Please note: Today’s We Run and Ride addresses at some length and depth the theological issues driving cultural conflicts in this era. This reflects, but is not an excerpt, the work of a book I’m writing titled Sustainable Faith. This new work incorporates the writing of Professor Richard Simon Hanson, a scholar of Judaism at Luther College, whose treatise Religion from Earth constitutes a portion of the book. This blog reflects an immediate, fervent and unapologetic plea to consider the real source of ruin and conflict in this world. For some it may hit very close to home. But give it your consideration. It may be one of the most liberating pieces you’ve ever read. And remember, God is love.
The Chicago Tribune this week reported that the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, a man named Scott Pruitt, has deemed it necessary to relax air pollution laws as a favor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose efforts to bring a company called FoxConn to southeast Wisconsin has prompted the director responsible for clean air and water in America to toss the law aside and grant the right to produce health-compromising smog that will affect the residents up and down the shores of Lake Michigan.
That includes Chicago, which has its hands full to the south as well, where industrial polluters keep dumping toxic chromium into the lake. The Chicago Tribune reported,
“A wastewater treatment system at the plant malfunctioned on the morning of Oct. 25, a problem that wasn’t noticed until the next day. Indiana officials were notified Oct. 27, according to the company’s letter, which is dated Oct. 31 and requested “confidential treatment” of the incident.
Law students at the University of Chicago discovered the letter while tracking pollution violations at U.S. Steel and other factories on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan. The document tops a stack of evidence gathered by attorneys at the university’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic for a lawsuit they are preparing that will accuse the Pittsburgh-based steel giant of repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act since 2011.”
A (formerly) Republican initiative
This is why the Environmental Protection Agency exists. It was established by Republican President Richard M. Nixon back in the early 1970s when air and water pollution were so bad people were literally dying from smog-related illnesses and rivers caught fire in Ohio. Something had to be done. America was sinking in a mire of stench and disease. It was biblical in proportions.
If you’ve never run or cycled in really foul air, or encountered water so thick with pollution that fish have lesions popping out between their scales, then perhaps it might seem fine to “relax” regulations to benefit a big company such as FoxConn. After all, they’ll be bringing jobs and money into the economy, so it’s a wash, right?
Seen it all before
We’ve been down this road and it is pretty goddamned ugly and dangerous. When companies are allowed to take shortcuts and gain concessions that favor their polluting ways, the profitability of those actions can surely be enormous. But that’s because there is not a full and true accounting for these costs to human health and the environment. America too often allows industry to privatize the profits and dump the costs of human health on the public. Thus the true costs of maintaining the American economy is based, to some extent, on a massive lie. It is thus no coincidence this same selfish lobby resists a public option for health care.
Industrial pollution causes cancer, lung disease and many other illnesses that affect workers and society at large. These are real costs and real dollars. But they don’t appear on the books of companies dumping all kinds of crap into our air, water and land. And that’s a crime, quite literally. It is criminal to pollute our planet.
The facts hurt
That’s not liberal nonsense. These are the facts that originally drove our nation to clean up its act over the years. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, Superfund cleanup sites, wetland protection and mitigation and conservation laws are all products of an era when conservatives had a conscience, and when the United States of America made a bipartisan commitment to become a healthier, safer place to live.
But those days are gone, for now. The current cabal of conservatives resists environmental protection as if their lives depended on it. Which is the irony of all ironies. They’ll eventually learn that facts can hurt them despite all their selfish and ideological denials.
Getting the outdoors
Between my running, cycling and birding, I spend a lot of time outdoors. Over the last forty years, I have lived 14,400 days. I estimate having spent an average of two hours every day doing some sort of outdoor activity. That’s 28,800 hours or 1,200 days, which equals 3.28 full years outside under the sun, in the rain, on cold and hot days. And that’s a conservative estimate, no pun intended.
