Just Above Sunset
December 12, 2004 - No Atheists in the Foxholes













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Sometimes you’re just glad to be an atheist.  My case?  I was raised in the Congregational Church - my mother’s father was a minister.  I myself was a “Young Pilgrim.”  My father was an Elder.  When I was an English teacher in the seventies I taught a unit each year on The Bible as Literature.  I know it well – but I also did the unthinkable and when I was young I read the Koran and, God help me, even the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Somewhere I have a copy of Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen.  And of course I read the existentialists in high school.  So I didn’t keep myself pure.  My bad. 

 

So what is the answer to this below?  Surely Bush is God’s chosen emissary on this earth, and this war is one of which God gleefully approves.

 

Key quote from this long piece –

 

What is a Christian (or anyone) going to do when he faces God at the Judgment and has to give an account of his actions? Suppose he is asked a simple question: "Why did you kill those people defending their homes in Iraq?" And suppose he replied: "Because the U.S. government told me to." What do you suppose would be the Lord’s reaction to such a reply? But what else could a man say? He could not say that the United States was under attack. He could not say that Iraq was a threat to the United States. He could not say that he was protecting his family. He could not say that he was protecting his property. He could not even legitimately say that he was protecting himself, since he was in fact a trespasser on someone else’s property intending to do the owner great bodily harm.  "Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen" (Deuteronomy 27:25).

 

Christian Killers?

Laurence M. Vance - December 2, 2004

 

If you choose not to click on the link, here are the main points -

 

There is no doubt that many of the soldiers responsible for the recent death and destruction in Fallujah are Christians. And there is no doubt that many Americans who call for more death and destruction in Iraq and elsewhere are Christians as well.

 

Christian Killers.

 

The phrase should be a contradiction in terms. If someone referred to Christian adulterers, Christian drug addicts, Christian prostitutes, Christian pimps, Christian gangsta rappers, or Christian acid rockers, most Christians would get an extremely perplexed look on their face. But when Christians in the military continue killing for the state, and Christians not in the military call for more killing in the name of the state, many Christians don’t even raise an eyebrow.

 

Why is this?

 

In some respects, this is the fault of religious "leaders."  Christians in the pew are in many cases just blindly following their pastors, priests, elders, and ministers who, instead of preaching the gospel, are preaching the same pro-war politics their congregation hears on the Sean Hannity radio show or else they are not denouncing the debacle in Iraq for what it is: unscriptural, immoral, and unconstitutional.  Conservative religious leaders are in some cases nothing more than cheerleaders for George Bush and the Republican Party.

 

But even if a Christian hears nothing but pro-war propaganda from the pulpit, it is still no excuse, for Christians have access to the truth if they will just put forth the effort to look for it. They have a Bible they can read for themselves.  They have the example of some principled Christian leaders who have opposed the debacle in Iraq from the beginning.  They have an abundance of alternative news sources to receive information from besides the pro-war propaganda they get from the Fox War Channel and the War Street Journal.  It is unfortunate that some Christians won’t read anything unless it was written by some other Christian they know and usually agree with.  God forbid that they should read something by someone outside of their denomination, circle, or "camp" – or even worse, someone they consider to be a nominal Christian or not a Christian at all.

 

Add this to the refusal to seek information.

 

To justify their consent or silence, and to keep their congregations in line, Christian leaders repeat to their parishioners the mantra of "obey the powers that be," a loose paraphrase of Romans 13:1, as if that somehow means that they should blindly follow whatever the president or the government says, and even worse, that it overturns the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), which is repeated in the New Testament (Matthew 19:18; Romans 13:9). The way some Christians repeat the "obey the powers that be" mantra, one would think that they would slit their own mothers’ throats if the state told them to do so. 

 

One thinks of Gary Cooper in the old movie Sergeant York – where he agonizes over the idea of killing Germans then decides to “render unto Caesar,” as it were, and then goes and kills a whole lot of them.

 

The rest of the item is an examination of under what circumstances a Christian is justified in or excused from killing another human being?   In short, is it ever all right for a Christian to be a "killer?"

 

Vance discusses the four reasons he sees – at length, quoting scripture.  Those are capital punishment, self-defense, accidents, and "just" wars.  Killing in each seems to be sanctioned. 

 

His conclusion?

 

What is a Christian (or anyone) going to do when he faces God at the Judgment and has to give an account of his actions? Suppose he is asked a simple question: "Why did you kill those people defending their homes in Iraq?" And suppose he replied: "Because the U.S. government told me to." What do you suppose would be the Lord’s reaction to such a reply? But what else could a man say? He could not say that the United States was under attack. He could not say that Iraq was a threat to the United States. He could not say that he was protecting his family. He could not say that he was protecting his property. He could not even legitimately say that he was protecting himself, since he was in fact a trespasser on someone else’s property intending to do the owner great bodily harm.

