April 26, 2018

Pete Enns: Christmas in “Christian America” and the Old Testament

Peasant Life. Chagall

Note from CM: Now here is an eye-opening post. I guarantee you that the thoughts Pete Enns shares here will not have crossed the minds of many evangelical Christians or to Christians of other brands who emphasize strict observance and piety. In my view it serves as is yet another example of how separated the religious can be from the realities of ordinary life and how little most of us understand about the people in the Bible and what their actual experience was.

His words also confirm to me what I see every day now as I work in the community rather than within the walls of a church. Generally speaking, many of the people I meet who don’t call themselves religious may have more faith and spiritual sense than those who do. And those in the church are often just as bound by superstitious and “worldly” thinking as their neighbors are.

There is something wonderfully human about what Pete writes here, and something that reinforces to me that we’re all in this together. I’m reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words, which reflect my own experience: “I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.”

• • •

Christmas in “Christian America” and the Old Testament
By Pete Enns

Here comes a rant.

Christmas in America is a national holiday, woven securely in a secular liturgical year, with little authentic religious significance for many/most of those who celebrate it.

It’s commercialized nonsense, a vehicle for reaching quarterly profit margins. Christmas means malls, Lexus “December to Remember” commercials, and some very dumb Christmas specials.

OK, rant over. We all know this, and pointing it out is as insightful as saying that network television has too many commercials and toilets flush counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere (or do they?—click here).

My point here isn’t to take aim at the easy target of the secularization of Christmas, but to draw an analogy between Christmas in America and what we read about Israelites in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is, to state the obvious, religious literature. But we tend to assume that the ancient Israelites were as aware as we are of what we read. They weren’t.

There was no “Bible” through most of Israel’s ancient history—what we call the Old Testament did not begin to take form until after the return from Babylonian exile (that is, beginning in the 5th c. BCE) and was still somewhat in flux in the days of Jesus and Paul. And whatever writings were floating around in the days of Israel’s kings (roughly 1000-600 BCE) were the stuff of trained scribes, not Shlomo and Miriam Israelite farmers and sheepherders. People weren’t running around “reading their Bibles” as we think of it today. 

I imagine that the ancient Israelites celebrated their rituals—festivals, sacrifices, regular times of worship—with the same lack of awareness for their deep religious significance as most American’s celebrate Christmas. Perhaps, like popular American culture, they sort of just went along with the momentum of their vaguely sacred holidays adapted to cultural norms of the day—if they observed them at all.

If we could walk through ancient Israelite towns sometime between 1000 and 600 BCE (when Israel was a nation with kings and a Temple with religious rituals), would we see an idyllic scene of common every-day Israelites owning the full religious significance of their holidays and rituals?

Or would we see more or less what we see today as we walk through Walmart or Times Square—masses of Americans for whom vaguely ancient religious symbols have been reframed by the dominant culture and reinvested with meaning?

This is why biblical scholars and historians make a distinction between the Old Testament and “Israelite religion.”

The Old Testament is the official record of the literate religious leaders, written not as a straight record of historical events (as if there is such a thing), but as stories, interpretations of the past to prescribe what the people should believe and do in the present—namely in the exilic and post-exilic periods. (I just said a mouthful, but this isn’t in the slightest bit controversial for most. I give this a lot of space in The Bible Tells Me So.)

Scholars of “Israelite religion” engage the Bible, to be sure, but also archaeological evidence that shows us what people on the ground actually did do.

One example is the constant Old Testament refrain in 1 and 2 Kings about the proper worship of God:

  1. Yahweh and Yahweh alone is to be worshiped,
  2. and that happens only in the Temple in Jerusalem,
  3. with no images of any kind.

Readers today might assume that these injunctions were more or less commonly known at the time, and so we read the biblical stories about the failure to worship God properly as stories of out and out rebellion—“Geez Louise, Israelites, when in the world are you going to learn to obey God?! How many times do you have to be told?!”

But it may be that your average Israelite had no real conception of how God is “supposed” to be worshiped. Or they had an idea, but, like a lot of American’s singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” they effortlessly and unknowingly mix together some vague awareness of what it all “really” means and just going with the cultural flow.

Again, think of what is generally considered to be a fairly “normal” celebration of Christmas in American culture. You buy toys, slippers, and toasters online, wrap them and put them under a tree, and settle in to watch He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special or A Year without a Santa ClausMaybe go to church and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

There. We did Christmas.

I don’t see my neighbors or the local butcher as rebelling against anything. They’re just doing what they know, flowing along on the cultural currents. They might not know very much if anything about what Christmas “really” means.

They’re just being Americans, born into a culture where, if you’re not Jewish or Muslim, you just “celebrate Christmas like everyone else,” along with your own private family traditions if applicable. And that’s that.

The Old Testament normalizes and centralizes worship practices, which the masses are supposed to follow. Imagine if the federal government tried to impose strict rules on how to celebrate Christmas (beyond making it a bank holiday). We would find a new definition of “chaos.”

Ancient Israel’s actual worship of God may have been more like that of “Christian America” at Christmas than a hyper-alert and knowledgable practicing Christian community today.

