The Art of Empathy or, Understanding Why People are Upset About Trump’s Win


_87170064_gettyimages-488226322The weeping and gnashing of teeth, as well as the rendering of garments, has commenced in full effect ever since Donald Trump won the election last Tuesday. We’ve seen protests, people crying, and heard rumors (some validated, others not) of minority groups being targeted. In short, a campaign unlike any others has given way to a transition unlike any others.

There have been quite a few Trump supporters – or even non-Trump supporters – questioning why people are so upset. They’re mocking those who protest. But to them, I’d ask that they consider the following:

In some alternate timeline, the Republicans ran Mitch McConnell and the Democrats ran Bill Maher. So we have someone who is the insider of insiders, with some massive issues (McConnell) running against a populist outsider (Maher).

During the election, Bill Maher is Bill Maher. He talks about how we have to monitor parents who raise their children within Christianity. He talks about how we should infiltrate and monitor conservative evangelical churches, just because they compromise the security of America. He shows warm feelings towards the current Chinese government (who is hardline Communist and attempting to retract many Capitalist gains). He uses multiple speeches to speak of how it’s not enough to just tax the wealthy, we have to imprison them to teach them a lesson on greed. He talks about how he wants to ban conservative media sources. He mocks anyone in “fly over” country as backwards, and does this while campaigning. And at his campaign, young far-left activists throw objects at Fox News reporters and other conservative news reporters. They mock them, spit at them, and create an environment of violence, all while Bill Maher looks on and says nothing.

And then he wins.

For many of you who are conservative, how would you feel? You’d be afraid, right? You’d be afraid that the new visitor in your church is actually a government plant, sent to spy on your church. You’d worry that just because of your beliefs, you’d now be a target by the President of the United States, who has openly campaigned on how he wants to remove your rights.

You’d have friends tell you, “I just couldn’t vote for McConnell, I want the system removed.” You’d question if they actually care about you, if they are actually concerned with who you are and your rights. It’d cause you to question the nation in which you live.

THAT is the reality that many, many people woke up to on November 9. They woke up to a world where the president-elect campaigned on promises to attack their way of life. And just as you would be scared, they are scared.

I get why you voted for Trump, I understand it, because many will say, “Well because that HAS been us for a number of years.” And to a certain extent, you’re right. While the President hasn’t mocked or threatened to remove the rights of Christians, many on the far-left have. But think of how it made you feel threatened, think of how it made you feel vulnerable, and realize that many people feel that way today because of your vote.

So maybe show some empathy to them? Maybe reach out and say, “Look, I voted for Trump because I want the system to crash; but if he does actually come after you, I’ll stand with you because I support principles before I support the party. I support the constitution more than I support ideology.” It’s bad enough that Trump was elected, but if we truly want “unity,” if we truly want “healing,” then those who voted for Trump have to reach out and say that they won’t stand for Trump acting on certain promises, that they’ll stand against Trump if he does try to live up to his rhetoric.

And if you do actually believe that the rights of Muslims should be curbed, if you do actually believe that we should ostracize Hispanics, if you do actually believe that America will become great by becoming more white, then you are the problem with this nation. Not the illegal immigrants, not the Muslims, not the African-Americans, but you.

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How to be a Christian in the Era of Donald Trump


Trumpolini (1)I sat there a bit dumbfounded and debated on if I had actually heard what I thought I heard. Rep. Steve King had just said that no other “subgroup” of people – that is, non-white, non-Western people – had contributed as much to society as white people, or as he sadly tried to explain, “Western Civilization.” Such openly racist remarks by an elected official are thankfully surprising and shocking, indicating some level of progress in the right direction as a society, but at the same time aren’t entirely surprising. That’s what happens when we live in the era of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump as a politician is a racist and is fanning the flames of racism. I cannot say if he is such as an individual, considering it’s impossible to know what part of his campaign is farcical and which part represents his actual beliefs. People can argue all they want and attempt to present as much nuance as they want, but when the alt-right (read: White Supremacists) and even a former KKK member feel comfortable with Trump and feel emboldened by his message, nuance no longer matters.

