A rundown of the current level of crazy with conservative Christians in America. We talk through some of the craziest, politically motivated crap from Christians in the news. We also have documentary filmmaker, Christopher Maloney, on the show to talk about his Kickstarter campaign to make a film about the current state of politics in America called In God we Trump. Come along for the ride with us!
Join us as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
A rewind of old interviews with musicians from the Snarky Faith vaults. Andrew Belle is a prolific American singer-songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. Ben Lee is an international music icon and activist from Australia. Both of these interviews showcase different artistic voices in the musical spectrum. Enjoy the fascinating musicians and their takes on what it looks like to make art!
Join us as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
A rundown of what you need to do to stay sane in the face of a crazy world. Yes, the world is nuts, our President is crazy, but so is the American Church. Join the conversation about why our Americanized version of advocacy makes no sense. Whether we’re talking about religion or politics, the answer to crazy is finding places where you can invest yourself in places that actually matter. Social media advocacy has no place unless you’re willing to step into the messiness of life. Change only happens when we invest deeply. Anything else is just self-indulgent narcissism. So get off your ass and do something.
Join us as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
A rundown of why Easter should be a paradigm for the American Church. Something needs to die so it can be reborn. We are stuck within such an institution of crazy and power grabbing that we’ve fallen miles away from our original mission. We need demolition and death before we can be thrust the church into resurrection. So let’s exit the crazy, hypocritical, greedy, hateful, narcissistic Christianity that has become the norm of the American Church. If Easter tells us anything, we need death to move towards life. So let’s leave behind the crazy of the American church and look towards something new.
Join us as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
Why should creation care matter to Christianity? Join us for part two of our talk with activist and author, Matthew Sleeth as we talk about why care for the environment is an essential ethic woven through scripture. Sleeth talks about how engaging in activities from gardening to environmental activism can connect us to the Creator. Creation care is a beautiful spiritual discipline that has long been lost in many Christian circles and one that the religious-right is downright antagonistic against. But there is always hope for renewal.
And there’s always What’s Good // What’s Bad chronicling the interweb’s best and worst along with a little never-ending, Neverending Story treat (for the children of the 80’s).
Join us as we skewer through life, culture, and spirituality in the face of a changing world.
• First, Christians didn’t want to bake wedding cakes for LGBTQ couples, but now a right-wing pastor, Lance Wallnau, is claiming that an ‘anointed cake’ freed a man from homosexuality. What’s next, donuts that cure heresy? Wait, I may need a dozen of those. Either way, this is Pat Robertson level craaaaazy. [JMG]
• An Alabama church wants to have their own armed police force. I thought the Bible was supposed to be the sword of the spirit, but apparently, someone’s been watching a little too much John Wick. This is what happens when the non-violent Jesus isn’t sexy enough and the church feels that all of this trusting in God business is way easier when you’re packing heat. Who would Jesus Shoot – WWJS [Huff Po]
• Enough of all the bad, want to hear a story about how the government is actually working together to make a positive change? Full Frontal with Samantha Bee aired a segment about the passing of a bill that will allow thousands of rape kits to be tested. This renewed my faith (briefly) in humanity and government.
• We’ve got Nerf darts all over our house, but I’ve never once picked one up and thought, “I bet this can break the sound barrier.” Apparently, I was wrong. So much for being soft and safe. [Uproxx]
If you see any snark-worthy news that’s either good or bad, feel free to send it us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week!
Is there a silver lining in Trump’s prospective budget? Amongst the proposed fiscal carnage, there may be a slim chance at hope for Christians to recapture their mission. Join us as we delve into how the New Deal changed the American church and led to a loss of identity. We also have part one of an interview with activist and author, Matthew Sleeth.
• Everyone beware the dastardly anarchists of Portland! They’re sticking it to the man and creating havoc by… fixing potholes on the city streets? Yep, you read that right and Portland is having nothing of it. Join the resistance and fix something that helps the greater good. [Huff Po]
• A rabbi, a priest, and an atheist smoke weed together and talk about religion. Yep, it sounds like a joke, but it’s a beautiful picture of different viewpoints bonding (and bong-ing) around a common table. How about giving up preconceived notions for Lent. Anyone with me?
• We can’t have all good on the list this week with Trump’s new proposed budget torpedoing everything left in the government that was compassionate and beneficial. With planned cuts to the EPA, the Endowment of the Arts and even Meals on Wheels in [NPR] & [Huff Po]
• So guess what? While the governmental good gets the ax, the military and the wall get funded? Yeah, that’s a bad as bad can get. [ProPublica]
• Need some palate (or soul) cleansing after those last few points, how about some Bonhoeffer? Read about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer can speak to life in the Trump age. It’s an outstanding reminder of how we can (and should) learn from history and those that came before us. [Englewood Press]
If you see any snark-worthy news that’s either good or bad, feel free to send it us: email@example.com. Have a great week!
A rundown of the new bestselling book, The Divine Dance, with co-author Mike Morrell. Mike wrote the book with spiritual heavyweight Father Richard Rohr. Does the Trinity really matter today in contemporary Christianity? Morrell and Rohr would assert an affirming, “YES!” So join us as we delve into why the Trinity matters in today’s world, what this means for us and how we can return again to our spiritual roots. Anyone in the mood to dance with us?
Tune in to find out more…
Download an exclusive bonus chapter to The Divine Dance over at Mike’s blog here.
WARNING: this interview may rankle the ire of Calvinists and the Gospel Coalition, but that just means all the more snarky fun for the rest of us! Enjoy.
[showhide type=”pressrelease” more_text=”Click for Full Show Transcript” less_text=”Hide Show Transcript” hidden=”yes”]
Title: The Divine Dance Interview with Mike Morrell
Program: Snarky Faith Radio
Host: Stuart Delony
Stuart Delony: Well, good afternoon, and welcome to another round of Snarky Faith Radio. I’m your host, Stuart Delony.
In this season of the holidays, I bring you good tidings in the form of an announcement. My trusty co-host, Ben Triplett, who’s been on pre-paternity leave, now has a son. Yes, this last week, Deacon Elm Triplett was born. He is healthy. Everything is well with father, mother and child. So we just wanted to give a shot out and a congratulations to Ben.
Now, let’s hop into the show. This show is going to center around the book TheDivine Dance that was written by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. So without further ado, here’s the interview with Mike Morrell.
Stuart: So joining me here today is Mike Morrell. Mike is an American intelligence analyst. He served as a Deputy Director –
Mike Morell: [laughs]
Stuart: — for the Central Intelligence Agency as well as the acting director twice. First, in 2011 and then, from 2012-2013. Thanks for joining us, Mike, and my biggest question is how does a guy that’s in the CIA write a book about the Trinity?
Mike: Well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you, Stuart. [laughs] We would call it Extraordinary Rendition.
Stuart: Yes. No, I’m totally kidding about that. Yes, there is another Mike Morrell out there that works for the CIA which is funny when I when I was looking up the bio stuff on it. That guy popped up, and I was like, “That’s not the Mike Morrell that I know” unless he’s aged horribly in the past while since I’ve seen you.
Mike: [laughs] It’s my well-kept secret.
Stuart: It is. It is. No, no. So, so Mike, a little bit about your bio. Mike is a Communications Director for the Integral –
Mike: — I say integral, but, you know, it’s maybe a potato, potato thing.
Stuart: Maybe. I don’t pronounce things right all the way so I’ll probably go with your rendition. So, yes, so you are the Communications Director with Presence International. You’re co-founder of the Buzz Seminar, and founding organizer of the Wild Goose Festival. It is wonderful to have you here today. When we begin to talk about your book, The Divine Dance, that you wrote with Richard Rohr, how does this even come about? How does one track down Richard Rohr? He seems like an elusive character like Big Foot or something of that nature.
