Saturday, October 04, 2008

Is Faith Another Word For Brainwash?

A well nobody dug filled with
no water
ripples and a shapeless
weightless man drinks.
The weeds at the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but erelong to die and go down likewise; the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition; the chips and reeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.
---Henry David Thoreau
The mind is like water: when it's still, there is reflection; when disturbed, no mirror. Muddled by folly and craving, fanned by misleading circumstances, it surges and billows, never stopping for a moment. Looking at it this way, where can you go and not be mistaken! It's like trying to look into a flowing spring to see your own appearance---it never forms.
Let's not be irrational about this. The widely-distributed still you can see at Middle East Online from the notorious video of Sarah Palin, then running for governor of Alaska I believe, receiving a blessing from a Kenyan pastor to protect her from the influence of witches, is not meant by me to mock either the vice presidential candidate or African rituals. Services and spells to ward off or cast out demons are practiced by most religions everywhere in the world. Not only that, I'm sure many of our presidents and vice presidents went through rituals like this, of one kind or another, to join a Masonic temple or Skull & Bones or even Alpha Bokka Babee fraternity. What did primitives make of Christian missionaries offering them the flesh and blood of Christ? This article is not about such rituals, hair-raising or otherwise.
I watched the vice presidential debate again last night from a tape I made of it. I was a debater in high school on a champion team, and I know very well how much theater goes into such things. When I watch a theater piece the first time, I let it take me and experience the emotional impact. I like magic tricks and marvel myself into the illusion. Later, maybe like most people, I want to know how it works. There were some moments among Biden, Palin and Iffel that I wanted to see for that reason.
I wanted to see what Biden and Palin did while the other was speaking. Were they listening to each other or preparing their next remarks? I wanted to see the moments in which one really dominated the other. I wanted to see Biden go after this "maverick" thing. (How can there be a "team of mavericks?" Is that something like an idiot savant?) But most of all, I wanted to see Sarah Palin's response to Joe Biden's recollection about losing part of his family in an accident and fearing a son was going to die. Many people have commented about how moving the senator was as he went through it, and also how the governor seemed to have no response at all.
It's only fair to say the camera was not on Sarah while Joe spoke. Unless alternate footage is produced, we don't know if she was listening or getting ready to go after her next topic. Nor would her response be particularly important, if she didn't constantly talk about home and family, the kitchen table and God...and pluck at our heartstrings about a challenged child or 2. She just had been doing that, to which Joe's extemporaneous comment was an identified reply. So, what is it in a person that brings her to block an obvious need for an honest acknowledgment of suffering?
There are a number of Evangelicals in the school where I work. I wouldn't know that, except in the past few years they have been asserting their religion more and more obviously. For a while there was a contemporary Christian radio station playing all day in the front office...and mellow vanilla-scented candles going to further the mood. My daughter received abstinence-only sex "education" in 3 different classes one year. One of the classes would have been called Home Ec in the old days, but here a 3-day old embryo, that could have become a stringbean or salamander, was identified as a "baby just like you and me." There was an optional bible study class for girls after school. I asked around if it was OK if priests came in to receive optional confession? New Testaments still get handed out to kids annually as they leave school property, cross the public sidewalk, and get on the school busses. What if pagans used the same technique to distribute free brochures about animal spirit dieties?
For the past 2 or 3 years I shared classrooms and work assignments with a member of this group. I know that because she occasionally tried to get me to go to week-long missionary evening intensives at her church. A couple of those were being led, I believe she said, by a remarkable pastor from Kenya. Could it have been the same guy? She described amazing phenomena happening, like people fainting at his touch and being healed of cancer. People regularly were ecstatically inspired to speak in tongues, and another time angel feathers came down from the sky upon the preacher. OK, but I don't go to church for spectacle...and wasn't in the mood to do research at the time, so I never took her up on it. A work colleague had tried to "save" me once before, years ago.
