Theology

'Dexter Theology': Shedding Blood in God's Name

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for stories about the malleability of human morality. From the mob movies, where a guy can whack his cousin but better not show his Patron any “disrespect,” to justice-seeking serial killers like “Dexter,” there’s plenty of justified violence to be found.

Where do such seemingly contradictory value systems come from? And do they actually happen in the real world today?

How about the politician who claims a platform that values a respect for “all life,” while justifying war and advocating for capital punishment? Or those who celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? And the list goes on.

It’s common in western culture to objectify the Islamic faith, cherry-picking texts from their scripture and plucking choice sound-bytes from extremist leaders, to portray the whole of the religion as inherently violent. This, in turn, is employed to justify violence in-kind, or worse, preemptive violence, as in the case of our invasion of Iraq.

I call this “Dexter” theology.

Follow the Meme: "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" Copycats and Responders

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus is a true Internet phenomenon, garnering more than 18 million views and sparking a global debate.

As with most internet phenomena, the viral video has given birth to dozens of similar videos from folks around the world, each adding a different (sometimes serious, sometimes not) perspective to the debates.

Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos.

See a roundup of some of the most interesting responses inside the blog...

John Schmalzbauer answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

Missouri State University Sociologist John Schmalzbauer

Missouri State University Sociologist John Schmalzbauer

Every so often, evangelicals get the urge to ex-communicate. Feminists, open theists, and universalists have all drawn the ire of their co-religionists. In the absence of a central religious authority, such efforts are doomed to fail.

According to most scholars, evangelicalism is more of a network than a unified church. Magazines, publishing houses, colleges, and parachurch groups play a bigger role than ecclesial bodies. While condemned from many pulpits, the emerging church continues to publish with Zondervan and Baker. Owned by the same company as Zondervan and Fox News (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation), HarperOne has provided a home for Rob Bell and his Love Wins.

Though it hasn’t been easy, Bell has remained a part of American evangelicalism.

Fried by their battles with fellow believers, some have decided to ex-communicate themselves. Even then it is hard to cut the tie. As in the case of cultural Catholicism, religious terminology may haunt a post-evangelical’s speech. Commenting on this phenomenon, Tony Jones wonders whether evangelicalism is the “new Jewish" — more cultural than confessional.

Mormons Confront 'Epidemic' of Online Misinformation

LDS temple in San Diego, Calif. Image via http://bit.ly/zivRxd

LDS temple in San Diego, Calif. Image via http://bit.ly/zivRxd

A Mormon student surfs the Internet for a school assignment and discovers that Mormon founder Joseph Smith had multiple wives, even marrying a 14 year old.

A returned Mormon missionary, preparing a Sunday school lesson, comes across a website alleging that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from a novel.

Surprised by what they find so easily online, more and more Mormons are encountering crises of faith. Some even leave the fold and, feeling betrayed, join the ranks of Mormon opponents.

It's a growing problem, acknowledges Marlin Jensen, the outgoing historian for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it's one Mormon leaders are working to confront.

"Never before have we had this information age, with social networking and bloggers publishing unvetted points of view," Jensen said. "The church is concerned about misinformation and distorted information, but we are doing better and trying harder to get our story told in an accurate way."

The church "has made no effort to hide or obscure its history," Jensen said, but some aspects — such as polygamy — "haven't been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present."

Can the LDS church do better to explain its history, even to its own members? Sure, Jensen said.

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination

Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh

Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh

When a friend told me about this book late last year, I thought that all my Christmas had come early.

A theological treatise on Bruce Cockburn has been very necessary for years, but surely he was such a cult artist that no publisher would ever see a book on him as profitable. So fair play to Brazos Press for the courage and vision. And the author might have swayed the deal.

Walsh does a good few things in Kicking At The Darkness; Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. He confirms all your thoughts on your favorite Cockburn lyrics. (They were as theologically potent as you always thought!) He also reminds you how many great lines Cockburn has written, causing you to scuttle back to re-listen to every album right back to the first.

The Gospel According to Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga. Image via http://bit.ly/AjdhWA

Lady Gaga. Image via http://bit.ly/AjdhWA

During all my reading about Robyn and Lady Gaga I came across some stuff about Lady Gaga that I found interesting, theologically speaking. As I told Jana over the summer, "I'm sort of developing a theological curiosity about Lady Gaga." Jana asked, "How so?"

Well, Lady Gaga calls her fans "monsters." Or "little monsters." And by that she means freaks--the odd, the weird, the lonely, the rejects, the nerds, the castoffs. And you can't help but wonder, in light of the gospels, about that demographic. In my book Unclean I have a chapter on monsters. And I've written about the theology of monsters on this blog. Consequently, Lady Gaga's use of the label "monsters" caught my attention.

Because as I've written, the category "monster" is charged with ambivalence. On the surface the monster is a normative threat--a defilement, a degradation, a location of moral and communal harm. Thus, monsters are expelled from community. And yet, most monster stories suggest that the monster is often a scapegoat. That the monster is more victim than victimizer. Underneath, if we could but see it, the monster is one of us.

So it's theologically apt that Lady Gaga uses the category monster for her fans. Because she's targeting a group that has been cast out of society. Again, she's explicitly embracing the freaks, weirdos and social outcasts. But Gaga, like in the monster stories, has flipped this and made the label "monster" a term of affection, welcome, embrace, community, inclusion and hospitality. (The diminutive "little" signals the playful affection.) This parallels my own interests in Unclean--Can we show hospitality toward monsters? So I'm intrigued by Gaga's community of "little monsters."

Susan Isaacs Anwers "What is an Evangelical?"

Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.

Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.

I first heard the term "evangelical" in the 1980s, about the time the Swaggarts and Bakkers were imploding. Christianity needed a new name for sane, intellectually sound faith.

"Born-again" had been sullied by the televangelists and worn out by Debbie Boone’s explanation of how she justified singing the lyrics to “You Light Up My Life.”

"Jesus Freak" had died with the Peace movement.

We needed another word to separate true Christians from fake ones; sheep from goats; serious believers from those who merely checked the “Christian” box on their driver’s license application because Jew, Muslim or Ekkankar didn’t apply. 

(Sometimes I wonder if all the denominations in Christendom are merely a list of the nomenclature we’ve used to separate Us from Them.)

You Make Me Almost Want To Be a Christian

A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. P

A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. Photo for Sojourners by Joan Bisset.

I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.

After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.

My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."

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