Let me get this part out of the way: No Christian should vote for Donald Trump. I’m not saying who Christians should vote for, but as Christians we are to love our neighbors. If a candidate comes along who asks us to hate our neighbors, who asks us to cast suspicion on our neighbors, who asks us to feel superior to our neighbors, then we must reject that candidate. When Klansmen and white supremacists sing the praises of your candidate, and it’s done en masse by such people, perhaps it’s time to realize you have the wrong candidate. That the Republicans, a party that has feigned moral superiority for decades, are choosing a racist leader doesn’t mean one must bow before party unity. One’s soul matters far more than one’s political party.

The above being said, how do we live in a Donald Trump era? See, the issue isn’t whether Donald Trump believes half of what he spews or just does it because it gets him votes (I happen to think he doesn’t believe much of what he says). The issue is that a majority of people in a major US political party have bought into his rhetoric. Regardless of if he believes his own lies, many other people do. Many other people would love to see us kick out undocumented immigrants (as though that’s feasible or ethical), many other people would love to kick out all Muslims or ban them from entering our country, many other people actually believe there’s something “special” about being white. How do we maintain sanity and love in an era marked by craziness and hate?

We continue to do what Christians have done throughout similar ages, which is to ignore the rabble and go about our business. It’s okay to take political stances and have political beliefs, but we must never let those beliefs turn us towards hatred of people, especially oppressed people. It’s okay to argue against illegal immigration (I, for one, would not). There are legitimate arguments and concerns against it. But it’s not okay to argue or to take a stance against illegal immigrants. These are people, human beings, who by being human beings hold an absolute right to exist and partake in the best life possible. That our government has a failed policy on immigration doesn’t mean we should argue against the individuals who take advantage of the failed policy. If you see an undocumented immigrant who needs food or water, your job as a Christian is to give him food and water. If you see him being taken advantage of, your job as a Christian is to help him obtain justice.

The Christian message isn’t built on superiority, but on humility. Christianity is not a “western” religion and no culture can lay claim to it. When the western world was still sacrificing animals to pagan gods, Christians in the east were building cathedrals. Western Europe wasn’t completely Christianized until the 11th century, well over 1,000 years after the founding of Christianity. Christianity transcends our culture and, ideally, should function to shape our culture and our ideals. While I’m a proponent of what is mistakingly called Western Civilization (is it really western if it began in the Middle East, was improved by Greece, and only reached a “western” Rome nearly 2,400 years after it began?), I have no grand delusions to say that Western Civilization is better or encompasses Christianity. Rather, I understand that my culture, my beliefs, my everything, must fall under the domain of Christianity. If my political belief is an inconvenience to Christianity, then the political belief must change. If Christianity calls for me to love my neighbor and a politician calls for me to hate my neighbor, then I must abandon that politician.

Living as a Christian in the era of Trump requires us to accept the fact that we’ve lost all political influence. We cannot hitch our trailer to Donald Trump and say, “At least he’ll promote some Christian things.” No, he won’t. One who promotes hatred goes against the core of Christianity. As Christians, we must support the candidate that will best allow us to fulfill our duty – that is, who won’t create laws or create a culture that actively inhibits us – to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A politician that would seek to see our neighbors imprisoned, deported, or ostracized from society isn’t a politician we can support. That doesn’t say much in the way of who we should vote for, but it says quite a bit about who we should not vote for. Living in the era of Trump means we have to forgo political gain and work harder to show love to our neighbors. Failure to do so will ensure that Christianity disappears from the United States, for no political movement can save us, no political movement can protect us, only by displaying love to our neighbors can we be saved.

Lex Luthor vs. Maximus the Confessor: An Apophatic Response to Atheism


Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman

Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers

As nerds around the world fume over, what many agree is “a crime against comic book fans” and “the worst superhero film of all time“, one aspect of Zack Snyder’s controversial new film, Batman vs. Superman, has yet to be analyzed. I am, of course, referring to: (SPOILER ALERT) Lex Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

Moments before the film’s climatic battle between two of the worlds most beloved heroes, the insidious Lex Luthor–portrayed in this film as a sort of morbid cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Victor Frankenstein, and Jim Carrey–delivers a good-ole-fashion super-villain monologue. One that explains his motivation for seeking to destroy Superman (a seemingly all powerful, godlike, being who writes the sports section at a local newspaper) and reveals the movie’s true meaning. That’s right folks, Batman vs. Superman is not merely a superhero flick; it’s an allegory.