Mike: [laughs] I think there is considerably more sightings of Father Richard than there are of the Yeti. It’s true. One doesn’t normally just ring him up. I got to know Father Richard over the past decade due to some things I was involved in.
Years ago, I worked with Spencer Burke of TheOoze.com which was a clearinghouse for post-modern Christianity conversation back in the day before social media was fully a thing. TheOoze served as a place where people posted articles, had a very rockin’ message board, and we had this semi-annual gathering called Solarize, a learning party. At Solarize, I would actually say, it was one of the early Solarizes, like maybe 2001, where Spencer introduced Richard to a lot of progressive evangelicals.
Spencer is a Thomas Merton in enthusiast. He was into contemplative prayer before it was cool, and he brought Richard into the awareness. I know of me and a lot of other young evangelical leaders as well as folks like Brian McLaren, and so, there was that connection.
We had him out – the last time we had him out was Solarize 2007, which, gosh, that was nearly 10 years ago in the Bahamas. We were suffering for the Lord, and it was this all-star lineup. We had Father Richard. We had Brennan Manning, N.T. Wright, Rita Brock, who just released this amazing church history book at the time called Saving Paradise, Michael Dowd from Thank God for Evolution.
Because the passport laws had just changed at that time, suddenly, people needed a passport to travel to the Bahamas. Not nearly as many people were able to make it out as we had anticipated, so it was an intimate gathering of about 100 people with all of these luminaries. Some of us who organized the event got to have a private, mini retreat with Father Richard afterward where he taught us the enneagram and led us in certain exercises. That was really special.
Then, when I helped start the Wild Goose Festival, we also had him out at the first several of those. He was a big supporter. The Center for Action and Contemplation continues to be a big supporter of the festival.
With that background with him, and also, with a background in publishing, I was approached by my good friend, Don Milan [sp] who is an Acquisitions Editor at Whitaker House, actually, a charismatic publishing house who really wanted to publish him. I knew of a couple of conferences that he did – that Father Richards did nearly a dozen years ago on the Trinity that I thought were interesting and that could make the adaptation to book form. So we talked, and to my delight, he agreed to let me have a crack at them to translate those from spoken form to written form. It ended up being a rather collaborative process with him being more involved in the project than I initially anticipated. We were able to create The Divine Dance.
Stuart: This is a book that I think is really hit a nerve, a good one, in culture because it is selling. Have you been surprised at the book sales so far?
Mike: It’s been really pleasant to see how much it’s resonating with folks for sure.
Stuart: I remember when you first mentioned doing this book, I went on Amazon, and I pre-ordered it.
Mike: Thank you.
Stuart: Well, there’s more, and so with that, I’m waiting and waiting. Other people I know have gotten their books, and I’m like, “What?” So I go on Amazon and they send me a message that, “Oh, they had run out of all the pre-order books.” And I’m like, “Isn’t this why I pre-order things?” No, eventually, yes, I got the book, went through it, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
It’s one of those books that, for the interview, I will read it through fast, but it’s one of those things that I need to go back and let it seep into my soul more as I’m going through this. It’s not simply something that you’re reading through for facts. You’re, also, reading and letting it move you in the process. I’m looking forward to going through it again as I have time to let my soul digest a lot of that.
This book, The Divine Dance, is centered around really re-talking about the Trinity or putting different words to how we talk about the Trinity. I wanted to ask you this, and this is still part of the book, but, ultimately, why does the Trinity matter and what is its relevance to Christians on a day-to-day manner? As you guys have in the book, oftentimes, in a lot of people’s Christian walk, if you were to just pretty much take out any theology that’s involving the Trinity, everything would seem the same in a lot of ways. It shouldn’t, but I think in a lot of people’s lives, it does. Tell me why this matters.
Mike: Sure, I think the short answer to that is that our images to God matter. We become what we behold. I think when we study American civil religion, I think that it kind of gravitates toward two poles, and both of these have a sort of monad God, a sort of Unitarian God.
One of them is this very Zeus type figure, austere into smiting, is going to make a list and check it twice. This is the God of sinners in the hands of an angry God. It’s the God of American Puritanism, and there’s a way which this image of God, very austere, aloof and alone, is alive and well today.
If there is a Zeus god, I think there is also a Dr. Seuss god. A kind of sentimental Santa Claus that also proliferates, maybe even more so today than the Puritan god, the airwaves of self-help, feel-good spirituality where God is equally alone but is kind of our buddy and can help us have our best life now.
What Father Richard and I are seeking to recover is this robust idea of God who is one but is a God who is one in diversity, that there is this unity within diversity. That God is community, a community of equals who is loved and is esteemed and who is love. It’s the energies of love.
One of the things that we took some fire on, I think we’ll be talking about this later in some of the critical reviews, is that we focused more on the relationship between the Trinity, perhaps than having this in-depth, technical exposition of who or what is the Father and who or what is the Son and the Holy Spirit. We’re really emphasizing this dynamic that, I think, is highlighted in scripture in, say, John 17 where Jesus talks about the flow and the relationship between the Father and the Son and asks that this relationship be extended to the believing community, into the friends of God. Indeed, this is like the – this isn’t in John 17 but sort of like a hologram or an avatar of all reality. That there’s this, I’m in you, you’re in me, we’re in each other, they’re within us. There’s this flowing that happens. There’s this cosmic language throughout scripture about all things co-adhering through God in Christ and that God is the all-in-all.
When we are looking at this relationship between things, the inner connectedness between things, where that lands for me on a day-to-day level is that we’re all connected. I’m connected to not only my family and friends, but also my neighbors, and my enemies that we’re all in this together in an image of God who is one and yet, who is community creating a world that is many in manifestation, and yet, is ultimately one. I think that’s precisely the image of God that we need today in our increasingly fragmented and contentious climate especially right now in the United States.
Stuart: I remember growing up in church and folks would always give me little, trite definitions on what the Trinity is. I know that some of our listeners may be from church backgrounds. Many of them aren’t as well. So, to first unpack this, when we’re speaking about the Trinity, is God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in those ways, these little things that never completely made sense to me. I mean you describe it like the shamrock, like you guys mentioned in the book, or even like I’ve heard it’s like thinking of water, or vapor or ice, God in different forms. How would you explain this to a child because we’re both fathers? So how would you explain the Trinity in a succinct way to a child?
Mike: Oh, wow. [laughs] Just starting with the easy questions, I see. Before you added the child-zinger to the end, what I was going to say is that one way that I understand the development of the idea of the Trinity within Christian history is that we start off in the New Testament with people who are, basically, really good Jewish folk, who are really good monotheists. As monotheists, they would recite their most sacred prayers, the Shema. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Like monotheism, there being one god and not polytheism, is a major tenant of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but Christians had a plot twist. The earliest Jesus followers said, “Whoa. There’s something here about Jesus that is clearly divine, that clearly reveals God to us.” Interpreting their idea of the Greek logos, they began to say, “This is actually the word of God coming in the flesh.” So there’s this idea of divinity in Jesus that they’re drawing on, and then, they recognized that Jesus taught that there’s this Holy Spirit of God that leads us into all power, and insight, and understanding and binds us all together. So somehow we believe in one god but we also, recognize that this God is manifest as creator, as Jesus, as Spirit.
You have some text in the New Testament that confusingly enough have all three showing up at the same time like in the baptism where Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. It took several centuries for this to percolate and to work out. It was a community of mystics, mystic theologians, in one of my ancestral homelands, Turkey, in Cappadocia, where these early Cappadocian fathers and mothers began to articulate the idea of Trinity encapsulating this one god who is also a god within relationship within God’s self within community. The word they chose for this was perichoresis where we, also, get the root word of choreography. That it was a circle dance hence the name of the book, The Divine Dance.