So I know from direct personal experience the difference between a clean environment and one that smells, has evidence of poisons or chemical spills, or that makes it difficult to breathe. I’ve stood by the Fox River in my former hometown of St. Charles, Illinois and watched as a drainage pipe pumped out suds so deep they would have risen over my head if I’d stepped into them. There was an environmental activist in our area who called himself The Fox. He once dumped sludge gathered from the pipes of a polluter on their own white carpet. Over the years, his message got through.
Polluter In Chief
Thus I think the idea that this zealous, self-righteous dingbat Scott Pruitt has the right to wave his hand and dismiss an obvious source of pollution as “necessary” to the health of the Wisconsin economy is a falsehood and an outright lie.
Even more disturbing is the fact that Scott Pruitt presents himself as a “Christian” man. He’s been raised in the mentality that he is, to quote a recent NPR story, “On fire for God’s work.” The NPR story lead begins with this statement: “The Sunday before Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Pruitt stood on the stage of his hometown church, bowed his head, and prayed.
“I stand on a platform today with a man of God who’s been tapped to serve our nation,” said the Rev. Nick Garland, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla.
“It’s an honor for the kingdom of God to have a man of God who’s going to fill that role,” said Garland. “We wanted to pray for you today, and ask God to bless you.”
Well goddamn, that’s interesting
Pruitt is a lawyer that has spent a chunk of his career actually suing the agency he’s now been assigned to run. You may well have heard how that’s going. He runs the office with a strange combination of secrecy, paranoia and ego. The personal quirks alone are weird. His demands for respect include raising a special flag whenever he’s “in the office.” He also sought to purchase a soundproof booth from which to conduct his business. And on the public dime, he’s also traveled first-class, and somehow his pet employees received massive raises for no additional responsibility. All these are signs of a fearful and potentially corrupt personality. That is what is so disturbing about the supposed “Christian” nature of the man.
But perhaps that pattern of self-aggrandizement should be no surprise. Christianity itself was formed in the wake of a man named Yeshua, a devout Jew. We now know him as by the name of Jesus. But in His day, he challenged the religious authorities who ran the temple to evolve from a religion of literalism and law to a faith based on the love of God. In the Book of Matthew we find Jesus giving a response to the legalistic zealots he confronted:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”–Matthew 15: 34-40
Killers in charge
But the religious authorities thought they knew better than Jesus. They conspired to have him killed. Before they did, Jesus spoke to them about the true nature of His ministry, and predicted, “Raze this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.”
Of course, they took him literally and laughed at him because it took decades to build the temple. But Jesus seldom spoke in literal terms. He even chastised his own disciples for their failure to comprehend the meaning and purpose of his parables. “Are you so dull?” he inquired of them.
Dull disciples and zealots abound
Those same dull disciples and religious authorities are living among us today. Scott Pruitt fits the description. So does the entire religious cabal of the Southern Baptist sect from which Pruitt has arisen. The conservative evangelical community is consistently guilty of the same sordid conspiratorial bullshit that the zealots pulled on Jesus two millennia ago. They branded him the liberal of his time, conspired to ruin his reputation and had him killed when he wouldn’t fall into place with the party line. It’s all so familiar that people can’t see the forest for the trees these days.
St. Paul: zealot on patrol
Even one of the principal sources of Christian scripture in the New Testament began with the persecution of others in the name of religion. That would be St. Paul, the brilliant yet massively flawed proselytizer whose letters captured so much of the Christian spirit. Unfortunately he also kept too much of the arch soul who persecuted Christians before Paul experienced the spiritual epiphany that converted him from rigid Jew to chameleonic Christian advocate.
This excerpt from a website hosted by Franciscan media captures the “conversion” of Paul in all its Hall of Mirrors glory: “But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.”
You can look at it any way you want. But that’s some pretty fucked up stuff right there. Paul reportedly fought for control of the legacy of Christianity with Jesus’ own brother James. So the battle for the soul of Christ and its expression in this world was a conflicted sibling rivalry right from the start.
