2 Stars Out Of 5
Too Many Distortions of History and the Bible
September 16, 2012
Books written by preachers have a distinctive "feel" to them. A preacher is accustomed to making statements and quotations without having to document them as would be required in a book with any claim to accuracy. Preachers are also accustomed to using words and phrases that, on close inspection, are meaningless, or lies, or both - while an author has to realize that the reader may ponder over the printed page and say "That's absurd!" or "That's not even remotely true!" The preacher-as-author assumes that every reader is as inattentive and gullible as the person in the pew, who is not inclined to challenge what the pastor says. The sermon goes by quickly, the book sits there with its inconsistencies and balderdash in plain sight.
To begin with, I had heard good things about this author, and the book's title attracted me. I was told that in this book she criticized both conservatives and liberals, which turns out to be true. However, her bias is clearly against conservatives, and when she says "I have conservative friends," I admit I'm skeptical. (If those friends exist, they must be extremely tolerant, and have nerves of steel.)
This book is, sadly, full of statements that can only be categorized as gross exaggerations or outright lies. For example, the church has been guilty of "fear and loathing of women." Really? As evidenced by what? Both past and present, there are more women in church than men, always, everywhere. Do they go there because they enjoy being feared and loathed? Did the author never hear of the virgin Mary, and the extremely intense devotion to her over the centuries? The medieval man praying to a statue of Mary was not thinking "How I fear and loathe that woman!" Did the thousands of nuns over the centuries commit themselves to a church that loathed them? Obviously the author wants to establish her bona fides with the feminist crowd, who don't care if what she says is true, only that it adheres to the party line. I will have to ask my women friends who attend church how much fear and loathing they can handle.
The author scolds the church for "its rejection of mystics." That is absurd. Hundreds of mystical writings survive from the Middle Ages and beyond - Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventura, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Jacopone da Todi, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, etc. These were not rejected, and most were canonized. And, by the way, I don't recall Teresa and Catherine being "feared and loathed" by the church.
The church is criticized for its "paranoia about sex." What is that, precisely? If she means teaching a higher sexual ethic than human beings are inclined to, the church is guilty as charged - but how exactly is that "paranoia"? The church made marriage into a sacrament and encouraged large families - not exactly "paranoid." The author's meaning is: let people sleep around if they want to, I want to talk about gun control, Guantanomo, open borders, etc. The day you hear a liberal pastor tell her congregation to practice a higher sexual ethic than the culture at large, hell will freeze over immediately.
The author claims we live in "the most fearful society on earth" My, my - how did that escape our notice? Would she prefer living as a Christian in Saudi Arabia? Iran? Sudan? Or, for that matter, Britain, where you're now forbidden to wear a cross to work. Would the author like to live in China, where criticizing the government can land you in prison - or worse? There's a lot about America I don't like (trendy, shallow clergy, for example), but we're not even close to being "the most fearful society on earth." (Assume the author's parishioners share her contempt for this "fearful" society that, amazingly, provides freedom of religion and freedom of speech.)
She scolds the church for "its incestuous marriage with the empire." What empire? News flash: Rome fell in 476, and western Europe broke up into several nations after that. From 476 on there was no "empire" to be "incestuous" with. Yet constantly the "Empire" is being criticized. What present-day empire, for God's sake, is she speaking of? I mean, let's be real here: liberals love to bash America, and that is what is happening here. Somehow we're supposed to equate the evil Roman Empire (which died in 476) with America today. But wait - empires invade and conquer neighboring countries. The last time I checked, the world seemed to be invading America, not America invading the world. How we are an "Empire" is anybody's guess. This sort of rhetorical nonsense works well in a sermon where the preacher is gesturing and putting on that self-righteous "My country is so EVIL" face.
The author makes some interesting choices in whom to quote. Jim Wallis, the "liberal evangelical," is quoted as saying that while growing up in an evangelical church, he never heard a sermon on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The author does not document Wallis's statement. If Wallis did in fact say this, he is either extremely forgetful. EVERY preacher who ever breathed has preached on the Sermon on the Mount. Again, this is the sort of statement that, if it occurred in a sermon, would be forgotten by the time the people left the church, but in a book its absurdity is plain to see.
Also quoted - inevitably - is theo-liberalism's best-known Bible skeptic, John Dominic Crossan. It was embarrassing to read that this renowned author criticized the Book of Revelation because it depicts the "violent" Jesus, at the end of time, "on a war horse leading a violent attack." Is this "scholar" too dense to understand what every layman grasps immediately, that Revelation is a SYMBOLIC book? Funny that people like Crossan sneer at conservative Christians as "literalists," yet he interprets a clearly symbolic book in a literal way. This is the same tunnel vision that regards "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as "violent." This author says Christians must "repudiate the slaughter" depicted in Revelation, even though it is clear in Revelation that the saints do NOT act violently, God is acting on their behalf. True, there are a few cuckoos like David Koresh who go off the deep end after reading Revelation, but then recall that Koresh and his followers were arming themselves defensively, and the U.S. government (your tax dollars at work, folks) initiated the attack.
As should be clear, this author's grasp of the Bible and Christian history is shaky, to say the least. I could spend several pages just critiquing the theology too. One item stood out, this laughable description of the early Christians: "In these underground churches were gathered people who had never believed in themselves before." Pardon me, but the Christians of the 1st century did not preach the Oprah-Osteen message "believe in yourself." If I recall from the New Testament and other early writings, the message went something like "Repent!" The core idea was looking at yourself in relation to God and clinging to him - not "believing in yourself." "I'm broken, God - fix me," not "I'm so darn adorable, God has no choice but to love me!" Does this author really think that people swallowing the narcissistic "believe in yourself" gospel are likely to be the "radical" underground church she describes so effusively? People wrapped up in themselves don't make sacrifices or become martyrs. There is no place for God (or love) in that "I'm so wonderful" universe.