Sports Rise, Church Fall?


Sports as religion?Over at Al Mohler’s site, he adds to the talking point that sports, notably the Super Bowl, are the new American religion. Over at, several “unhelpful” review comments for my negative review of the Christian book Transformed got me wondering about doing versus being.

What they do they have in common?

A few weeks ago, I read an article about the sameness of today’s movies. The author argued that all films today seem the same because we Americans no longer have an approved set of themes that define us as Americans. If we make a movie about the greatness of America, people who don’t think America is great will not go to see it. We can’t do a movie about religion’s steadying influence on the American Way of Life because a lot of people aren’t religious. We can’t talk about the sanctity of family because that means too many different things to different people.

About the only script we can agree upon is that oppression is bad. And in America 2014, oppression is seen as little more than bad people preventing us from doing what we want to do. It doesn’t get blander than that.

Enter the Super Bowl.

For a prescribed number of hours, Americans can agree on one event that promises a football game, some entertaining commercials, and a mid-game spectacle. A free, package deal that is harmless enough and gives us an excuse to socialize and eat too much. And unlike Thanksgiving, we can pick and choose with whom we hang out.

From this, some claim that sports are our new religion.


Instead, sports—well, the Super Bowl at least—are America’s last touch stone.

Religion stopped being a touch stone when we became aware of too many religions. Sure, we in America sort of kind of chose Christianity, but now we’re swimming in 20,000 brands of Christianity, and who can choose the right one? They all seem a little factious, too, with one claiming to be better than another.

Plus, they are all so demanding.

Which brings us my Amazon review.

The main thought in the book Transformed by Caesar Kalinowski is What if Christianity were more about being and less about doing?

What person today doesn’t want Christianity to be more about being and less about doing?

Well, pretty much everyone, because I think people feel maxed out. They can spare one Sunday evening a year, but don’t ask them to spare every Sunday morning and a whole lot of other days and evenings along with them. One more thing on the schedule? God help us!

Maybe we are run rugged. Maybe we are lazy.

In a way, it doesn’t matter, because whatever the truth is, the perception is that if one more person asks us to do one more thing, we’re going to go postal.

Kalinowski’s book doesn’t help. That promise of just being able to be gets turned into “change all your traditional church activities into  missional community activities.” Swap overscheduled for a cool, hip, quasi-religious word, intentional. Feel more Christian yet?

Well, no.

What happened to the promise of just being?

That’s a good question, but it’s not one Christian leaders are answering. Give more money, attend more conferences, be more available, help more people, and do more stuff for the Kingdom. In the end, for whatever reason, the response from the guy with bags under his eyes is no. So people turn on the tube and watch the Big Game instead. It doesn’t ask much from them. Then, when the hoopla is over sometime around 10 p.m. or so, folks head home to bed and get ready for the next day at work. See you next year.

I don’t think church leaders get this. So nothing changes.

I don’t think there’s enough being in the American Church. We’re not teaching people how to abide in Christ. We’re teaching them the Christian life consists of a bunch of disconnected activities and to-do list items, and people are saying no. Why wouldn’t they?

It’s not that the Super Bowl is America’s new religion. It’s just that it’s easy. Meanwhile, the Church keeps loading up overloaded people with more things to do. Meanwhile, Jesus goes missing amid all the hubbub.

A Vacuum Abhored: How All Beliefs are Religious


From time to time I write opposition posts to some of Al Mohler’s blog posts. This is not because I fundamentally disagree with Mohler on core doctrine, only that I think he sometimes cares more about preserving the status quo than taking the boldest steps.

You’ll get no arguments from me on his recent post “Of Babies and Beans? A Frightening Denial of Human Dignity” in which he responds to Adam Gopnik’s “Of Babies and Beans: Paul Ryan on Abortion.”

You’d do well to read both, but Mohler’s post hits the lowlights of the Gopnik piece, key of which is this statement from Gopnik:

“Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead ‘I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.’ That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that ‘the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.’”

With all due respect to Gopnik and the late president, nothing could be more intellectually dishonest than to insist that one’s religious faith cannot—and should not—inform one’s politics.

The contention that any human being can wall off ANY thoughts in such a way that they have no bearing on some other area of life is absurd. In a way, it’s the old reporter’s lie of objectivity. No journalist is objective. It is simply impossible to prevent any aspect of one’s opinion from coloring writing. As a writer, I know this.

What is even more baffling is the idea that political thought should be immune from ideological taint.  In truth, politics is nothing BUT ideological taint. Remove ideology from politics and there is nothing left. No laws, no ideas, no action. All are driven by one’s beliefs, and those beliefs must come from somewhere.

No lie has been foisted off on the American people more insidiously than the idea that religious beliefs can have no bearing on “pure” political thought.

Fact is, ALL thought can be classified under religious thought if we understand religion to be a system of thought and action that informs how we live. Nothing is more true than the reality that atheism is as much a religion as Christianity or Judaism is.