Fertility figurines from Judah (1000-700 BCE)

This may help illustrate the point. Archaeologists have uncovered ample evidence that ancient Israelites during the monarchic period (1000 to 600 BCE) engaged in the worship of a fertility goddess like that of their Canaanite neighbors and pretty much every other ancient people of the region. Scads of clay figurines, like the ones you see here, have been found that were the personal property of your average Israelite.

This would not have been seen by them as a rejection of Yahweh in favor of another, but the merging of the worship of their God Yahweh with what “everybody else did.”

Israelites worshiped other deities, in the form of images, in the home. The very opposite of the biblical injunctions.

As I said, the Bible routinely condemns this sort of thing, like commanding that the “Asherah” poles (symbols of fertility) be cut down. That seems straightforward enough: the Bible says that worshiping the fertility goddess is wrong, everyone knows it, so stop it!

But think about it from a different angle. Why do we read on page after page in the Old Testament the condemnation of such worship practices on the part of the Israelites? Why the felt need on the part of the biblical writers to make such a huge point of ridding the land of idols and false places of worship (“high places”)?

Because it was so popular, so common. Everyone was doing it.

The fact that the biblical writers protested so much against false worship probably tells us not so much how “rebellious” the Israelites were against clearly understood commands, but that the ancient Israelites were as detached from their official religion as are many/most Americans from official Christianity.

The celebration of Christmas in America today may give us a pretty good idea of what Israelite life was like, religiously speaking, during the time of the kings. The biblical stories of the past, in that respect, are more like sermons to catechize and motivate the Israelites rather than objective accounts of the past.

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Great post!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      And the mandatory rant section was delightfully short – I am possibly even more exhausted by materialist-christmas rants than I am by dirty-Halloween rants. Just go have a good time already.

      • Ditto.

        And just go and have a good time already, unless you just don’t feel you can have a good time because you’re having a hard time, in which case feel free to ignore the whole affair to the best of your ability, or find solace for your mourning in a meaningful Blue Christmas…

  2. Susan Dumbrell says:

    I am not sure where I fit into the whole Christmas rah rah.
    I have had my grandchildren visit last Saturday, so presents and cake then.

    This Thursday, the Nursing Home are having a Family Lunch for Residents and Relatives and then a quiet Christmas Day Lunch for close family members whose loved ones are not fit or well enough to go home.
    As my husband can no longer walk that will be where I will be.

    Consequently my main celebration will be with my Church members and its quiet celebration of our Messiah’s birth.
    I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    We are a small country church but we are close knit and recognise the importance of our church family.
    A Carol Service and Eucharist.
    Our Priest is visiting my husband and taking him the Sacrament on Christmas Eve.
    I could not wish for a better Christmas.
    No rah rah.
    Christ’s birth will be centre of my celebrations.

    May He be yours.

    Susan

  3. “The fact that the biblical writers protested so much against false worship probably tells us not so much how “rebellious” the Israelites were against clearly understood commands, but that the ancient Israelites were as detached from their official religion as are many/most Americans from official Christianity.”

    That’s a Both/And, not an Either/Or. The average Israelite was indeed detached from covenant religion. But the command to keep that covenant WAS clearly given, at Sinai. The leaders of Israel were supposed to (in tge absence of mass literacy and private ownership of the Torah) teach the people that. And they failed miserably in their duty. Which is also a major running theme in the Prophets.

    “The celebration of Christmas in America today may give us a pretty good idea of what Israelite life was like, religiously speaking, during the time of the kings.”

    And we all know where THAT ended up. 🙁

    Kyrie eleison

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      Christ have mercy

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The leaders of Israel … failed miserably in their duty.

      Again, so very much not unlike today.

      For all the very many failings of the Evangelical church I encountered as a young adult – what she has become today is nearly unrecognizable. A crisis of leadership indeed.

      > The celebration of Christmas in America today…

      On the other hand I genuinely do not believe US-Xmas is as ravenously materialistic as the nabobs insist. I do not find it difficult to find expressions of genuine good will and neighborliness – just not wrapped in highfalutin Theological word salad. Yesterday an elderly neighbor posted that someone had stolen her snow shovel off her front porch [where everyone leaves their snow shovels]. Only moments later a neighbor responded that he had a spare shovel and would take care of it. … and the beat goes on.

      • senecagriggs says:

        “For all the very many failings of the Evangelical church I encountered as a young adult – what she has become today is nearly unrecognizable. A crisis of leadership indeed.”

        I don’t actually see that in my many decaded experience as a conservative Evangelical.

        Services held on Sunday and possibly another day of the week.
        The congregation sings in worship.
        Public prayer is given.
        The pastor exposits from Scripture.
        The meeting and greeting of friends continues before and after the service.
        Annual business melees continue unchanged [ grin ]
        Sunday School remains a staple in all the churches I have attended.
        Tithes are given.

        There’s really no change in my experience though we no longer sing from hymnals and the turning of pages from a physical Bible have been replaced by Tablets, Kindles, and cell phones.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          No image of The Trump being given all praise and adoration?

