The Hurtful Church of Jesus-less Christians

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I love John Pavlovitz’ blog.   He’s a Christian pastor, but the kind that’s tragically rare in America: a pastor who actually believes in the compassionate, loving Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, a Jesus whose table included all types of people and always had room for one more.   This Jesus isn’t the Jesus of the prosperity gospel, dominionist, and right wing evangelical churches,  whose preachers seem to completely ignore the inclusive, loving Jesus in favor of their abusive and constantly angry God who gaslights his flock, holds them to endless harsh rules, constantly threatens Hell and punishment, shames and silences women and tells them they must tolerate abuse from their husbands and pastors (because as women, they must be doing something wrong to deserve the abuse of their “betters”), makes excuses as to why keeping children in cages and separating families is “godly,”  and tells poor people their poverty is due to their own moral failings and that if they were pleasing to God, they’d be rich.

Their God is forever changing the goalposts and is impossible to please.   Moreover, their God has “anointed” certain chosen people as “prophets” or “apostles,” people we are to obey without question and never criticize just because their God has elevated them above the rest of us (that’s where the “Trump is anointed by God” rhetoric comes from).    Their religion, so unlike the real Christ, is merely a cover for greed, hatred, exclusion, and fascism, and is used by sociopaths and narcissists as a means to control people.

They have created a God in their own image: their God is a sociopath or least a pathological narcissist, and good, decent people with a conscience and empathy want nothing to do with him.    But in America, unfortunately he is the loudest and most visible God.   The term Christianity itself is acquiring a bad name lately (this trend has increased since Trump was elected) because good people are associating it with authoritarianism, hatred, condemnation, elitism, American exceptionalism, misogyny, white male privilege, and harsh punishment.  No wonder so many good people are turning to atheism or non-Christian religions instead.

I too am finding the term Christianity offputting lately.  When someone tells me they’re a Christian, I automatically become wary and distance myself, assuming they follow the authoritarian, far right God that’s so prevalent in America today.    Theirs is a predatory, heartless religion that behaves more like a cult than a proper religion, and hurts millions more than it helps (mainly enriching its wealthy pastors and billionaire donors).

John Pavlovitz speaks for the rest of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, who reject the authoritarian American God, but who wish to emulate the Jesus of the Gospels.  Such Christians, to circumvent the recent negative connotations associated with “Christian,” have been calling themselves Christ Followers.   I kind of like that!

Here is another insightful and important article from John Pavlovitz’ “Stuff That Needs to Be Said” blog.

The Hurtful Church of Jesus-less Christians 

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5 Essentials for Defeating Trump.

Here’s an extremely sobering article about the Trump regime’s true diabolical agenda: an unholy merging of white male privilege and authoritarian religion disguised as evangelical Christianity (also known as Dominionism).   What this regime isn’t telling anyone is they are working in the shadows toward an intolerant, legally enforced, violent, misogynistic theocracy very similar to radical Islam in everything but the specific religion it’s using to disguise itself.  In fact, this movement isn’t a true religion at all; it’s a religious cover for a fascist political agenda, and is the opposite of anything Christ ever stood for.

Dominionist Christianity is an unholy mix of the prosperity gospel and forced sexual conformity (especially for women).  It tends to attract the selfish and the uncompassionate; the smug, self righteous, and sanctimonious; the greedy, the abusive, the sociopathic, and those who need, due to their own narcissism, to feel superior to others based on their white heritage, their false piety, or their personal wealth.

Qualities like compassion and empathy are seen as weaknesses that need to be eliminated.   Financial wealth and the power that comes with that is seen as the only true measure of God’s approval.   Misfortune, illness, and poverty is inflicted only on those who God does not approve of.    Human beings are regarded as useful objects to achieve one’s aims or exploit for financial gain, rather than as individuals with needs (slavery is acceptable).   The desire for human rights and to be treated with dignity are considered to be the work of Satan.  The end always justifies the means, so evil acts and cruelty are all acceptable as long as they help to bring about the endgame, which is a theocracy based on Old Testament Law and unfettered (unregulated) capitalism where the wealthy and privileged can rule like feudal kings over the hordes of serfs and slaves under their rule.  Adherents believe God has given certain people (modern day prophets and apostles) license to force their will on others to achieve the movement’s agenda.   Dominionist Christianity is a sociopathic, violent, religiopolitical movement and is eating America like metastatic cancer.

I have already written a number of posts about dominionism, so I won’t list sources here, but a quick Google search will direct you to them. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s absolutely real.

Trump is the key this Christofascist movement is using to open the Pandora’s box of horror and suffering they have kept under wraps for years and are just now beginning to unleash in all its ugliness and hypocrisy, the intention being to inflict it on anyone who can’t or won’t conform.   Many Trump supporters aren’t aware of the regime’s real agenda,  and can’t be convinced they have become part of a cult of personality that in many cases, will do them or their loved ones harm or even kill them.   But as in Hitler’s Germany, by the time they finally realize the danger they are in, it will be too late.

Trump, though apparently not religious himself (and definitely unrepentant of his past sins) is helping this diabolical movement realize their fascist agenda (which is why its adherents insist he is anointed by God) in return for their support of him. That’s why there are so many dominionists in his cabinet and why they seem to think of Trump as a kind of savior.

To save America and the world (because it’s their intention to eventually take over the planet), their dark agenda must be exposed and brought into the light.  Author Chris Kratzer outlines how this can be done in this terrifying (but also hopeful) article.

5 Essentials for Defeating Trump 

 

Let’s party like it’s 1399.

Originally posted on December 30, 2017 as The Unholy Alliance That is Ushering in a New Dark Age. 

Although I have made few editorial changes and no factual updates to this article, I’m reblogging it in light of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ and Jeff Sessions’ quoting of the Bible to justify the inhumane separation of children and babies from their parents at our southern border (it’s not just illegal immigrants this is being done to, but to mothers and children legally seeking asylum) as well as the incarceration of children in what can only be called concentration camps. Using the word of God to justify these cruel atrocities and human rights abuses — inflicted even on innocent children — is the pinnacle of blasphemy as well as an egregious example of the Trumpian GOP’s constant gaslighting. In fact, the Bible takes a very dark view of those who would deny refuge to a stranger and inflict abuse on children. I won’t list all the quotes proving that here for lack of space, but anyone with a cursory knowledge of the Bible knows this. Jesus was himself a dark skinned immigrant whose parents were fleeing from persecution in their home country, and I have no doubt that in Trump’s America he would be separated from Mary and Joseph and thrown in a cage like an animal. Let’s not forget that the Bible was also once used to justify slavery and even by some Nazis to justify the extermination of six million Jews and other “undesirables.”

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When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. –Sinclair Lewis, 1935.

This article is going to be dark.  I wasn’t looking forward to writing it, but I must do so. Dark as the subject matter is, it’s the light within most of us that makes us able to know when darkness is descending and take the necessary action to avoid being annihilated by it.

Education and science are under attack by an unholy alliance between right wing evangelical Christianity and far right politics.    This has been going on since the late 1970s (The Moral Majority was the first obvious sign this was beginning to happen), but only now has the situation in America become critical, so critical we are fast losing our democracy and becoming a fascist state.

Protecting democracy and liberty is the primary reason why the Founding Fathers made sure the Constitution protected the separation of church and state.   It’s not because these men regarded religion as a bad thing.   In fact, some of them were personally quite religious.   It’s because mixing the two always corrupts both.   Enter politics into religion, and religion becomes authoritarian and punishing; enter religion into politics and  government becomes the same way.   Religio-fascist, authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan became that way because religion (in their case, Islam) was allowed to infiltrate politics without regulations to keep its excesses at bay.   Islam itself became corrupted due to the influence of radical Islamists (ISIS and the Taliban) who wanted to make their religion about politics and use it as an excuse to control the people.    The same thing is happening in America with certain factions of evangelical Christians (dominionists) who believe their Godly duty is to force others to think and behave the way they do. And they have created a God — a cruel, narcissistic, sociopathic, constantly enraged God devoid of empathy or love — in their own monstrous image.

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I realize not all conservatives are like this — if I made this table, I would substitute the term “Trumpist GOP and Dominionism” for “Republicans and Conservatives.”  I’d also leave out the term “Muslim” since most do not support ISIS and Sharia Law.

Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given their belief that they have been chosen by God to “take dominion” over other mortals and the planet itself —  the highest echelons of government are now populated by toxic dominionist Christians who believe tyranny and oppression is the God-ordained way to rule a nation and the only way to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.    I’ve come to believe the real reason so many right wing Christians hate Muslims is because they see radical Islam as competition for their own desired Christian Taliban — it’s the same damn thing with a different name!   Trump and his cronies don’t seem to hate Saudi Arabia or its richest, most powerful rulers at all (Trump seemed to be having the time of his life when the Saudis treated his arrival last spring like the arrival of a beloved king) — they only hate powerless Muslim refugees coming to America to escape from that oppressive regime.    Radical Christian extremists and malignant narcissists like Trump who crave and admire only power and wealth have far more in common with regimes like Saudi Arabia’s than they do with western democracies where the people have a say in how they are governed.

Authoritarian religion –whether Christian, Islam, or some other faith system — tends to attract people with narcissistic or sociopathic personalities, and research has shown that people with these personality types also score high in authoritarian traits.    Authoritarian religion provides a handy way for people without a conscience or with sadistic tendencies to justify their abuse and judgment of “the Other” — anyone who they believe is inferior to them — or anyone who threatens to shine the harsh light of the truth on them.    It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s what God wants” or “it says right here in the Bible” (which more often than not, is a faulty interpretation of Scripture anyway) than to say, “I’m a sadistic SOB who wants to control you and make your life a living hell.”   Malignant narcissists do not want to take responsibility for their inhumanity; they’d much rather blame it on someone else.  If they can “blame” it on God, that’s even better, because then they can tell you “it’s for your own good.”

A personal story.

A few years ago, I had a falling out with another blogger who wrote about narcissistic abuse.   We are still not on speaking terms, and probably never will be again, but recently I started to read her blog again, not just because she happens to be a good writer, but because during the past few months I’ve actually found her blog inspiring.   I won’t go into all the details of what led to the falling out, but one of the reasons was because of the woman’s religion.   She had made some critical — even cruel — comments about and to me, using what I felt to be her fundamentalist Christianity as a weapon of judgment and intolerance.   From what I could observe from her older writings, she appeared to be stuck in a victim mentality, unable to move forward in her recovery due to her tendency to judge others harshly because of her fundamentalist Christianity.   I saw no evidence of any real self awareness or willingness to self-criticize.   So, at the time, I dismissed her as a covert narcissist masquerading as someone with “only” C-PTSD.

But apparently I was wrong.  It seems like Trump’s election changed her in a positive way.     She wrote about what she saw happening with politics and the religious right, and became increasingly critical of both.   She began to realize that her fundamentalist church was infested with malignant narcissists who judged her negatively for her poverty and health problems, believing, as they did, that wealth and good health were proof of God’s approval.   It wasn’t long before she ditched her fundamentalist church and began to seek answers outside religion.    This actually didn’t surprise me, since I always got the impression her religion was a bad fit and she was miserable within its confines.  This woman was clearly intelligent and well educated, but it was almost as if she had been trying to force herself to adapt to a restricting mold that didn’t allow her to grow as a human being.   She was telling herself lies that she knew were lies, because of the fear of Hell and judgment.   Freed of that, suddenly she was exploring and seeking answers in secular fields like science and psychology, and her mind seemed to blossom.  At the same time this happened, she seemed to develop more tolerance and empathy toward others.  Most impressive of all, she began to develop an ability to self-reflect and as a result, began to make changes to herself.   Her writings indicated a new insight into herself I hadn’t seen while she was under the thrall of toxic religion.    She seems happier than she ever did, and a lot less angry in general.   She’s exploring old interests and talents that she had neglected while she was in that church, and more positive things seem to be happening to her now too.    I’m sure being happy and using one’s mind to question and explore the world aren’t sins, and God is not judging us harshly for doing so.   If God didn’t want us to ask questions or think critically about things, he would not have given us brains!

I won’t link to her blog here or even name it, due to the fact we stopped speaking several years ago, but her most recent article about the religious right’s war on science was one of her most enlightening and insightful.    It was also very dark and unfortunately all too true.   In it, she criticized the religious right’s scorched-earth mission of squelching all independent thought and critical thinking, which has led to an all out war on secular education itself and an accompanying celebration of ignorance and superstition.

The war on science and education.

Religio-fascist societies always attack education and science as the enemy, because the ability to think and ask questions challenges their belief system.   This always leads to the decimation of civilized society and overpowering oppression, premature death, human suffering, and covert or overt genocide to “purge” the society of undesirable populations (I believe the current GOP’s tax bill and attempts to destroy the social safety net is a covert attempt to dispatch the elderly, poor, disabled, and sick).    Such rigid and cruel regimes held power during the European Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church doubled as government and forbade the questioning of religion and condemned scientific thought, even sentencing scientific thinkers to be burned at the stake (the Catholic Church has since renounced and repented for this dark period in its history, and today embraces science, and since Vatican II, this includes the acceptance of evolution).  It happened more recently in countries of the Middle East, with radical Islam taking over government and leading to the oppression of women, expansion of the death penalty to include personal or sexual “immorality” like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, adultery, and even a child’s disobedience to their parents; and other human rights atrocities.

“We made God in our own image.”

Any religion whose dogma regards the fight for human rights as a sin (as dominionist Christianity and radical Islam both do), is one where God isn’t benevolent or good, but is a false entity made in the rulers’ own image:  their God has become a malignant narcissist who does not care about the well-being of his creation, demands adulation and worship, and only approves of and rewards narcissistic or sociopathic behavior.    Leaders of such religions shift the blame for their society’s ills to their most vulnerable or powerless members (the poor, women, immigrants, or others),  gaslight their followers and those under their rule by saying that we, as humans, are unable to determine what God deems good because we are so “depraved,” and hence the means, no matter how cruel, always justify the ends.   Dominionists believe that only certain “elect” (God’s “golden children”) have been given dominion over creation — with wealth and power being proof of God’s favor — and must do whatever it takes to destroy the old ways  (which includes jettisoning empathy for the vulnerable) in order to usher in God’s kingdom.   Apparently, they forgot about God’s grace and mercy and the earlier fundamentalist belief in free will.

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The 7 “mountains” of the New Apostolic Reformation (dominionism)

There are two glaring problems with dominionist doctrine.  First of all, if humans are so depraved, why is the cruelty of certain powerful religious people okay to God but not the benevolence of others?  Second, their doctrine flies in the face of everything Jesus taught in the New Testament.   It’s interesting the dominionists rarely quote from the New Testament, unless it’s from the missives of Paul, who lived after Jesus and seemed to have harsher views toward women and sexual behavior than Jesus himself did.     They justify cruelty by misinterpreting Scripture to fit their harsh  narrative.   As one example, they often use the verse, “Those who do not work do not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) as proof that Jesus was a Republican who didn’t believe in helping the poor.    What Jesus actually meant was that if you are an able bodied person who can work, you shouldn’t sit on your ass expecting handouts.   This is common sense!   But Jesus never said we shouldn’t help people who truly are in need — in fact, the New Testament (and even parts of the Old Testament) are full of verses instructing us to care for the “least among us.”  Dominionist evangelicals cherry pick from the Bible and conveniently ignore the many passages telling us to be inclusive and loving toward the most vulnerable members of society, while glorifying the the most punishing parts of the Old Testament as God’s true nature.

America today is extremely narcissistic, and celebrates narcissistic, even sociopathic, values.   It’s become an orgy of malignant narcissism, and its associated traits and values (lack of empathy, arrogance, coldness, racism, sexism, sadism, bullying, dishonesty, cheating, unchecked power, greed, revenge, war, division, destructiveness, and hatred) have become synonymous with both the Trumpian Republican Party and far right Christian extremism.  These two groups, thanks to Trump and his far right evangelical supporters and donors, have become increasingly merged to the point it is sometimes hard to separate one from the other.    This, of course, is part of their plan — destruction of the separation between church and state would allow these sociopaths to carry out their plans to destroy or punish anyone they dislike, all in the name of God.   It’s heresy of the highest order, but there are people who really believe a white, conservative, Christian society is the only kind of society acceptable to God.   To them, science is a creation of Satan and critical thinking or questioning of any kind is flirting with the devil.   That’s why they hate education and science so much: because only the gullible and uneducated will unquestioningly believe — and obey — such a toxic and destructive doctrine.    They want obedient sheep without working brains.   That’s the most effective weapon they have, and the one that will catapult us into the new Dark Age.