To think otherwise is the common delusion of scientists. Many who condemn religious thought themselves frame their world in the same manner that religious people do. They have chosen science as their religion.

Many Creationist vs. Scientist battles descend into this morass of battling religions. The Creationist may battle from a Judeo-Christian perspective that God is the source of life on earth, only to elicit scoffs from the scientist who instead believes that ancient astronauts from another galaxy seeded life here on earth.

Who is the religionist here? Given the pitched battle, how can anyone insist the Creationist position is solely the religious one?

And so it is with all thought. Whether it is a belief in God or a trust that gravity will keep us tethered to earth, “religion” or “science,” our beliefs inform everything we do. Whether thoughts on photosynthesis or on the nature of the Trinity of God, these thoughts are a collective philosophy that can’t be separated into components parts. To the individual, the framework is unified and must be accepted for what it is. A rational critic can make no other assertion.

But then we have the irrational shoutings of those who think that religious thought must never inform any part of life outside of a church meeting, a belief they hold with religious fervor.

No sacred/secular divide exists. To insist on one is to thrust us into denial and back to the Dark Ages.

If Paul Ryan considers abortion wrong because of God’s voice written down by the Apostle Paul, that is no less valid political thought than Adam Gopnik thinking otherwise because of Margaret Sanger’s voice written down by Gloria Steinem.

If anything, the real threat to life in America is not from those people who listen to religious voices. Rather it is from those who listen to the voices of men and then insist those voices are on par with God’s, yet all the while claiming their voice isn’t equally religious.

Someone sits on the throne of your life and mine. And honoring that someone is the essence of religion, no matter how much we may insist otherwise.

Jefty Economics and the Least of These


{Somewhere in this rant is a worthy post. My apologies to readers in advance that the worthy post didn’t materialize.}

In the course of reading a smattering of Christian blogs wrestling with the economic devastation laying waste to America, I happened across Al Mohler’s take on the subject. By the time I got done reading the last word, it was all I could do not to shake my head in disbelief.

To understand the rest of this post, please read Mohler’s post, “A Christian View of the Economic Crisis.”

Done? Okay…

The first thing that bothers me about Dr. Mohler’s post is that it appears to be caught in a classic, science fiction time warp. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Eisenhower was president.

This is a great problem for much of conservative Evangelicalism. We’re like Jefty in Harlan Ellison’s seminal short story “Jefty Is Five.” In that work, the narrator tells of a neighbor boy who remains five-years old all his life. Jefty’s radio plays dramas from the 40s and 50s that were canceled decades ago. Jefty sends away for secret agent decoder rings offered by cereal companies that no longer exist—and receives them in the mail. In short, Jefty never grows up, nor does the ethereal, dead, dusty world that swirls around him. And he scares the willies out of the normal people who encounter him.

When I read Dr. Mohler’s post, it’s like I’m perusing Jefty’s newspaper, and I can read how the corporations are leading our country to greatness, and every father receives a gold pocket watch (that matches his smoking jacket) after 40 years on the job because he worked hard and climbed the corporate ladder like all hard workers do, and, golly gee willikers, his company put out the best darned widgets at the best darned price, and if you ever had a problem with your widget, they’ll send a repairman in a pressed suit (and a tie, even!) who won’t charge you a dime, and he’ll have your problem solved in fifteen minutes or your money back plus 10 percent for your trouble.

And at night, angels tuck you into bed.

That’s how Jefty economics works.

Jefty economics bases its reality on the old advice that with a little hard work, and the right amount of pluck, any freckle-faced lad can himself embody the classic Horatio Alger story and become a captain of industry.

It sounds so swell.

This, however, is what the Bible says:

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
—Ecclesiastes 9:11

Jefty economics can’t account for chance. It doesn’t allow that people may deviate from the climb to the boardroom by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lazarus outside the rich man's house - by DoréIt can’t account for the capricious whims of a college admission committee that this year (and this year only) thought that building ashrams in India was a more noble reason for selection than your solution to world hunger, therefore you had to settle for Podunk U. instead of Harvard. It can’t factor in that after you killed yourself for decades to crawl to a middle management position in Kludge Corporation of West Oconomowoc, the CEO’s mistress left him and, in a fit of pique, he sacked your entire department and farmed it out to bean counters in Pakistan. The next thing you know, you’re a greeter at Wal-Mart wondering how the American Dream passed you by.

Who can understand how these things happen? The Jeftys of the world would turn on their radios and give you the answer: “The Shadow knows….”

Welcome to the world of Jefty.

Only problem is, that’s not your reality or mine.

In some ways, I can’t fault Dr. Mohler. Seminary presidents, theologians, and academicians aren’t the best at taking the lifestyle pulse of janitors, taxi cab drivers, and third-shift workers at the old widget factory (who just lost their jobs because the Armani-wearing board of directors moved the work to Shanghai).