Lex Luthor is the personification of New Atheist Post-Enlightenment ideology: a zealous scientist hellbent on proving to the world that God (i.e., Superman) is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent and, thus, a sham. Batman represents man’s struggle (unwittingly spurred on by Luthor’s ideology) to overcome and ultimately defeat the God delusion; a delusion that many claim is harmless–and even beneficial–yet has the potential to destroy humanity. In short, Luthor’s speech reveals that the true conflict in this film is not between Batman and Superman; but, between man and God . . . or, at least, a particular conception of God.

As a philosopher, I found this subversive underlying theme intriguing. Not the least of which, because it affords me the shameless opportunity to use pop-culture as a platform for having a serious philosophical discussion. Also, because it affords me the chance to correct several common misconceptions.

Stated succinctly, Lex Luthor’s idea of God is so far removed from traditional Classical Theism (CT) it’s laughable. To demonstrate this, I will contrast Luthor’s conception of divinity with that of one of the greatest ancient exponents of CT: St. Maximus the Confessor. Then I will show how St. Maximus’ apophatic approach to theology provides a powerful response to Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

We shall begin by examining Luthor’s conception of the divine, and his argument, a little more closely.

God as Man Writ Large

Lex Luthor holds a grossly anthropomorphic view of the Divine Essence. His picture of ‘God’ is simply ‘man writ large’.  In other words, he imagines God is something like a human being; only with unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

These are all attributes Superman appears to possess: he is virtually an unstoppable and indestructible being, he can listen to any conversation, or radio transmission, or TV broadcast, around the world, and has unlimited access to a Kryptonian super computer–containing virtually all the knowledge in the known universe–and seems completely unimpeachable.

Luthor’s conception of God–which I’m going to call the omniGod thesis–entails the Divine attributes are essential properties of the Divine Essence.  In other words, for Luthor, what it is to be God is to have: unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

Copy of Lex Luthor's God2It is precisely this conception of the divinity (or something like it) that many contemporary arguments for the nonexistence of God are aimed at. One popular line of reasoning goes like this: If we identify something from general experience that conflicts with the notion that a single being possessing one or more of the divine attributes actually exists, then we can show that God (who, just is, a single being possessing all of the divine attributes listed) does not exist.

Atheists, utilizing this type of argument, typically point to the fact of gratuitous evil to demonstrate that no omnipotent and omnibenevolent being actually exits. According to them, if such a being actually existed, it would, necessarily, ensure there was no gratuitous evil. In other words, if the omniGod thesis where true there would be no gratuitous evil. Since, however, we do experience evil, we can only conclude that God–conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being–does not exist.

Lex Luthor's God

The argument above is what philosophers call the problem of evil. Interestingly, Lex Luthor utilizes a similar line of reasoning in his climatic rooftop monologue. In this speech, it becomes crystal clear that his stupid-elaborate plan to wrangle Batman and Superman into a gladiator style battle is motivated by his determination to prove the Man of Steel does not posses the essential properties needed to be divine.

If Superman loses, and Batman kills him, he is not omnipotent. If Superman wins, and brings Batman’s head to Luthor, he is not omnibenevolent.  As a backup plan, Luthor also hacks into the source of Superman’s omniscience (i.e., the Kryptonian super-computer) and uses it to create an abomination that will totally obliterate the Man of Steel; thereby proving he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter what, the outcome of Luthor’s allegorical battle will prove, definitively, that: God is Dead!

St. Maximus and the Apophatic Way

In stark contrast to the omniGod thesis, Classical Theism (CT) has never pictured God as ‘man writ large’. Rather, it says God is so radically distinct, so different, so transcendent, that he is literally beyond understanding. Which is just another way of saying: we have no idea what God is! In fact, because he defies all human categories, and human thought, we can never know what God is. St. Maximus put it like this:

“God is one, unoriginate [i.e., he has no beginning or end or cause or explanation], incomprehensible . . . altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature.”

When he says God is “inaccessible to all”, he is not claiming it is impossible to have a relationship with God. Remember, he is using metaphysical language. What he means is, ‘God’s Essence’ or ‘Divine Nature’–what it is to be God–is inaccessible to the human intellect. Rest assured, St. Maximus strongly emphasizes the fact that we can enter into a direct personal relationship with God in his other writings. The point, in this passage, is to establish that we have no idea what God’s essential properties are.