Paul’s Legacy of zealotry
Paul’s zealotry is the primary legacy that has carried through to the conservative brand of Christianity that aligns with selective strains of Old Testament discrimination and intolerance advocated by the religious authorities in Jesus’ day. These include discrimination against women, gays and quite frankly, the poor and ill.
Just like the zealots of old, the latter-day religious bigots still read the Bible as a literal document and a design for discrimination. At times this zealotry has even suited the purposes of modern-era slaveholding and genocide. That was certainly the case in North America where slavery and the massacre of Native Americans were conducted under a banner of racial superiority and Manifest Destiny. Conservative Christians may not like the direct lines of this ancestry but they are so powerfully evident and true it requires a direct and persistent campaign of denial and revisionism to assuage the guilt and prevent such associations from overwhelming the faith that claims such innocence and casts itself as a “light in the darkness.”
The best defense is often a strong offense, and thus the religious zealots of today seek powerful allies to advance their agendas, both secret and obvious, in the Information Age. This occurs through transfer of literalism and legalism into theocratic policy. Much of this hinges on a single word, “dominion,” which is ripped from the context of the Old Testament and Genesis to grant human beings claiming providential favor all sorts of selfish rights and aims. It most certainly is used to accord the human race the right to do with the earth whatever it wants. To seal that deal, a few lines from the Book of Revelation are leveraged to seal the deal with a Kiss of Death in claiming that Jesus will someday come back to create a New Heaven and a New Earth. Dominion and Armageddon are the Bookends of appropriative conservative Christian theology.
Look it up
You can research it all you want. I have studied the issues of corrupted Christian theology for more than thirty years. I saw it at work as a member of a highly conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Recently some close friends from that church visited the Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky. They’re dear people to me, but that does not mean they are not dearly mistaken about the origins of the earth, or creation. Millions of people willfully chose to live by these delusions because it provides a convenient explanation for the beginning and end of time. But their limited imagination does not constitute an insightful revelation.
I’ll be blunt. I distrust the shortsightedness of literalistic Christian theology. Its dull and simplistic explanations willfully ignore entire swaths of well-documented human knowledge. It’s cultural approbations in favor of discrimination are harmful and disgusting. They drive prejudice and discrimination, and these lead to wars and death and destruction of the earth. Christianity in this form is a danger unto itself. And that is why I’m almost completed with a non-fiction book titled Sustainable Faith. I want to rescue Christianity, and the world, from the dim-witted, selfish zealots like Scott Pruitt who think they deserve the right to run, and ruin, the very world on which we all depend.
Anti-Christs and Anti-Country
The zealous Christian worldview and it approbations are anti-scriptural in every respect. But this approach to “faith” is immensely popular because it is easily consumable. It is foremost a religion of sound bites that include an unhealthy dynamic of dog-whistle fear-mongering and self-righteous confessional language.
Many of our Megachurches have sprouted from institutions such as the Moody Bible Institute that have turned out a brand of religion that offers a supermarket of baptisms, praise bands and a cultlike alternative to traditional Catholicism.
Almost all involve some sort of denial of modernity in favor of anachronism. Most fail to see the Anti-American nature of this worldview even as they spout words of patriotism and post social media memes to “support the troops” as some sign of holy contrition. America’s military is rife with the brand of hyper-zealotry. Yet America’s military is also rife with sexual harassment and only recent has dealt with discrimination against gay and transgender members. But Donald Trump wants to roll all that back. He’s got support from religious zealots to do so. Their discomfort is based on age-old insecurities and prejudices. And thus they contradict the security of our nation on basis of sexual fears. It’s a sickness of mind that does this.