Now, when I talk about the Trinity with my nine-year-old daughter who’s really smart, and actually, we’ve had conversations for years because we used to be part of a community in Raleigh that no longer exists called Trinity’s Place. There was always some conversation about the Trinity. I try not to over analogize it because I do think all of those analogies are not only a bit clunky but probably, also heretical in ways that I don’t fully understand, but we talk about that yes, there is this fellowship within God. God shows the beautiful diversity of all — between her and her friends or between us and our family that we have this oneness in love and in relationship and yet, we’re also different people. In the same way, or at least in a similar enough way, that that is what shows up in the heart of God as revealed through the lens of Trinity.
Stuart: That will preach. So with the book, you’re talking about this in terms of the Trinitarian revolution —
Mike: — Yes.
Stuart: — which is really just taking a large paradigm shift from this — and I’ll use some of your guy’s words — like this idea of the omnipotent monarch to the ultimate participate in life. Can you speak a little of this shift in ideology?
Mike: Yes, absolutely. Again, going back to that Zeus archetype, I think that we read that into scripture. There certainly are certain authors or strata within scriptures who, frankly, believe that, hold that view of the Sovereign, but what’s interesting, and I’m actually drawing a little on something I believe Brian McLaren mentioned several years ago, is that even in scripture when there is monarchical language toward God, the image that the writers had in mind was perhaps a Davidic king or an Israelite king, who was essentially was an exalted tribal chieftain. He had power but he was not absolute. When you get to the absolute monarchs like Louis of France and others later, they have even massively more power than kings in biblical days.
Then, when you get to the mechanized world view starting in the 19th century where things are increasing becoming more efficient and mechanized with the Industrial Revolution and you get the – oh, what is it called? I forget if it’s called the Rational Work Movement when people start breaking down labor into how many minutes can be saved, and they try to micromanage what people are doing in factories to this point in time wherein an Amazon factory, you have 45 seconds for a bathroom break or whatever. They time everything out. I feel like if you trace theology through this period, God becomes more and more, that becomes more and more this micromanager, this mechanized overlord who knows all, and sees all and can snuff you out at the drop of the hat. It’s kind of like the combination of the most absolute king plus an overseer on the factory floor. That is 180 degree opposite of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
I think that Jesus does use language of kingdom and of God, for that matter, but he uses it in very subversive ways and says that, “I do nothing say what I see my Father doing.” Then, he tells us to do things like love our enemies and be kind to those who persecute us. That upends traditional, even for his day, images of fathers and kings and represents the vulnerability of God, a god who will turn the other cheek. What we’re saying is that this is the god who is exemplified in Trinity. That Trinity shows absolute deference toward one another, absolute submission and humility, but mutual submission to one another.
I just recently posted on my blog a remix of 1 Corinthians 13 and if we believe that God is love, then, probably, what can be said about love in this famous passage that’s read at weddings from Paul, can be said about God. I’ll just read it to you really quick.
“God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy. God does not boast. God is not proud. God is not rude. God is not self-seeking. God is not easily angered. God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.”
To us, that is what is exemplified in the life of Trinity.
Stuart: You were speaking to – and I know that it’s a really interesting thing when we begin to talk about the Bible, and context and different periods of history, and so speaking to language, can you talk a little about the problematic areas when we begin to only focus on male pronouns when we speak of the Trinity?
Mike: For sure, yes. This has been well trod by feminist theologians and other voices way more articulate than I, but as one feminist theologian famously quipped, “When God becomes male, then male is God.” Frankly, when we go back to these images and the effects that they have on us when we’re thinking of God in exclusively male terms, there’s — it’s just very limiting in our imagination and our repertoire.
If you ask anyone is God literally biologically male, everyone, or at least hopefully most everyone, will say, “No, not really.” Then, when you start to use feminine language for God in public prayers or worship, people freak out. I think that when we see God, Trinitarian or otherwise, in exclusively male terms, we’re limiting a lot of access to our share of humanity and to vital insights to the character and nature of God.
If in Genesis it says that God created us in God’s image, male and female, then there ought to be some profound theological reflection on what that means. There are, in fact, biblical images for God that are feminine, not the least of which is Ruah, one of the Hebrew words for the Spirit of God, which is the feminine word for God, a presence that gives life, breath, wind, inspiration.
That’s one of the reasons why my friend, Paul Young, when he wrote The Shack nearly a decade ago depicted the Holy Spirit as Sarayu, as an Asian woman, showing this element of breath and feminine energy. I think that’s it’s valuable to look at the feminine dimensions of all three persons of Trinity if we wish, and it is about the dynamism of relationality. In a lot of ways, relationality, at least stereotypically in our culture, is a more feminine domain. I think we cut ourselves off from a whole lot when we neglect that.
Stuart: Throughout the book, it seems that you and Richard are pulling from a lot of the traditions of Christian mystics, and I just really wanted to know what is the deal with you trying to go and mainstream the mystics? Aren’t they kind of like the spiritual hipsters of the Christian tradition that we have here?
Mike: [laughs] It’s true if they become too cool, then there’s just no point in reading them anymore.
Stuart: I know. Yeah. You’re kind of outing them in a way that I may have not wanted to. [laughs] No, but on that — but I do love the fact that you are bringing me in that whole — it’s kind of a chorus of voices that aren’t always heard, I think, in American Christian type circles. Speak to the importance of the voices of the mystics especially in regards to experiencing the Trinity.
Mike: Absolutely. It was important to both Father Richard and I that what we’re saying is grounded in this living tradition, this living lineage, that we’re not just making stuff up. It would be easy to say, “Oh, God is a dance. God is a flow.” That’s just hipster or hippy language. You must be a southern California hippy. In fact, when you look at the mystics from Meister Eckhart, John of Ruysbroeck, to just so many voices. They attest to this experience of Trinity and of divine dance. Because they are more tied in to this felt-sense dimension of spirituality, we felt like we should let them speak for themselves and illuminate what it is that we’re talking about.
Stuart: When we begin to speak of experiencing God — I always love it when I’m reading books that someone else articulates something that I’ve kind of been thinking about, but they put it in a very succinct manner or a much more eloquent manner than what is bouncing around in my head at the time. So in the book, you guys talk about really how the institutional church has framed the knowledge of God kind of in a second-hand manner in how we pass it on to others. For us to know about God, we have to go listen to a different expert like a clergy, pastor, all those. When we begin to do that, we kind of distance ourselves from really being able to experience God on our own. What should be our posture — what should be our approach towards experiencing God?
Mike: Absolutely. I’ve never been a Methodist, but I really do like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral because I do think it’s absolutely true that oftentimes we have a secondhand faith, a secondhand spirituality. We do pawn our own life and experiences off on others. I do think there’s an opposite extreme, though, where we make our own particular pursuit of our own particular experience king. I think, sometimes, that I see this in a pay-to-play, consumeristic, New Age spirituality, for instance, where it’s all about cultivating your own inner experience isolated from all else. Putting on my postmodern glasses for a minute, I don’t think there is such thing as an unmediated experience. I think every experience we have is mediated through the lens of language and culture et cetera, et cetera.
I like the idea of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that it says that our authority is located in — let’s see, is it reason, experience, the — oh gosh.
Mike: Yes, scripture.
Stuart: There’s one more in the quad.
Mike: Yes, there is one more in the quad. I’m going to look it up right here. You can either edit it or just make me look ignorant. I don’t care. [laughs] Yes, let’s see.
Stuart: It’s experience. It’s reason. It’s scripture and tradition. That’s what it is.
Mike: Yes. Yeah, tradition, reason, experience and scripture. Experience is in there, and some of the denominations that I grew up in absolutely invalidated experience and said, “No, we have to go by scripture, and the creeds and there’s nothing else.” I think that when you have those four in a dynamic tension with each other, that’s where the real juice happens.
In The Divine Dance, we attempt to invoke tradition, and reason, and scripture and through those, lead one into one’s own experience. That’s why we spent so much time in the back of the book with exercises that people can do alone and in groups where they can have their own experience of God as community within their human community.
