American Religion


I love Israel, and think Jerusalem is the coolest place on Earth. Ebola is a worry, for sure, especially with the incompetent and politicized way our government is dealing with it. But John Hagee, America’s most prominent “Christian Zionist,” really should just shut his pie hole:

Ebola may be part of God’s judgment for President Barack Obama’s alleged attempts to “divide Jerusalem,” said John Hagee, a San Antonio-based pastor and founder of Christians United For Israel.

Citing the Book of Joel, the televangelist took to Tuesday’s broadcast of the “Hagee Hotline” to tell listeners that “our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching and he will bring America into judgment,” according to the left-leaning Right Wing Watch.

“There are grounds to say that judgment has already begun, because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now,” Hagee said in a YouTube video posted by Right Wing Watch.

“We are now experiencing the crisis of Ebola,” he said.

Hagee, who heads Cornerstone Church, added that threats from Islamic radicals and ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri are all part of God’s judgment on the United States in response to Obama’s policies.

To say that people like Hagee bring disrepute upon the Christian faith when they make pronouncements like this is being generous. People who claim to know exactly what God’s specific actions are in response to specific human events are at least borderline blasphemous, and definitely Gnostic, by claiming that they know the mind of God in a way that the rest of us can’t. For them, the Scripture is just window-dressing for their politics, and God is simply their political consultant as they pursue their agendas. It’s as bad when done by conservatives as it is when its done by liberals, if not worse, since conservatives should know better.

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Ever since Aleister Crowley gained the reputation for being the “wickedest man in the world,” there have been imitators, poseurs, and wannabes. Herbert Arthur Sloane, Anton LaVey, Ozzie Osbourne, Marilyn Manson–with a greater or lesser degree of seriousness, these and others have tried to make Satanism a thing. The latest pretender to the throne appears to be a guy from Oklahoma named Adam Daniels, who rented out the Oklahoma City Civic Center in an effort to get the world to pay attention to him:

Sunday’s upcoming Satanic black mass in the Oklahoma City Civic Center may be attracting national media attention, but it is not a publicity stunt, says Adam Daniels, the self-avowed devil worshipper who organized it.

“This is not a game. It’s very serious to us,” Daniels said in a phone conversation this week.

The “us” is him and his worms, if I don’t miss my guess.

“This will be held as a real black mass, altered to follow state laws,” he said.

In other words, it’s not a real black mass. Crowley would not be impressed.

He said when his Oklahoma City-based Satanic group — the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu Syndicate — conducts the black mass in private, it involves sex, urine and nudity.

The Civic Center ceremony Sunday will tone down those elements to comply with state law, he said, but in every other way, it will be a genuine Satanic ritual.

The purpose of the mass is to deprogram people from the influences of Catholicism and Christianity, he said.

How exactly that is supposed to happen when none of them will be present or paying any attention to him is left unexplained.

The 2½- to 3-hour mass will follow a ritual from the late Antoine LeVay, founder of the Church of Satan and author of “The Satanic Bible.”

It will begin with music by the band God in a Machine, followed by a lecture from Daniels on the purpose of the black mass, a ritual denouncing Jesus Christ and swearing allegiance to the devil, blasphemy against Christ, and stomping on and spitting on a wafer, representing the host, the element from the Christian communion, he said.

It will conclude with a reverse exorcism, casting the Holy Spirit out of the person, Daniels said.

Yes, I’m sure the Holy Spirit will obey whatever mumbo-jumbo Daniels throws at Him. Here’s a bit of irony for Daniels to ponder: if it is actually the Holy Spirit who resides in the person in question, He is omnipotent, making Daniels’ incantations meaningless. If another spiritual entity resides within the person, it’s demonic, in which case Daniels will be doing an actual exorcism, the opposite of his intention. Boogieboogieboogie!

Daniels said the group meets every Sunday in an Oklahoma City-area home, going through a cycle of rituals and activities that include teachings, working on journals and workbooks, and meals together.

