include new ideas. Fr’instance it’s hard to talk about a rodpur when you’ve never heard of a rodpur, and have no idea what it is. Once you learn it’s a nektim with a purple essip coming out its porgir, then you have a better idea of it, and we can start talking about it: Your worldview has expanded to include the word and idea. Thus language and culture grow at the same time. (Yeah, I made up all those unfamiliar words, but you get the point.)

Historians and psychologists were more fascinated by what happens when two cultures with different worldviews clash. That’s what interested Schaeffer about it. Like St. Augustine’s book City of God, Schaeffer looked at the way the Christian worldview—which he equated with God’s kingdom—butted heads with secular popular culture. Those who talk about the Christian worldview tend to focus on what Schaeffer’s disciple Charles Colson called “kingdoms in conflict”—the Christian worldview versus the secular worldview.

Ah, but which secular worldview? And for that matter, which Christian worldview? See, Schaeffer and Colson were modernists, who presumed there’s one single, correct way to look at the world. One way which matches Jesus best. Any other view is, bluntly, wrong.

Which leaves us no room for Christian diversity, for freedom in Christ, for letting each believer be fully persuaded in their own mind without condemning one another. Ro 14.4-5 Jesus isn’t the one right way and truth; Jn 14.6 their worldview is. So, y’know, they’re promoting legalism.

But primarily political conservatism. Which is why they don’t realize it’s really Christianism: They’re distorting religion, and stirring up other works of the flesh like divisiveness and partisanship.

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 July
CIVIC IDOLATRY 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri noun. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous 'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs adjective, civic idolater 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər noun.]

Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States.

In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.)

So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should.

However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s idolatry, and when it’s directed towards a nation we call it nationalism or civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded; when we treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as holy. And when we treat criticism or contempt for it as blasphemy.

Heck, for those people, my even talking about the subject is blasphemy. Although they’ll call it unpatriotic, subversive, traitorous: How dare I say love of country is a bad thing?

Again: Not saying that. But when love of “God and country” get blended together as if they’re the same thing, we got idolatry. When we attribute things to the United States that are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry. When our nation takes precedence over the growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry. Sometimes in our dual citizenship with the kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side… and when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.

A definition of Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

I frequently use the term Christianism on TXAB to describe people who practice the trappings of Christianity, but don’t follow Christ Jesus all that much. I didn’t coin the word; I got it from conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan. I first saw it in a piece he wrote for Time Magazine in 2006. I adopted it immediately.

His article is now behind Time’s paywall. So I decided to post the whole of it here.

Christianity is under attack!

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

An acquaintance pointed me to a pro-Christianity group on Facebook. Four hundred members strong, ready to fight to the teeth for Jesus.

…Well, more accurately, they intend to fight for Calvinism. Jesus is in there somewhere. Though you’d never know it from their cage-stage rage, which is pretty far from Christlike. But don’t get the wrong idea; I’m not trying to single out Calvinists. Lots of Christians get this way. Doesn’t matter which -ism they’re promoting.

As I regularly gotta remind Christian apologists, one of the common pitfalls of kicking ass for Jesus, is it’s way more about ass than Jesus. It’s about fighting. Jesus is the excuse. We want a “righteous” justification for anger, for tearing people a new sphincter (metaphorically, I hope!), and what could be more righteous and noble a cause than Jesus?

Plus Jesus is under attack! Christianity is under attack! People wanna get rid of Christians, ban religion, drive us out of the workplace and government and everywhere. Push us underground so our moralizing and sermonizing never, ever comes up. (Particularly anything which condemns their favorite activities.) They want us gone.

So we’re in the fight of our spiritual lives. And you know how desperate, cornered animals get?—willing to fight with everything they have, rather than give up and die? Humans share that very same instinct. We’re willing to do anything it takes to defend Jesus. Anything.

Even if it dips into the human depravity we’re supposed to resist ever since we first started following Jesus. That is, assuming we ever bothered to resist it; assuming we haven’t put new Christianese labels on all our fleshly behavior, which is way easier than repenting and following the Holy Spirit. But because defending Jesus is so important, supposedly we gotta suspend all our efforts towards becoming more like him: Somebody has to get their hands dirty, and defending Jesus and his kingdom is far more important than obeying Jesus and living in his kingdom.