Stuart: When you begin to look at, especially — I mean it’s easy for us to — well, I spend half the time on the show bashing American Christianity, and it’s an easy target in many ways, but for us to be able to do this in a non-snarky manner, what — when you begin to look at this, and especially because as I was — this was dredging up some stuff in the back of my head when I was going through this book. What shift, do you think, does the church need in the western church? What shift does it need to really return more to our roots?
Mike: Mmm. Just that question? [laughs] Well, I think a lot of folks are doing some soul searching right now especially in the wake of the most recent election where we have this phenomenon where roughly, give or take, half of American is rejoicing, and half of us are mourning and grieving and asking ourselves, “How did we get here?” The fact that half of Americans that helped elect President-elect Trump are proud Evangelical Christians, proud conservative Christians, is, to me, very sobering and needs to be looked.
I am rereading Charles Marsh’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer right now and looking at the resistance that Bonhoeffer and the confessing church had to Hitler in his rise to power in the dwindling days of the Weimar Republic before Hitler was Hitler with a capital h. He was like, “Oh, there’s this dude, and he has some extreme rhetoric but, you know, he’s probably not going really enact all that extreme rhetoric, and he’s good for Christianity. He’s going to make Germany great again.”
Mike: I think that Bonhoeffer, when he was exploring religionless Christianity, underground seminary, the discipline of the secret, meaning to not gaudily proclaim faith but to simply live it. If people ask about what you’re doing, you can kind of let them know, but almost returning to this idea of almost like an underground church meeting in catacombs.
I think that — my prediction is that we will see a resurgence of ideas around New Monasticism that, when you think about it, they were — New Monasticism, as advanced by folks like Shane Claiborne, Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove and others, was really huge in the George W. Bush years when there was what felt like an easy target to resist and kind of dwindled during the Obama years. It was sort of like, “Well, whatever. Things are getting incrementally better and maybe we don’t need to live our lives like acts of resistance anymore.” Whether that was right or wrong, I think what’s happening now with the incoming Trump administration is that a lot of serious friends of God in the way of Jesus are saying, “What in the world is happening here?” I think — to circle back to a more succinct answer to your question — I think we are going to need to really discern as faith communities the inner life and the outer witness that we want to have, and I think that there are some amazing resources available today, amazing people who are pioneering different ways of living out faith community that doesn’t always look like the Sunday morning gathering, and there are people who are doing “Sunday morning gathering” in inspiring ways.
I think of folks like Sara Miles and Paul Fromberg with St. Gregory of Nyssa out in San Francisco and, also, Mark and Lisa Scandrette out in San Francisco who are doing some amazing work with faith and praxis, and I was interviewing Cynthia Bourgeault last week myself for a radio show that I’m participating in with presence called the Convergence Network and it’s an interfaith radio show looking at the future of spirituality. Cynthia is, also, one of my heroes right alongside Father Richard who’s been a distance mentor to me. I was asking her a similar kind of question, and to my surprise, she said she felt like what churches needed to do was to strengthen their exoteric form, their external form, to be more accessible and more compelling. She’s like, “Get the basis of theology in ways that are more interesting and have a better public witness and that, yes, that will be the onramp to lead people to the contemplative journey or the inward journey.” She was actually talking about thinking about intelligently strengthening the outward forms. I do think it’s a, pardon the pun, a dance between what are those external forms that will really serve our communities and people who haven’t previously, in recent years, felt the need for spiritual solidarity community, but probably will with this cultural shift.
Then, what is the intelligent inward journey to take where we have a transformation of the heart and a transformation of consciousness? I think that folks like Father Richards, and Cynthia, and Jim Finley with the CAC Living School are doing a fantastic job looking at that inward and helping bring a lot of people along on it.
Stuart: When you mention in this context and I think it actually ties pretty nicely back into the book, you’re talking about change, and transformation and what’s needed. I know that one of the themes that you had in the book that’s essential to the Trinity is this idea of vulnerability —
Mike: — Yes.
Stuart: — is being able to step into this spot of vulnerability. Can you just briefly just talk about this vulnerability that’s at the core of the Trinity, and also, how that should, hopefully, change our posture in how we walk things out spiritually in the world we find ourselves in today?
Mike: Absolutely. I think that when we look at our sacred narratives, when we have a Spirit that’s hovering over the face of the deep, when we have a God that is biologically engaged with the archetypal couple in the garden, when we have a God who would rather than smiting enemies, literally, turns the other cheek and gives up the ghost in a state-sponsored execution, we have this God who is making God’s self vulnerable to us. This is not a god who stands like a distant watchmaker aloof from creation, but a god who dares to enter into the very real pain and suffering.
I think that oftentimes from a philosophical lens, theists of all stripes are left on the defensive when it comes to theodicy, the problem of evil, where is God, when it hurts, and we’re left holding the bag kind of like, “Well, why doesn’t God intervene, in these sort of dramatic ways, more often?” That’s a really complex question, but I feel like we’re all still trying to hold to this Zeus type being when, actually, our own source narratives says that, “Well, we don’t always see God intervening in these miraculous ways, but we do see God coming to be with us in the midst of the pain and the midst of the joy.”
Anarchist founder, Emma Goldman, said, “I don’t want to be a part of any revolution that doesn’t have dancing.” I think that’s the other aspect of vulnerability. Sometimes, I think it’s a little easier in our culture, at least in my context, to be vulnerable with pain, but sometimes, being vulnerable with joy can be even trickier. It’s sort of like do we have the phenomenon of the humble brag? People get so critical when someone expresses success they’ve experienced or something that they’re really happy about because we don’t want to be a bummer to our friends who might not be experiencing that level of joy. I think creating containers that are safe and generative for vulnerable experiences of both pain and joy are crucial for community formation.
Stuart: Up until this point in the interview, this has been us talking about how wonderful the book is, me throwing bouquets at you, but not everyone is having it. Not everyone is drinking from the cup and saying, “Yum, yum.” When you begin —
Mike: — That’s true. [laughs]
Stuart: There are some. There’s some out there. My first question, as I lead into this, is why do you think the Calvinist are such an angry, grumpy lot? [laughs] What we tend to do is that when we’re talking about this divine dance, it almost has this metaphor of a party. I feel like when you invite the Calvinist to the party, they’re that guy that doesn’t drink and just sits there quietly and judges everybody else at the party that you start to say, “Hey, what’s up,” or even for a family metaphor, they’re like kind of that obnoxious uncle that is racists and political, that loves to rant at you at Thanksgiving. That you’re like, “Yeah, you’re in the family, but overall, geez, you really make Thanksgiving uncomfortable.” So these guys, we have the Calvinist coming out because that’s what they do. They love to throw people out of the ship, out of the party. Sometimes, I feel that the only way that I can identify a Calvinist is from this stem of the TULIP sticking out of their asses.
Mike: [laughs] Oh, my.
Stuart: I said it, not you, so I can get in trouble for that. No, but what you had happening when this book came out, a bunch of folks are really loving on it, and then, you get the Gospel Coalition which they love to do that. Piper and that whole bunch, who also — which, actually, you should say that you’re probably in good company because Piper was the one who said farewell to Rob Bell in the process. So they come to this whole process and they’re kind of like [makes growling sound] and not happy with it because they are the party poopers of Christianity. What do you think? What are they missing? Maybe that’s my main question. What are they missing about this book?
Mike: [laughs] Sure. Well, before I respond to your direct question, I want to hashtag this: “Not All Calvinist”. I mean this sincerely. Some of my best friends are Calvinists. Last night, I was actually having a wee-hours chat with a friend of mine who has been Reformed his whole life, Conservative Reformed. He’s serving as a missionary overseas, and he reached out to let me know that he thought the Gospel Coalition review was terrible. He’s like, “Even if I might, at the end of the day, agree with some of those critiques — I don’t know. I haven’t read your book yet. — but I just want you to know that it was over the top, divisive and not cool.” I’ve had several Reformed friends reach out to me and say that. I think it’s the unfortunate situation where sometimes the loudest voices aren’t necessarily representative of the whole.