Oh, it’s an Episcopal church. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

He said he and members of his group believe in and worship the literal devil, which they know by its Zoroastrian name, Angra Mainyu.

Asked if he considers Satan good, or if he believes he is worshiping an evil being, Daniels said Satan is a title that means adversarial king.

“My devil is an equal anti-cosmic spirit that is the antithesis to what most call God,” he said.

“If you call chaos, freedom and self-service evil, then I’m one wicked individual. … I’m no more evil than a lion who eats a gazelle.”

Whatever. As long as they don’t break any laws prohibiting the harming of people, animals, or property, they can play-act all they want. I suspect, however, that Daniels is probably not the kind of guy you’d want as a co-worker.

He said he was not upset about the outcry across the state and nation against what he is doing.

“We’re glad that we have this opportunity to expose these people’s self-righteous behavior,” he said.

He’s trying to “deprogram” Catholics and other Christians, but he going to “expose” other people’s “self-righteousness.” Clearly irony is not a Satanist strong point.

Many thousands of people have signed petitions opposing the black mass. One online petition had more than 100,000 signers by noon Friday.

Despite the protests, officials in Oklahoma City have stood firm in their decision to allow the black mass to be held, maintaining that under the Constitution, Satanists have the same right as any other group to rent city facilities.

Oklahoma City’s officials are correct, and Christians really do need to get used to this idea. Even faiths that we find repugnant have the right to believe and practice as they wish within the proper, First Amendment-respecting applicable laws. If Daniels and his buddies want to fork over to play Halloweenies in public, fine. God is not mocked, and He’s not threatened by such foolishness, either.

I do not by any means discount or downplay the reality of the demonic, nor do I doubt that there are deluded or evil people who are devoted to it. What I doubt is that stunts like this do anything more significant than make clear how ridiculous people like Daniels are.

Apparently the poobahs at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) are rolling in so much dough, and have so much free time on their hands, that they’ve decided to take on one of the great threats to the First Amendment of our times: restaurant discounts for church bulletins. Fox News’s Todd Starnes reports:

Stevbully-1en Rose loves Jesus and pepperoni pizza.

But when the Searcy, Arkansas restaurateur decided to mix church and cheese it gave a group of out-of-town atheists a bad case of indigestion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is threatening to sue Steven after he offered a discount to customers who bring in a church bulletin. They said Bailey’s Pizza is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Um, actually, no he’s not. And if he was, it would only demonstrate the need to amend the Act.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” FFRF spokesperson Elizabeth Cavell told television station KTHV.

That’s correct, and that’s what Bailey’s is doing. See, the restaurant doesn’t check to see if you’ve been to church, or are a member of a church, or are a Christian. All they ask in return for the discount is that you bring in a church bulletin, which can be obtained in lots of ways other than actually attending a church service. I’d be willing to bet that if Cavell were to look up Searcy on a map and haul her herself into town, lots of people would be glad to give her a bulletin and not even ask her to look at any of the churches in town, much less visit one. Poor dear probably gets the vapors just by driving through the shadow of a steeple.

The trouble started a few weeks ago when someone posted a Facebook photo of the sign promoting the discount.

“It was from a guy whose Facebook name is Bong Hits for Jesus,” Steven told me. “It said, ‘good luck with the discrimination lawsuit.’”

Steven said he didn’t consider the post to be a credible threat—seeing how the Facebook user’s name is “Bong Hits for Jesus.”

Two weeks later, he received the letter from the Wisconsin-based atheist group. They said that if he did not stop offering a church discount, they would “take appropriate steps.”

The bullies at the FFRF make these kinds of threats because they know that they people they are pushing around don’t have the financial resources to fight them. I suspect, however, that if Mr. Rose were to contact the Alliance for Freedom or the Becket Fund, they be happy to do a little pushback on his behalf pro bono.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of starting an organization called Freedom From the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFFFRF). Anybody with me?