The Prosperity Gospel and positive-thinking movement’s connection to authoritarian Christianity.

The “prosperity gospel” used to be a seemingly harmless, feel-good vaguely Christian doctrine that gave people permission to not feel guilty or ashamed of achieving great success or wealth, or about their desire to have those things.   It held that God wanted his people to be successful in life and in fact it was their duty to strive for that.   While I can’t argue that there’s anything wrong with ambition or wanting to be successful (who wants to be a poor failure?), the real problem started when the prosperity gospel (and other “positive thinking” belief systems) began to regard the emotions of guilt, remorse, and shame as something shameful in themselves.  Anything went, even if to get what you wanted, you had to exploit or hurt others (which is why Ayn Rand became so popular in recent years).   It wasn’t okay to feel guilty — unless you felt guilty about feeling guilty!   But guilt, though unpleasant (and unhealthy when excessive) is necessary for civilized society.   The ability to feel guilt (and the related ability to feel empathy) is what separates sociopaths and narcissists from people who care about other people.

At the same time the more new-agey positive thinking movement (which also eschewed guilt and shame) was gaining steam, the prosperity gospel (basically a Christian version of the positive thinking doctrine) and Christian evangelism/fundamentalism were beginning to merge.  It wasn’t long before having great power or wealth, rather than being a sign of a Pharisee or false prophet, became a sign of God’s favor.   Christianity as taught by Jesus in the Gospels was turned on  its head into its polar opposite!   Given that sociopaths and malignant narcissists tend to be attracted to any religion that tells them their power or wealth is holy,  soon the prosperity gospel took on a dark cast by demonizing those without such power or wealth as somehow sinful or even evil.  The Christian Dominionist/Reconstructionist movement (which had been considered  “loony fringe” ever since Rousas Rushdoony published his Institutes of Biblical Law in the 1960s), now known within evangelical circles as the New Apostolic Reformation (don’t read late at night if you don’t want nightmares), exploded into the upper echelons of the Republican Party.  Suddenly, it was perfectly okay for a narcissistic sociopath like Roy Moore to run for Senate, regardless how immoral his personal behavior (in his case, alleged pedophilia and stalking teenage girls) because he also promoted the extremist Christian doctrine that fit in so well with far right Republican politics.

What they really want.

Both dominionist Christianity and Trumpian Republicanism are fascist movements that believe anything they do is alright, as long as it achieves their desired ends:  unlimited accumulation of wealth and power (which includes unbridled corporate power), ending the right to vote for anyone who isn’t a white male property owner (this is actually part of their overall plan and explains why they don’t seem to care anymore what the public thinks), repealing the First Amendment, putting women back in the kitchen without access to contraception, removing laws that protect women and children against abusers, decimating the social safety net (getting rid of Medicare and Social Security is a big part of their agenda), denying facts and science, rolling back all protective regulations, including those that protect our planet; building walls to separate us from our allies, revising history so it supports their fascist agenda (the insistence that the Founding Fathers intended to create a Christian nation is one example of revisionist history used to justify the legislation of Sharia biblical law), denying access to education unless it’s fundamentalist religious education, privatizing all public goods and infrastructure so nothing is free (anyone like toll roads or for-profit prisons and fire departments?), and oppressing, punishing, deporting, and killing anyone who isn’t rich, Republican, Christian, or white.    How very Christ-like of them.

The means to achieve their nefarious ends simply don’t matter, no matter how immoral or how many people they hurt.   It’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, break the law, deride the FBI and the Justice Department, collude or conspire with hostile foreign powers, even to the point of treason;  accumulate obscene amounts of wealth on the backs of the working and middle class, emotionally harass and abuse, gaslight, blame-shift, project onto, mislead, arrest without due process, and inflict draconian punishments on others who don’t fit their ideal or who dare to speak out against such harsh treatment.   They talk about “small government” but that only means small government for them — they are above the law,  you see.    They want to inflict a Big Brother government on all the rest of us lowly ingrates.

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Ignorance and moral bankruptcy.

Of course this is all incredibly sad and scary, but what’s even more tragic is that one third of the country is seemingly so ignorant they support Trump and his billionaire, white supremacist, and evangelical cronies’ vision for America and the world.   I don’t really think they are as ignorant as they seem.   I think they are perfectly well aware of the fascist hell on earth that Trump and his minions are aiming for.    It’s even beginning to dawn on a few of them that maybe Russia was involved in the 2016 election, and maybe Trump did collude with them.   But that doesn’t faze them one bit:  now they say that maybe Russia is better than America, and that Trump was in his right to collude with them.   Far right extremists and trolls are still promising civil war against the rest of us if he is removed or impeached.

No, Trumpists are not all ignorant.  After reading many comments on right wing websites and studying the right wing mindset in depth over this past year,  I have come to believe that people who like Trump and the new Republicanism are attracted to it precisely because it is so sociopathic.    They love it for the same reasons the rest of us hate it.   They don’t care if they lose their healthcare or their rights — as long as they get to see the people they hate suffer.   Trumpists are people who are either narcissistic or sociopathic themselves (how else does one explain the preponderance of Internet trolls and neo-Nazis among them?), or who have severe codependency issues and look up to narcissists and sociopaths as viable leaders.   They want a strongman leader and admire dictators, either because they don’t want to have to think for themselves and gain a perverse sense of security from being told exactly what they have to believe and do, or because they are narcissists and sociopaths who regard higher human values such as empathy, kindness, fairness, compassion, civility, generosity, and love as “feminine” or weak.   On the contrary, it’s the strongest and most spiritually evolved people who are able to embrace these higher values and act on them.    If Jesus, the embodiment of these virtues, were to walk on Earth today, he would be despised by the religious right.  I’m pretty sure they would persecute him all over again.

Going forward.

It is not too late to nip this cancer in the bud and return to America as the land of freedom and democracy, even improving on what we had before — preferably with some new checks and balances put in place to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.   But the hour is getting late and the cancer is metastasizing.   One positive effect of Trumpism and the carnage it’s creating is that finally, higher human values like I mentioned in the last paragraph are being given the respect due them again.  There is a general recognition by two thirds of Americans — even by traditional Republicans (both Bushes are among them) — that these values have been devalued for so long that they are now are nearly nonexistent in American politics, and demonized where they appear (compassion and kindness are now “socialism”).  Narcissism has run amok, ignorance is admired, and greed has been glorified.   Sociopathy is now becoming acceptable.  Over time, these vices have been turned into virtues instead of the destructive forces they really are.  But there’s a painful awareness now, a passion for truth, and a desire to repair or reclaim what has been lost or damaged that I see now among most people.  Two thirds of us strive to be rid of the invasive cancer of societal malignant narcissism, a desire that wasn’t evident before 2017.    In addition, like the narcissism blogger I discussed in the beginning of this article, some of us have been transformed spiritually in the face of this existential darkness, and in spite of the ominous threat of being silenced held over us, we are finally finding our voices.

I have to believe that good will always “trump” evil (pun intended).

It always does, in the end.

The unholy alliance that is ushering in a new Dark Age.

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When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. –Sinclair Lewis, 1935.

This article is going to be dark.  I wasn’t looking forward to writing it, but I must do so. Dark as the subject matter is, it’s the light within most of us that makes us able to know when darkness is descending and take the necessary action to avoid being annihilated by it.

Education and science are under attack by an unholy alliance between right wing evangelical Christianity and far right politics.    This has been going on since the late 1970s (The Moral Majority was the first obvious sign this was beginning to happen), but only now has the situation in America become critical, so critical we are fast losing our democracy and becoming a fascist state.