This is precisely why so many Christians go dark—or stay as dark as they were when pagan, and even get a little darker. Why so many Christians are so unlike Christ. It’s a neat little trick which permits us to be evil “for good reason,” because the ends justifies the means.

To these culture warriors, our battle is entirely against flesh and blood. (Scripture to the contrary. Ep 6.12) That’s why they take the fight everywhere they go. To the internet, the street corners, the coffeehouses, the office break rooms, the state legislatures, everywhere. Fight for Jesus. Meanwhile start stocking our End Times bunkers with jerky and rifles. Yeah rifles; in defending the Prince of Peace, certain dark Christians claim we might even need to shoot a few cops in the head.

Inconsistent? Problematic? Downright devilish? Of course.

Outside and inside of the Bible Belt.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 August

Americans know this already, but I have foreign readers, so I figured I should explain: There’s a section of the United States called “the Bible Belt.” Pagans named it that, but the people who live there are perfectly happy with the term. It’s the American South, in which the population is so overtly Christian—specifically a conservative Evangelical form of Christianity—it’s simply taken for granted you’re Christian.

Those who live in the Bible Belt presume they’re Christian, even when they aren’t. Likewise they presume their neighbors are Christian, and are startled and even horrified to discover otherwise. To them of course the United States is a Christian nation. Certainly everyone they know is Christian.

It’s hypocrisy, of course. The residents of the Bible Belt are about as Christian as the people of my state, California. Seriously; polls and surveys bear this out. The difference is that when Californians aren’t Christian, we don’t pretend we are, and don’t try to disappear into the larger Christian population. We’ll just be pagan. ’Cause it’s allowed. ’Cause freedom of religion.

Hence what we have in California is the opposite assumption: Those who live here presume just about everyone is pagan. (Especially the person doing the assuming originated from the Bible Belt.) I grew up with preachers who had a bit of a bunker mentality: Outside the church walls, everybody else was an unbeliever. They either had some weird hippy religion, or were some kind of cult member, or were atheist. Since I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the preachers probably weren’t far wrong; a lot of non-Christians moved to the Bay Area specifically so they could be non-Christian, let their freak flags fly, and raise up a new generation of non-Christians who believed in everything, believed in nothing, or believed in weirdness, same as they.

But when I started sharing Jesus with people, I quickly discovered most of the strangers I meet are Christian. Roughly two out of three of them. They aren’t necessarily good Christians; most of us suck. They’re still Christian though: Pray, read their bibles a little, sometimes go to church, believe all the basics, and most importantly trust Jesus to save ’em.

Of course I tell my Bible Belt friends this, and they can’t believe it. Because they’re sure California consists of nothing but pagans.

“Just war”: Vengeance disguised as righteousness.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July

Humans like to take revenge.

Watch two kids on the playground. One will smack the other, entirely by accident. (That’s what they claim, anyway.) The other kid will immediately want to retaliate. And not in some equitable blow-for-blow response, either. They’ll wanna beat the living tar out of the other kid.

That’s not a learned behavior. Just the opposite: It’s instinct. It’s our self-preservation instinct, but warped by human depravity till we defend ourselves from future harm by preemptively destroying anything or anyone who might harm us. Kids have to be trained to not retaliate like this.

A good parent is gonna teach their kids to forgive. (It was unintentional, after all.) Even selfish parents won’t necessarily demand a reciprocal response. Although the dumber ones might: “She hit you? Hit her back!” But this behavior will backfire: Kids’ll do as comes naturally, and hit back harder. And then the first kid hits back even harder. And things escalate from there.

I know; from time to time someone will insist revenge isn’t part of human nature; that left to their own devices children will be naturally peaceful and good. Clearly they don’t have children. Nor do they remember they were conditioned to forgive and let live, rather than respond in vengeance and wrath. True, some kids are passive, some are cowards, and some are much easier to train than others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t all need such training. We humans aren’t peaceful creatures.

Take these playground disagreements to an adult level, to a national level, and we wind up with war.