          Because that’s what “Conservative Evangelical” is coming to mean.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy, Chaplin Mike queried on yesterdays comments section why the comments had devolved into politics , especially Republican politics. Why is your comment above relevant? Just asking as I am not sure of the protocol on this site. I do not think senecagriggs was thinking in political terns on their post. Thanks for responding

            • Ben Carmack says:

              John,

              You don’t get it, man. Headless is one the Anointed. He can do no wrong. No thread can be hijacked by him. It’s only the Most Evil and Cunning Yours Truly who is worthy of having his comments deleted for taking a thread off topic.

              One standard for me, another for thee. Stacking the deck.

              • john, Ben, I think it’s relevant to ask given what I experienced post-2000 election and 9/11 with Bush while still being in high school. I started seeing his picture and vistage in nearly every fundamentalist church I visited in the Midwest. I don’t remember seeing Clinton’s photo anywhere, and I was too young for Reagan and Bush Sr.

                It’s not a hijack, it’s a highlight, and one worth pointing out, just as part of the discussion. HUG is iMonk’s footnotes, they need to be there for additional reading and context.

                • john barry says:

                  StuartB Thanks for info, certainly do not mind the divergence into other areas if that is where the traffic is going. In my entire life attending churches ranging from very fundamentalist to moderate to whatever some are now I have never seen a picture of any President or for that matter any elected official. Do not doubt what your say but I have lived and traveled in the southern Bible belt states where is they were to put a picture of a President up after 1745 to 1960 it would probably be FDR as he made the South a Democrat stronghold and was revered . Did not know the Midwest had such reverence for the incompetent President GW Bush, interesting that the support was so strong. So commenters do have strong and diverse opinions and I am all for that so thanks for sharing. Not clear about HUG being IMonks footnotes but I am sure I will catch on. I thought I saw a headless unicorn but it turned out just to be a headless horse, I think, I know it was one or the other, I betting on horse.

          • Hello Headless,
            do you think that Roy Moore will replace DT as the poster boy for fundamentalist/evangelical moral crusader? The stench is overwhelming as it is.

            I am so over ‘we hold our noses and vote because we oppose abortion’ when the present Repub Party has put CHIPS up on the bargaining table in exchange for approval of monies to the wealthiest among us.
            I mean I get it they don’t want the unborn to be harmed, but the CHIPS program is necessary to the lives of many children with extremely severe health concerns . . . . . without those funds, they will die.

            Where’s the thinking on this?

            I can’t begin to understand how badly people of good will have been played by politicians.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              do you think that Roy Moore will replace DT as the poster boy for fundamentalist/evangelical moral crusader?

              Stranger things have happened, but I’m leaning more towards “loyal sidekick”.

              Either way, we’ll see it on South Park before long.
              Too RL weird for Parker & Stone to pass up.

              Getting back to some of the original post, anyone remember “Mr Hanky the Xmas Poo”? Parker & Stone’s Holiday TV Special Character parody? (That’s what happens when you grow up watching all these Holiday Specials year after year after year… One day you just lose it and come up with the Happy Sappy Holiday Special Character to end all Happy Sappy Holiday Special Characters.)

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                Well, Moore lost but the circus continues.

                Low turnout with a lot of write-ins; apparently a lot of Alabamans couldn’t stomach either candidate. (Not surprising.)

                And Moore is screaming for a recount and claiming Conspiracy. A lot like that scene from Citizen Kane with the two newspaper headlines — “KANE WINS” and “VOTE FRAUD!” — depending on which way the election went. Except Citizen Kane presented this as a NEGATIVE thing, wheras nowadays IRL it’s presented in all Righteousness.

                • And in the meantime, Republican congresspeople continued to try to undermine Robert Mueller today, during testimony of acting AG Rosenstein, even as the acting AG himself defended Mueller’s integrity and competence, and said that there was no reason to fire him. We are on the cusp of becoming a banana republic.

            • Burro [Mule] says:

              Christiane –

              I don’t think the argument was ever over whether these programs were a benefit to their targeted demographic or not, but whether this represents a legitimate concern of government. As far as the rich benefiting from the tax cuts, I don’t think the ideal was ever that we should keep only that amount of money that no one somewhere didn’t have a better use for.

              When you are dealing with health care, the most obvious thing about the whole debate is that is necessary for the well and able to pay for the weak and the sick, among whose number they will inevitably find themselves as well. Actuarial science is based on this. That is why single-payer state-based health care is inevitable and it will be poorly administered. When you eviscerate or enervate every other institution that could possibly care for the poor and the sick (Church, family, labor union, fraternal organization), it will fall upon the ever increasing state to take up the slack.

              • Those institutions eviscerated themselves. They’ve been run by predators, and under light of social examination, their apparent virtues have been revealed to hide disgusting vices, and large dollops of downright evil. For instance, remember that the location of most child sexual abuse is in families, not elsewhere. The same is true of all kinds of other abuse of the weak by the powerful. Since the beginning of time this kind of crime has hidden itself in the cloak of social institutions; we now see the truth. Don’t ask us to resume lying to ourselves about it.

              • “As far as the rich benefiting from the tax cuts, I don’t think the ideal was ever that we should keep only that amount of money that no one somewhere didn’t have a better use for.”

                Ideals aside, we need to balance the books a little more socialistically. We are rapidly approaching dangerous levels of income inequality, and historically speaking that leads to guillotines and firing squads if not rectified peacefully.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                Single-payer (a la Canada & France) does have its problems.
                Big ones.
                But our current system has even bigger problems.