At the same time, I think sometimes stereotypes exist because there is a kernel of truth to them. I did spend several years in a PCA context, Conservative Presbyterian context, and I was introduced to cynicism, theological cynicism and negativity, for the first time when I entered into the PCA world as a teenager. Before that, I was probably in the opposite extreme. I was Assemblies of God, happy, clappy. We were all so enthusiastic, the enneagram Sevens of Christianity. So maybe, I needed a little dose of that snark.
I do think that the ways in which it is weaponized by the Reformed community, at least a lot of its loudest voices, is problematic. I think its primary reasons is that it has a cognitive bias, so it’s biased towards the right way of stating things whatever right means in this context, is the way that, in some ways, like theology is doxology, which, I think, probably everyone believes that what we believe about God is, in a way, a form of worship. For them, it’s almost like the words spoken are the primary mediator of worship and worth. So if you get the words “wrong,” it’s like a dire error. It’s like life is on the line, which I don’t fully understand given that they’re also bent towards predestination. What harm does it do? If my book is just encouraging the reprobate to be more reprobate, aren’t I doing the Lord’s work as the piece of clay that’s being thrown away by the potter? I don’t know.
I think that at the end of the day, I’ve summarized it a little bit. I’m actually just going to read it. I wrote a response to the Gospel Coalition review, which is also worth noting that it’s not, itself, written by a Calvinist, oddly enough. I’ve actually reached out a little bit to Fred Sanders who wrote the review. He’s a Wesleyan Armenian dude. I guess the Gospel Coalition is not an exclusive a club as I thought it was. I guess the enemy of their enemy is their friend.
I think that at the end of the day the difference is in the approach. The reason why it has struck this nerve with certain reviewers is — I’m sorry. — I think that it makes total sense that a cognitive- based, hierarchical, substance-oriented Calvinist approach to Trinity would be at odds with an apophatic, social and process-oriented, and Franciscan approach. I’ll break that down. This sort of cognitive, hierarchical approach, a lot of Calvinist would say that their favored theological lens for the Trinity is the monarchial Trinity, emphasizes the Father’s on top, the Son is subservient to the Father, the Spirit is subservient to the Son. It makes the Trinity about hierarchy. I don’t usually throw this word around much, but I actually think that that view might be heretical.
In fact, there was a big hubbub this past summer when Wayne Grudem, who also famously endorsed Trump and then, did it about-faced, and then, did it about-faced again, said, “Hey, hierarchical Trinity is where it’s at and our complementarian view of male supremacy is rooted in the hierarchical Trinity.” There were moderate Evangelicals who said, “No, actually, that is not in the creeds. It’s not in the Trinitarian theology. That is, actually, a heretical view.” I think that within Calvinist you do have folks who are in to that top-down model. They’re very much into the roles that each person plays in the Trinity. So they’ve got — it’s almost like pinning a butterfly to a board. They can examine, apparently, what the Father does and how that’s different from what the Son does, and how that’s distinct from what the Spirit does. Everything has to be neatly in an order and subordinated.
I’m not Roman Catholic, but Father Richard is, and we’re both drawing on this contemplative tradition. It’s very Catholic and Orthodox in a lot of its manifestation. There’s a more what’s known as an apophatic approach which says that — or negative theology — which says that God is so vast and unnamable that whatever we say about God is inherently limited and even, in some sense, wrong. That there’s a lot that transcends category, and so in some ways, the less said the better. So we draw on the apophatic lineage of mysticism.
We also draw on the social Trinity. The social Trinity emphasizes, what I believe is the biblical emphasis of the equality of the members of the Trinity, the mutuality of the members of the Trinity, the vulnerability. We’re process-oriented. I don’t know if the book would capital “P” process theology, but this idea of a relational God who makes Godself vulnerable to creation who is, perhaps, an outsized player in the dance of reality, but is, also, including the creatures in cosmos within this play who can all genuinely influence each other and a Franciscan approach. The Franciscan approach which emphasizes incarnation more than crucifixion that emphasizes the presences of God in all things especially in nature and the natural world. There’s this culture clash that is inherently happening when we’re writing this book from this perspective. When folks that are in a very different context look at it, it’s like speaking two different languages, like oil and water.
Stuart: What ends up happening too is folks in that arena of thinking, I guess you could say, tend to prefer — anyone can pull apart this statement — a small controllable God, a God that we kind of know everything we know, how big, how small, how wide versus this idea of this broad unknowable mystery perspective God.
Stuart: It’s that knowing versus being comfortable with mystery, as well, too. I think mystery can make a lot of folks uncomfortable —
Mike: — Indeed.
Stuart: — because you can’t pin it down and you can’t quantify it. I would also just go as far to say that if we had a God that we already know absolutely everything about, it would be a small God in the midst of that. I’ll move on from this but I will note that when you were using some terminology to describe some of these folks in their mindset, I was hearing that — are you telling me — actually, don’t answer this because it’s absolutely stupid and rhetorical, but you were using words like dom and sub and roll playing to describe the whole Calvinist outlook on everything like that. I said that, not Mike. So if anyone wants to get mad at me for all the comments that I’ve vaulted over at our Calvinist brothers and sisters, take it out on me, not him. Most of this is spoken in grand hyperbole, also.
Stuart: So moving on from that —
Mike: — No comment there. [laughs] I will say that my Calvinist friends would probably say that you have it precisely backwards. That we are the ones with the small god because we have conformed God to a cultural image of inclusion that ignores the rough edges of a god that absolutely has the right to judge humanity along the lines that happen to agree with the ways in which the Calvinist like to judge humanity.
I would say that the scripture that’s often invoked in these sorts of debates or articulations about God is “My ways are higher than your ways,” says God. The original context of that is actually God pardoning, forgiving and reconciling, that the higher ways of God that are actually mind-blowing are ways in which God is more kind and generous than we are.
As Father Richard and I say in the book is our idea of mystery is not that God is unknowable, but God is infinitely knowable. There’s always more to learn. The reason I ultimately left reformed theology is because I felt like I, basically, knew the broad outlines of it by the time I started college. I knew that I could spend a lifetime mining the particularities of that system, but it was a closed system. It stifled curiosity and it stifled empathy and open-heartedness, and I just couldn’t survive there.
Stuart: Well put and way more eloquent than the word I was going for in the midst of this. I appreciate this. So we’re going to hit a lightning round, not really that lightning.
So applying this Trinitarian Revolution, how does all of this speak to — and I’ll give you different topics and you can 30 seconds or so on this — Trinity and racism.
Mike: Trinity and racism. Again, the idea of unity within diversity. I think that some early attempts to mitigate racism came from well-meaning white folks who said I don’t see color. One, that is factually untrue, and two, even if it could be done, that’s an eraser of identity that is actually another form of racism or violence to say, “I don’t see this other culture, this other color, this other hue and way of being.” Trinity is a beautiful way of saying in the classical formulation the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and yet, there is this unity. So we do have shared humanity, common humanity, and there are distinctions. There are differences. Those differences are beautiful, and that is what Trinity shows us.
Stuart: Okay, from racism, now politics.
Mike: Politics. Again, “everything belongs”, to steal a phrase from Father Richard. We talked in the book about the Law of Three, and I’ll just do a really quick and dirty version right here, and it will be longer than 30 seconds. I apologize.
In Hegelian dialectics, which tend to be the underpinnings of our dualistic conscience in the West. We see everything in this zero-sum game opposition. We have this thesis that comes out. We have an antithesis that opposes it with all its might, and the best we can hope for is some kind of compromise or synthesis. Well, there’s a different metaphysic, a ternary metaphysic, that’s not based on dualism. That’s known as the Law of Three.