See, Jefty economics functions in such a way that the real world, with all its gritty, black ugliness, doesn’t exist. The Jefties of this world can’t see it. The people who are getting killed economically, and have been getting killed for a long time, never happen. They’re simply not there.

Here’s reality: The way we do business, the way we fuel our economy in this country, the way we have been practicing capitalism in the good ol’ U. S. of A. has come home to roost.

I’ve been watching what has been happening to the middle class over the years. It’s not pretty. Hard-working people have been watching their real wealth evaporate. Families I know who were adamant that they were going to maintain the conservative Christian ideal and keep mom at home are not only having to have mom work but are seeing both wage earners’ incomes stagnate to the point that polygamy sounds like the only viable economic option.

And as for the mantra that hard work gets you ahead, it’s time to let that Jefty-ism die. Perhaps at one time it was true, but I know so many people who are killing themselves with hard work and are getting nowhere because they aren’t the right kind of person, didn’t go to the right Ivy League school, didn’t take the Skull & Bones pledge, don’t know the right Masonic handshake, don’t have the right skin color, don’t have the right religious beliefs, and on and on.

I met a person several years ago who shames most of us in hard work. I watched that person get brutalized time and again by the kind of wicked people who populate so much of today’s corporate world. That wonderful person kept a clean nose, gave 210 percent all the time, was the last to turn off the lights at night, and got nowhere. There was always some Maserati driver in a corner office who made sure this person never got out of the cubicle. That constant heel to the neck hurt that person incalculably.

Truth is, I know too many people like that one. They’ve been the canaries in this economy’s coalmine for years. And now the mine’s caved in and gas is seeping into the depths. Is that a striking match I hear?

Here’s the worst part: The kind of people that flame out in the economy aren’t welcome in a lot of conservative Evangelical churches, those gorgeous, multi-million dollar edifices full of Jeftys.

I know because I’ve been in a few Jefty churches. I sat in a men’s Bible study at a prominent Baptist church as a half dozen captains of industry talked about “those people.” Just the other day, a friend told me that the pastor of his old church spotted him in a restaurant and just had to regale him with how wonderfully the new building plan was going and all the millions that he’d raised. Dropped all the monetary figures just to show my friend how stupid he was to leave such a dynamic church. But my friend knew this same church split earlier because a handful of its people had the nerve to evangelize poor Hispanics. You know, dishwashers, gardeners, and garbagemen. Those people. The ones you let into your corner office to dump out your trash can, but God forbid they should aspire to anything higher. Besides, they could never get into the country club—except perhaps as the catering help.

When I hear Dr. Mohler talking the way he does in his piece, I have to wonder if he knows how the sub-economy populated by the least of these lives. If he understands that we really are Two Americas and are becoming more so every day. When he says that people today invest in the same companies that Warren Buffett does, I’ve got ask: “Dr. Mohler, have you priced some of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway stock lately? You might be able to buy some at $135,000 a share, but I sure can’t.  And have you noticed that the Gateses and Waltons of the world who can plunk down $100,000 without batting an eye get offered a whole new world of higher-paying investments that Joe Sixpack can only dream about?” Then I’d like to introduce the seminary president to hard workers like Edwin Howard Armstrong. And then I’d introduce him to people who don’t have Wikipedia entries, people who broke their backs working and lost their homes anyway. People who don’t have Ivy League networks. You know, people to whom chance just so happened to happen.

Part of me says I’m being unfair, but part of me says I’m not.

Here’s the saddest part of all. The people who are still operating under the economic pretensions of the “I Like Ike” era are the ones who were looking the other way while the morally-challenged, who laughed all the way to the bank at the expense of the rest of us, engineered  this fine economy we have now.

Yes, I’m angry.

I’ve been saying for years that the global economic game we’ve been playing is not even zero sum but negative sum. When the Church sat back and welcomed the Industrial Revolution like it was the Second Coming of our Lord Himself, we erected an idol that would eventually taint every part of our lives. I find it ironic to the nth degree that so many conservative Evangelicals are fighting the culture war tooth and nail, failing at the same time to see that the war itself is the natural outcome of what they welcomed 150+ years ago.

Christians cannot turn blind eyes to social and economic justice and NOT reap the whirlwind.

We conservative Christians gave up on reforming business practices. Left that to the liberals. No, a few of us tasted the wealth for a while and it intoxicated us. (“Hey, no fair, Dan! We compensated by starting a workplace Bible study to show we still cared about the souls in our companies. That counts, doesn’t it?”)

Despite what Mohler says, too much of how we lived was based on greed and short-term thinking. As long as our companies posted better figures quarter over quarter, who cared what havoc our practices would wreak down the road? Leave that for some other generation!

Well, that generation is here. And, too bad, we’re it.

Thanks, Jefty.