Evangelicals rising in a seemingly “post-Christian” era – What does that mean for Catholics?

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 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:24 NRSV

What do Evangelicals have that Catholics do not?  Why are they the only Christian group that is successful in growing via conversion?  As I read over the concerns raised by Leah Libresco (a Roman Catholic) and Rod Dreher (an Orthodox Christian), I think of where my own church (The Episcopal Church) has fallen short.  Like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Episcopal Church maintains the apostolic succession of Bishops (as the name suggests) and we keep all seven sacraments.  We do have a liturgy that when fully embraced includes beautiful chanting, candles, icons, incense, and all of it leads to the High Mass.  Unfortunately, for fear of remaining small (we make up about 2% of the US population), our leaders ranging from the Bishops all the way to vestry members, stubbornly insist on watering down our liturgy.  Our priests, when teaching confirmation classes that we often rename (“Seekers Class”) capitulate to the seemingly mainline protestant culture of the United States.

When I was first joining the Episcopal Church, I remember our priest telling us that “confirmation” was simply an act of claiming what was given to us during baptism.  It was the Bishop who confirmed me, the Right Reverend Alden Hathaway, who explained in his sermon that he, as a Bishop, once knelt before three Bishops when he was ordained, and the layed hands upon his head.  Those three Bishops experienced the same before him, and did the Bishops before.  Going back, the earliest Bishops, or Episcopos, where consecrated by the Apostles, and the Apostles by Christ himself (this is the Apostolic Succession).  So, when we came before the Bishop and he would lay his hands upon our heads, we would not only feel his hands, but the hands of every Bishop before him, and the hands of the Apostles, and most importantly, the hands of Christ.  This is who we are.

So let me get to the point

I know that I’m preaching to the choir right now if Ms. Libresco or Mr. Dreher read this, but I write this to address Mr. Dreher’s two main questions: “What are Catholics doing wrong?” and “What are Evangelicals doing right?”  Mr. Dreher is on to something with this statement, “If you are drawn to the Protestant form of Christianity, Evangelicals evidently do a far better job of it, of making it real and relevant to the lives of ordinary people.”  This is what Evangelicals are doing right.  If I may expand on that label “Catholic” to include all Churches that maintain the sacraments and the Apostolic Succession (Roman, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.), Mr. Dreher also seems to understand what we’re doing wrong.  “Catholic and Orthodox intellectuals — I am guilty of this — have a strong tendency toward self-satisfaction, resting in the beauty and the intellectual depth of our respective ancient traditions, but notably lacking in missionary zeal.”  However, this could lead to the erroneous conclusion that we should do what they are doing.  We should stop all the pageantry, lighten up on the liturgy, stop emphasizing the importance of the Apostolic Succession; and play some electric guitars, shout “Amen”, sing and clap our hands, etc.  I hope I don’t sound condescending towards Protestant churches that enjoy this style of worship.  Jesus never gave us a particular style of worship and I don’t presume to have the style that is suited for all of Christendom.  The body of Christ has many parts, and a body made entirely of right arms wouldn’t be able to function.

Evangelicals function well because they embrace who they are.  For Christians who worship with their hearts, who enjoy immediately expressing what they feel God is doing for them, etc. these Evangelicals have it in the bag.  Whenever the Episcopal Church struggles against its nature, trying to be more like the Evangelicals, we end up with an uneasy compromise on mainline Protestant style worship.  As Ms. Libresco showed, mainline Protestants are the least successful at retaining membership.  Please do not take this as judgment, but I personally find mainline Protestant worship rather dull and unfulfilling.  Evangelical style worship makes me uncomfortable, and not in a good way.  It doesn’t challenge me to be a better Christian, or take a leap of faith.  It just makes me feel like I don’t belong, and that’s because I don’t – not there, anyway.

So what can Catholics do right?