Alan Sears of the Alliance Defending Freedom tells the story of a case in Canada that foreshadows what is inevitable in the United States:

Perhaps a case now unfolding in Canada will open a few more eyes to what lies in store for our own country, if a hearing in the Elane Photography case is denied.

A Toronto pastor, Randy Harris – a devout Christian and ordained minister – was asked to officiate at the marriage ceremony of “Matthew Commandant and Rui Oliveira.” Knowing “Rui” as a not uncommon female name in the Orient, Reverend Harris assumed the couple was a man and a woman. As he prepared for the ceremony, he learned differently. He told the two men that, due to his religious convictions and the requirements of his denomination, he would not be able to perform their ceremony, and, apologizing for his mistake, refunded their fee.

The two men were not satisfied, and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the pastor with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, asking for reimbursement of their travel costs (which Pastor Harris had already offered), and $1,000 each for “injury to dignity.” But that’s not all. They are also demanding that Harris be required to undergo “sensitivity” training, as well as attend meetings of LGBT organizations. And they are pushing for a government order requiring all marriage officiates in the province to perform any kind of ceremony, for anyone who asks – regardless of the officiate’s religious beliefs.

This is the logical – indeed, inevitable – next step for legal proceedings in our own country, if the rulings like the one against the owners of Elane Photography are allowed to stand. All too often, those pressing the homosexual legal and political agenda are not interested in “tolerance” or a “live-and-let-live” society. Many are demanding that all people of faith bow to the new Caesar … embracing, affirming, applauding, funding, and encouraging homosexual behavior.

This case is still pending, so we don’t know whether the gay couple will win or not. This is also being heard not by a regular court, but by a “human rights tribunal,” of which there are few (though their number is growing) in the U.S. The point, however, is not necessarily to win, regardless of the forum. The left in North America–and especially the gay rights left–has been engaged in “lawfare” against its opponents for many years now. The aim is not to win every case, but rather to intimidate, to silence, and eventually make dissent so costly that no one will stand up to them.

Thank God for organizations such as the ADF and the Becket Fund for being willing to take on such bullies. They deserve both our prayer and financial support.

In response to the post of my World commentary, reader Kyle Smith has offered a very insightful comment, which I urge you to take a look at before proceeding. His observations deserve a measured reply, and so I’ve put a bit more thought into this post than my usual fare.

First, let’s agree that Occupy Wall Street and its religious left cheerleaders are irrelevant. As Charles Cooke has observed, OWS is more about performance art than actually getting anything accomplished. The religious left, meanwhile, is hopelessly stuck in the 1960s, their only answer to America’s current economic and social problems being, “more of the same!” More Great Society, more government intervention, more regulation, more imposition of values that have been firmly and repeatedly rejected by most Americans, as well as most American Christians. That way lies madness.

But that is not to say that OWS and the religious left are entirely wrong. They have glimpsed the truth, but failed to understand it because of their Manichaen, us-against-them approach. You see, what ails America is not that it’s the 1% against the 99%. Instead, it’s the 100% against reality.

The reality is that every human being in his or her unredeemed state is selfish (in fact, even the redeemed continue to struggle with it their entire lives). Selfishness is a universal characteristic that none of us, no matter how idealistic or politically correct, can escape. Businesspeople, politicians, community organizers, college students, pastors, government bureaucrats, religious social justice activists, conservatives, liberals, moderates–all of us deal with the same problem.

Selfishness, in turn, manifests itself in a variety of ways. For some, it’s the mindless accumulation of wealth. For some, it’s running a company or a government without any regard for how one’s actions effect anyone. For some, it’s demanding that those who produce wealth subsidize those who don’t (this is what the OWS demand for universal free college tuition is about). For some, it’s about exercising power over others without regard to their well-being. For some, it’s the demand for the freedom to do whatever they want unless it immediately and physically harms another (this is what some forms of libertarianism are about). In all of these instances, and many more that could be adduced, selfishness is at the core of what’s going on.