Thus the truth about the religious and political authorities who spout such a corrupted version of scriptural worldview is their qualification as the Anti-Christ. End Times theologians love to point at politicians as signs of the Anti-Christ, but the lessons of Jesus and John the Baptist show us that the harshest danger to religious faith comes from within the institutions claiming the authority of God. These are strong accusations to make, I know. But the evidence is everywhere, and the evangelical fealty to the likes of Donald Trump prove just how far the legions of the Anti-Christ will go to gain power.
That is why the evangelical vote was so easily swayed to Donald Trump. His Make America Great Again resounded like a call to the New Crusaders and conservative culture warriors eager (like the Old Days) to slay Muslims and turn America into the New Jerusalem. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Donald Trump rushed to make Jerusalem the new capitol of Israel. That is dog-whistle leadership right there. His religious directors have been waiting decades for that move. Trump doesn’t really care. He only wants to do what will earn him popularity and quell his massively perverted and disturbed soul. Or else he’s simply a sociopath. And that possibility exists.
Because this sociopathy stuff doesn’t stop with religion. It also aligns with a new brand of selfish consumerism that in populist terms has accomplished some intensely wild corruptions of law and legacy here in America. Most prominent is the strange relationship between Christianity and the gun lobby. That alliance has succeeded in convincing millions of so-called Christians that guns are somehow a tool of Christ and God. Guns are designed for one thing: killing. One of the 10 Commandments says: Thou shalt not kill. Thus every Christian gun owner defies their claim of protection from God by taking the matter selfishly into their own hands. Talk about lack of real faith. Talk about putting the “laws of men before the aims of God,” as Jesus once accused the religious authorities of His day. These patterns just repeat themselves over history. And the zealous religious authorities just keep seeking power and approval. But all they truly reap is corruption and death.
To accomplish this massive exercise in hypocrisy, the gun lobby in league with constitutional originalists (the secular side of literalism) has sliced the Second Amendment in half and left the first part to die. All to emphasize the selfish and dismissive claim that “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.” Never mind the part about the “well-regulated militia.” That’s no longer applicable.
That’s the same corrupt logic that allows zealous Christians to dismiss the outdated laws of Leviticus on one hand yet bring forward their prejudice against gay people on the other. It is cherry-picking values. That is the heart of corruption and hypocrisy. And the neoconservative Christian movement is the locus of hypocrisy.
Thus the modern version of conservative Christianity shrouds itself in righteousness but in fact it is the Religion of Self and a Claim to Salvation that is all about ME ME ME.
Do megachurches still do the work of Christ in this world? No doubt. But like those who embrace the philosophy of dominion toward the world yet allow its destruction in the name of profit by corporations, there is a deeply hypocrisy at the heart of Christian ministry that cherry-picks its issues. The same holds true with those who claim to be Pro-Life and anti-abortion yet will not accept the idea that birth control can prevent unwanted pregnancies. The twisted morality of these arguments is the root cause of so much conflict and contradiction. It constitutes the same legalistic hypocrisy of which Jesus accused the religious authorities of his day. The pattern holds true.
How rich it is
The Bible is rife with warnings about the love of money. Yet the selfish barkers of the Prosperity Gospel have the President’s ear, because that’s what he believes and espouses. It’s all about Him, and how rich he thinks he is. But there is no contrition about the fraud and abuse and money-laundering that have positioned that man for public office in terms of money. But lacking the character of a true Christian, the man is a massive deception and all those who support him are whores for the association.
Even his porn star girlfriends know better, but so-called Christians still hold the man up like a hero for the ages, a God-chosen sub-deity. Even George W. Bush preached this brand of providential superiority. “I’m the Decider,” he bragged, and went on to claim, in essence, that he was installed by God, and that God talks to him.
It’s about the green(s)
Thus it’s no surprise to many of us with eyes and ears and discernment to realize that a man like Scott Pruitt and his Commander in Chief feel mighty fine compromising our environment in favor of selfish interests and profits. Trump sees the world as his own golf course. And he drives on the greens.
