Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hiding behind religion?

The thought has occurred to me often and increasingly that much of contemporary Christianity has become an elaborate system of ideas, experiences, traditions and ceremonies functioning as justification for American lifestyles and culture.  In a real sense, organized religion works to shield adherents from the radical values and expressed directives of Jesus.  Our lives have gone so far afield from what the founder championed and from the difficulty of real, devoted adherence to his seemingly near impossible demands. 

Our response?   We've fashioned a substitute or replacement religion that allows us to go on with our lives as they have been formed by our culture, while also inviting us to waiting for the next life to arrive. 

An irony is that embracing the protective substitute version of the faith is not limited to the well-to-do or even the middle class, but affects the underclass as well.  Media and marketing allow us all to believe that the rewards and certain outcomes of the American Dream will someday and soon be ours as well.  Embracing the gospel of the status quo sets us free to compartmentalize life into manageable sectors that may or may relate to one another at all. 

Countervailing voices to this mainstream, accepted accommodation get shouted down as "liberationists," "heretics," or worse.  Clearly, Jesus would not be accepted by much of the contemporary Christian community, just as he was rejected by the religious of his own day. 

Now comes conservative columnist, David Brooks whose words in an Op-Ed essay published on September 6, 2010 in The New York Times follow much the same train of thought. 

Tell me what  you think.

The Gospel of Wealth


Maybe the first decade of the 21st century will come to be known as the great age of headroom. During those years, new houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.

People bought bulbous vehicles like Hummers and Suburbans. The rule was, The Smaller the Woman, the Bigger the Car — so you would see a 90-pound lady in tennis whites driving a 4-ton truck with enough headroom to allow her to drive with her doubles partner perched atop her shoulders.

When future archeologists dig up the remains of that epoch, they will likely conclude that sometime around 1996, the U.S. was afflicted by a plague of claustrophobia and drove itself bankrupt in search of relief.

But that economy went poof, and social norms have since changed. The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous. Values have changed as well.

Today, savings rates are climbing and smart advertisers emphasize small-town restraint and respectability. The Tea Party movement is militantly bourgeois. It uses Abbie Hoffman means to get back to Norman Rockwell ends.

In the coming years of slow growth, people are bound to establish new norms and seek noneconomic ways to find meaning. One of the interesting figures in this recalibration effort is David Platt.

Platt earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At age 26, he was hired to lead a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala., and became known as the youngest megachurch leader in America.

Platt grew uneasy with the role he had fallen into and wrote about it in a recent book called “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” It encapsulates many of the themes that have been floating around 20-something evangelical circles the past several years.

To read on click here.


Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight--the youngest leader of a megachurch in America, preaching against the American Dream while leading an extremely wealthy congregation.

The youngest leader of this wealthy church preaching that families should live on $50,000 a year and give the rest away. However noble this is, do you think a poor African who lives on less than $2.00/day would be impressed?

I would be interested to know how much money Mr Platt and his family lives on. I assume he has a hefty salary, leading a large megachurch.
Could this be,"Do as I say, not as I do"?
You know, kinda like Al Gore.

Last of all, the question is fast becoming a moot point with the income redistribution going on in this administration. We will all be poor. There will be no one to call on to give.

Anonymous said...

Very timely article. After examining my own excesses prior to quitting my job to be a stay at home mom, I have discovered it takes far less to live "our" life. However our mortgager doesn't care about our chosen diminished income! We have decided to scale down in housing...very very small sacrifice...not sure you can call it a raise our boys. God has given us a gift in these 2 little guys...far more valuable than a swimming pool that needs constant cleaning!

Jim MacKenzie said...

Yep. That's all I have to say. Yep. Oh, and ouch.

Cody said...

I can't wait to read the comments on this one!

Anonymous said...

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3, NIV

Anonymous said...

"In a real sense, organized religion works to shield adherents from the radical values and expressed directives of Jesus."

Wow ... ouch ... true. My brother told me that, when he was in seminary, a frequent topic of conversation was "how to say what you need to say to your church and still keep your job." Unfortunately I think most preachers err on the side of caution and just avoid the too-difficult conversations.

I love Brooks's article. I used to shake my head at the McMansions and giant SUV's and just think "really?" I hope that absurd era of middle class conspicuous consumption is over.


Anonymous said...