What we can learn from the Evanglicals is that we will grow if we embrace who we are, and we make worship relevant to the everyday lives of the people who attend.  Those who criticize us most sharply for our ancient rituals, and claim we are out of touch with the modern era…these are the very people who will NEVER attend our churches, no matter what we do.  When the Episcopal Church seeks to save its life, it dies a little more inside.  When the Roman Catholic Church isn’t far behind, it does the same.  But I have seen life in the Orthodox Church.  I am back to embracing my Episcopal identity, but I did, many years ago, convert to Greek Orthodoxy.  There was no capitulation in the Orthodox Church.  The sacraments were held to the highest standards, and the liturgy was fully embraced.  Visitors were welcome to enjoy our style of worship, but it was our style of worship.  Those who wanted to embrace it, including myself when I first attended, were welcome to come to confirmation classes and then decide if they wanted to be Chrismated.  To this day I love the Orthodox Church, and only returned to the Episcopal Church as a compromise with my Methodist wife (Episopalianism seems somewhere in between Orthodoxy and Methodism).

There is a portion of Christians who yearn for high church liturgy.  There is another portion of the general population, Christian or otherwise, who could be won over.  But there are those who will never be won over, and they speak the loudest.  Of that group, those who are non-Christian only wish us harm, and we should ignore them.  Of Evangelicals or other Protestants who criticize us, we should remind them that in the end, we all have the same Lord and Savior, and a house divided against itself cannot stand.

What we, Catholics of every flavor, must do is embrace who we are.  For Orthodox Christians, Mr. Dreher already recognizes their hurdle – “Orthodoxy is so exotic in the American context that it’s hard for it to evangelize relative to other Christian churches.”  Those who yearn for liturgy, however, need only attend an Orthodox mass, and they will be hooked – I know I was.  Both Roman Catholics and Episcopalians face the same primary challenge, however.  Our own members chip away at who we are from within.  The capitulation must stop, and we must embrace the full liturgy, with all its smells and bells.  We’ll never out Protestant the Protestants, but we can sure out Catholic ourselves.  The Roman Catholic Church also must move past the notorious sexual abuse mass-scandal of that last several decades.  It’s important for them to clean up their act, which they are finally doing, but that alone would simply slow their decline.  For the Episcopal Church, we have no major scandals…we’re just boring.  For starters, we should scrap the word “Protestant” from the official title of our church in America.  Let it simply be “The Episcopal Church in the USA”.  Lose the “Presiding Bishop” label and embrace “Archbishop”.  From there, revive the use of icons, the chanting (especially during communion), and every bit of beautiful pageantry that makes us Episcopalian.  Let the Presbyterians be Presbyterians.  Lastly, never let anyone claim that we do not believe in the true presence of Christ when we take communion.  We do not embrace the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation because the miracle of communion is beyond our comprehension, but we do not see it as mere symbolism.  We do receive the body of Christ.  No, Richard Dawkins, not the literal flesh and blood of a 1st Century Jew named Jesus, but the heavenly body of Christ…I wouldn’t expect you (Dawkins) to understand.

Holding on to capitulation will only lead to a slow death.  Our Churches will become museums, as so many already are in Europe.  But worse, in America, some corporation or politician will want to tear them down for “progress”.  I love the Orthodox Church, but I’d hate for it to be the only remaining source of high church worship in America.  If we breathe new life into our places of worship, if the liturgy is born again, that portion of the population yearning for liturgy will return full measure.  Then, that next portion of lost souls – that portion that can be captivated by the liturgy – they will wonder in one Sunday morning.  When they do, welcome them!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10 NRSV

For further reading:

An interesting article on the RCC in Germany and capitulation to “modernity”, I have mixed opinions of the particular issues addressed by the RCC in Germany, but overall worry about their lack of conviction:

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/05/the-catholic-churchs-german-crisis

My politically incorrect experience with an Asian barber

I just wanted to share my amusing conversation with the Asian lady who cut my hair today and the insight it gave me into racial segregation and political correctness.

On another note, here is the link to my published article that I mentioned:

http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/1/2158244015575556

I strongly recommend downloading this as a PDF, because the formatting is so much better that way.