That’s the same view that religious authorities had about Jerusalem in their day. They also made liberal use of the temple treasury 2000 years ago. Jesus upset that dynamic and knocked over the tables of the money-changers. But that didn’t stop them.
Centuries later the Indulgences paid to the Catholic Church reflected the same greed before Martin Luther came along to challenge that corruption with a call to salvation through grace alone. He borrowed from the better side of St. Paul to do so, proving that no human being is perfect. But you’d never know it from the way some guided by their own sense of self-providence behave. The things they get away with…
But reality and true spirituality have a way of correcting such false pretenses. Because while the selfish continually grab all they can get in the short term (witness the Republican tax cuts that benefit the rich…) the earth and creation have a long and patient record of fighting back. These equate the temperament of God. Even God, as it is stated in the Bible, felt the need to wipe out nearly the entire human race at one point. It wasn’t a literal worldwide flood, but it was big enough to wipe away a lot of human shit.
Ironically, that much what climate change is predicted to do in the next 100 to 200 years. Our coastlines are under siege from oceanic expansion. America’s military base in Norfolk, Virginia is the largest in the world, and they are in denial about the inevitable inundation of that port. Onward Christian soldiers, indeed.
Billions of people will be displaced eventually by climate change and ocean expansion. Yet the religious zealots of today deny on principle that climate change is real. They call the science predicting these changes “political” because it doesn’t fit their own selfish worldview and the theology that only God can affect what happens to the planet.
That’s pretty much the same attitude people expressed toward all of God’s prophets over the millennia. The world laughed at Noah and his ark. The religious authorities dismissed John the Baptist for calling them “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers” for their corrupted, selfish practices of religion. If God works in strange ways, it’s only because people are too dumb, stubborn and lazy to see the signs. That’s why modern miracles essentially go unnoticed. Conservative zealots refuse to see the real warnings of God all around them. They’re frequently preoccupied with hiding their own dirty secrets.
That’s why it was necessary for John to use what we might call ‘guerrilla tactics’ to “make straight the way for the Lord.” He was the voice of one crying from the wilderness. Mainly that’s because the city was dirty in every sense. We’re headed back in that direction. And perhaps you prefer the smog and burning rivers advocated by the likes of Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump. Perhaps you believe that the God you think you know actually wants us to ignore the call to create the kingdom of God, “on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the Lord’s Prayer, mind you. It says that the “New Earth and New Heaven” is ours to engender. Jesus will come back in spirit once we accomplish that mission.
But it isn’t going to happen with the dirty players of religious zealotry and political greed in charge. The hypocrites and brood of vipers still wander among us. They pray in public places and make a show of their wealth and position in life. Jesus hated them, and they killed him for it.
So it all sounds so biblical when you think about it. The latter-day zealots are in full engagement bringing about their own version of hell. striking down laws that protect us from cancer and smog and water rife with life-destroying chemicals. Gutting programs that protect the poor and elderly. Killing public education in favor of a religious driven propaganda that defies science and favors ignorance.All because they think God told them this is the right thing to do. They are a band of heinously religious fucks.
I dare you to prove me wrong. I firmly stand with the side of God and Jesus Christ on this issue. The Bible is rife with imagery drawn from creation to convey spiritual concepts. It uses the device of metonymy, “the use of the character of one thing to represent the nature of another.” That is the real significance of creation in scripture. It isn’t about a literal Genesis or a creation in seven days. It isn’t about denying evolution because people can’t stand the idea they have a close genetic relationship with apes. We need to grow up from these pathetically childish depictions of scripture and the effects these worldviews have on our actual existence.
And here’s the ticket out. This is the Deal.
God is love. Love is real. We don’t need to deny our material existence and the health of the earth to experience the love of God and the power of forgiveness in our lives.
Love stands apart and in synchrony with creation.
But if we ruin the planet in the name of short-term gains and ravenous appetites for stimulation, even the love of God won’t save us. We’ve seen that story before.