Protecting democracy and liberty is the primary reason why the Founding Fathers made sure the Constitution protected the separation of church and state.   It’s not because these men regarded religion as a bad thing.   In fact, some of them were personally quite religious.   It’s because mixing the two always corrupts both.   Enter politics into religion, and religion becomes authoritarian and punishing; enter religion into politics and  government becomes the same way.   Religio-fascist, authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan became that way because religion (in their case, Islam) was allowed to infiltrate politics without regulations to keep its excesses at bay.   Islam itself became corrupted due to the influence of radical Islamists (ISIS and the Taliban) who wanted to make their religion about politics and use it as an excuse to control the people.    The same thing is happening in America with certain factions of evangelical Christians (dominionists) who believe their Godly duty is to force others to think and behave the way they do.

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I realize not all conservatives are like this — if I made this table, I would substitute the term “Trumpist GOP and Dominionism” for “Republicans and Conservatives.”  I’d also leave out the term “Muslim” since most do not support ISIS and Sharia Law.

Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given their belief that they have been chosen by God to “take dominion” over other mortals and the planet itself —  the highest echelons of government are now populated by toxic dominionist Christians who believe tyranny and oppression is the God-ordained way to rule a nation and the only way to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.    I’ve come to believe the real reason so many right wing Christians hate Muslims is because they see radical Islam as competition for their own desired Christian Taliban — it’s the same damn thing with a different name!   Trump and his cronies don’t seem to hate Saudi Arabia or its richest, most powerful rulers at all (Trump seemed to be having the time of his life when the Saudis treated his arrival last spring like the arrival of a beloved king) — they only hate powerless Muslim refugees coming to America to escape from that oppressive regime.    Radical Christian extremists and malignant narcissists like Trump who crave and admire only power and wealth have far more in common with regimes like Saudi Arabia’s than they do with western democracies where the people have a say in how they are governed.

Authoritarian religion –whether Christian, Islam, or some other faith system — tends to attract people with narcissistic or sociopathic personalities, and research has shown that people with these personality types also score high in authoritarian traits.    Authoritarian religion provides a handy way for people without a conscience or with sadistic tendencies to justify their abuse and judgment of “the Other” — anyone who they believe is inferior to them — or anyone who threatens to shine the harsh light of the truth on them.    It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s what God wants” or “it says right here in the Bible” (which more often than not, is a faulty interpretation of Scripture anyway) than to say, “I’m a sadistic SOB who wants to control you and make your life a living hell.”   Malignant narcissists do not want to take responsibility for their inhumanity; they’d much rather blame it on someone else.  If they can “blame” it on God, that’s even better, because then they can tell you “it’s for your own good.”

A few years ago, I had a falling out with another blogger who wrote about narcissistic abuse.   We are still not on speaking terms, and probably never will be again, but recently I started to read her blog again, not just because she happens to be a good writer, but because during the past few months I’ve actually found her blog inspiring.   I won’t go into all the details of what led to the falling out, but one of the reasons was because of the woman’s religion.   She had made some critical — even cruel — comments about and to me, using what I felt to be her fundamentalist Christianity as a weapon of judgment and intolerance.   From what I could observe from her older writings, she appeared to be stuck in a victim mentality, unable to move forward in her recovery due to her tendency to judge others harshly because of her fundamentalist Christianity.   I saw no evidence of any real self awareness or willingness to self-criticize.   So, at the time, I dismissed her as a covert narcissist masquerading as someone with “only” C-PTSD.

But apparently I was wrong.  It seems like Trump’s election changed her in a positive way.     She wrote about what she saw happening with politics and the religious right, and became increasingly critical of both.   She began to realize that her fundamentalist church was infested with malignant narcissists who judged her negatively for her poverty and health problems, believing, as they did, that wealth and good health were proof of God’s approval.   It wasn’t long before she ditched her fundamentalist church and began to seek answers outside religion.    This actually didn’t surprise me, since I always got the impression her religion was a bad fit and she was miserable within its confines.  This woman was clearly intelligent and well educated, but it was almost as if she had been trying to force herself to adapt to a restricting mold that didn’t allow her to grow as a human being.   She was telling herself lies that she knew were lies, because of the fear of Hell and judgment.   Freed of that, suddenly she was exploring and seeking answers in secular fields like science and psychology, and her mind seemed to blossom.  At the same time this happened, she seemed to develop more tolerance and empathy toward others.  Most impressive of all, she began to develop an ability to self-reflect and as a result, began to make changes to herself.   Her writings indicated a new insight into herself I hadn’t seen while she was under the thrall of toxic religion.    She seems happier than she ever did, and a lot less angry in general.   She’s exploring old interests and talents that she had neglected while she was in that church, and more positive things seem to be happening to her now too.    I’m sure being happy and using one’s mind to question and explore the world aren’t sins, and God is not judging us harshly for doing so.   If God didn’t want us to ask questions or think critically about things, he would not have given us brains!

I won’t link to her blog here or even name it, due to the fact we stopped speaking several years ago, but her most recent article about the religious right’s war on science was one of her most enlightening and insightful.    It was also very dark and unfortunately all too true.   In it, she criticized the religious right’s scorched-earth mission of squelching all independent thought and critical thinking, which has led to an all out war on secular education itself and an accompanying celebration of ignorance and superstition.

Religio-fascist societies always attack education and science as the enemy, because the ability to think and ask questions challenges their belief system.   This always leads to the decimation of civilized society and overpowering oppression, premature death, human suffering, and covert or overt genocide to “purge” the society of undesirable populations (I believe the current GOP’s tax bill and attempts to destroy the social safety net is a covert attempt to dispatch the elderly, poor, disabled, and sick).    Such rigid and cruel regimes held power during the European Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church doubled as government and forbade the questioning of religion and condemned scientific thought, even sentencing scientific thinkers to be burned at the stake (the Catholic Church has since renounced and repented for this dark period in its history, and today embraces science, and since Vatican II, this includes the acceptance of evolution).  It happened more recently in countries of the Middle East, with radical Islam taking over government and leading to the oppression of women, expansion of the death penalty to include personal or sexual “immorality” like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, adultery, and even a child’s disobedience to their parents; and other human rights atrocities.

Any religion whose dogma regards the fight for human rights as a sin (as dominionist Christianity and radical Islam both do), is one where God isn’t benevolent or good, but is a false entity made in the rulers’ own image:  their God has become a malignant narcissist who does not care about the well-being of his creation, demands adulation and worship, and only approves of and rewards narcissistic or sociopathic behavior.    Leaders of such religions shift the blame for their society’s ills to their most vulnerable or powerless members (the poor, women, immigrants, or others),  gaslight their followers and those under their rule by saying that we, as humans, are unable to determine what God deems good because we are so “depraved,” and hence the means, no matter how cruel, always justify the ends.   Dominionists believe that only certain “elect” (God’s “golden children”) have been given dominion over creation — with wealth and power being proof of God’s favor — and must do whatever it takes to destroy the old ways  (which includes jettisoning empathy for the vulnerable) in order to usher in God’s kingdom.   Apparently, they forgot about God’s grace and mercy and the earlier fundamentalist belief in free will.

7-mountains

The 7 “mountains” of the New Apostolic Reformation (dominionism)

There are two glaring problems with this doctrine.  First of all, if humans are so depraved, why is the cruelty of certain powerful religious people okay to God but not the benevolence of others?  Second, their doctrine flies in the face of everything Jesus taught in the New Testament.   It’s interesting the dominionists rarely quote from the New Testament, unless it’s from the missives of Paul, who lived after Jesus and seemed to have harsher views toward women and sexual behavior than Jesus himself did.     They justify cruelty by misinterpreting Scripture to fit their harsh  narrative.   As one example, they often use the verse, “Those who do not work do not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) as proof that Jesus was a Republican who didn’t believe in helping the poor.    What Jesus actually meant was that if you are an able bodied person who can work, you shouldn’t sit on your ass expecting handouts.   This is common sense!   But Jesus never said we shouldn’t help people who truly are in need — in fact, the New Testament (and even parts of the Old Testament) are full of verses instructing us to care for the “least among us.”  Dominionist evangelicals cherry pick from the Bible and conveniently ignore the many passages telling us to be inclusive and loving toward the most vulnerable members of society, while glorifying the the most punishing parts of the Old Testament as God’s true nature.