        • I am much younger than you, but when I was a kid evangelicals did not vote for Nazis. Now they worship them.

          • What does your comment have to do with the post Soto? I agree with John . If you want to jab at politics there are better places to go.

            • Why do you want to silence people? Evangelicals are in this up to their necks by supporting Trump by 81%. I think they may have done it for different reasons, but they did it. And now they want everyone to get REALLY QUIET as the damage unfolds????

              My goodness. The Church should be screaming.

              One wonders why it is that before the worst sorts of leadership befall a nation that everyone is urged to ‘keep silent’. It’s ‘don’t listen to the media’. It’s ‘don’t pay attention to the whistle-blowers’. It’s ‘look at this distraction instead of taking a closer look at the current tax plans’.

              And one day, you wake up to a new world:
              and you wonder why everyone was ‘silent’ while democracy died and ‘both sides’ were praised by a white supremacist as having ‘good people’????

              We should be screaming. The louder the better. And maybe, just maybe we might be heard above the deafening silence.

              No silence here. There IS ‘something to see’. There was interference with our government by a hostile foreign power. Our system of government is under attack by white supremacists on many levels.

              If evangelicals care at all about Christian witness, they cannot now remain silent, no.

              • Christiane, I am not trying to silence anyone. My only complaint is that your comments have nothing to do with with the topic. Unless I am wrong it is not an open mic topic day. You seem to read Trump into everything that’s talked about. Sometimes a topic does not lend well to constant politicizing.

                • A main appeal of Trump’s campaign and now presidency is his vocal support of the “Merry Christmas” talking point. It’s very relevant to today’s topic.

                  • Absolutely.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                    Come to think of it, when the National Socialists had to worry about winning elections (before their 1933 coup-from-within), didn’t they present themselves as Protectors of Traditional German Family Values against Weimar moral decadence? Even their “Blood and Soil” slogan was copped from the name of popular nostalgia fiction for a simpler agrarian time.

              • Christiane,
                What is most alarming is that there are now many Republicans in Congress who have set out on a deliberate campaign to delegitimize Robert Mueller and his investigation so that, no matter what evidence he finally presents, they may ignore the findings and claim that it is biased and tainted. They have accepted the use of alternative facts to protect their political position. These same Republicans less than a year ago were lauding Mueller’s character and probity; now they are ready to throw him under the bus to protect their political boss, and retain power themselves. And there’s nothing that can be done about it, unless they are beaten at the ballot box in the midterms next year. I completely agree with you: the time for silence is over, if ever there was such a time. Our democracy is being rapidly undermined and betrayed by the party in power. Things are a hundred times worse now than they were even 3 weeks ago.

            • It’s very telling that you are complaining at me instead of at Seneca’s deliberately disingenuous post above.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            This broke late yesterday on the MSNBC newsfeed at work. Apparently some educators thought this was a good idea for a lesson plan:
            https://www.westernjournal.com/school-forced-apologize-hitler-themed-homework-leaves-parents-uproar/

            Yes, that illo is an NSPAP (National Socialist Pony Art Piece).
            An Earth Pony stallion version of old Adolf.

            I LITERALLY CANNOT MAKE UP SKUBALON LIKE THIS!

          • SottoVoce, Who are the Nazis that people worship? It does negate the evil horrible beliefs and actions of Nazism that produced WW2 and the holocaust plus all the terror of Nazism to id those you disagree with to bandy around the Nazi label. . It is like the Hitler comparison that people dredge up,, oppose ACHA , you are Hitler, oppose same sex marriage , Hitler, etc. Once a word loses it real meaning and stigma it means nothing. You really believe people who vote for Trump did so because they support Nazism , again do not know what this has to do with the subject but its ok with me to divert as it is interesting how people think and arrive at their opinions

            • It was known that Trump was supported by white supremacists (aka Nazis) before he was elected and evangelicals voted for him anyway. Trump appointed white supremacists (aka Nazis) to be his advisors and failed to disavow their support and evangelicals supported him anyway. The alt right (aka Nazis–we need to stop calling them something else, they are freaking Nazis) arose in support of Trump and evangelicals continue to support him anyway. It is no longer relevant why someone voted for the man anymore; to support him is to support Nazis and that means that if you support him, you are a bad person. I really should not have to spell this out for you and it is a mark of how bad things are that I am doing it.

              • Burro [Mule] says:

                Your comments beg so many questions that if they were panhandlers at a freeway exit, they’d snarl traffic.

                That said, I’m OK with being a bad person, but it is kind of scary watching the Ukrainians and the Hungarians teaching Anti-Semitism 101 to naive Americans on 4-chan.

              • john barry says:

                SottoVoce, Who is it “known” by that the almost 63 million people who voted for Trump were white supremacists? You? by virtue of what facts or research. The rhetoric is just over the top. Spencer coined the term alt right to give his small following legitimacy and now it means nothing as a term like your use of Nazi. Why is it no long relevant to understand why people voted for Trump? or supported Clinton? All the people who voted for Clinton were Socialist. and anti Christian. Planned Parenthood and Democrats are baby killers of humans in the womb and if you support them you are a bad person. These are not reasoned arguments .