At their heart, the problems of the American economy come down to this universal characteristic. Capitalism is founded on the notion that human selfishness can be used to bring benefits to an entire population, a theologically counter-intuitive idea that only works inasmuch as the economic system is not isolated for all the other functions and institutions of society as a whole.

In fact, capitalism is the one system that instead of trying to change our innate selfishness (because neither economic systems nor political ones can change human nature), seeks to harness it in such a way as to maximize the benefits of human labor for those participating in the system. This is the reason why capitalism works better than any other system of economic organization in the modern world–because it works with human nature, rather than against it.

But that hardly means capitalism is perfect. Because it relies for its energy on a trait that is sinful, it requires constant fine-tuning in order to mitigate the worst effects of that sin. Hence the need for at least some forms of state regulation, regulation that needs to change as circumstances change. Why state regulation? Because there is no other mechanism through which the values of the population as a whole can be expressed, at least in democratic societies.

Capitalism has earned the scorn of the religious left because the ethics and goals of capitalism are not those of the Kingdom of God. That’s inane, because most people are not Christians–they do not live according to the ethics of the Kingdom because they are not part of it, and to expect them to live by those ethics is an expression of what amounts to a kind of economic Pelagianism (which is to say that people can, if they simply choose to, organize production, labor, markets, and consumers in a way that reflects the Kingdom, even though they reject the One who has given us those standards). In other words, the religious left wants the economy to function as if only saints ran it, and when it doesn’t, they insist that the government–which last time I checked wasn’t run by saints either–should step in and bring the Kingdom of God about. Needless to say, that isn’t going to happen.

At the same time, the religious left, like OWS, is not entirely wrong. The poor do need to be cared for, the powerful do need to be restrained, and the forces of human selfishness do need to be prevented from doing harm where possible. But here’s the thing: I don’t claim to have all the answers to how to do that, and I feel reasonably sure that Jim Wallis, the National Council of Churches, and the social justice bureaucracies of the mainline churches don’t have all the answers, either. What I do have that the latter worthies seem to have lost, however, is a healthy understanding of human sin, its pervasiveness in all areas of human life, and its annoying tendency to muck up pretty much any plans that we have for bringing about the Kingdom of God on our own.

Sin–expressed in selfish attitudes, actions, and ideologies–is the reason why corporations do things that hurt others. Sin is why politicians do things that betray their offices. Sin is why protesters make stupid demands and do things that are seemingly designed to undercut their message. Sin is what we are up against, and sin is not something that we can legislate away, nor is it something that the market can fix, nor is it something that we can defeat with enough activism. So what should the churches be doing?

They should be faithfully carrying out the mission God has given them, and bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of human existence, including the economy, the government, politics, etc. But that means bringing the gospel into the lives of those who live and work in all of those realms. The gospel and its ethics cannot be imposed on people who don’t share them. As has been demonstrated repeatedly, however, by Christian businesspeople, Christian politicians, Christian social workers, Christian teachers, Christian accountants, Christian stockbrokers and money managers, Christian union leaders–in fact by Christians in every walk of life–when the people of God live as such within their innumerable contexts, the effect on society as a whole can be electrifying.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group with past ties to Middle East terrorists, is warning Detroit Muslims that a dangerous and potentially violent mob of people are about to descend on their fair city. Bar the doors: the Christians are coming! According to the Detroit News:

The local head of a national Muslim civil rights group says a Christian prayer summit to be held at Ford Field next week promotes anti-Muslim sentiment and is warning local mosques to step up their security.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — Michigan, met Wednesday with Muslim activists to voice his concern over the rhetoric he fears could be at the center of the event Nov. 11.

“There’s a bigger force or movement behind this prayer summit and how they’re literally demonizing Muslims,” he said.

The entire basis for this paranoia seems to be found in this quote, taken from here:

The Call is being promoted as a 24-hour long prayer event aimed at lifting the city out of its “greatest darkness.” Its website says attendees will “gather to this city that has become a microcosm of our national crisis — economic collapse, racial tension, the rising tide of the Islamic movement, and the shedding of innocent blood of our children in the streets and our unborn.”