America today is extremely narcissistic, and celebrates narcissistic, even sociopathic, values.   It’s become an orgy of malignant narcissism, and its associated traits and values (lack of empathy, arrogance, coldness, racism, sexism, sadism, bullying, dishonesty, cheating, unchecked power, greed, revenge, war, division, destructiveness, and hatred) have become synonymous with both the Trumpian Republican Party and far right Christian extremism.  These two groups, thanks to Trump and his far right evangelical supporters and donors, have become increasingly merged to the point it is sometimes hard to separate one from the other.    This, of course, is part of their plan — destruction of the separation between church and state would allow these sociopaths to carry out their plans to destroy or punish anyone they dislike, all in the name of God.   It’s heresy of the highest order, but there are people who really believe a white, conservative, Christian society is the only kind of society acceptable to God.   To them, science is a creation of Satan and critical thinking or questioning of any kind is flirting with the devil.   That’s why they hate education and science so much: because only the gullible and uneducated will unquestioningly believe — and obey — such a toxic and destructive doctrine.    They want obedient sheep without working brains.   That’s the most effective weapon they have, and the one that will catapult us into the new Dark Age.

The “prosperity gospel” used to be a seemingly harmless, feel-good vaguely Christian doctrine that gave people permission to not feel guilty or ashamed of achieving great success or wealth, or about their desire to have those things.   It held that God wanted his people to be successful in life and in fact it was their duty to strive for that.   While I can’t argue that there’s anything wrong with ambition or wanting to be successful (who wants to be a poor failure?), the real problem started when the prosperity gospel (and other “positive thinking” belief systems) began to regard the emotions of guilt, remorse, and shame as something shameful in themselves.  Anything went, even if to get what you wanted, you had to exploit or hurt others (which is why Ayn Rand became so popular in recent years).   It wasn’t okay to feel guilty — unless you felt guilty!   But guilt, though unpleasant (and unhealthy when excessive) is necessary for civilized society.   The ability to feel guilt (and the related ability to feel empathy) is what separates sociopaths and narcissists from people who care about other people.

At the same time the more new-agey positive thinking movement (which also eschewed guilt and shame) was gaining steam, the prosperity gospel (basically a Christian version of the positive thinking doctrine) and Christian evangelism/fundamentalism were beginning to merge.  It wasn’t long before having great power or wealth, rather than being a sign of a Pharisee or false prophet, became a sign of God’s favor.   Christianity as taught by Jesus in the Gospels was turned on  its head into its polar opposite!   Given that sociopaths and malignant narcissists tend to be attracted to any religion that tells them their power or wealth is holy,  soon the prosperity gospel took on a dark cast by demonizing those without such power or wealth as somehow sinful or even evil.  The Christian Dominionist/Reconstructionist movement (which had been considered  “loony fringe” ever since Rousas Rushdoony published his Institutes of Biblical Law in the 1960s), now known within evangelical circles as the New Apostolic Reformation (don’t read late at night if you don’t want nightmares), exploded into the upper echelons of the Republican Party.  Suddenly, it was perfectly okay for a narcissistic sociopath like Roy Moore to run for Senate, regardless how immoral his personal behavior (in his case, alleged pedophilia and stalking teenage girls) because he also promoted the extremist Christian doctrine that fit in so well with far right Republican politics.

Both dominionist Christianity and Trumpian Republicanism are fascist movements that believe anything they do is alright, as long as it achieves their desired ends:  unlimited accumulation of wealth and power (which includes unbridled corporate power), ending the right to vote for anyone who isn’t a white male property owner (this is actually part of their overall plan and explains why they don’t seem to care anymore what the public thinks), repealing the First Amendment, putting women back in the kitchen without access to contraception, removing laws that protect women and children against abusers, decimating the social safety net (getting rid of Medicare and Social Security is a big part of their agenda), denying facts and science, rolling back all protective regulations, including those that protect our planet; building walls to separate us from our allies, revising history so it supports their fascist agenda (the insistence that the Founding Fathers intended to create a Christian nation is one example of revisionist history used to justify the legislation of Sharia biblical law), denying access to education unless it’s fundamentalist religious education, privatizing all public goods and infrastructure so nothing is free (anyone like toll roads or for-profit prisons and fire departments?), and oppressing, punishing, deporting, and killing anyone who isn’t rich, Republican, Christian, or white.    How very Christ-like of them.

The means to achieve their nefarious ends simply don’t matter, no matter how immoral or how many people they hurt.   It’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, break the law, deride the FBI and the Justice Department, collude or conspire with hostile foreign powers, even to the point of treason;  accumulate obscene amounts of wealth on the backs of the working and middle class, emotionally harass and abuse, gaslight, blame-shift, project onto, mislead, arrest without due process, and inflict draconian punishments on others who don’t fit their ideal or who dare to speak out against such harsh treatment.   They talk about “small government” but that only means small government for them — they are above the law,  you see.    They want to inflict a Big Brother government on all the rest of us lowly ingrates.

trump_supporter

This is all incredibly sad and scary, but what’s even more tragic is that one third of the country is seemingly so ignorant they support Trump and his billionaire, white supremacist, and evangelical cronies’ vision for America and the world.   I don’t really think they are as ignorant as they seem.   I think they are perfectly well aware of the fascist hell on earth that Trump and his minions are aiming for.    It’s even beginning to dawn on a few of them that maybe Russia was involved in the 2016 election, and maybe Trump did collude with them.   But that doesn’t faze them one bit:  now they say that maybe Russia is better than America, and that Trump was in his right to collude with them.   Far right extremists and trolls are still promising civil war against the rest of us if he is removed or impeached.

No, Trumpists are not all ignorant.  After reading many comments on right wing websites and studying the right wing mindset in depth over this past year,  I have come to believe that people who like Trump and the new Republicanism are attracted to it precisely because it is so sociopathic.    They love it for the same reasons the rest of us hate it.   They don’t care if they lose their healthcare or their rights — as long as they get to see the people they hate suffer.   Trumpists are people who are either narcissistic or sociopathic themselves (how else does one explain the preponderance of Internet trolls and neo-Nazis among them?), or who have severe codependency issues and look up to narcissists and sociopaths as viable leaders.   They want a strongman leader and admire dictators, either because they don’t want to have to think for themselves and gain a perverse sense of security from being told exactly what they have to believe and do, or because they are narcissists and sociopaths who regard higher human values such as empathy, kindness, fairness, compassion, civility, generosity, and love as “feminine” or weak.   On the contrary, it’s the strongest and most spiritually evolved people who are able to embrace these higher values and act on them.    If Jesus, the embodiment of these virtues, were to walk on Earth today, he would be despised by the religious right.  I’m pretty sure they would persecute him all over again.

It is not too late to nip this cancer in the bud and return to America as the land of freedom and democracy, even improving on what we had before — preferably with some new checks and balances put in place to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.   But the hour is getting late and the cancer is metastasizing.   One positive effect of Trumpism and the carnage it’s creating is that finally, higher human values like I mentioned in the last paragraph are being given the respect due them again.  There is a general recognition by two thirds of Americans — even by traditional Republicans (both Bushes are among them) — that these values have been devalued for so long that they are now are nearly nonexistent in American politics, and demonized where they appear (compassion and kindness are now “socialism”).  Narcissism has run amok, ignorance is admired, and greed has been glorified.   Sociopathy is now becoming acceptable.  Over time, these vices have been turned into virtues instead of the destructive forces they really are.  But there’s a painful awareness now, a passion for truth, and a desire to repair or reclaim what has been lost or damaged that I see now among most people.  Two thirds of us strive to be rid of the invasive cancer of societal malignant narcissism, a desire that wasn’t evident before 2017.    In addition, like the narcissism blogger I discussed in the beginning of this article, some of us have been transformed spiritually in the face of this existential darkness, and in spite of the ominous threat of being silenced held over us, we are finally finding our voices.

I have to believe that good will always “trump” evil (pun intended).

It always does, in the end.

The Religious Right cares about control, not morality.

romans1310

Christian Right leaders (in both politics and the churches) — many who embrace the horrific theology of Dominionism/Reconstructionism — pretend to care an awful lot about morality.    They rant on endlessly about abortion and homosexuality.  They want to roll back laws that protect women’s health and reproductive rights.   Today, Trump passed a bill that bans transgender people from military service.

But do they really care about morality?

I don’t think so.  Their hero (who is supposedly going to make America a “Christian nation”) is a philanderer, adulterer, tax cheater, con-man, possible traitor, narcissist, bully, and only worships himself and money.   He holds himself above the law and doesn’t even think he needs God’s forgiveness.