 

"Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen." (Deuteronomy 27:25).

 

Well, if you don’t believe Saint Peter is waiting at the Pearly Gates, bearded, robed in white, quill pen in hand behind the fancy podium with that big reference book, or that there is any other judgment coming with or without the imagery, it doesn’t matter.

 

So why are the secularists and atheists against this particular war, and the Godly folks for it?  That’s mysterious to me.

 

But as one of the folks who are not Godly, perhaps I cannot ever understand.

 

But I did apologize to one of my Christian friends, DB, for not understanding, and for being an atheist.

 

His reply?

 

As I am sure you are aware, Christians believe that one of God's gifts is our free will.  You exercised yours and became an atheist.  I am too busy cleaning the windows of my glass house to worry about yours.

 

Your post was lengthy and is taking me some time to digest.  I will try to put together a well thought out, elegant reply sometime in the next several days.  Aw, who am I kidding?  I will probably just throw something together.

 

And that may come soon.  And this will no doubt lead to a discussion of choice and faith - and if I read CS Lewis right, faith is never a matter of choice.  One doesn't choose it.  Ever.  It just happens, as a gift or whatever.  It overtakes you.  Or it my case, it doesn't, or didn't. 

 

Reason and choice are meaningless, then, in this discussion.  And I may yet be overtaken - or mugged in some divine way, so to speak - and just not listen to reason - no need to, as I become giddy (look up the origin of that word).  One might read the on-a-train-in-the-Costwolds conversion in Lewis' novel That Hideous Strength - a detailed description of faith overwhelming reason and leading to joy and peace and all that good stuff.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit has been busy with other matters and will get to me later.  One never knows.

 

Before DB in Cincinnati could get his elegant thoughts into an email, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, chimed in, and I was reminded somehow that he was a philosophy major in college.

 

Although I have few beliefs in common with most Americans who say they believe in "God," I think I'm with DB on this.  I have yet to figure out where the term "Free Thinker" came to mean someone who doesn't believe in God!  Free thinkers make up their own minds and believe what they decide to believe, whatever that may be, God or not.

 

For the same reason (as he says) you have no reason to apologize to him for your beliefs, he has no reason to apologize for his.

 

DB –

 

Regarding "Determinism" versus "Free Will" ... can we talk?

 

When you speak of "free will" being a gift from God, my thinking is that, what good would it do us anyway to think we live in a determinist world, even if true?  In other words, if one decided that everything is "determined," how would one act differently?

 

Forget whether God ordained this or not, we should ignore determinism!  Pretend as if you have a chance to determine your own future, whether or not it's true.  Even if you're wrong, you'll be right.  I don't think "free will" is a gift from God - I think it's all we get, no matter where it comes from.

 

And at the risk of offending both of you and Alan (or at least Alan), of COURSE faith is a matter of choice!

 

I will carry to my grave the memory of a great conversation I had in a bar in Manhasset, New York with a Catholic friend of mine - although, in truth, I think I will carry to my death every conversation I've ever had in a bar! - in which the conversation turned to religion, and in which I asked:

 

"So, Tim, do you believe in the Holy Trinity?" 

 

To which he answered, "Of course!" 

 

"And what exactly IS the Holy Trinity?" 

 

To which he answered, "I don't know!" 

 

"You don't know what the Holy Trinity is?"

 

"No," he said, "I don't know."

 

"But you just said you believe in it!"

 

"Yep."

 

I was puzzled.  "So," I asked, "how can you believe in something if you don't even know what it is?"

 

He paused, looked at the floor, and then at me, and he answered with great solemnity and more conviction than I could muster for all the convictions in all my life, before or since: "Faith!!"

 

This is not to question your particular religious beliefs - I have no quarrel with anyone's religion who has no quarrel with my lack of it – but I've since come to the conclusion that one has faith only when one decides to believe in something that may or may not be true!

 

Also, once you've sold someone on this concept of faith, you can sell them on almost anything else.  For example, here in Georgia, some group in Cobb County, not too far from here, has talked the educational powers-that-be into pasting little stickers into public school science books that claim "evolution" is just a "theory."

 

Other than the fact that, as I understand it, "theory" is to a scientist what "fact" is to the average Joe - and that when Joe says "theory," a scientist says "hypothesis" - when some Georgia fundamentalist pushes his idea of creationism, he's forgetting that his religion is not the only one with a "creation myth".