One nation harms or offends a second nation. The second nation will wanna retaliate. I was gonna say “understandably,” because we all understand they would; we would. And the wronged nation won’t wanna respond proportionally: They wanna respond punitively. They wanna hurt the nation which hurt them. Make ’em suffer—or at least fear to ever attack again. Karma goes right out the window.

But we’ll call it “justice.” That’s the Christianese term for vengeance. Actual justice is about doing what’s just—what’s equitable, what’s fair, what’s morally right. You know, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb. Ex 21.24 What westerners mean by karma. But when American Christians say “justice” we are, once again, talking about a punitive response. It doesn’t match the crime; it exceeds it because we feel the perpetrator should suffer loss. Steal $100 and you should have to pay back $150, with the extra $50 teaching you to never do that again. Even if you accidentally, unintentionally took the $100: You should’ve been more conscientious.

Since the people of the United States predominantly claim to be Christian, this mindset of “justice” is immediately gonna slam into a little something Jesus taught about war:

Matthew 5.9 KWL
“Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.”

Wait, Jesus expects God’s kids to make peace?

Well of course. Because that’s how you actually stop a war. Not by destroying your opponent, but by befriending your opponent. Not with vengeance but forgiveness. It’s how God acts towards his kids. He could easily flatten us. But he’d rather adopt us.

The problem with Jesus’s teaching? It violates our sense of vengeance. It interferes with our desire to destroy our enemies. It strikes us as impractical: “But how’s that gonna stop them from still doing evil?” We don’t like it, so we find excuses to never do it—same as every other teaching of Jesus.

“Dead to the world” includes being dead to Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April
Colossians 3.1-4 KWL
1 So if you’re raised up with Christ, seek higher things—where Christ is, sitting at the Father’s right.
2 Think about higher things, not things on the earth:
3 You died. Your life is cloaked with Christ, in God.
4 When Christ—our life—appears, then you’ll appear with him in glory.

Christians, like Paul and Timothy said in Colossians, are meant to identify with Christ. We’re not to let other people lead us astray through useless philosophies, traditions, and tricks; we’re to let Christ Jesus lead us, and him alone. Cl 2.8

The apostles’ argument was that we’re to identify with Christ Jesus so closely, we effectively died to sin through his death. We were raised to new life with his new life. So as far as this world and age are concerned, we’re dead.

No, they weren’t trying to teach Christians that it’s perfectly okay for us to violate the laws of the land, because we’re supposedly dead to our governments as well. Plenty of Christians have tried that interpretation, and used it as a license to be jerks towards pagans, or to justify our libertarian or anarchic politics (and our conspiracy-theory fears of how they might crack down on us for being contrary). Or to simply sin ourselves raw and call it “freedom in Christ”—but really we’re taking God’s grace for granted. Christians can be just as wicked as anyone, and Christianists are notorious for using the trappings of Christianity to get away with all sorts of evil.

Nope; once you read the context of Colossians you’ll realize the apostles were writing about the legalistic expectations of religious people. Certain ancient Christians, same as today, had a very narrow view of how “good Christians” were meant to live, or which of the Pharisee traditions oughta be carried forward into Christianity. And they were penalizing their fellow Christians for not being “Christian” enough for them—as they defined Christianity, not as Jesus, the apostles, and their bible define it.

So when the apostles wrote about being dead to the world, yeah they were writing about being dead to the secular world… but they were just as much writing about being dead to the religious world. To the “good Christians” who were trying to add commands and rules to Jesus’s teachings. Who were trying to enforce their interpretations instead of leaving conviction to the Holy Spirit, to whom it properly belongs.

You’re not gonna find a lot of preachers who point out that fact. Sometimes because they don’t realize it applies to them too… and sometimes because they don’t want it to apply to them too. They want us to “follow me as I follow Christ,” 1Co 11.1 MEV and sometimes really do have the best of intentions.

But we’re to follow Christ. Not them. Not fellow Christians. We’re all fallible; we’re all wrong. Jesus is not. Follow Jesus with us—but don’t follow us. Follow him.

Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.

I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.

In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your bibles. And this is why they exalt their bibles: It’s the only thing they have left of God. It’s like if your mother abandoned you as a child, but left you a note saying she loves you: You’re gonna cling to that note, and make it the most precious thing you own. (Or you’re gonna bitterly throw it out, but I’m not discussing apostasy today.) It tends to become a substitute for your mother—and for cessationists, the bible’s become the substitute for their Father.