Trump talks an awful lot about God — such as his tweet today that said (the caps are his own), “IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT. WE WORSHIP GOD.”   Yet I doubt the man has ever darkened a church door, said a heartfelt prayer, or ever really read the Bible.   Trump doesn’t give a hoot about God, only about power and control.   He’s a man without a conscience or a moral compass, but he  sure does seem awfully concerned with everyone else’s morals.

To the powerful leaders of the Christian Right (including many church leaders), morality means only one thing, or maybe two things (and they are closely related):  gender roles and sexual behavior.

They care nothing about being kind to others, helping those in need, welcoming strangers, turning the other cheek, loving their enemies, telling the truth, calling out wrongdoing, being ethical in business dealings, paying their fair share, and loving their neighbors as themselves.   In fact, when you hear them talk, they hardly ever mention the Gospels and Jesus’ message of love.

Instead, the cherry pick the most punitive passages from the Old Testament (and ignore those like the one illustrating this post) to justify their greed, hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, denial of facts, and lust for power and control.   Certain passages have come in handy for instilling fear and terror which are used to dominate.   They talk about hell an awful lot, and seem pretty sure they’re not going there but YOU are if you disagree with them.     Dominionist church leaders even tell their followers that they will burn in hell if they didn’t vote for Trump or don’t support his policies.   It’s a toxic stew of religious abuse, fear, and hate — and unfortunately, it works.     It operates in the same manner as a cult — because it is a cult.

They use the talking points of abortion and homosexuality to instill fear (of going to hell), and control.   To a lesser extent they focus on other things that offend them — strangely, almost all are related to gender roles and the patriarchal belief that women are biblically mandated to be submissive to men (even when the man is an abuser):  women’s reproductive health (including birth control), adultery, divorce, private sexual behavior, and sex roles in the family.    Oh, and there’s a few other things they condemn:  Muslims, atheists, and liberals.

They justify their patriarchy and narrow minded views by quoting selectively from the Bible, but ignore the words of Jesus, who rarely if ever mentioned sex roles or homosexuality, never sent away a stranger, and never once said women were required to submit to men or tolerate abuse.  I don’t know for certain what Jesus’ actual views about sexual behavior were (since he never really went there), but I do know that there were things that were far more important to him, such as being kind to your neighbor, not being greedy and selfish, welcoming strangers, and caring for the needy and sick.

Jesus was gentle and kind.  He never turned his back on the “least among us.”  He was even loving toward sinners, as he was toward the adulteress who approached him.   But he only had harsh words for the powerful Pharisees, who were the equivalent of today’s legalistic right-wing Christian leaders and politicians.

America has a long history of the separation of church and state, and for good reason.   The Founding Fathers weren’t stupid.  They knew that when you try to mix the two, you wind up corrupting both.  That is what’s happening now.   There’s nothing un-Christian about keeping church and state separated.   In fact, it’s what’s kept Christianity from turning into a cult of power and hate.

Things that until very recently were considered sinful or at best, secular — greed, selfishness, seeking wealth and political power, corruption, hatred, bigotry, and taking from the poor — have now all been embraced by the Christian Right, using the heretical doctrine of dominionism to justify their actions.   Incredibly, they have Christianized the diabolical.  It makes you wonder who their real “god” really is.

They go on about the “sanctity of life” but seem to care only about fetuses and embryos.   But they are anything but pro-life.  Anyone who wants to take Medicaid away from pregnant women, make women’s health (including pregnancy) a pre-existing condition,  support the death penalty,  build more weapons, support torture, start wars, remove laws that keep the mentally ill from buying guns, gut education funding, destroy the environment,  remove laws that make our workplaces safe,  and kick millions of people off healthcare are definitely not pro-life.

I find it hard to believe far right Christian leaders even have much empathy for the unborn.  They seem incapable of empathy, so it makes absolutely  no sense that they would care so deeply about unborn babies but at the same time be so callous about the health and lives of born babies, children, women, refugees, and humanity in general.   Especially when you consider that Medicaid covers nearly half of all deliveries.  If you toss all those pregnant women off Medicaid, what will happen?  A hell of a lot more abortions, that’s what.   So how are they pro-life?  They aren’t.

The truth is, they don’t care about people, born or not.   The abortion issue (and other gender-related issues such as homosexuality) is a talking point they’ve latched onto in order to control people, especially women.    It’s also how they’ve managed to marry together religion with politics.  Far right politics has hijacked the churches and corrupted Christianity.    Their “morality” is all about control, and they will do the most immoral things imaginable to get it, as we see with this presidency.

I’m fed up with right wing politics’ bastardization and corruption of Christianity to suit their own agendas.  Over time, they have twisted Christianity into something dark and diabolical.    These heretics have held Jesus hostage for almost 40 years and it’s time to take him back.

I apologize about how harsh this may sound, but I’ve been feeling pretty strong about it lately, and sometimes the truth hurts.

The Exodus

I’ve been seeing a lot of this sentiment in the past few months, but I’ve been aware of the problem with American Christianity for a long time. The election seems to have wakened a sleeping tiger.

I saw a comment today that was so shocking and so true I felt like I’d been hit by a bowl of ice water:

“I’ve often wondered, if Satan started a religion, what would it look like? It wouldn’t involve hooded red and black robes, pentagrams and blood sacrifice. That would be too obvious.  It would pose as Christianity, but subvert all the parts that matter.  It would look a hell of a lot like the Religious Right.”

This poem really resonated with me and begged to be shared. I believe God is speaking to us all through this blogger’s stunning words. Please leave comments under the original post.

Dave Barnhart's Blog

Frans Francken I. Hans skola: Den rike mannen och Lazarus. NM 429
I have seen your religion, and I hate it.
I have heard your doctrine, and I loathe it.
Take away your empty praise songs,
your vacuous worshiptainment.
Your mouth is full of religious words,
but your proverbs are salted manure.

“The sick deserve to be sick.
The poor deserve to be poor.
The rich deserve to be rich.
The imprisoned deserve to be imprisoned.”
Because you never saw him sick, or poor, or in prison.

“If he had followed police instructions,
if he had minded the company he keeps,
he would not have been killed,”
You say in the hearing
of a man hanging on a cross
between two thieves.

“People who live good lives
do not have pre-existing conditions,” you say,
carving these words over the hospital door:
“Who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

“It is the church’s job, not the government’s,”
say…

View original post 850 more words

Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

I was going through some old posts, and the last sentence of this one demanded my attention, because it looks like it has finally happened. Time for a reblog.

Lucky Otters Haven

positive_thinking_problem
Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel…

View original post 867 more words

Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

positive_thinking_problem
Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel Osteen have gotten rich by telling us that if we only think positive thoughts, our entire lives will change for the better. They tell us if we let go of negative thought patterns, we can become happy, successful, healthy, and wealthy.

This is all fine and good, and personally I see nothing wrong with positive thinking for its own sake. Even if the outer trappings of your life rival those of someone living in a Third World nation, it’s certainly better for you if you can scare up a little optimism and hopefulness, and it’s definitely bad for you to dwell in hopelessness, depression and negativity. At the very least, seeing the glass as always half-full will make you more accepting of your sorry lot and therefore happier. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to see the glass as half full when there is barely a drop in your glass. That would be deluded, not positive, thinking.

For all its advantages to our psychological well-being, there’s a dark side to the positive thinking movement too, which goes hand in hand with the current societal glorification of narcissism and the nasty belief that selfishness and lack of compassion are virtues. While telling people that thinking positive thoughts is not a bad thing itself (because there is truth to the idea that negativity tends to draw in negative things–I have seen this dynamic for myself), the positive thinking movement has been taken to disturbing extremes. It’s led to victim-blaming and an overall lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The poor are blamed for their own poverty, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to it or keep them trapped there. They are told they are “not positive enough” or “made bad choices.” Even worse, some churches of the “prosperity gospel” ilk tell them they must have some moral failing or God would be rewarding them with material blessings. They are made to feel shame and guilt for their sorry financial condition. The chronically ill and disabled are likewise blamed for “not taking care of themselves” or “choosing bad habits.” It’s easy enough for someone who has never had to struggle with poverty or serious illness to thumb their noses at those who have and tell them it’s all their own fault.

broken_society

Is this the way Jesus would have acted? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, most of Jesus’ followers and disciples were the most financially and physically vulnerable members of his society. Jesus himself was humble carpenter and certainly not rich. He didn’t condemn these unfortunates or shame them for failing to be positive enough, or making the “wrong choices.” In fact, he seemed to love these vulnerable people most of all. Whatever happened to the “social gospel” of the late 19th and early 20th century? Oh, that’s right–it became “communism.” Somewhere along the way, compassion for the less fortunate and the culture of charity got twisted into “weakness” and “enabling.” The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand, who believed the greatest human evil was altruism, is disturbing, especially since her philosophy of “objectivism” has infected the minds of powerful politicians of a certain political persuasion, including many “Christians.”