Anon 7:24 - Immediately engaging in ad hominem attacks is just another way of avoiding a difficult subject. You did not address the substance of Brooks's article or Larry's comments at all.

Way to go! Another way to distract us from the real issue.

Anonymous said...

David Platt is another of the liberation theology socialists. Incidentally, looks as if he is out of the same seminary as LJ

Anonymous said...

My opinion is that David Platt is like the author and followers of "The Shack", using the Christian faith to promote his left wing fantasies and surreptitiously trying to co-opt it for use as a tool of the Progressive movement in this country.

Larry James said...

Just for the record, David Brooks is a very conservative journalist. And, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is among the most conservative on the planet and was when I was there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was referring to David Platt the object of Brooks oped. Now for Brooks;
If Brooks is so conservative , why does he write for the NYT? Brooks may call himself conservative but he is another Alinsky style plant - A RINO!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... the "radical Jesus." liberals use that phrase to leverage all sorts of irrational behavior. was Jesus homeless? like the street sleepers in san fransisco? or did he simply stay at others' homes when traveling, which was common for the times? could the guy pushing a shopping cart be truly emblematic of the suffering servant? would he appear to us as a beligerent beggar like the ones that block your parking space until you for over a dollar? would Jesus pick up one of those free cell phones on the way to the soup line?

Dean said...

"if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Jesus, Matthew 6:23)

Anonymous said...

Very conservative? Wrong, again, Larry. Here is how Mr. Brooks introduces a recent story in the NYT:

"You wouldn’t know it some days, but there are moderates in this country — moderate conservatives, moderate liberals, just plain moderates. We sympathize with a lot of the things that President Obama is trying to do. We like his investments in education and energy innovation. We support health care reform that expands coverage while reducing costs."

Title of article: "A Moderate Manefesto" By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 2, 2009


Old tricks - (1) find a wierd, hyperfundamentalist right winger and generalize his behavior to everyone that votes conservative and (2) find a fake conservative who backhandedly agrees with you and tell people the liberal agenda isn't really off mainstream thinking on the issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to say this as kindly as possible: some of you people are just nuts.

Let me get this straight: Larry went to a seminary, so that seminary must be "liberal." So if someone else (David Platt) went there, he must be liberal, too. Oh, and the NYT tends to be left of center, so if David Brooks writes for them, he must be, too. All this guilt by association is just preposterous. You are just avoiding addressing the actual issues while committing about 3 logical fallacies each step of the way. This is classic Fox News - I'm guessing you're a fan.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:59

David Brooks told everyone he is a moderate. He identified several areas where he agrees with the Obama administration. So he is a moderate, meaning he is more liberal than conservative voters. Most of us were willing to acknowledge this from the outset of this little scrum. Not you, though.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone wantoro go to the library and read "Great Moderates in American History?"

Anonymous said...

Are you actually suggesting there's something wrong with moderation?

Just consider two definitions: (1) to lessen the intensity or extremeness; (2) to become less violent, severe, or intense.

Sounds like an altogether good thing to me. I, along with Brooks, am a proud moderate. And, yes, I would gladly read that book. It's probably full of stories about really reasonable people who got things done without a lot of flash and rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm .. moderates in American history. I'd think first of Washington and Lincoln, widely considered our best presidents. Wahington spoke against parties and sectionalism and generally wanted things done with as much gentility and decorum and as little strife as possible. Lincoln had some strong personal views, but moderated them readily when required - best exemplified by his unwillingness to abolish slavery (of which he strongly disapproved) until two years into the war in the hope the South would come back into the Union. Yes, moderates both. I'd read that book. It would be about some of our best and brightest.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight - David Brooks, as a moderate, is to the left of conservative Republicans, so that makes him liberal. So if anyone is to your right, you are (at least a relative) liberal. So if Glen Beck is to the left of, say, Ghengis Khan and Attila the Hun (I said IF), then Glen Beck is a liberal.

I think I understand now.

Anonymous said...

Larry claims Brooks is a conservative. I pointed out that Brooks, himself, claims to be a moderate. That's all I intended.

Moderation is a good general orientation or starting point, but hardly a practical absolute. Do you have moderate feelings about nonconsensual sex? There are some principles moderation serves poorly, others quite well.

I am a classical liberal, not a modern liberal, which makes me conservative.