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              “You’ll always have Nazis among you,
              You’ll always have Nazis among you;
              Next time they won’t wear brown shirts or boots,
              They’ll come speaking softly in three-piece suits;
              But You’ll Always Have Nazis Among You…”
              — Donna Barr, “Desert Peach: The Musical”, closing aria

              KYLE: But Dad, isn’t that Fascism?
              KYLE’S DAD: No it isn’t, son. Because we don’t call it Fascism. Do you understand?
              KYLE: Do you?
              South Park, “Sexual Harassment Panda”

              Problem is, Naziism is so associated with Germans in everyone’s mind that as long as the next Nazi-like Mass Movement isn’t ethnic German and doesn’t salute from the shoulder or hoist the Hakenkreuz, they’ll be able to slip in under the radar. Some of the most Nazi-like racist attitudes I’ve come across were in an individual with the accompanying attitude that “All Germans are Nazis”; as long as the attitude didn’t express itself with the trappings of German Fascism, it wasn’t Fascist.

              • john barry says:

                Headless Unicorn Guy, I am awaiting the definitive study of Nazism by Eric Cartman with forward by Timmy!!!! Gerald Broflovski may not understand facism but he knows it when he sees it . Is Eric a Nazi? Will Kyle disavow Eric and state simply Never Again? I am sure the answer is somewhere in that fount of knowledge South Park. Poor Chef, attacked for his religion.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                  “TIMMY!!!!!!

                  (Which is my actual shout when I get off Metrolink and the bus connection is one of the “short buses” instead of a full-size one. “TIMMY!!!!!!)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “The celebration of Christmas in America today may give us a pretty good idea of what Israelite life was like, religiously speaking, during the time of the kings.”

      And we all know where THAT ended up. ?

      The Bronze-Age Semitic Tribal equivalent of Global Thermonuclear War?

      • It ended up with the Babylonians using the Temple as kindling. With God’s full seal of approval.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “GOD’S JUDGMENT FOR AMERICA’S SINS SITS READY AND WAITING IN THE NUCLEAR MISSILE SILOS OF THE SOVIET UNION!!!!!”
          — Radio preacher from Christianese AM Radio, Late Cold War period

    • That’s a Both/And, not an Either/Or. The average Israelite was indeed detached from covenant religion. But the command to keep that covenant WAS clearly given, at Sinai. The leaders of Israel were supposed to (in tge absence of mass literacy and private ownership of the Torah) teach the people that. And they failed miserably in their duty. Which is also a major running theme in the Prophets.

      Assuming of course a standard chronological historical reading of the Old Testament. Sinai as a concept or command given place might have been a long time after the Exile and certainly the Judges.

      …come to think of it, what proof do we even have of the Judges individually existing? Did they exist and happen? Or were they a series of stories about tribal leaders or object lessons from the clergy towards the royalty/laity?

      I really need to read more.

      • We can argue historicity until the bovines return to the domicile, but it seems undeniable that the centrality of the Sinai covenant is definitely how the OT is structured narratively.

  4. “The fact that the biblical writers protested so much against false worship probably tells us not so much how “rebellious” the Israelites were against clearly understood commands, but that the ancient Israelites were as detached from their official religion as are many/most Americans from official Christianity.”

    There is no doubt some truth to what Peter is saying here, but then I think about myself, and how many things I fail to do in following Christ, and it has nothing to do with being detached or not knowing better, it is simply giving in to the flesh. I know I shouldn’t curse at the person who cuts me off in traffic, I know I should take the time to help people more, I know I shouldn’t be envious for what other people have or be greedy and ungrateful, but I often fail in these things. Not always, but too often for sure. And I believe it was probably the same for Israel, and for most Christians today, even cultural ones. We know the good we ought to do, but for whatever excuses we can come up with, we just don’t do it.

    • Well said. I think that justifies, for many people anyway, the need for “feasts” and a liturgical calendar. Regular reminders are helpful. We are often such wandering sheep.

    • senecagriggs says:

      ” I know I shouldn’t curse at the person who cuts me off in traffic,”

      Oh you absolutely should. How else are they going to learn?
      __________

      Yesterday, on a four laned road with a divider I was sitting at a red light behind a gorgeous, top-o-the line Beemer [ Horsepower 500 plus ]. Light turns green, Beemer slowly, very slowly accelerates to 41 miles an hour in a 45 mile-an-hour speed limit letting every 4 banger on that road surge by while I’m caught behind the Beemer who is driving like a 90 year old lady. Holy Crap.
      I was soooo irritated. Here you have a $150,000 sports car and you can’t even do the speed limit? [ he was on his phone – holding it in his hand though I’m quite sure the Beemer has a hands free phone option.] sigh.

      I finally passed him but wanted to yell – “Why the hell are you under-performing in your 500 horsepower Beemer.
      Sheesh.
      [ I’m president for the Association of irritated drivers who want the bad drivers to GET OFF THE EFFING ROAD WILL YA. ]

      • I have a friend whose dad vacationed hauling a trailer in the mountains of British Columbia. He used to have to go fast to make it up the next grade, and people would be driving too slow.

        My friend recalls crouching down to not to be seen as his dad passed people, window down, shaking fist and yelling

        ‘If you can’t drive it park it!’