He goes on to explain that the Divine Essence stands in marked contrast to created being which, according to St. Maximus, can be understood and lead us to believe God exists:

“Created beings are termed intelligible because each of them has an origin that can be known rationally. But God cannot be termed intelligible, while from our apprehension of intelligible beings we can do no more than believe that He exists. On this account no intelligible being is in any way to be compared with Him. Created beings can be known rationally by means of the inner principles which are by nature intrinsic to such beings and by which they are naturally defined. But from our apprehension of these principles inherent in created beings we can do no more than believe that God exists.”

In other words, creation (which encompasses everything in existence outside of God) is fundamentally intelligible. This means it is possible for the human intellect to grasp it, to define it, and to explain it. The Creator, however, exists outside of the universe; and we simply can not grasp the nature of something outside the universe. We can, according to Maximus, know that the Creator exits; but we can’t say what he is.

Classical Theism: Radical Ontological Distinction Between Creator and Creation

classical theism

 

An Apophatic Response to Atheism

It may have occurred to you, by now, that CT is completely immune to arguments for the nonexistence of God like Lex Luthor’s. Why? Because Lex Luthor style arguments are aimed at the omniGod thesis; which assumes God’s attributes are His essential properties.

According to proponents of CT like St. Maximus, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For him, the attributes are either negative statements (with no positive content) or grounded in God’s energies (i.e., his active presence in the world). For example, to say that God is omnipotent is really just to say: God does not lack power. This is a negative–or, apophatic–statement with no positive content.

Positive statements can be made, but are made in reference to God’s energies (not to His essence). For example, when we say that God is good or just, we are not referring to His essence but to His energies. We come to believe God is good or just because he reveals Himself as good or just through His real presence and interaction, in history, with people and in the world.

All things considered, Lex Luthor is, not only, a disappointing super-villain, but a lackluster philosopher.

The Walsh Awakens: Matt Walsh Stares into the Trump and the Trump Stares Back


trump sewer.jpg

Matt Walsh stares into the abyss, only to find Donald Trump staring back

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of my favorite philosophers. Not because I agree with him – I find his views to be quite dangerous – but because he’s so absurd, so willing to take his thoughts to their conclusions, and there’s that perverse part of me that enjoys watching a crazy man shout in the streets. Nietzsche is to philosophy what Gary Busey is to television; both have staying power even though no one really knows why, both pump out Tweets (or “sayings” for Nietzsche, but they were Tweets before Twitter) that look deep, but are just asinine, yet I’ll be damned if it’s not the most entertaining thing you’ll see.

Which brings me to a very famous and oft misunderstood quote by Nietzsche:

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.

And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

The point being, the longer you fight against a thing, the more likely you are to become that thing (or like it) or realize you already are like that thing. We sometimes hate something not because we’re actually opposed to it, but because it exposes us for what we are.

And the mentioning of Gary Busey brings me to another point…Donald Trump. Trump, much like Ron Burgundy, is kind of a big deal, especially if you ask him. He’s the bull and the United States is his china shop. What ought to worry most people is that Donald Trump, as of January 2016, has a legitimate chance to become the next president of the United States. One conservative who is worried, shockingly enough, is shock jock Blaze columnist Matt Walsh.

Walsh is baffled (BAFFLED!) that evangelical Christians could possibly support Donald Trump as president. Walsh appropriately points out that Trump is the antithesis of Christian values. I happen to agree with Walsh here as Trump’s positions do contradict everything within Christianity. Of course, that’s not what Walsh meant. Walsh, instead, points to Trump’s personal life and the fact that he’s apparently not “God-fearing” as the reason he’s anti-Trump. In other words, Walsh’s problems are with the guy’s behavior and not his beliefs, and that’s a problem.

It’s inconsistent for Walsh to actually take a stand against Trump because the two are almost eye-to-eye on the policy level. Donald Trump wants to deport all illegal immigrants and ban them from entering the country, just as Matt Walsh wants to deport all illegal immigrants. Donald Trump wants to stop the refugees from entering the country, just like Matt Walsh wants to stop them.  Donald Trump wants to stop political correctness by speaking “truth,” which, as you guessed, Matt Walsh wants to stop political correctness by speaking “truth.” Donald Trump likes a low minimum wage, as does Matt Walsh. Both agree that we don’t have a police abuse problem in America, and that African Americans aren’t suffering from it, but rather that the African American community is the problem (of course, without putting it in those terms).