Marco Rubio – Old Wine in New Bottles (5 Reasons)

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Marco Rubio may have a fresh face and uplifting tone, but his ideas are as stale as two week old French bread.  I do recognize his genuine efforts to focus on the positive and avoid mudslinging.  Therefore, I have no intention of attacking his character.  However, I find his policy agenda so abhorrent that I will show no restraint in attacking his ideas.  Despite Rubio’s youth, positive tone, and handsome face; he is simply a repackaging of tired, Bush era GOP policies – he is old wine in new bottles.  Here are five examples of recycled GOP policies:

5.   Rubio supports Oil Subsidies. Years ago, there was a debate over possibly ending the $4 billion a year our government uses to subsidize big oil companies.  Only two principled Republicans voted to end this corporate welfare, Rubio was not one of them.*  I sent Rubio a letter requesting that he support an end to this corporate welfare.  He responded with a lengthy letter.  Maybe two sentences explained that he would not end oil subsidies due to rising gas costs, and then nearly two pages were devoted to Obama bashing.  Sorry Rubio, bashing Obama doesn’t make you a conservative, nor erase your big government agenda.

4.   Inconsistent on Medicare funding, consistent on partisanship. Like most Senate Republicans, Rubio denounces Obamacare because it cuts Medicare funding, yet supports the Ryan plan that practically has the same effect.  So in other words, it’s not a “cut” when Republicans do it.  We really do need to control the costs of Medicare, and both parties seem to realize that.  I just wish they’d work together instead of slinging mud over a policy that is controversial, yet they both agree upon.

3.   Civil liberties take a back seat to “national security”. Rubio was one off the staunchest supporters of the NDAA of 2012, which allowed the Executive branch (that is, Obama and Eric Holder) to arrest and indefinitely detain those they regard as terrorists, or associates thereof; without a trial.  Rubio attempts to defend himself here, but if you read the bill (Sec. 1021 on p. 265 if you follow the link), you’ll see that it could allow far more than Rubio claims.  This appalling disregard for our Bill of Rights was bad enough.  His fellow Senator from Florida, Bill Nelson, at least attempted to amend the NDAA of 2012, by placing a time limit on said detention, but Rubio opposed that also.  Rubio is a supporter of this, the (un)Patriot Act, and all such post-9/11 efforts to use fear to erode our civil liberties.

2.   Supports special tax breaks for Wall Street. Like most establishment Republicans, Rubio sings Reagan’s praises while supporting a tax plan that goes against the very principle of Reagan’s tax reforms.  In 1986, Reagan passed a brilliant tax reform package that forced Wall Street to pay the same tax rate as everyone else by making the so-called “Capital Gains” tax rate (the special rate for Wall Street) the same as the regular income tax rate.  Rubio, however, like most Republicans, including the flagrant hypocrite Rush Limbaugh (Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t attack Limbaugh’s character), claims that “Capital Gains” taxes are a “double tax” and should be eliminated.  In other words, if you work for your money, you pay taxes under Rubio’s plan, but if you make your money on “capital gains”, such as in the Stock Market, you pay no taxes.  Currently, Wall Street pays a marginal rate of 20% (before exemptions) while regular income earners at the highest bracket pay 39% (also before exemptions).  This is what constitutes fairness in GOPonomics.  What?  Are you jealous of Wall Street’s success?  But they’re the job creators!

1.     Rubio is just another neocon too willing to start more wars. Like Bush, like Chaney, McCain, Graham, etc. Marco Rubio thinks frequent meddling in other countries is good for them and for us.  He is in denial about the failure in Iraq as you can see here, he supported arming the rebels in Syria, which is partly responsible for the emergence of ISIS, he seems to think we should now be fighting ISIS while poking Iran at the same time, even though Iran is doing a better job of combating ISIS than we are.  If Rubio were to become president, we’d just have more expensive, destabilizing wars; often creating more problems than we solve.  If we’d never invaded Iraq in the first place, if we’d stayed out of Syria, we’d have caught bin Laden long ago and there’d be no ISIS.

Rick Perry has claimed, for example, that we could have stopped ISIS if only we had done more to stop Asaad.  HELLO?!  Asaad is fighting AGAINST ISIS!  Rubio would never say something so stupid, yet his policies are the same.  However, Rubio is able to inspire without making a fool of himself….and that is why he is dangerous.  If they were all like Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, we’d be better off.  But Rubio is actually taken seriously.