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I enjoy watching people gun it to get to the speed limit. I am sitting happily in my bike lane, the light turns green, the car peels out across the intersection .. . . I mosey on my leisurely way … and pull up next to that car at the next light. Almost invariably they are having an animated conversation on their mobile phone. And within a few blocks I will be several cars ahead of them. Because geometry cannot be defeated.

        Motordom does not bring out the best in humanity.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And whatever writings were floating around in the days of Israel’s kings (roughly 1000-600 BCE) were the stuff of trained scribes, not Shlomo and Miriam Israelite farmers and sheepherders. People weren’t running around “reading their Bibles” as we think of it today.

    Not even in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe?

    You buy toys, slippers, and toasters online, wrap them and put them under a tree, and settle in to watch He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special or A Year without a Santa Claus. Maybe go to church and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

    No, watch STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.
    And sing Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”.
    Why do the cheeze only halfway?

  6. Ronald Avra says:

    I do appreciate Pete Enns. I don’t get on board with everything he says, or the people he interviews on his podcast, but he definitely helps me think about things from a perspective I may not have previously considered.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      I listened to the first five episodes Peter Enns’ podcast on the Bible, and I haven’t gone back. I kept getting reminded of Sportin’ Life’s song from Porgy and Bess:

      the things that you’re li’ble
      to read in the Bible
      they ain’t necessarily so

      otro gallo, mismo cantar Different rooster, same song – patriarchy, hierarchy, heterosexuality, clearly defined ethics bad; feminism, anarchy, sexual self-definition, and ethical laissez-faire, except for redistributive taxation policies, good.

      My Calvinist great-grandfather threw his ideological forebears out of the denominational seminary in ‘ought-six, but these guys just keep coming back like a bad penny.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        I agree that I can find much that is specious in many of the interviews. However, I’m convinced that Megan DeFranza, on the Intersex podcast, made as effective use of scripture in arguing her case as most of the ministers that I have sat under. Whether that speaks to her education and skill, or to the poverty of my affiliations, may be another matter.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          Checked DeFranza’s bonafides. She may be worth listening to. She appears to take traditional beliefs seriously, although her paycheck appears to depend on her ability to get traditional Christians to modify those beliefs.

          I am reminded of what an Orthodox priest wrote concerning intersex people: [I paraphrase]

          ‘I have a spiritual son, for so he calls himself at this time. His body contains both male and female organs, and he is subject to both male and female desires. His body is a mystery to him, in a unique and challenging way, different to the ways our bodies challenge and confound us. It will take time, and patience, and no small amount of prayer and fasting to discern the true nature of his body. In time, this true nature will emerge, as it will with all of us. But make no mistake! My son has no other body other than the one he has been given, and it is with this body, and no other, that he will achieve salvation.’

          Back to Enns. I have no doubt that as a scholar of the Old Testament he is more aware of the messy process which resulted in the Old Testament we are familiar with today. When I read the Old Testament, however, in the same way as when I enjoy sausage, I tend to overlook the details of its production and concentrate on the benefits of the finished product.

          • Ronald Avra says:

            Thanks for checking up on DeFranza. I have to do some work; I’m done for today.

          • “When I read the Old Testament, however, in the same way as when I enjoy sausage, I tend to overlook the details of its production and concentrate on the benefits of the finished product.”

            Fair enough, as long as we acknowledge that it *is* sausage and not prime pork chops. 😉

      • “patriarchy, hierarchy, heterosexuality, clearly defined ethics bad; feminism, anarchy, sexual self-definition, and ethical laissez-faire, except for redistributive taxation policies, good.”

        Funny how Jesus and Paul often got accused quite often of advocating the things you imply are bad. Patriarchy? Jesus treated women with a dignity way outside patriarchal norms. Hierarchy? “The first will be last and the last will be first.” Heterosexuality? Jesus never married, and Paul liked the idea of universal celibacy. Redistributive tax policies? What is the consistent OT and NT testimony regarding riches and poverty?
        Clearly defined ethics? The Law kills.

        See? There is more than one way to look biblically at these issues… 😉

  7. Ronald Avra says:

    One thing that rings true from this post is how folk religion can gain credence from a tangential relationship to what would be considered traditional faith. I am familiar with numerous persons who think I am a heretic because I don’t accept the notion that I can ‘speak’ prosperity and health into fact. Verbal postive confession, not just a hopeful attitude of faith that God’s purposes will prevail, is the key. I can make it happen, if I just would; it’s all up to me. I’m satisfied with my lot; I really have it good and I’m not interested in flagrant excess of wealth and fame to prove anything to anyone. But the notion that a true believer has to triumph over every imagined ‘attack of the devil’ and encroachment of ‘godless education and science’ wearies me. These people make noise and raise dust; the disturbance profits no one.

  8. Ben Carmack says:

    It’s amazing to me that Chaplain Mike and Peter Enns are both so vain that they assume that the unwashed masses of evangelicals haven’t thought these thoughts before. Nothing Enns wrote was a revelation for me…it’s honestly pretty obvious. And so what’s the point?

    The Israelites didn’t grasp the deep religious significance of their holy days because many of them were probably illiterate and depended upon their priest to explain it to them. As we know, priests can be good or bad at explaining the Word.