And the list really does go on. I tried to find one major area of major disagreement and I came up with nothing. If you take the person of Donald Trump out of the equation and just look at the issues, then Donald Trump is the ideal candidate for Matt Walsh. So why isn’t Walsh wanting to #TrumpTheVote? Because he doesn’t like Trump as a person and he can’t understand why people, evangelical Christians, his readers, like Trump so much.

What Matt Walsh doesn’t realize, or perhaps he realizes and fears, is that Donald J. Trump is the personification of Matt Walsh’s – and by extension the far right’s – beliefs, and they don’t like what they see. After all, he accurately calls Trump “Godless,” and even an atheist would have to agree that Trump is pretty godless. Or, to quote Matt Walsh,

I know this will not resonate with atheists, but for us God-fearing folk it is extraordinarily obvious and irrefutable that we ought to only vote for other God-fearing folk. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” I think it goes without saying that if the governed ought to be moral and religious, certainly the governors ought to be the same, and arguably more so.

That brings me to Donald Trump. I’ve tried to talk sense into Trump fans a thousand different ways and to no avail. It is a mob mentality driving Trump-mania, and mobs are famously difficult to reason with.

There is no use in trying to appeal to them as one group, anyway. Many elements comprise the Trump base, and most of them have values and principles that are completely antithetical to what any real conservative believes. But in the middle of this bizzare [sic] Trumpling potpourri are, apparently, Christians. Perhaps a vast number of them.

Ignoring the idea that not a single president has ever been “God-fearing” (how does one fear God, but not enough to free one’s slaves?), all of this argues against the person of Donald Trump, but not the policies of Donald Trump. But other than the fact that Donald Trump is a disgusting excuse for a human being, what policy differences does he supposedly have with Trump? What values and principles does Trump have that are antithetical to conservatives, but still somehow leads to (allegedly) conservative policy beliefs? How can two antithetical – that is, contradictory – beliefs result in the same policy decisions across the board? It’s one thing to have some overlap (Bernie Sanders, who begins from a non-Christian belief, still holds some policy decisions that overlap old Christian political beliefs), but to have a 1:1 match goes beyond a bit of overlap.

While Communism is the logical conclusion of Capitalism, at their core the two are antithetical, meaning that at a policy level one will have to give way to the other. Christianity and atheism are antithetical beliefs, meaning that if one derives one’s political beliefs from one’s metaphysical beliefs, there will be some differences in the political beliefs. Higher order beliefs will always impact lower order beliefs, meaning anything contradictory at a higher order will lead to contradictory policy beliefs (if consistency exists).

While Matt Walsh serves as a good whipping boy, the fact is there are many evangelical Christians who hold the same policy beliefs as Trump, but are somehow baffled by Trump’s success and abhor him as a person. In essence, they’ve stared into the abyss and found Donald Trump staring back. They’re left with some very unsettling conclusions:

  1. If a godless man such as Donald Trump comes to the same policy beliefs that they, the God-fearing evangelical conservatives have, then perhaps Trump isn’t godless, or perhaps being God-fearing doesn’t really matter in picking the “right” policy. Apparently one can be God-fearing, godless, or anything in between and still come to the correct conclusions in terms of policies
  2. If a godless man such as Donald Trumps holds the same policy beliefs as God-fearing evangelical conservatives, then maybe those policy beliefs don’t actually stem from a Christ-centered belief structure

Either option isn’t fun.

Christians have seemingly ignored the warnings of Francis Schaeffer, who rather than being the cause of the Religious Right (a famous, but absurdly inaccurate belief) actually warned against the rise of the Religious Right. In both A Christian Manifesto and The Great Evangelical Disaster, Schaeffer warns Christians to never become allies with the political process or political parties, to always act as co-belligerents on areas of agreement. Schaeffer was, of course, referencing the issue of abortion, arguing that Christians shouldn’t ally with Republicans in fighting abortion, but should instead stand as co-belligerents on this one issue.

Instead, today we have a form of Christianity that is almost entirely a co-opted wing of the Republican Party. Rather than evangelicals influencing Republicans, the conservatives, or the far right, we have the far right influencing evangelicals (and even some Catholics and Orthodox). Of course, not all conservative evangelicals are enamored with Trump and unlike Matt Walsh, they can stand against Trump with consistency. Dr. Russell Moore has not really argued against the person of Trump, so much as he’s argued against the ideas and policies of Trump, something Matt Walsh and other far right conservatives cannot do without a hint of irony.