Or the Holy Spirit, ’cause they imagine his only job nowadays is to give ’em a warm fuzzy “inspired” feeling whenever they’ve correctly understood the scriptures. Or Jesus, ’cause they argue the only way to have a relationship with him is to read about him—as opposed to talking with him, obeying him, getting empowered by him, and all the stuff which constitute the actual Christian life. Nope, if they reject such experiences ’cause they imagine they don’t happen anymore, they won’t know him. Just about him.

So insult the bible, or show it what they consider a lack of respect, and they figure we’ve committed blasphemy. They’ll even call it that; as if we could slander a bible. It must be treated with nothing but the greatest reverence. Never set your bible on the floor. Never doodle in it. Never toss it onto a table. Protect it in the biggest, thickest bible covers. To treat it as an ordinary book, is as if we treated God with anything other than majesty.

Heck, some of ’em aren’t even hiding their idolatry. They’ll actually say God and the bible are equivalent.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October

When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a little burst of euphoria which they figure is them “releasing” those thoughts into the universe—and then they’re back to life as usual. Unless the happy thoughts get ’em to deliberately behave in more positive, productive ways towards those around them, the universe is no different. Nor better.

Give you an example. One of the United States’ recent mass shootings might take out more masses than usual. The news media covers it like crazy; the public is horrified; the usual senators tweet that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their families. And those who want gun restrictions object: These particular senators aren’t gonna change the gun laws whatsoever. If anything they’ll try all the harder to eliminate gun restrictions. Which means more mass shootings are inevitable. So what good are those senators’ thoughts and prayers?

I mean, functionally it’s the same as when James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when anyone claims to have faith and takes no action?
This “faith” doesn’t save them.
15 When a Christian brother or sister becomes destitute, lacks daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! May you be warm and fed,”
and doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it takes no action, is dead to the core.

Our “thoughts and prayers” frequently aren’t any different than wishing the needy well, but doing nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes out of our own laziness, sometimes our own ill will. And the needy aren’t dense. They see the irreligiousness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so.

If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead.

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 October
SADDUCEE 'sæd.ʒə.si noun. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife.
[Sadducean .sæd.ʒə'si.ən adjective.]

Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in.

John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134BC to 104BC. He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167BC. His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater.

John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós/“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know why he was called that. He’s known as a great general who doubled the size of Judea to include Samaria and Idumea. He’s also known as the king who forced the Idumeans (i.e. Edomites) to become Jews and be circumcised. And Pharisees remember him ’cause he quit the Pharisees and become Sadducee.

Y’see, when there’s no such thing as a separation of church and state, religion and politics are the same thing. Most Judeans were Pharisee. So were the priests. So was their senate. Sadducees, in comparison, were just this little tiny sect of Jews with some rather faithless beliefs:

Acts 22.8 KWL
For Sadducees say there’s no resurrection, nor angels, nor Holy Spirit,
and Pharisees profess them all.

We don’t know how much, or even whether, Hyrcanus believed as Sadducees did. He didn’t join them for religious reasons. He joined ’em because Pharisees had pissed him off.

Two prominent Pharisees, Eleazar bar Pokhera and Judah bar Gedidim, had publicly declared (right in front of him, according to one story), “If Hyrcanus is really a righteous man, he oughta resign the head priesthood, because we heard his mother had been a captive in Modin under the Syrians”—implying one of those Syrians had fathered him instead of Simon Maccabee, thus making Hyrcanus unqualified to be hereditary head priest. Hyrcanus ordered the claim to be investigated. Once proven untrue, he demanded his false witnesses be thrown out of the senate, just as they wanted him thrown out of office. Dt 19.18-19 But Pharisees in the senate ignored the Law and only had them whipped. So in his ire, Hyrcanus quit the Pharisees.

And to really stick it to ’em, he joined the group Pharisees considered their mortal enemies, the Sadducees. And ever since, he and the head priests who succeeded him—all the way up to Annas and Joseph Caiaphas in Jesus’s day, all the way to the last head priest, Fannias bar Samuel, in 70CE—were Sadduccee. Ac 5.17

Criticism and self-promotion destroys. Humility restores.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

James 4.11-17.