What I have wanted to do during these Bush years of Evangelical aggression is engage such people in talk about issues. Back when Bush/Quayle ran against Clinton/Gore, I was working in a government office and there was a superior who liked to talk politics at lunch. We were both educators who had taught social studies, and now were lending whatever skills we had to the bureaucracy. I knew she was conservative but we enjoyed comparing our views, and were delighted to find out how much we agreed about many things. She wanted to vote for Clinton/Gore...but said she couldn't. Couldn't? This is where her church came in...and the first time I learned about her religion. Clinton/Gore was in favor of women choosing for themselves about the conclusion of a pregnancy. This single issue compelled her vote for Bush/Quayle. After I left that work I tried to maintain email contact, but I never received a reply.
Anyway, I began to push back against Evangelicals at my school...and was eager for any kind of topic to come up in which I could engage them. One time the woman I mentioned was talking again in the classroom (she did this constantly) about their successful youth group. An average get-together brought out 400 kids, she said---and I have no reason to doubt it. There are summer Jesus camps too, but I think something about this group is known as The Pillar of Fire. She had been busy making a gigantic wall painting and was quite excited about it. I asked if the nature of the flame was for revelation or punishment. (I know they may not be mutually exclusive.) O, it was the judgement of the Lord...and fire rains down upon the sinners. I asked her abruptly if forgiveness ever was taught in her church. Without hesitation, she said No.
The other day, I was talking with another teacher who works in what now is called Industrial Arts. Among other things, he introduces middle school students to the precision of blueprinting or mechanical drawing. We were chatting about the troubles with the US money system. I just had attended a retirement seminar, and was sharing how every participant lamented there was no way anyone could afford to retire anymore. The cost of health insurance has all of us trapped inside our benefit package until we finally croak in the classroom. My friend shrugged, smiled and said, "It doesn't matter. No one will need money at The End of Times." He looked completely at peace.
I've noticed universally in my discussions with Evangelicals, that you can get to a certain point with them, usually a challenging one or a fact that surely should amend their argument, and they look away from you and sort of go blank. It's as if I've said something that just pulls some kind of plug connected to the juice. I realize that in their minds, they probably are identifying me at the moment as the Great Tempter himself. My words, just because of who I am, are straight from Hell, no matter what they sound like, no matter what I'm saying. I'm challenging their very Faith.
When I've been to Pentecostal meetings---and I have been---I've been struck by the intensity. Usually there's a circle---which of course we equate with some kind of cozy intimacy---or church seating itself in a semi-circle and pounding, amplified music, often rock influenced. The speakers talk through microphones at high volume, sometimes even to distortion so you have to strain to understand what's said. Sensorily you are inundated. People are gyrating, holding hands, or in a meditation with arms outstretched. One's perception is greatly heightened, and light itself seems more yellow and bright. One might think one was closer to Salvation, unless a hormone measurement at the moment would reveal that this is what such input does to any human. Bah, this is why they hate "science"!
Probably there is something about everyone's faith that defies reason or logical expectation. I guess that's why we take in on faith. Faith is supposed to make you strong in the face of temptation and catastrophe. Faith is the engine (Sarah Palin likes that word) that drives you through life---and, if necessary, through death. I do not deny faith. I have some myself. But I like to think it was not created by scary masks, bludgeoning chants, and hallucinatory magic. I even enjoy a challenge to my faith. I try not to invite it, but if it happens I hope it will survive. If it doesn't, and that has happened before, I will change it. I will improve. I will strengthen into something different.
I pray I will not tune out. I pray I will not accept coincidence as some sign that God is on my side. My greatest devotion is to refuse to accept monetary comfort as proof I have been chosen to effect the Will of God upon the world. Maybe this makes me a mystic. A great Tibetan Buddhist teacher told me I was a wild mountain monk, incapable of receiving the teachings among the rank and file. Perhaps. I like to think I'm just an old-fashioned American voter, who puts all this stuff aside when he walks into City Hall.