As my followers know, I’m a Paul supporter.  And it’s not like I agree with him on everything (He unfortunately also opposed ending oil subsidies).  But looking at the big picture, Rand Paul brings fresh ideas both to the Republicans and to libertarians.  Mostly important, he brings fresh ideas to the country as a whole.  Rubio, however, is just more of the same in a handsome young package – he is old wine in new bottles.

*On this, I’d like to express my gratitude for Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe for putting principles before party on the oil subsidies issue.

Military Adventurism in the Conservative Big Tent – My Peer Reviewed article!

If I’ve been a little slow with my blog and vlog lately, it’s because I was wrapping up this article.  The full title is “The Decline of Military Adventurism in the Conservative Big Tent: Why Grassroots Conservatives in the United States are Embracing a more cautious foreign policy“.  I cannot post the entire article here, but it is a free, open access journal provided by Sage Publications.  You can either read it directly on their website, or have a PDF emailed to you.  Just follow the hyperlink I just gave.  I can at least post the abstract, as follows:

It is now clear that the American conservative movement can no longer be easily categorized as “hawkish” on foreign policy. This essay examines the different perspectives, ranging from intellectuals and experts to grassroots conservatives and popular political culture, to grasp the widening range of foreign policy preferences that currently make up the conservative movement (or conservative big tent). Second, this essay considers the challenges that these hawks, mainly the neoconservatives, are likely to face due to the realities of generational politics. This essay will therefore provide a useful analysis of the different foreign policy preferences in the American conservative movement in the 21st century.

The Love Affair with Netanyahu – Pseudo-conservative Hypocrisy knows no bounds

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What are the “conservatives” trying to conserve?  The recent love affair with Israel’s Netanyahu only further proves the hypocrisy of the American right wing.  The same people now praising Israel’s Netanyahu; a decade ago were saluting the flag, praising George W. Bush, and unquestioningly following him into war.  Anyone disagree?  Their response was, “If ya don’t like uh’mer’ca, leave da country!”  Remember that?  Now these same people say, “I wish Netanyahu was our President”.  I want to first expose the hypocrisy of the American right (the pseudo-conservatives) and then move on to show that Netanyahu is not showing great leadership in this situation.

Whatever you think of Obama, he is our President (and birthers, just take a hike right now…seriously).  If the “conservatives” valued any of the principles they claim, they would not go against our Constitution, undermine our national sovereignty, and bring a foreign Head of Government into the middle of our internal political disputes.  According to Article II, “The President… shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…”  The final decision is to be made jointly between the President and the Senate, but the President is to be our chief negotiator in foreign affairs.  Furthermore, there is a long tradition of Congress putting aside partisanship in foreign affairs for the sake of keeping a united front when facing the rest of the world.  If we are to be strong internationally, we can’t air our dirty laundry to the rest of the world.  But since when do these so-called “conservatives” let that pesky constitution get in the way of partisanship?  The right wing isn’t interested in conserving our Constitution, the separation of powers, or America’s sovereignty.  They at least defended our sovereignty when Bush was in the White House, but even that no longer matters.  Russell Kirk, a true conservative, once said that “some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States”.  Lindsey Graham is clearly one of those neoconservatives, as he has said to Netanyahu “We will follow your lead”.

So what ARE these so called “conservatives” trying to conserve?  Israel?  Well, the next time one of the neoconned* starts with all their praising of Netanyahu and how they wish he were OUR President, I’m going to respond, “If ya don’t like uh’mer’ca, leave da country!”

As for Netanyahu, is he really such a great leader right now?  I do want to make it clear that I support our alliance with Israel.  But does Netanyahu really feel the same way?  I wouldn’t think of intervening in Israel’s internal political disputes.  I don’t blame Netanyahu for initially accepting the invitation from Congress.  However, when he saw how much internal controversy it was causing in the US, and how controversial it was with the American people**; he should have politely declined.  If I were him, I would have sent a very polite letter to Congress, something like…

“I continue to value Israel’s friendship with the United States of America, and in the interest of that friendship, I will not, as Prime Minister of Israel, interfere in America’s internal political disputes.  Therefore, out of respect for America’s sovereignty and our continued friendship, I must politely decline your offer to meet with Congress without also having the approval of your President.”