The Law of Three comes from another Turkish teacher, a Turkish-Russian teacher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who is also known for popularizing the enneagram. Gurdjieff is saying that there’s this Law of Three that says there is a holy affirming force, a holy denying force and a holy reconciling force. This is different from the Hegelian dialectic because holy affirming can be advancing something. It’s a value-neutral term. We could say that Trump is in the holy affirming position advancing his vision to make American great again. Then, we have a holy denying that is the activist community, the progressive community, the sane human community that says, “What the heck. We’re not going to stand for this. We are going to oppose it.” Now, in a Hegelian system, that’s all there is, and maybe, they would work out some kind of bloody compromise, but in a Law of Three, there’s also a holy reconciling force, a novel force that springs up, something that no one can anticipate, that shows a third-way thinking where there wasn’t previously a way to imagine a path out. We’re still waiting on it in this case.
Unfortunately, I cannot debut to you right now what the holy reconciling force is in our current political climate. What’s important to note is that this third force does not actually take sides, it actually, in some ways, maybe invalidates the best in these other opposing forces. For instances, there are a lot of poor, working-class, white folk who had good reasons to want to change, and therefore, decided, for whatever reason, to elect Trump. So this third force says that everything belongs. There’s a creative way out of this. We’re all in this together. No one is ultimately irredeemable or demonizable. We spend a little more time on the Law of Three in the book. If you really want a master class in it, I recommend checking out Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three.
Stuart: What about — let’s hit the environment through the lens of Trinity.
Mike: The environment through the lens of Trinity. Well, if we look at Trinity as creator, redeemer, and sustainer of life. If we see this inherently pantheistic view of Trinity as a God who transcends but includes all of creation and all of reality, then, when we disrespect the Earth, we’re not only disrespecting our planet, we’re disrespecting a vital aspect of the body of God. We’re harming ourselves in a very real way.
I love how certain ecological theologians like Brian Swimme and Bruce Sanguin put it. They say even from a physical science’s perspective, a current model of the universe, what the so-called “Big Bang,” everything emerges from a singularity. There’s this one point of reality or matter that contains all there is and then, it expands outward in every direction. At what point does it cease to become one? It is still one thing in this dizzying, diversity of manifestation. To me, that is also Trinity, one god in this diversity of manifestation. When we recognize that, of course, a triune god would create a triune universe, so to speak. Then, how we take care of our world, suddenly becomes more personal.
Stuart: I have one last question for you that has nothing — well, it has to do with the book, but not really at all. I like to throw in these random questions that you may not have an answer for, but I want you to give a stab at this one. So you mentioned earlier that William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, wrote the forward for the book. I’ve seen the trailer. There’s a Shack movie coming out, not Shaq, not Shaquille O’Neal new movie. This isn’t Kazaam 2. This is the movie based on the book, The Shack. When we begin to look at this, one, can you name a decent Christian film?
Mike: [laughs] Oh, man. I feel like the answer to that is yes. There’s this go-to movie where I’m like, “Wow, this is a surprisingly good Christian film.” It’s not Fireproof.
Stuart: [laughs] What?!
Mike: [laughs] Well, the answer right now is no I can’t because I’m not referring to the thing I was thinking of.
Stuart: I think most movies that end up hinting at aspects of faith, and Christianity and spirituality, do so very well, but they often do it by accident. I think the intentional ones that you label a Christian film, end up being a steaming pile of stuff.
Mike: Yes, that’s true.
Stuart: Do you have hope — again, this is not an endorsement. This is no knock against William Young. Do you have any hope for a movie, The Shack movie that is coming out?
Mike: Yes, I do have hope. I haven’t seen the film yet, obviously, but I think that no one was more potentially skeptical about the possibility of a Shack movie being horrible than Paul. My understanding from chatting with him is that he’s been really happy with how Lion’s Gate has taken the movie and the direction that it’s taken it in. My hope is that it will be a beautiful translation of the book for even more people to engage in. That’s said, there are many different artistic modes of interpreting a book. I think that a movie is only one of those. It will be interesting to see, as the years go on, if there are other interpretations of the book as well.
Stuart: Well, Mike, thank you so much for being on the show. The book is The Divine Dance with Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, and I want to end all this with how you guys ended the book. I don’t think this is anything that’s a spoiler. When you’re talking about really just the shift of how we embrace the Trinity you said, “As we embrace that, suddenly this is a very safe universe and you have nothing to be afraid of. God is for you. God is leaping towards you. God is on your side honestly more than you are on your own.”
Mike, thank you for your time. For those out there, if they want to find out more information — I know the book is on Amazon. It’s in book retailers everywhere. If people want to track you down in the Internetlandtopia out there, how can they find you?
Mike: Yes, absolutely. First of all, if you want a one-stop shop for the book, thedivinedance.org is a beautiful site that was designed for the book. It has a lot of background information. If you want to look me up specifically, I would love it if you visited me on my blog at mikemorrell.org, not .com or .net. Those are an insurance agent and a republican state lawmaker respectively. I don’t think the CIA Mike Morrell has his own website.
Stuart: It’s probably better that he doesn’t.
Mike: Yes, yes, but if you go to mikemorrell.org, and, in fact, I’ve created a very personal bonus chapter of The Divine Dance that I’m giving away on my blog. It’s where I tell more of my own story about this profound Trinitarian experience that I had several years ago that inspired me to collaborate on this book with Father Richard. If you go to mikemorrell.org/bonuschapter, you can download that chapter in its entirety. There’s exclusive material. There’s also some exclusive exercises in the bonus chapter that are not in the regular book.
Stuart: Well, Mike, thank you so much. Thanks so much for all the work I know you did with this book. Thank you for your time today. It was a pleasure to have you, and hopefully, we’ll have you back on sometime soon.
Mike: I’d love to Stuart. Thank you for having me.
Stuart: Alright. Thanks so much.
[End Audio Clip]
Stuart: Well, that’s it for the show this week. Just a reminder as we end this broadcast, you can always catch us on podcast at www.snarkyfaith.com. You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook. That’s all I got. So see you again next week. Later.
As 2016 moves towards it’s end, we’re giving you the best of Snarky Faith this past year in a rewind episode…
A rundown of the pitfalls of reading the Bible literally. One-third of Americans, literally, take everything the Bible says at face value. The common phrase, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” only leads to bad scholarship and a warped worldview. Join us as we literally delve into the practice, consequences, and pitfalls of biblical literalism.
You should literally tune in to find out more…
[showhide type=”pressrelease” more_text=”Click for Full Show Transcript” less_text=”Hide Show Transcript” hidden=”yes”]
Title: The Bible “Literally”
Program: Snarky Faith Radio | www.snarkyfaith.com
Host: Stuart Delony
Stuart: Well, good afternoon, and welcome to another round of Snarky Faith Radio. I’m your host, Stuart Delony. Joining me, as always, my trusty co-host, Ben Triplett. Ben, we were just pre-show talking about this. I know that you are in the space where you have your — you’re going to sit for your boards soon. I think everybody always has those ways to let off steam and be brainless.
Benjamin Triplett (Ben): Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s 75% of my day, unfortunately.
Stuart: [laughs] So what is your go-to for just — yeah, what is your release valve? What is your brainless go-to?
Ben: It used to be video games before the Internet. Now, it’s just the Internet. Yeah, it’s such a hard habit to break because it really is — it’s so easy. It’s so brainless just going on and watching YouTube videos of cover songs of my favorite bands and stuff like that.
Stuart: Oh, it is, but it’s made to be this huge black hole. With that, I don’t know if these are guilty pleasures or if they are just brainless activities that we did. It was a week or two ago, I saw this in the news — you’re familiar with show Catfish.
Ben: Yes. It was a movie first.