Ultimately, to play off the idea of Russell Moore, conservative evangelicals have adopted a golden calf (not that liberal evangelicals are any better). But that golden calf isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the heartless and godless beliefs that are behind Trump. The anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-refugee, pro-nationalistic, pro-authoritarianism beliefs are not Christian and have never been Christian. While Christians have co-opted the world’s beliefs, they’ve done so by damaging the Gospel, not enhancing it. The golden calf in modern America, for conservatives, is conservatism itself. It’s the modern conservatism that comes with an implicit “America First” belief. It’s a political belief that looks to the nation before looking to the world or, more importantly, looking to Christ.

Christianity is a global religion with global ramifications. As a Christian I am called to help all, regardless of the consequences. In the far right there are caveats or complete blocks to who I can help. Donald Trump isn’t a compatible candidate because his personal life is a cesspool of human waste; he’s not a compatible candidate because his beliefs and policies attack the very heart of the Gospel. If your beliefs align with his, even if you hate him, perhaps rather than condemning the darkness of Trump’s heart it’s best to gaze into the abyss of your own. But be warned, the abyss might gaze back.

The Gospel and Social Justice: Concluding Thoughts on Pope Francis’ visit to the United States


IMG_0513Steve Skojec, writing in opposition to Pope Francis’ calls for action on climate change and social justice, did a wonderful job of summarizing the core of the opposition to the Pope’s message: stop focusing so much on social justice and instead focus on salvation. Or, to quote from Skojec;

As Thursday’s congressional address emphasized, however, Francis’ priorities are climate change, economic justice, marginalization and the poor, while little emphasis is placed on the deep moral and spiritual crisis that threatens our eternal salvation or our subsequent need for authentic conversion.

According to him, and others, it would be better for the Pope and Christians universal if they instead tried to get people to convert. While it’s okay to feed the poor and advocate for climate change, it’s only okay so long as we’re using such things to “preach the Gospel.” Otherwise, such actions are merely indicative of a glorified NGO.

We’re told that the purpose of the Church isn’t to be some humanitarian organization, but to “save souls,” completely ignoring 2,000 years of teachings, handed-down wisdom, and theology that teaches us there is no difference between the two. After all, when Christ stated the two greatest commandments, they boiled down to, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Those are vague enough to allow us to display that love in unique ways, but strict enough to tell us that love should be the drive in all that we do. Within these commandments, and within Christ’s own teachings and actions, we never see a hierarchy of what constitutes “love,” that one action involves a greater act of love than the other (short of self-sacrifice).

The problem, or so it seems, is that too many Christians hold this idea that the Gospel is ultimately about doing what we should in order to get to heaven. What we should do in order to obtain heaven differs from denomination to denomination, but the ultimate motive behind salvation tends to be, “What must I do to go to Heaven?” Of course, within Christ’s own teachings there is never a dichotomy placed between “being saved” and “social justice.” For Christ there seems to be a both/and aspect to salvation, that preaching the Gospel entails both advocating for social justice and for repentance.

In fact, the criticisms of the modern Pope on his calls for social justice are really a repudiation of millennia of Church teachings. Trust me, as someone who is Eastern Orthodox I do have criticisms of the Papal office, I do have issues with their theology – there is a reason that I’m Orthodox and not Roman Catholic – but those criticisms do not extend to his teachings on social justice. Such criticisms show a lack of imagination and historical understanding in attempting to separate the Gospel from social justice. The two, per Christ’s own example and teachings, are one in the same.

Acting as though salvation is about getting to Heaven (or getting right with God), or primarily about such things is no different than acting as though marriage is all about sex, or primarily about sex. Salvation, like marriage, is about a life-altering relationship that will impact every single aspect of your life. In return, it forces you to change how you view and interact with the world, realizing that some will come to salvation not through the booming cadence of the preacher, but through the quiet actions of love.

Certainly, turning from sin is an important thing as it is a form of liberation. But if we cannot move to liberate people from their current troubles, then what hope can we offer for liberation from sin? What is hunger compared to sin? Yet, if we cannot feed people now, if we cannot eradicate their physical hunger, how can we possibly hope to feed their spiritual hunger? Feeding the poor is the Gospel, because the action fits the immediate need while pointing to a future where hunger will not exist. Advocating change against climate change – a change that is harming humans – is preaching the Gospel, because we’re following in Christ’s footsteps by calling for Heaven here on earth, and in heaven there won’t be overconsumption and abuse of resources. All actions by Christians always hold both an immediate meaning and a deeper meaning (much like Scripture). Christians are to always preach the Gospel, sometimes with words, but always with deeds. If we follow the example of Christ, then we’ll find it impossible to place a barrier between the Gospel and social justice; for how can you have one without the other?