That is what a good leader and good ally would do.  But Netanyahu has decided that short term political gain, and supporting the neocon agenda, is far more important than America’s sovereignty and even Israel’s long term best interest.  Israel desperately needs the US, and this will not be remembered fondly by Americans (neocons perhaps, but they are globalists first and Americans second).  I think Netanyahu now should issue either an apology, or at least some kind of clarification that he hopes that he did not get involved in America’s internal disputes nor did he intend to disrespect the Office of the President of the United States.

*I call them “neoconned” because I speak of your average, grassroots Republicans.  They have been manipulated by the neocons, such as Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity, etc. but they themselves think they are “conservatives” and many have never even heard the term “neocon”.  They have been neoconned.

**I have seen several polls with varying conclusions on this, so in the interest of fairness, I will show you several.

This one shows that a majority of those who answered considered the speech inappropriate without Presidential approval.

This one shows pretty much the opposite of the above

Let’s fight pornography with compassion, not piety

RelationshipLove

Porn addiction is harmful to everyone involved.  Porn actors and actresses are physically harmed by the oversized penetration and rapid pace.  They are psychologically harmed by the humiliation, and hollowing out of something that should be very intimate.  Some are driven to suicide, many more are driven to drug addiction.  Viewers are harmed mostly psychologically.  Pornography desensitizes the libido, much like an addictive drug desensitizes the good feeling of dopamine in the brain (the high).  Pornography harms natural relationships by killing that wonderful feeling we get when being intimate with another.  Do you remember your first kiss?  I remember mine.  My face must have been red as a tomato!  I won’t dig any deeper than that, but the butterflies in the stomach, the rush of endorphins you feel your first time – it’s a beautiful thing!  Pornography offers only a hollow equivalent of that, and makes the real thing far more difficult to enjoy.

A well-intended article titled “3 Self Interested Reasons to go Porn Free” attempted to make this case, but relied far too much on piety.  The constant references to “sin” may appeal to Christians like myself, but we’re preaching to the choir.  Yes, I know many Christians are addicted to porn, but let’s not limit our message to them.  Besides, it gives the impression that you’re being preachy, contrary to the title of the article.  Still, the article made some excellent points.  Porn rarely delivers the hoped for thrill, and usually leaves the viewer “fixed”, but unhappy.  Many porn addicts are in denial, and will claim that it does make them happy.  This is all the more reason not to put them on the defensive by calling their behavior “sin”, even if this is true.

My main point here is that there is so much real evidence on our side that we don’t need to be preachy.  We won’t free people from pornography with legal prohibitions, nor will we won’t free them with judgment.  As a Christian, I remember Jesus among the tax collectors and the prostitutes, and it’s clear what He would do.  Let’s meet them where they are.  Instead of piety, let’s try compassion balanced with knowledge.   Let’s show how much we genuinely care for those who are hurting themselves and loved ones (especially spouses) with porn addiction.  Many think it’s victimless.  They often give selectively libertarian retorts such as “if consenting adults…” (and you know the rest).  So instead of judging them, let’s persuade.  ASAPScience has done an excellent short video on the Science of Porn Addiction.  ASAPScience is not a church group.  It’s not a conservative special interest.  ASAPScience relies on solid science to give short, entertaining, and very informative lessons.  As they show in the video regarding porn, the science is on our side.  Deep down, porn addicts know they have a problem.  They need to know how much happier their lives will be when they break their addiction, and learn to love real people again.

PS I love the reference to James Hetfield in the article.  Here is the link to that video.

Happy Presidents’ Day! I still like Ike!

This is my tribute to my favorite President, Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower.

I Like Ike campaign ad from 1952

Ike’s Farewell Address (from which the clip at the end of this video was taken)

To learn more about Ike’s Civil Rights record, I recommend “A Matter of Justice” by David Nichols

An excellent article from National Review on Eisenhower (sorry about the paywall)

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