 

For example, why would his "creation myth" be any more valid than that of the Hopi Indians, who believe that all humans, Indian and White alike, entered what we call Earth through the "Sipapuni," a hole in the ground located near the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers in Arizona?

 

Not that any of these "creation myths" need compete with scientific reality, but the question remains, what makes one religious group think its myth is any more valid than any other's?

 

And this is not to say that I don't think everybody in this country has a right to his or her religious convictions -- I very much do! -- it's just that, I must admit, some of our disparate beliefs (including, of course, my own, but also that of your average Christian) can be very weird indeed!

 

Well, perhaps I should not have started the whole conversation – nor brought up CS Lewis.  CS Lewis is not a theologian, but, I see, most often referred to as a "Christian Apologist" - and if on the defensive for some reason, and not properly triumphant and sneering at the rest of us. 

 

Nevertheless, what he presents in the passage I mentioned, from the third volume of the Peralanda trilogy, is a character, one Jane Studdock, who is a free-thinking liberal/progressive graduate student, working on her thesis on the poetry of John Donne and its underlying theological implications, who has "a religious experience."  The narrative I recall is the interior dialog as this happens, as her reason - "This is not sensible or reasonable!" - is overwhelmed by the spiritual - "But it is more real!"  Think "deeper truths" - deeper than mere facts. 

 

Lewis here, and elsewhere, not only argues faith is something far different than reason - just another thing entirely - he simultaneously argues that it just comes upon you as something fundamentally obvious, something you do not choose, or not choose.  It just is.  And if you choose - with your free will - not to align yourself with this unreasonable, unreal stuff, you betray yourself, because, deep down you wrench yourself away from the underlying greater reality.  And so on and so forth....

 

But no one reads Lewis these day - or just the Narnia books - so it doesn't matter.  A Manhasset bar will do.  Anyway, I see what Lewis is getting at.  It is a matter of choice - you do have the free will to betray the obvious and deeper reality.  Whatever.

 

And I had an interesting conversation this week.  My new boss is originally from Beirut, and grew up speaking Arabic in the streets and French at home, and knows Paris well.  But he is focused on work and we don’t do much small talk.  I have a dotted line relationship to another fellow - the project manager for nationally implementing the software applications my folks work on.  He gets me money and staff and hardware and berates the software vendors and all the rest.  He plans.  I implement.  And he's a good fellow.  Canadian (now) - from Windsor, Ontario.  And he was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan.  We were on a smoke break one afternoon afternoon, chatting about religion and tolerance with one of my programmers, a technically brilliant fellow from Utah, and my project manager told me that he himself was a really rare person - a left-wing, radical pro-tolerance Muslim.  He said he'd explain that next week.  That should be interesting.

 

By the way - Lahore and Salt Lake City have much in common.  You have to behave.

 

Enough on religion?

 

Bob Patterson, known in these pages as The World’s Laziest Journalist, adds this:

 

Perhaps we should inform our readers here that Just Above Sunset does have an ordained minister from the Universal Life Church on its staff me.


For the fact checker prone see this

 

It might be noted that the beloved editor and publisher has, on occasion, broken bread with the aforementioned man of the cloth.

 

I think that the fact that the staff chaplain is part of the Just Above Sunset team puts our humble but sincere effort (like Caesar's wife) above reproach when it comes time to evaluate some of the godless heathens who backed Kerry.

 

Just Above Sunset, just like the President Bush team, are proud of the Christian Heritage of the Hollywood based staff.  Can any member of the Bush team legally perform a marriage in the state of California?

 

Amen, brother.

 

We of the Just Above Sunset Hollywood staff can say "Hallelujah" just as loudly as any member of the Bush Cabinet.

 

So the brothers and sister who read Just Above Sunset weekly online magazine can rest assured that any doubts or misgivings they have about the possibility of any religious deficiencies of the staff are totally unnecessary.

 

Odds are Alan has more quality Gospel Music in his record library than most, if not all, of the Listers audience.  Am I right brother, Alan?

 

We thank the readers who show concern for our spiritual needs here in Hollywood, but we must lift our eyes up to a greater concern: brother Bush and his sloppy, slovenly, and misguided (albeit totally sincere) efforts to neutralize Osama by fighting in Iraq.

 

Now, play some of that Gospel music for those readers who need some spiritual reassurance.

 

- Rev. Bob P

 

In the words of Phillip Raines in Georgia - Bartender, I'll have what he's drinking.  Amen!

 

End of Sermon.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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