Stuart: It was a movie. It was a documentary, and then, they rolled it into a TV show —
Stuart: — where, essentially, the whole idea behind it is, you have people that are romantically linked online but have not met each other. They go and try to connect these people. Most of the time, there is lying, or misrepresentation, or all sorts of other stuff happening. It’s really funny because my wife is unpredictable based upon what she likes to watch. This would not have been something I chose, but it hit the news because they had an episode where there was a guy that was convinced that he had been dating Katy Perry for six years.
Ben: Wow. She didn’t mention him in the news or anything?
Stuart: Apparently not, but watching that — and that’s now, apparently, become our go-to when we don’t want to think because it’s kind of like Jerry Springer.
Stuart: It’s not typically high-brow folks that — I don’t know. For any kind of ruse like that to exist for as long as some of these have gone on for, I feel like there has to be a bit of brainlessness on — which is probably why I feel brainless when I watch it. It’s really crazy because you watch these things and you go, “Duh. How do these people not know this thing was going on?” I know this is not anything new, this idea of catfish. I think we’re in Season 5.
Ben: This might just be for younger people. I know that there’s impaired judgment and the frontal lobe is not working until a certain age. It doesn’t hit its peak performance —
Stuart: — Most of these are adults, though. These aren’t 12-year-olds.
Ben: Well, still. The amygdala, when emotion gets involved, it can cloud that judgment in your brain. We’ve talked about memory in past shows, and I think that also influences memory. I think there’s some emotions tied up. I’m not a Freudian, so I don’t think that sex and emotion are at the bottom of every single thing in our lives, but I do think that emotion can impair people’s judgment. I lived in that for a while, not with Kelley, but just being younger. You tend to revise things until they make sense to you. It’s cognitive dissonance where two things that don’t make sense and then, all of a sudden you’re trying to piece and patch things together until they do make sense because emotionally you can’t handle it not making sense.
Stuart: You just literally set this up better than I think you thought. So are you describing something much like biblical literalism?
Ben: Yeah. I think that’s —
Stuart: — Sorry, if I can just get it out of my mouth. Yes, biblical literalism.
Ben: It’s interesting at UNC, there’s a professor who is the rock star of the Religious Studies Department. He’s been on a lot of Discovery Channel shows. He publishes a book like every year about — that’s basically saying the same thing in a slightly different way — about how Christians tend to do revisionist history on the Bible and gloss over all these historical things that he is borrowing from historical studies of the New Testament and the Old Testament. That’s not a new thing. That’s hundreds of years old. Bart Ehrman will in his Intro to New Testament class — I think he’s savors having evangelical Christians or conservative Christians come in with this view that you read the Bible literally, and then, he loves to just pick it apart because it’s like sitting targets for some of this stuff.
Stuart: This sounds like the plot to God’s Not Dead.
Ben: Actually, yes. There is a resonance there.
Stuart: Which is funny that I can say that and I have not watched the movie. [laughs]
Ben: Right, but we all kind of know what it’s about.
Stuart: I think that’s it. I think that in any typical Christian movie, you’re seen the entire movie during the preview.
Ben: Yeah. Isn’t it based on the apocryphal story of the professor —
Stuart: [laughs] — I like that how it’s apocryphal. Yes, you’re right. Yes.
Ben: — who has that piece of chalk up on the board and it says something about God breaking the chalk if He exists, and not breaking it, if it falls to the floor.
Stuart: It’s one of those stories that has morphed and changed, but was back in the day when everybody would do forwards —
Ben: — Right. Right.
Stuart: — which is essentially what social media is now, which is the new way to forward stuff. It’s taken on different forms, but it always has this — and I love when people post this like it’s a true story.
Ben: Well, now, you superimpose it over a picture of Abraham Lincoln or something like that, and say, “Lincoln said this, so it’s true.” Right? Probably not with this story, but…
Stuart: I believe it was actually Kevin Sorbo who was in that movie.
Ben: Yeah. If Kevin Sorbo — if Hercules said it, it’s got to be true.
Stuart: Sure. Well, it would if it was Xena.
Ben: That’s true.
Stuart: I think Lucy Lawless has more range than Kevin Sorbo.
Ben: She’s a huge comic book fan. So…
Stuart: Is she really?
Ben: I think so. Yeah.
Stuart: Well, to some degree, I think that after all the things she’s been in over her career, she can pretty much go to any comic book trade show she wants to.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Stuart: I’m trying to think of all the sci-fi —
Ben: They would throw out a red carpet for her.
Stuart: Oh, what is it? You’ve got Xena, which is what it is. She was in Battlestar Galactica and other things that I can’t think of.
Ben: That’s enough for anyone.
Stuart: That’s true.
Ben: Then, she pops up in different things like with Kevin Smith and just tapping into that community.
Stuart: Did you watch Battlestar Galactica? We were talking about this before the show, different stuff that we’ve watched recently.
Ben: I’m so ashamed. My friends have told me that you have to it because, apparently, there’s this running philosophical dialogue throughout that they —
Stuart: — It’s about faith and belief, a lot of it.
Ben: They all feel that I would really glean a lot. I just haven’t — I mean, I don’t know if it’s on Netflix now, but it disappeared from Netflix. I’m too lazy to seek it out anywhere else.
Stuart: It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, but I remember there’s a lot of controversy behind the last episode, how they decided to end it.
Ben: Are we going to do a whole episode on Battlestar Galactica? Oh, there would be spoilers.
Stuart: I would have to revisit — well, I think once it’s been off the air for that many years…
Ben: It’s your own fault.
Stuart: Is there an expiration date to spoilers?
Ben: So if I said —
Stuart: If the movie’s been out long enough and you’re having a casual conversation and someone says, “Oh my gosh, you just spoiled this.”
Ben: Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker.
Stuart: Yes. Luke’s dad.
Ben: Would I get in trouble?
Stuart: Yes, any of those to where it’s like, “Oh my gosh. You’ve just ruined this.” No, you’ve had 20 years or actually, you’ve had almost 40 years to watch.
Ben: It’s not my fault.
Stuart: Yeah. I don’t know. What do you think the gauge is for that? I understand for new stuff that’s coming out, I’ll have to run around and tell people not to tell me stuff when they’re talking about it.
Ben: Mm-hmm. I think it depends upon how big a cultural phenomenon it is. If it’s The Matrix, or Star Wars, or something like that, then, maybe you have less of a time frame because you really should have seen it. People are talking about it. If it’s something like a cult movie like Donnie Darko or something less people might have seen then, maybe give it a little bit more time.
Stuart: So Donnie Darko, is it worth it? It was one of those movies when I was back in college I remember I heard — see, we had this conversation, but it comes up again between you and I, the thing that happens when people tell you that something’s amazing, and then, I just don’t want to watch it.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I don’t do a very good job of it, but I should. The new Radiohead album, I was gushing about it the first couple of days. One of my friends — I compared it to one of their better albums, and I think he still likes it but he was like, “Eh, it’s not really at that level for me.” Things have to grow on him.
Ben: I totally get it. You really don’t want to set expectations too high for things because, really, sometimes it takes a while. If it doesn’t really wow you at first, then, you’re not going to really give it another chance. That’s a movie that you can see a couple of times and really pick out different things throughout the movie.
Stuart: Which one? Are you saying Donnie Darko?
Ben:Donnie Darko. Yeah. I had no idea. We watched it when it first came out, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. It’s the same thing with The Matrix and Inception I didn’t know it was going to be — I mean, Inception might be a little bit different because it was from a well-known at that point. He had made The Dark Knight at that point. Now, it’s interesting. Garden State is another one that I saw when it came out because it just happened to be on Franklin Street, and a couple of our friends are like, “Yeah. This looks good. We’ll go see it.” It kind of holds a special place because I was there at the time, but I can see how people — there have been so many Garden States made after that.
Stuart: Oh, yeah.
Ben: It’s just ad nauseam, and people, probably, are sick of it at this point, and don’t really appreciate it anymore.