While I don’t subscribe to some Christian fundamentalists’ idea that Satan is behind all this worship of greed and self-love and the denigration and victim-blaming of the less fortunate, I do think it’s a very destructive turn in the way our culture thinks, and it’s psychopathic in nature. Lately I’ve been seeing more blog articles criticizing this trend, and that seems like a good sign that at least a few people (usually victims of narcissistic abuse themselves) are finally realizing our society has become woefully empathy-deprived. Hopefully their message can break out of the blogosphere it’s currently confined to and begin to touch the hearts of The Powers That Be who are not yet completely brainwashed by the Cult of John Galt.

It’s absolutely fine (and desirable) to be a positive thinker, because positive thinking does tend to have its rewards, but blaming the misfortunes of others on their negative thinking or worse, their moral failings is just a form of societal gaslighting and is utterly evil itself. It’s also rife with hypocrisy– the Positive Thinking Powers That Be denigrate the emotions of guilt and shame for themselves, but they make sure those who haven’t been blessed the way they have feel plenty of guilt and shame for not having been “enough.” They never stop to think how impossible it is for someone who is struggling every day just to have enough to eat or with severe pain or illness to think in a positive way. It’s much easier for the already privileged and healthy to be able to say “life is good” and mean it. The well heeled Positive Thinking bots never stop to think of this–or they just don’t care, which is most likely the case, because those who haven’t been “blessed” with wealth or good health MUST have done something wrong to deserve it.

Any society that is empathy-starved is eventually going to self destruct.

For further reading, check out this article from The New York Times and also this one about empathy being a choice.

Joel Osteen worships himself.

joelosteen

I found this intriguing article at Salon.com about the famous megachurch leader, Joel Osteen, a proponent of the peculiarly American “prosperity gospel,” a belief that God will reward you with material wealth if you are a True Believer. The article is a bit old, but is still relevant and I never saw it before, so, well, it gets added to the Museum of Narcissism.

If Mr. Osteen makes people feel better about themselves, fine, but Mr. Osteen is like a heroin addict getting his fix of narcissistic supply from his many followers, who worship him as if he were God himself. Frighteningly, Big Religion is full of such people who really only care about their own glorification.
What would God think?

Here is the article (written by Chris Lehmann at Salon.com):

If history is told by the winners, then Joel Osteen — the relentlessly upbeat spiritual caretaker of the national attitude — is history’s designated chaplain. In a marathon Sunday faith rally in the heart of the nation’s capital, Osteen, who presides over America’s largest megachurch congregation, the nondenominational Lakewood Church in Houston, exhorted the tens of thousands of believers amassed in Nationals Stadium to “live in victory,” to seize their “destiny moments,” and to fulfill God’s plan for their personal, financial and emotional success.

The Washington rally — billed as “America’s Night of Hope” — had gone a bit afoul of its own victory plan, however. It had originally been scheduled the night before, but as a persistent afternoon drizzle gave way to some spirited cloudbursts, the event’s organizers rescheduled it for the following afternoon. As I approached the centerfield box office outside Nationals Park on Saturday, the marquee overhead bore what had to be the glummest rainout announcement of the young 2012 baseball season: “Night of Hope postponed until 4 p.m. Sunday.” And since the Osteen message involves a lot of merchandising, the imposing tables hawking T-shirts and other commemorative swag seemed suddenly off-kilter. One prominent Night of Hope T-shirt was emblazoned with the inspirational divine message “I can do all things” — all things, that is, but summon the faithful to stand out in the rain.

But the Osteens were not about to let the intervention of the elements become any sort of setback. As the megachurch pastor — turned out in a blue suit and a beatific grin, looking for all the world like a fitter Tim Allen, fresh out of rehab — took his spot at the second-base perimeter of the infield, before the bank of TV cameras set up on the pitchers mound, he called out, “Isn’t it great to be here? It’s another great day the Lord has made!” He paused to note that, yes, “we had some rain last night,” but that the event’s reshuffled schedule could well mean that some people who couldn’t have made the evening version of the prayer gathering might well have turned up serendipitously today. In any event, Osteen declared his certitude that “God put the right people here right now.”

That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief. Osteen’s serene depictions of God’s eternally uptending designs for the fates of individual believers are a sort of inverted Calvinism. Where the Puritan forebears of today’s Protestant scene beheld a terrible, impersonal Creator whose rigid system of eternal reward and punishment dispatched many an infant and solemn believer to the pit of damnation, Osteen’s God is an intensely personal presence, guiding believers out of pitfalls into inevitable glory and joy — not so much a raging Patriarch as a genial cruise director. “God’s dream for our own life is so much bigger than our own,” went one frequent refrain at the D.C. rally. “Let’s not put any limits on God.” Osteen characterized the Deity as a “running-over” and “abundant” God. “Have you ever been to a fast-food restaurant, and they ask you if you want to supersize this? Well, God is a supersizing God,” who is determined, Osteen assured the crowd, to “supersize your joy.”

It stands to reason, in this arrangement of cosmic fate, that the stubborn human weakness for anxious introspection and downbeat self-doubt is something of an affront to the author of being. “When you are criticizing yourself,” Osteen announced, “you are criticizing God’s creation. The next time you think something negative, turn that around, and say, ‘I am God’s masterpiece.’”

The talismanic faith in positive utterance is another key article of belief in the Word Faith tradition. Some Word Faith devotees are devout believers in faith-healing, and one of the key episodes Osteen cites in his own account of his faith journey is the miraculous recovery of his mother from an apparently terminal case of liver cancer in 1981. Faced with the prospect of losing his mother, the young Osteen — then a communications student at Oral Roberts University with no ministerial ambitions — turned to prayer, saying to God, as he now recounts, “I know you can do what doctors can’t do, what medical science can’t do.” Sure enough, Osteen’s mother, Dodie, went on to be cancer-free, and took to the podium on Sunday after her son’s testimonial. She reprised the story of how she fought off the specter of death by seeking out the “most healing” passages of scripture, which she assembled into a digest she still consults regularly: “Like American Express, I don’t leave home without it,” she said. Then she issued a disclaimer for her listeners contending with severe illness: “I don’t advise you not to seek treatment — get treatment any way you can.” Such cautions sounded a bit rushed and legalistic next to her own account of her recovery: When she and her preacher-husband both sensed the end was near, she recalled, “We lay on our faces … He said, ‘I need you, the church needs you, the children need you … And now, almost 31 years later, I won the battle and so will you!” God, after all, “delights in answering the prayers of his children,” and “loves everybody the same, but he can do for you what he did for me.”

The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life. Even less does the Osteen family’s success gospel encompass a sustained social ethic — even though the D.C. event featured an appeal on behalf of the World Vision ministries to adopt a needy child in the developing world. The believer’s chief task is to ratify the preexisting divine script of success in his or her individual life — and then to bear testimony to that joyous transformation in a community of like-minded success believers.