jazzolog said...

Sarah Palin Is Not A Palindrome
even though she comes from Idaho. A palindrome is a word or sentence that makes sense reading it frontwards or backwards. Here is a palindrome with Idaho in it: O had I nine more hero-men in Idaho!

As you can see SarahPalin spelled backwards is NilapHaras. Obviously she makes no sense. Nil means nothing or a trifle, and upharass works only as some kind of obscene pun.

Nor is she related to Monty Python comedian Michael Palin. But according to a new book, called Joined-Up Thinking: How To Connect Everything To Everything Else by Stevyn Colgan, Palin is a name that can be traced back to 11th century Normandy. They might share ancestry. "Palin" comes from the Latin, meaning, as you might guess, "backwards." So, there you go...again.

Don't miss Maureen Dowd yesterday~~~

"I had hoped I was finally done with acting as an interpreter for politicians whose relationship with the English language was tumultuous.

"There’s W.’s gummy grammar, of course, like the classic, 'Is our children learning?' And covering the first Bush White House required doing simultaneous translation for a president who never met a personal pronoun he liked or a wacky non sequitur he could resist.

"Poppy Bush drew comparisons to Warren G. Harding, whose prose reminded H. L. Mencken of 'a string of wet sponges. ... It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.' When Harding died, E. E. Cummings lamented, 'The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead.'

Being mush-mouthed helped give the patrician Bushes the common touch. As Alistair Cooke observed, 'Americans seem to be more comfortable with Republican presidents because they share the common frailty of muddled syntax and because, when they attempt eloquence, they do tend to spout a kind of Frontier Baroque.'

"Darn right. And that, doggone it, brings us to a shout-out for the latest virtuoso of Frontier Baroque, bless her heart, the governor of the Last Frontier. Her reward’s in heaven."

Anonymous said...

Several of the churches Sarah Palin attended have been extensively involved in the Third Wave Movement (aka "the New Apostolic Reformation," "Joel's Army," and "Manifest Sons of God").

For those unfamiliar with that particular (an peculiar) brand of Christianity (and for something entirely different from the Third Wave Movement's perspective), here is an interesting overview---from another Christian viewpoint (The author is a member of the Mennonite Brethen Church, part of a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations.)

Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th. At a time when so much is made of Religious wars, it is often forgotten that some of the bloodiest Christian wars were the result of Christians fighting other Christians---always in the name of the fight against "Evil" by those who make it their "Christian mission" to eradicate "Evil" at the point of a sword.

Jazzolog's point that "probably there is something about everyone's faith that defies reason or logical expectation," is a good one.

Pierre Gilbert's more basic premise in this essay is that "ultimately our worldview—our basic conceptual framework—determines how we interpret the world and dictates to a great extent how we will behave."

In that regard, the Third Wave Movement's paradigm with its emphasis on being at war with Evil Spirits is particularly edifying. And so is Pierre Gilbert's closing paragraph:

"Why do demons seem to have so much power? My suspicion is that the power demons have is the power we attribute to them. In nearly all, if not all, of Jesus’ encounters with the demonic, the purpose of the story is to demonstrate the demons’ powerlessness. The Gospels dispel the lie communicated by the old pagan religions that human beings live in a universe filled with evil powers that they must exorcize at all costs. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, it is not demons or even Satan that constitute a real obstacle to Jesus’ authority, but human beings."

Nothing wrong with Faith (i.e. the belief in a transcendent reality). And by the same token, nothing wrong either - in my book - with the "old Pagan Religions" (Christianity and the "old pagan religions" have a lot more in common than is usually acknowledged [link].)

Reductionism, however, especially where Faith is concerned, is another matter:

Third Wave theology, like many systems of belief, is profoundly reductionistic. It is reductionistic of Scripture; it is reductionistic of human nature; and it is reductionistic of God.

jazzolog said...

By now we all know Joe the Plumber...and maybe even Jerry the Plumber, Wendy the Plumber's Daughter, Sandra the Homeschool Mom, and others that make up "Sarah's Army" , this congregation of regular joes who switched to Republican with Reagan (Onward, Christian soldiers!). And have you heard yet of Adam the Messianic Student? Not to be made light of, if anyone gets credit for giving birth to Palin's V-P candidacy, it's this rather brilliant kid. Is he ready for primetime?

A year ago February, Adam Brickley, aged 20 and a junior at U of Colorado, posted the first entry at his new blog~~~

Why Sarah Palin?