    In the same way, lots of “cultural evangelicals” (people who only go to church once a year or hardly at all, you know, like Chaplain Mike recommends doing) celebrate Christmas without realizing what it really means. But at the same time, the cultural practice contains remnants of a deeper Christian truth. This is Christian truth working its way through a real society in time and space. It’s messy.

    Those of us more committed to Christian faith have a responsibility to help others see the way more perfectly. But of course, that would be preaching, and Chaplain Mike abominates preaching, so I’m not sure what the point of all this is. What are we exactly supposed to do here? Because the minute a Christian stands up in the public square and preaches Christ, Chaplain Mike and all the other commenters will shout that man down for being judgmental and hateful. So I guess we’ll just let people do their Christmas shopping in peace, while we cultivate our Gnostic Jesus-shaped religion here in our private blog-ghetto.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Asserting that Chaplain Mike advocates going to church infrequently or ‘once a year’ is a deliberate and flagrant misrepresentation of the facts. You know full well that he is a regular minister at his congregation. Your pretense of integrity of belief is demonstrably nothing more than malicious vindictiveness. If you want to be confident that you have accomplished something in this life, you can be assured that you have persuaded me to never be what you are.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Ben just likes a fight.

        • Ben just likes to insult.

        • Ben Carmack says:

          Oh, and you don’t?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Actually, he reminds me of another Ben in my internet past. A small-press cartoonist whose pen name was “Ben Bruin”. Guy was a PK from West Virginia, a good storyteller with a simple sketchy style, and at one time was maintaining four or five online webcomics on a regular schedule — “Under the Lemon Tree” (slice of life), “Malarkey County” (country humor), “Tales of the Questor” (heroic fantasy raccoons), and probably twice that number of intermittent minor strips. Very prolific, very creative artist. Then I ran into him on a Yahoogroup called “God’s Creatures”.

          And he ended up killing the group by constant Defending the Faith against Godless Evolution. We called the continuous flamewar “Celebrity Deathmatch: Ben Bruin vs Charles Darwin and All Comers”. Wouldn’t change the subject, just double down and attack louder; the constant fighting and runaway flameing ended up driving away all the others on the group.

          • We’ve had a guy come into our church’s coffee shop the past couple of months who clearly comes with one agenda: To tell everyone why we are in the “end times.” People focused on only one thing, who want to converse about only one thing, are exhausting. First, their language has a lot of “I, me, my” words. It’s very self-centered. Second, even if it’s a subject matter I like, c’mon, I don’t want to talk Seahawks for three straight hours, especially when it’s YOU doing the talking for 95% of the time and all you care about is getting YOUR opinion known, over and over and over…

            The next time he comes in I plan on saying, “Would you please ask someone about something that’s important to THEM, rather than just sit here and regurgitate all YOUR stuff?”

            My guess is, though, that he won’t be visiting much longer. As with your internet group, the non-stop dump of his stuff has already turned most of us off, so his audience is shrinking and shrinking. I’m sure he’ll move onto the next place, soon, where he’ll find some captive listeners for a bit, then drive them nuts.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Years ago, my writing partner told me of a psychology test given the first group of American Astronauts in the early Sixties. The test was 100 lines of self-description, each one starting with a pre-printed “I am…”. Answers could not repeat. The test was to see how many lines they could fill out before they pooped out, and the order of their answers.

              According to my source:
              1) Most people pooped out between 30 and 50.

              2) One pattern for self-identified homosexuals was pooping out between 20 and 30, with EVERY answer having to do with their sexual orientation, but that struck me more like a nymphomaniac defining themselves entirely by their sexual activity rather than a gay/straight pattern per se.

              3) But the SCARIEST were those who could only fill out ONE line and no more.
              “If you come across anyone who goes dry after only ONE line, RUN!”

              And Mister End Time Prophet sounds like he could fill out only ONE line.

              P.S. End Time Prophecy messed me up BAD in the Seventies. End TIme Prophecy messed up my writing partner. When the world ends Any Minute Now and It’s All Gonna Burn, why bother?

              P.P.S. The above PS might tie into the abovementioned “KANE WINS!” or “VOTE FRAUD!” Boolean response to election results. Election cycles mean a loser of one election can go for a rematch in two or four years, but why now the all-consuming push to “Win NOW Or Else!” by any means whatsoever? “Heads I Win, TAILS I SUE!”? (Not that far away from “Heads I WIn, TAILS I ATTEMPT A COUP!”)

              Maybe End Times mania (Christian, Islamic, or secular) is the supercharger. If The World Ends Any Minute Now, you CAN’T wait two-four years for a retry because You Won’t Have a Two Years Later — It Will All Be Over. “WORK FOR THE NIGHT IS COMING!”

          • Small world, HUG – I used to read those webcomics, and even posted on their forums for a while. The author always struck me as a very talented guy with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder.

    • Ben:

      There may be some truth in this. I don’t comment much anymore because it isn’t worth it.

      I recognize that when we come out of our fundamentalist past we need somewhere to process it. And at it’s best that’s what iMonk offers.

      The problem is that it is easy to just remain there – bitter and skeptical. So the one who even moderately tries to give another perspective is a lightening rod. I have seen a dog pile on those evangelicals who are edgy, acerbic or dogmatic. Fair enough.