Politics and the Pope: The Dying Gasp of the Religious Right


IMG_1894I (Joel) am not Roman Catholic. Josh (the other writer) is…actually a Ukranian Greek Catholic, so it might be odd to see me come to the defense of the Pope (of course, he is in the UK so perhaps he’s able to avoid all the garbage here in the US). Then again, I’m not necessarily defending the Pope as I’m pointing out the contradictions within the (mostly) Republican circles as of late.

As expected, the Pope’s address to Congress has generated controversy even before it’s occurred. What might shock people is the controversy stems from conservatives, especially conservative Catholics. We’ve been told that abortion and homosexual marriage are perfectly legitimate topics of discussion for the Pope, but economics, climate change, and the like are off limits because “he has no experience.” Of course, he can talk all he wants (according to these conservatives) about abortion or “gay marriage,” regardless of the fact that the Pope has no experience in abortions or being married (or one would hope).

Regardless, these conservatives are engaging in a dichotomy foreign to Christianity, separating “faith” from “secular”; they are compartmentalizing the faith, acting as though Christianity’s voice is limited to two or three “secular” topics, but must remain silent after that. Of course, Christianity touches on every aspect of life, but such an acknowledgement admittedly puts one at odds with the current system. After all, how can I love my neighbor if I won’t let him cross my border? How can I pray for my enemies while also celebrating and mocking their demise? How can I care for the poor while also attempting to profit off their poverty? Being a Christian who actually follows the teachings of Christ is never an easy thing, regardless of one’s political leanings.

When a libertarian Catholic priest, Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute (you know, the same group that argued for child slave labor in the modern age) argues that the Pope shouldn’t speak on economics because he doesn’t understand it, or when Rep. Paul Gosar boycotts the Pope’s speech in Congress (and Gosar is a Catholic), I think it’s say to say that conservatives have jumped the shark. Whereas they used to argue that they upheld family values and wanted a “Christian nation,” when faced with the prospects of a Christian economy – one that would promote equality and justice and shame avarice – they quickly argue, “Well, a Christian nation in everything except economics.” Whereas liberal Christians might be at fault for allowing too much Marx into their Christianity, conservative Christians are at fault for mixing too much Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises into their Christian beliefs.

For such people there is a belief that morality has nothing to do with a business or even the environment. The mantra, “A business exists to make a profit,” while simplistic is still taken as Gospel truth for many on the right. To a certain extent it’s not exactly false. After all, a business must make a profit if it hopes to survive, but making a profit is a goal in a business, not the goal in a business. For Christian ethics, absolutely everything boils down to two things: (1) Does this help me love God and, in the same manner, (2) does this help me love my neighbor? Everything in the Christian ethos rests upon those two principles. Even businesses fall under this question, meaning that a business should actually exist to help me love God (via being creative) and help me love my neighbor (by serving him, not exploiting him, not taking advantage of him, etc).

Really, all the Pope has argued is that any economic system must be built to help people and not hurt people. The current Capitalistic system does hurt people, so of course he’ll be at odds with it. And at what point in the history of Catholicism has the Church been friendly with Capitalism? Pope Leo III, in the late 1800s, wrote an Rerum Novarum against both Socialism and Capitalism. G.K. Chesterton lamented the practices of Capitalism in the 1920s. Even J.R.R. Tolkien contained implicit condemnations of industrialization and capitalism in Lord of the Rings (and explicit condemnations of both in his private letters). At no point has a major figure from the Catholic Church ever come out in favor of the excesses of Capitalism, mostly because the excesses of Capitalism are in direct contradiction to Christianity.

Christianity, at its base, is and always has been about helping the poor, the oppressed, and those without hope. It has always sought justice against the injustice of a fallen world. That the current Pope is doing the same thing ought not surprise anyone. And for those that believe Christianity ought to remain silent on matters of economics or the environment, then ask why we ought to have a voice at all. After all, if the Christian voice is supposed to remain silent when it comes to how the rich treat the poor, why can it suddenly speak up on how a mother treats the unborn? Christianity touches every part of our lives, which will always challenge us and our ideologies, but that’s kind of the point.