Continuing on his whole theme of pride and its destructiveness, James went after those Christians who took it upon themselves to critique and condemn others, and those Christians who exaggerate their big plans which ultimately aren’t gonna come to anything.

Starting with the bit about badmouthing Christians. You know the type. Every church has ’em. Sometimes they’re even in leadership.

James 4.11-12 KWL
11 Don’t badmouth one another, fellow Christians.
One who badmouths or criticizes a fellow Christian, badmouths and criticizes the Law.
If you criticize the Law, you aren’t a doer of the Law, but a critic.
12 Only one is the Law-giver and critic, with power to save and destroy.
Who are you to be your neighbor’s critic?

This passage confuses people because of the different ways we interpret katalaleíte/“you all speak evil.” After all there’s many ways to speak negatively. Might be minor nitpicking (“Her pasta sauce is bland”) or gossip (“Her husband’s banging the nanny”) or full-on condemnation (“She’s a liar”). There are lots of ways to speak negatively.

Most of the time I hear this passage used to rebuke gossips. But considering the context—James went straight to talking about the Law—it clearly doesn’t mean minor badmouthing. It’s the full-on condemnation. The stuff where Christians are accusing one another of sin. And not following the process Jesus outlined, Mt 25.15-20 but trying to work the court of public opinion. Good old-fashioned backstabbing.

Part of the problem with how people interpret this passage has to do with dispensationalism: The belief the Law used to be how God saved people, but thanks to Jesus we’re saved by grace, and therefore the Law no longer counts. So much wrong with that idea: God always saved people by grace, and the Law didn’t save anyone, but was granted to a saved people to show ’em how now to live. Yes, Jesus fulfilled large parts of the Law, but as anyone who knows their 10 commandments can tell you, plenty of it still applies. The Law still defines right and wrong.

If you think the Law no longer counts, you won’t see the problem with badmouthing and criticizing the Law. Heck, you’re already doing it yourself. And James’s instruction will go right over your head. You will—as many a Christian has—skip the Law parts, and figure it’s only about saying mean things. Stop backbiting, Christians!

Pride and coveting destroys. Humility restores.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 August

James 4.1-10.

At the end of chapter 3 of his letter, James was making the point zeal and argumentativeness don’t come from God.

James 3.14-18 KWL
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

Just because Christians split this teaching into separate chapters, doesn’t mean James was done with his idea. That’s the context for the next 10 verses. Righteous fruit is sown by peace… and wars and battles don’t come from the same place. They don’t come from above.

James 4.1-4 KWL
1 Where do the wars and battles all of you have, come from? Not there!
They come out of your hedonism, the “field experience” of your limbs.
2 You all covet, and don’t have. You murder, act in zeal, yet you’re powerless to achieve it.
You fight and wage war, yet don’t have—because you don’t ask.
3 You ask, yet don’t receive because you ask for evil!
—so you might spend it on your hedonism.
4 Adultresses! Haven’t you known friendship with the world is enmity with God?
So whoever wants to be a friend of the world, is rendered God’s foe.

As leader of the Jerusalem Christians, James naturally had to deal with all their fights and spats. No doubt some of ’em escalated into violent physical confrontations, ’cause “eye for eye” and all that. With his experience, James knew precisely what sparked the bulk of these fights: People wanted their own way. They hadn’t submitted to God. (They sure wouldn’t submit to one another.) They had their own ideas how things should be, who should answer to whom, and what God “owes” us.

Even Christians who should know better, try to get away with this. Years ago my pastor bought a luxury car, and spent the bulk of a sermon trying to explain God permitted him this extravagance. It was a pretty pathetic defense. It was little better than what we hear in Prosperity Gospel churches—how God wants his kids to have the best of everything, so what’s wrong with a little mammonism? Years later the pastor gave his car away; that defended his purchase far better than his sermon ever did.

But my point, and James’s, is that our idonón/“hedonism” (KJV “lusts”) are our real motives for our behavior. Not wisdom from above. Jm 3.15-17 ’Tain’t from above; more like below.