It’s a curiously childlike vision of faith — a point driven home in a homily offered up by Joel’s wife, Victoria, who serves as a kind of co-pastor of the separate domestic sphere at the couple’s revival meetings. When she finds herself assailed by cares, anxieties and negative thoughts, Victoria reported, “I visualize a bouquet of helium balloons in my hands, and I literally hold those balloons out and release them to the heavens … And as I release those balloons to Him, I say, ‘I may not have the power to change my circumstances, but God has that power to change our circumstances.’” In a later homily on the properties of unconditional love and forgiveness, Victoria delivered an extended gloss on what was apparently one of the few remotely traumatic moments in her suburban Texas upbringing — a time when, as a freshly licensed driver, she had taken out her dad’s car and negligently instructed a friend to roll down a passenger-side window that was malfunctioning, thereby breaking it once and for all. When she finally summoned the nerve to fess up to her dad, she found him to be disappointed but gloriously forgiving; he “didn’t judge my future from that one mistake” — and neither will the indulgent dad of the Osteen heavens. “You may not have been shown unconditional love in your life,” Victoria announced, “but God loves you unconditionally.” The problem, of course, is that even those of us who did survive unhappy childhoods are no longer 16 — and as a result, we need a God who can meet the challenges of the new responsibilities we’ve taken on as we’ve matured, not a figure of undifferentiated sentiment, handing our forgiveness and love like lottery tickets.

The other childlike quality of the Lakewood account of divine grace has to do with the past — which, together with negative thinking, represents the closest thing to evil in the Osteen’s scheme of salvation. The past is bad because it mires believers in remembered hurts and slights, and thereby obstructs God’s grander design for their lives. “When we hold on to the past, when we don’t go to God, that just puts more baggage in our suitcases,” Victoria exhorted, in a not-altogether-wieldy metaphor.

This spiritual hostility to the past was an all too frequent refrain in the event’s musical selections — a monotonous offering of anthemic, bombastic Christian rock, all composed without the benefit of a single minor chord or any discernible melody. “I’m moving forward,” went the lyrics to one of these intra-sermon studies in Journey-esque hymnody. “I’m not going back / I’m moving ahead / I’m here to declare to you that the past is over.” An American idol contestant named Danny Gokey also offered testimony about how the Osteens had helped him conquer his depression in the wake of the untimely passing of his wife. Gokey then performed a Christian rock number of his own, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” which seemed to make short work of his once-debilitating grief: “I don’t get lost in the past or get stuck in some sad memories,” he sang, rather creepily; the song’s bridge announced that “Age isn’t nothing but a number,” and then resolved on a Successories-style upgrade of a well-known Army recruiting slogan: “If I keep getting better / I can be anything I want to be.”

There’s a term from the psychiatric clinics that neatly captures the outlook of someone possessed of grandiose fantasies about the imperial reach of the self, and a principled refusal to acknowledge anything poised to diminish such fantasies — such as the passage of time. That term is “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it does nothing to detract from the positive features of the Osteen gospel — the injunctions to persevere in the face of adversity, or the appeals for donations to World Vision — to note that this is a system of faith tailor-made to sustain narcissistic delusion. To grasp the overweening self-absorption of the Osteen faith, one need look no further than the frequent recourse Osteen makes to his own success story in sealing the case for God’s providential plan for the believer’s own life. Now, unlike other well-known evangelists, Osteen can’t lay much claim to a hardscrabble Horatio Alger-style life story. His 1920s forebear in Pentecostal media preaching, Aimee Semple McPherson, was a single-mother missionary before coming into fame and fortune as an evangelical celebrity in the Radio Age; Billy Graham was the son of a poor North Carolina dairy farmer. Osteen, by contrast, was a second-generation evangelical leader, who’d been working as a TV producer for his father John Osteen’s growing ministry before he succeeded to the elder Osteen’s pulpit after his father’s death. His personal biography tracks closer to fellow Pentecostal TV preacher Pat Robertson’s background: Robertson was the son of a U.S. senator before finding his own adult spiritual calling.

Nonetheless, Osteen repeatedly cites his own success presiding over the spiritual flock he inherited as the prime exhibit of God’s ready transposition of divine grace into worldly success. When he first acceded to the pulpit, he recalled from his riser above second base, he felt no special aptitude for ministering; he’d heard that Lakewood church leaders were raising doubts about his vocation, and the church needed to move into a bigger, upgraded new facility. “At one point,” Osteen preached, “it seemed like everything was coming against me. The enemy was fighting me not from where I was coming, but from where I was going … He didn’t want Lakewood to be in the Compaq Center” — the former home arena for the Houston Rockets, and now home to the Lakewood congregation of nearly 50,000 souls. The Compaq Center deal is a frequent touchstone in Osteen’s faith reminiscence; it occupies a good stretch of his blockbuster best-selling self-improvement tract, “Become a Better You,” which also finds evidence of divine favor in a home-flipping deal Joel and Victoria struck at the height of the housing bubble, as well as in such mundane votes of divine confidence as setting the pastor up with a premium parking space. Indeed, the steady parade of testimonials from the wider Osteen clan on the Night of Hope risers bespeaks a family-wide penchant for casting one’s commonplace personal biography as a sort of infomercial version of the Christian faith. (In addition to mother Dodie and wife Victoria, Osteen’s brother Paul, who runs a medical charity in Africa, took to the stage Sunday to relate a more responsible story of healing, in which due medical diligence properly preceded the broader appeal to faith; Joel’s two children, Alexandra and Jonathan, are respectively a vocalist and guitarist in the ministry’s Christian rock ensemble.)

Now, it may very well be that in a certain kind of conviction of grace, believers feel themselves suffused with the divine presence, and find their most quotidian activities reflect celestial favor; the 14th-century Saint Julian of Norwich recorded a vision in which she beheld the entirety of creation in an object no larger than a hazelnut, cupped in her hand. Perhaps, in this view of things, a converted sports arena or excellent parking spot is no great stretch when it comes to testifying on behalf of a God for whom all things are possible.

Still, the claustral feel of Osteen’s success gospel paradoxically works exactly the same effect that he warns believers to resist: It imposes limits on God, by largely confining his workings to the dominant American culture of success. If the Osteen-coached believer does not reap abundant and large reward in career, family life or creative pursuits, they are not necessarily going to curse their God, as Job’s comforters had counseled him to do amid his notorious personal setbacks. But neither are they going to make the key connections that earlier Protestant divines have preached, going back to Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin: that the divinity does not, in fact, have your own personal happiness occupying pride of place on his exhaustive to-do list. The universe is ultimately about a larger set of concerns, and faith concerns a much vaster striving toward justice than believers are wont to see in their personal affairs, their social conquests or their annual paychecks. This is why Edwards, for all of his better-known hell-and-brimstone sermons, urged onto believers a stoic “consent to being in general” — not a plan for individual life advancement.

This disjuncture between Protestantism’s more humbling counsel and the feel-good Word Faith gospel became most painfully evident during one of Osteen’s closing perorations. In chilling detail, he recounted the story of a young Tutsi Christian woman who’d hid out in the bathroom of her church pastor’s office at the height of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The machete-wielding Hutu killers who pursued her returned to the pastor’s office every day for 91 days, usually calling out for her by name. At one point, Osteen said, a Hutu militia man was poised to turn the knob on the door to the tiny bathroom where the woman was quartered alongside six other Tutsi believers — but at the last moment, he became distracted and walked away. Finally, when the genocide had been contained, the woman was free, and has been traveling with ministers ever since to testify to the amazing story of her survival. “Nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed in this genocide,” Osteen said as he wound up to the story’s larger moral. “It was very sad.”

Well, no. The Rwandan genocide was something far more than sad — it was a colossal failure of moral and political agency, going back to the German and Belgian colonial partition of the country that set up artificial power conflicts between the nation’s two main tribes. This horror also most certainly came about thanks to the wretched failures of the Clinton administration and other Western powers to arrest a well-documented string of massacres, even as senior U.N. officials such as Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire, the leader of the agency’s Rwandan peacekeeping mission, implored them to.

For Osteen, of course, the story of this woman’s survival was a divine miracle. But if this one survivor was enjoying the loving favor of an omnipotent God, what are we to conclude that this same God thought of the more than 800,000 Rwandans murdered in the genocide? Was their faith wanting? Was God planning unparalleled new successes and joys for their surviving family members? Are these the people Osteen has in mind when he exhorts his listeners not to be victims, but victors?

It’s something of an obscenity even to frame such questions. Yet they are the inevitable outcome of a theology-free success gospel, pitched exclusively to tales of individual triumph. Osteen’s sermons all begin with a self-empowering chant from believers. “This is my Bible,” it goes in part; “I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have.” But there are legions of dead — now confined by definition, it’s true, in the hated past — who come bearing the testimony that the Bible is not actually about you.