America: how can such a “Christian” nation be so entirely lacking in grace? A political elite that, in its cult of human sacrifice, is an Aztecan priesthood in suits. A popular culture that valorises vulgarity, braggadocio, and humiliation. A fuck-you society whose iconic edifice is the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Blackguards are role models, Mammon chairs the school board, pedagogy is a lost and hungry soul. Loving your mother though she’s a whore is one thing, but when she’s Lamia devouring your siblings?
Of course preachers will be hypocrites; hypocrisy is intrinsic to their vocation. They preach with double-vision: they see their congregation, but first they see themselves – and tremble.
Prayer before the “message”: “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts – check that: perish the ‘thoughts’ – may my words be entertaining, needs-meeting, biblically cut-and-paste, and go well with my shirt. Patriotic would be good too. And lucrative, please. Amen.”
“I hate the sin, but I love the sinner,” conservatives will say when talking about gay people. But do they have any gay friends? I think what is usually meant is “I love gaykind, not gay people.”
Should we anticipate the last trumpet with terror? It all depends on whether the soloist is a marine blowing “Commence Firing” or a Miles playing “So What”.
In a dream I asked Jesus, “Will anyone go to hell?” And the Lord replied, “Over my dead body.”
I’m a universalist but, as a thought experiment, I can just about imagine a populated hell – with those, like Moses and Paul, who could wish themselves accursed in order to secure the salvation of others. In other words, a hell full of lovers, not sinners. But then the one thing hell cannot abide is love; indeed, an invasion of love would mean hell’s destruction. Hence, the thought experiment collapses into a reductio ad absurdum. Hell remains an empty set.
I see that Rob Bell’s Love Wins is now out in paperback. Bell’s opponents are delighted: it burns even better than the hardback. And speaking of Bell: Okay, Love Wins is a flawed book, but remembering its audience covers a multitude of its sins – people who think Paul wrote, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is hell.”
What will the people in hell be like? Quite unlike the people who think they know the answer to the question.
A “personal relationship with Jesus” – what’s that all about? If it’s equivalent to “faith in Jesus Christ”, fine. But it’s not, is it? It’s a shibboleth that inflates to an unmediated experience of walking and talking with an invisible person, of spending quality time together, and if it doesn’t work out, well, “Down, dooby do, down down”. In fact, with Luther and Barth, having a “personal relationship with Jesus” could be said to be the opposite of faith, a theologia gloriae, faith being unanchorable in psychology, not a feeling but a self-negation, sub specie crucis. The phrase itself is hardly biblical; indeed it is quite zeitgeisty, religious coinage in our being-in-a-relationship economy. In fact, talking with people about their “personal relationship with Jesus”, I invariably conclude that they are in the realm of projection and fantasy. There. I guess that makes me a sad, if not bad, Christian.
Responses on being given the eucharistic bread with the words “The body of Christ”:
Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist: “Amen.”
Congregationalist, Baptist: “Thank you.”
When, at some future day, our period of civilisation shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, a certain kind of American evangelical theology will stand out as a great, a unique phenomenon of the mental and spiritual life of our time. For nowhere save in this American evangelical temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic thinness, critical perversity, historical preposterousness, and religious fetishism – without which no bonkers theology is possible. And the greatest achievement of this American evangelical theology is the Clouseauean investigation of the life of Adam.
– Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Adam
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” What was John Wesley thinking when he cited such a pharisaical canard? Maybe of his mum Susanna, telling him to go wash his hands before supper? Still, just to be on the safe side, I’ve added exfoliating gloves and a body polisher to my daily technology of prayer.
Another problem with WWJD ethics: the question induces us to speculate rather than to attend. Or you could say the tense is wrong: the question is not “What would Jesus do?” but “What is Jesus doing?”
Advocates of Just War theory think of it as the middle way between the two extremes of warmongering and pacifism. Yeah, like 2+2=5 is the middle way between 2+2=6 and 2+2=4.
Ideology: If the facts don’t fit, fuck ‘em. The patron saint of ideology is Procrustes.
Cinema’s top 5 quotations relocated in the New Testament:
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” (Mark 7:27).
“Hasta la vista, baby” (Acts 5:3-4).
“In a galaxy far, far away” (John 1:1).
“Do you feel lucky, punk” (Matthew 27:11b).
“Here’s looking at you, kid” (Luke 1:28).
That a biblical imaginary has informed and shaped the minds of our greatest novelists and poets is evident in the fact that theirs are narratives and images of sin, failure, pain and sorrow – and of hope only against hope.
In her recent When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson shows herself, characteristically, to be an acute yet most gracious critic – except when it comes to John Spong. With Spong, Robinson gets luminously sarky. What about? Not so much Spong’s literalist liberalism as his supercilious supersessionism, not so much his intellectual crudity as his moral discourtesy.
Marilynne Robinson is very much like Karl Barth – not a liberal humanist Calvinist but a Calvinist liberal humanist.
Yes, I think I’m in love with Marilynne Robinson. It’s platonic, of course. The adultery is purely intellectual. Still, I’d rather you not tell my wife.
Good critics, unlike good writers, cannot make things, but they can make things better.
Baseball writer Tim Brown began an article dismissing public outrage over Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who, in a Times magazine interview, had expressed “respect” for Fidel Castro, by asking, “What, you thought you were getting Henry Kissinger?” No, Tim, a dictator is one thing, a war criminal quite another.
From the crowd, George Carey shouts, “Hit a home run!” From the dugout, Rowan Williams signals for a bunt. The strikeouts mount; the church has forgotten how to lay down a sacrifice.
I don’t have a guardian angel, I’ve got a guardian principality. You guessed it – baseball.