Given that The Call is operated by people who believe that Islam is a false religion that leads people away from God, it kind of makes sense that they would gather to pray for Detroit to be delivered from it, as well as from violent crime, economic collapse, abortion, etc. That doesn’t make The Call violent, or in any way a threat to Muslims, any more than the previous Call assemblies have been. But CAIR is nothing if not willing to be The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and gain some attention for its agenda, whenever it can.

The Call is led by Lou Engle of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, home of the notorious “Kansas City Prophets” for whom I have little use, as I think them heretical on several levels. But being Christian heretics hardly qualifies them as anti-Muslim terrorists. The idea that CAIR would try to whip up fear about a prayer gathering only shows how far it will go to prevent or discourage anyone from saying anything that could be construed as disputing the superiority of Islam.

(Via Weasel Zippers.)

It isn’t often that the Usual Suspects in liberal Protestantism do something that I can unequivocally get behind, so when there is I need to say so. Led by activists at Auburn Seminary (PCUSA), they are pressuring Village Voice Media to close their Backpage.com adult solicitation web site in order to prevent sex trafficking of boys and girls. Their organization, called Groundswell, has written an open letter to VVM in an attempt to persuade CEO Jim Larkin to do the right thing:

It is a basic fact of the moral universe that girls and boys should not be sold for sex.

So we were surprised and stunned to realize your company, Village Voice Media, continues to publish an Adult section on its classifieds Web site Backpage.com that has been used as a platform for the trafficking of minors.

Arrests of adults selling minors for sex via Backpage.com have been reported by the media in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. And these are just some of the cases thathave been documented.

As moral and religious leaders of many creeds and backgrounds, we are united in calling on your publication to shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com. We appreciate your efforts to put in place new measures attempting to screen for ads featuring minors. However, we do not believethat these measures are doing enough to adequately solve the problem, and we share the opinion of the nation’s 51 Attorneys General that the bestway to eradicate your company’s connection with the sex trafficking of minors is to shut down the Adult section of your Web site, as Craigslist did.

We trust that your company shares our outrage over the sex trafficking of minors. While we empathize with your business challenges and the increasingly difficult marketplace in which Village Voice Media competes, we trust that you are committed to running your business without compromising the lives of our nation’s girls and boys.

We know there is much more to be done to end the sex trafficking of minors beyond what we ask of you. Ending this practice for good requires agroundswell of people in our business, media, and religious communities joining together in partnership. We need educational campaigns and robust law enforcement to challenge all dimensions of the problem, including the poverty and abuse at the root of the practice.

But we can do something right now to help these girls and boys. Please shut down the Adult section of Backpage.com immediately so that no minor isexploited through advertisements on your Web site.

I might not have phrased everything the way they did, and could point out the ways that their advocacy of sexual license has contributed to an environment in which the sex traffic (not just of children, but adult women as well) could flourish. I certainly find their solicitude for Village Voice Media’s “business challenges” laughable in the face of their efforts, however unsuccessful, to destroy the businesses of any of a number of other corporations with whom they disagree. But then, they and VVM are ideological bedfellows, so I suppose that’s not surprising. Nonetheless, I hope that they are willing to take the next step, if VVM refuses, to call for a boycott of all VVM products, including the Village Voice itself.

But here’s the real point: on this particular issue, they are on the side of the angels. Virtually anything that makes sex trafficking of children more difficult should be supported. To ask VVM to shut down a web site as reprehensible as Backpage.com’s adult section is a no-brainer. This is one of those things on which liberal and conservative Christians should have no difficulty agreeing and cooperating.

So do children a favor: swallow your distaste of being seen on the same side of anything as Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori, or Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, or NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnamon, or Jim Wallis, and sign the petition. Tell VVM to get out of the child prostitution business.

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