Contra Trump or, Am I My Brother’s Keeper?


11223477_1451611278481353_4485094499263895302_nThe current GOP frontrunner – you know, even though we’re over a year away from the presidential election – Donald Trump has stated some pretty horrible things about immigrants (legal or otherwise). Donald Trump has un-ironically called the United States a “dumping ground” for the rest of the world (forgetting the fact that every single white person in the United States descends from an immigrant). What’s quite worrisome, however, is that evangelical Christians – the largest group of Christians in the United States and a substantial part of the GOP voting bloc – happen to love Donald Trump. His famous interaction with Jorge Ramos notwithstanding, Trump’s aide was quick to tell Mr. Ramos to “Get out of my country,” even though Mr. Ramos is a US citizen. White nationalists view Trump as a step in the right direction and some even support his views on both legal and illegal immigration. There are also reports of Trump supporters inciting violence against Latinos. The point is, Donald Trump hates immigrants (both legal and illegal), his supporters are becoming violent with immigrants (especially Latinos), and somehow this guy gets the support of the evangelical Christian group.

In light of such support, I think that it is time we announce the death of something that was never alive; American Christianity. That isn’t to say that America, at one time, held to an idea of Christianity and to a culture of Christianity, but there’s never really been a “Christian America” that so many desire. Of course, at this moment, there most certainly is not a “Christian America.” Rather than a nation of those willing to follow Christ’s teachings, we are instead a nation of Cain’s, constantly asking if we are our brother’s keeper, or saying that our brother isn’t actually our brother.

We slew Native Americans without a second thought, we chased out many Latinos who had settled in the old territory of Mexico (modern day Southwestern US), and we enslaved millions of Africans. We beat and brutalized freed slaves, refused them rights, refused them respect, and looked upon them with disdain and unwarranted hatred. Along the way God called down to the Christians who participated and encouraged such acts, but they responded with, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” while the blood of their brethren cried out to God for justice.

In the modern age we see the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of former slaves kept in poverty, under the constant brutal treatment by police, and we blame “them” for such a situation. Not once have evangelicals, as a whole, truly offered to help. When a prominent Reformed evangelical can make the argument that slavery wasn’t all that bad while co-writing the paper with a member of the League of the South (a quasi-white nationalist group; quasi in the sense that their stance can be summarized as, “We don’t hate anyone who isn’t white, we just think they should act like us and follow our rules”) and is still praised by almost every Reformed evangelical out there (including John Piper), it’s easy to see there’s a problem.

And now we have a candidate who spews open animosity towards immigrants, specifically Latinos, and white evangelicals are quick to jump on board with such hatred. Such views do not function within Christian beliefs. In fact, there isn’t a form of nationalism in existence that can properly coincide with true Christianity (looking at you “Britain First”) because Christianity, by its very existence, is sans-national and multi-ethnic. There is no such thing as a Christian nation, a Christian culture, or even a Christian identity. There are creeds, beliefs, faiths, liturgies, but while all are unified in one belief, they are distinct in their existential nature.

True Christianity is by its nature diverse. After all, central to the Christian belief – so central that to remove it removes any semblance of Christianity – is the Trinity. The belief that God is one in essence, but three persons creates a religion that is founded in a paradox where both unity and diversity are needed in equal measure. The modern evangelical calls for a monolithic state, a state with one religion, one language, one culture, and ultimately one race (the implicit desire in these Trump rallies, though never explicitly stated and always openly denied). Such an evangelical is properly called an evangelical – for they’re evangelists for a nationalistic and modernistic cause – but are improperly called evangelical Christians, for their message represents nothing within Christianity. A Christianity that doesn’t allow for and appreciate diversity isn’t properly Christian.

Thus, here we are again today looking at brothers who are bruised and battered. They want to come to the United States for refuge, for jobs, for an opportunity their children can’t have. While the United States is declining and certainly full of many errors, it is still a better place than many of the places these people are leaving. We have the capacity to help them, especially if we unify and appreciate the diversity. We have the resources to help, so long as we take the drastic and necessary steps to promote economic justice. But we see our jobs sent overseas by rich billionaires (such as Trump) and make the non sequitur conclusion that immigrants are at fault for our job loss. We then take away their rights, we dehumanize them, we beat them and leave them on the streets. And so their blood cries out to God again as it is spilt on the ground, and we coldly and with narcissistic bitterness ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”