      But I have seen a dog pile on those who are more irenic and thoughtful. And it’s distasteful.

      I am fearing that iMonk is just becoming another outpost of America’s culture wars (albeit gentler), and as an international Christian I can’t go there. IMHO America seems intent on destroying itself from within. Respect is gone and meaningful conversation has been replaced with lobbing hand grenades.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > It’s amazing to me that Chaplain Mike and Peter Enns are both so vain that they
      > assume that the unwashed masses of evangelicals haven’t thought these thoughts
      > before.

      Huh? What post did you read? It wasn’t this one.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        It is a pretty fair synopsis of CM’s intro. I am not Evangelical, so I can’t say how accurate that intro is. As an amateur historian, I learned decades ago that if you see repeated admonitions against something, that is a pretty good sign that people were doing that. And it is pretty common for people reading to admonitions to get it backwards. An example of baseball history is the admonitions against arguing with the umpire. There is a hobby of playing baseball under obsolete rules. I have seem people within this hobby restate the admonition as “They didn’t argue with the umpire back then.” Yeah, right. Read more game accounts. So turning back to the essay, on the one hand I thought it was stating something pretty readily apparent, but on the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people came to the wrong conclusion.

        • –> “So turning back to the essay, on the one hand I thought it was stating something pretty readily apparent, but on the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people came to the wrong conclusion.”

          Yep. We tend to hear things the way we want to hear them. Thus, in the Garden, we see the serpent exploiting that human tendency with the trick question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

    • Ben, now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

    • I hope those “cultural evangelicals” are the 81%. Then there’s some hope.

  9. Sorry to bother, but wrong link on the NYT article article by Peter Werner.

  10. No doubt that a religious holiday has become a secular holiday. Seeing as how the Christians lifted their holiday from the pagans no fair whining about that. But it’s interesting how the core imagery and concepts are retained through each appropriation.

    In the depths of darkness and the cold we celebrate the light and warmth. Faith that the darkness and the cold is not the end of the story. As elemental and non-doctrinal as that.

    Jeepers, lighten up! Even my neighbor’s tasteless string of lights is a thing of joy.

  11. One example is the constant Old Testament refrain in 1 and 2 Kings about the proper worship of God:
    Yahweh and Yahweh alone is to be worshiped,
    and that happens only in the Temple in Jerusalem,
    with no images of any kind.

    Which is interesting, as by that rule set, it doesn’t negate Asherah or co-gods. It just says that, within the Temple, only Yahweh is to be worshipped.

    Cool.

    • Umm…okay, if you want to go with that interpretation…

      • lol maybe, maybe not, but strictly speaking, it’s right there.

        Temple for one god, home and hills for another.

        But offerings are expensive and Yahweh’s priests don’t like competition and the lesser cut of mutton.

        • I just think that interpretation runs a little too close to “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Which is interesting, as by that rule set, it doesn’t negate Asherah or co-gods. It just says that, within the Temple, only Yahweh is to be worshipped.

      The actual term for that is “Henotheism”; other gods exist, but this God is on an exclusive-contract basis. No divided loyalty..

  12. senecagriggs says:

    Can we all admit that being a staunch Evangelical on this blog is a minority position.

    • Depends what you mean by “staunch evangelical.”

      But of course, since the early days of iMonk, we have always advertised ourselves as “Post-evangelical,” so whatever you mean by it, why would you be surprised?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Depends what you mean by “staunch evangelical.”

        And “Someone who Agrees Completely With ME” doesn’t count.

        That’s been a de facto definition way too often.

    • define ‘staunch’ . . . . I know many evangelical people who are great Christians who don’t have contempt for others who are different and who participate in the community with other religions in order to help those in need. I would call them staunch Christians, you bet . . . . they ‘serve’ selflessly and generously and they have my regard

      I don’t see that spirit among people who despise those who are ‘different’ from themselves and who point the finger at ‘those other sinners’, and yet such people claim to follow Our Lord although that was not His ‘Way’

      what does the word ‘staunch’ mean to you, senecagriggs?

  13. Really? Or is this just anotheir reading into the text of Western cultural norms ?
    Maybe the Israelites were cohesive like the Japanese are in their culture (more so in the past).

  14. john barry says:

    Chaplin Mike, Christiane, Staunch is an adjective that defines as loyal, and committed in attitude , the synonyms are stalwart, loyal, faithful committed, I of course did not pull that out of my head I looked it up in the dictionary. I think this site does show a great tolerance for diversity of opinion. As the kids say , it is what it is. It is clearly post evangelical as noted and that is made clear. I do think some here stereotype paint evangelicals with a broad brush at times but that is part of the internet . I would say that I agree with senecagriggs that an evangelical is in the minority here but to me that is a good thing. Christiane , I would label you as a staunch Catholic and mean it in a very good sense, you are a loyal, committed Catholic So senecagriggs asked a good fair question and got two good fair honest answers, pretty good reflection on this site and the commenters..

    • Thank you. Which is why it’s always so baffling when we have people show up to just throw pot shots. It goes against everything this site and community is.

      Signed, a staunch heartbroken idealist Baptist.

  15. i’m sure Enns is right, but it raises some difficult ethical questions about the god of the OT.