This blog is the result of about a month worth of research on potential Republican Vice-Presidential candidates for the 2008 election. I had been considerably less than thrilled with all of the early speculation, mostly swirling around second-tier presidential candidates, so I decided to see if there was anyone better suited for the job that I hadn't been hearing about. So, I developed the following profile for the perfect VP candidate (using Rudy Giuliani as my presumptive presidential candidate):

1) A energetic, young, fresh face who will energize the electorate
2) Not connected to the current administration
3) Pro-Life
4) Pro-Gun
5) A woman or minority to counter Hillary or Obama and put to rest the idea that America only elects white males

One of the first names I found that fit these qualifications was that of Sarah Palin, the recently elected Governor of Alaska. I knew that I had stumbled upon a fantastic candidate for national office, but I kept looking in the hope that I could find other potentially viable choices. However, after looking at every GOP governor, senator, and congressperson, I found that Palin had only become more appealing.

She was certainly energetic and young, having become governor at only 42 years of age. Watching her speches and campaign ads, I discovered that she was definitely a new kid of leader, coming off more as a spunky soccer-mom than a stuffy career politician. As for abortion, she was staunchly pro-life; and as a lifetime NRA member she was the most pro-gun candidate in the country. Furthermore, her experiences in rural Alaska provided a perfect complement to the big-city credentials of candidates like Giuliani. Her moderately libertarian positions on most other issues also match up perfectly to Giuliani.

There was thing about Palin that initially worried me - "lack of experience". She had only been elected governor in 2006, and her only previous experience was as a two terms as a city councilwoman and two more as mayor in Wasilla, AK (population 8,471 in 2005) followed up by a failed campaign for lieutenant governor and a brief stint on Alaska's Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission. This didn't seem very appealing at first, but then I took the time to look closer at Palin's history. What I had failed to realize was that she had habitually knocked of powerful incumbent opponents and was a quick learner on the job. In the 2006 gubernatorial election, she rolled over scandal-prone incumbent Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary, then went on to defeat former governor Tony Knowles in the general election - pretty impressive. Further back, she had knocked off an entrenched incumbent to become mayor of Wasilla, then developed a reputation as a hard-nosed, effective mayor. Her performance in Wasilla got her elected president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors and earned her the nickname "Sarah Barracuda".

In the end, I decided that Sarah Palin had actually compiled a rather astounding record of achievements in her 42 years, and was more than capable of making the jump to the national level. So now I ask you who you would rather have as your Vice-President. You could accept conventional wisdom and choose from the lineup of old men currently being bantered about, or you could choose an inspiring leader like Sarah Palin. As for me, I'm going with "Sarah Barracuda", a candidate who will help us win the election and then deliver solid results.
Posted by Adam Brickley, aka "ElephantMan" at 2/26/2007 12:07:00 AM 56 comments

Adam was at home at the time, and it may be of some interest to note that Adam's family are Messianic Jews. He focuses on politics at the Palin For VP blog, but his attraction to Palin certainly comes partly from his evangelical base. Messianic Judaism is a rather complicated topic, but the Brickleys came to it from Pentecostal Christianity in order to get closer to Jesus in these "end days." Therefore, Palin's religious emphasis is of particular concern.

The thing about Adam Brickley is, if you browse through that first page of the blog---and maybe keep on clicking around ("Home" takes you to the most recent entry from a couple days ago)---is that he's very good at what he does, which is major in political science and put it to work for him on the Internet. Within a few weeks his blog was attracting attention, not only in the blogosphere but elsewhere among the media.

At this point in the story we need to move to an article in the current New Yorker, increasingly becoming a political magazine to keep track of. This time it's a feature by Jane Mayer, entitled simply "The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin." What? You mean some rightwing, elitist insiders are herding all these mavericks? Ms. Mayer's book this summer, The Dark Side, about the Bush administration's interrogation techniques, is a finalist for a National Book Award. A graduate of Yale, she moved her investigative journalism skills from the Wall Street Journal to the New Yorker in 1995.

In the article Ms. Mayer describes the jutted-jaw determination of Sarah Palin to get herself noticed and precisely how she did it. Maybe to entice you to buy a copy of the New Yorker or read it online, the key seems to have been a couple of invitations to lunch in the Governor's mansion for the main stars on cruise ships briefly docked in Juneau. You know those cruises (the lefties do it too) where you pay to sail around on boats that have famous people on board? One of those giant yachts carried the National Review, and the other featured William Kristol, generally honored as architect for both the Iraq War and Palin's vice presidency. Bon voyage!

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