Stuart: It’s interesting that once something becomes a little bit of a cultural shifter, you end up almost having — any time something is a commercial success, people are going to try to find ways to replicate it. It ends up becoming a Hollywood industry Mad Lib. You know what I mean? They come up with that after that movie does well, so insert indie song here that is emotional. It’s almost like there’s a formula that they have to follow.
Ben: How you see the video and I’m not going to be able to replicate the entire thing, but the Christian music? I don’t know if I sent that to you or not, but there’s a parody video —
Stuart: — Yep, where they’re talking about — yeah, yeah.
Ben: — of two executives that are saying, “Just talk about water in your song, and you have to mention these vague, ambiguous phrases in every one of your songs.”
Stuart: And it will be a hit. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah. It was pretty awesome. I was appreciative.
Stuart: It is, but it still doesn’t stop the Hillsongs.
Stuart: It’s funny. You can make fun of it and point this out, but it’s actually true.
Stuart: I know they’re doing this as a satire, but it’s one of those things that, actually, if you want to be popular and you want to sell a bunch of — what do we call it? Records? I don’t even know. This makes me feel old.
Stuart: Yeah, or you get enough digital downloads from your — but to sell enough of these and sell out appropriately to a very niche market, this is how to hit this niche market.
Ben: Right. It’s interesting that —
Stuart: Speaking of Hillsong, did you know they have a movie coming out?
Ben: No, you’re kidding.
Stuart: Yes. It’s a documentary, but, also, a worship experience.
Ben: Are they going to include — wasn’t the first pastor of Hillsong or one of the big leaders of the movement, a pedophile?
Stuart: Yeah, I think so. He wasn’t one of the singers.
Ben: I might be getting that wrong.
Stuart: They had the band there so they would distract everybody while he was doing his little fondling in the back. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah, he was a pastor.
Stuart: Everybody was like, “The music is so good.” [sarcasm]
Ben: Right. I might be overstating that, but I feel like there’s some dirty history.
Stuart: There was some sort of scandal behind it, but, then again, you have — we probably just lost all of our listeners, here, now that we’re talking about Hillsong. [sarcasm]
Stuart: For them to be at the level that I can even talk about who they are which would mean that they would have to be a significant thing on the Christian scene because I really just do not listen to Christian music at all.
Stuart: It’s like saying, “Have you heard of this guy, Michael Jackson?”
Stuart: Yeah. It’s one of those, and it’s not like — I don’t know — There’s like 50 different kinds of Hillsongs, right? There’s Hillsong United, and Hillsong on the wagon, off the wagon. [sarcasm]
Ben: Yeah, and just to put the conflict of interest or disclaimer — I don’t know — some of that I grew up in, and it was the time of my life. Sometimes it will strike a cord with me, but I feel like —
Stuart: — [laughs] Did you just say that some of that music strikes a cord with you?
Stuart: Keep going.
Ben: I think when you live with it for ten or more years, you start to peel back and look underneath and say, “Wow, this is the same thing it was ten years ago.” Why are we not progressing? I, actually, talked with — and I know we’re not getting into biblical literalism at all, but I was speaking with a friend, that’s a worship pastor, a couple of days ago just about this — discussing with this pastor about the idea of wanting to get in depth and reach people, but, also, it being — there’s this tension between you want to make music that reaches people that they’re interested in, but you also want it to be authentic. Pastors want there to be a depth of not just saying vague, Christianeze phrases. Not all pastors, mind you, good pastors want there to be some level of authenticity and message or something in the lyrics, and it’s this weird marriage of — very rarely do people achieve that in their music.
It’s interesting coming from a Methodist background, I’ve church hopped my entire life, so I’ve been in and out a bunch of different traditions. In high school, I was in a Methodist church, and just learning that there’s such a rich history of music with the Wesley’s where they do — they really are putting some very deep ideas in their songs, but, also, has some melodic, harmonic thing to it. How often are we going to expect those kinds of artists? Sorry, I’m just ruminating.
Stuart: No, but you’re right about that. Go out and make masterpieces, all of you, now. [sarcasm]
Ben: Right. Go be Mozart or Bach or something [sarcasm], but, at the same time, this is something that we’ve talked about on the show a lot. I think Christians should expect that, and it should be realistic about how often that happens, but, also, really should expect more excellence in their art.
Another thing I told him is, I think it’s interesting having gone to a Methodist seminary, that it’s really sad to me that there is this rich tradition of art and yet, it seems like so many Christians are out of touch with what good art really looks like. That’s my opinion, of course, but I just see some very boring and safe art donning the halls and this was years ago. They would unveil a sculpture of the Good Samaritan, not the Good Samaritan. I’m sorry, the Prodigal Son, and they were like, “Look at the emotion in his face and this and that.” I’m like, “This is just not interesting.” This is getting into the biblical literalism. Literally, it’s a father and son clinging to his knees. I’m like, “Okay, so you can’t think outside of this idea to give it a new angle. You’re physically just representing a father and a son.”
Stuart: Well, and also, on top of that — isn’t that Rembrandt who has the famous painting of the Prodigal Son?
Ben: I don’t know.
Stuart: Is it not him?
Ben: This was definitely not a Rembrandt.
Stuart: I don’t mean that. I’m saying that we’ve seen a depiction like that, and so all you’re doing is echoing something that someone that was a master did. It may not be Rembrandt, so don’t quote me on that, anybody. You can Google it. There’s a very famous painting of the Prodigal Son. How you’re describing it, for me it was like, “Oh, you just went and copied that in sculpture form,” where you’re not trying to go anywhere. A lot times with that — and this is just me being a pain in the butt — was that I think a lot of times is that we — and we’ll hit this more. We keep saying we’ll hit this and we keep dawdling away from it — but I think that we want to melt our faith down to some very, very easy color-by-number feel whether it be in our music or, even, how we talk about it. We try to keep it in this ethereal spot where the real world doesn’t ever get into. We draw those lines between the sacred and the secular, and we just assume that never the twain shall meet.
Stuart: I think that the realness of life bleeds through, in and around, and all on top of our faith, and I think our faith needs to inform the joys but, also, the brutal nature to life; the sadness, the devastation, and all those other things. I think through those experiences, our faith makes more sense.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve even heard Christians say that the words of scripture enough or the ideas of scriptures enough, it’s — again, this is getting into this idea of the literal words, they come packaged with no interpretation, with no perspective. To me, this is a naïve way of looking at scripture. It’s really missing the depth that a lot of Christians profess is there, and yet, for some reason, we think if we have to take all this at face value that we’re somehow — I don’t know. For example, if you put a stain glass window of some sort of physical representation with no depth or just the sculpture of the Prodigal Son, it’s just idea of redemption or that idea of acceptance back when someone — just read the scripture. Why do you need to make a sculpture at that point?
Stuart: We might as well just own up to what those things are. Do you remember those motivation posters that they used to have in people’s offices or the guidance counselor would have?
Ben: Like the kitty hanging from the line?
Stuart: No, no, not even that. You know the dumb ones that always had the black bar at the bottom that were like, “Excellence.” There was an eagle flying over water or something like that.
Ben: Fly as high as your dreams will carry you. [laughs]
Stuart: Yeah, to where there is, A, they’re completely obvious. They’re, actually, telling you what to think. B, they’re just not very creative, unique, or interesting.
Ben: Yeah. It doesn’t really invite you in. I like that you just said it basically just tells you what to think. To me, that’s the definition of bad art. There’s no invitation. There’s no connection or immersion. It’s just here’s this thing that if you go fishing around through it at some point, you’ll see a cross, and oh, it’s Christian. Yeah. [sarcasm] It doesn’t invite you in. It doesn’t draw you at all. That’s the definition of beauty is something that pulls you in, draws you in. How can something be beautiful if it’s all laid out there and there’s nothing beneath to pull you? You know.
Stuart: Well, I think any kind of good art or things that move you, I think it should elicit your own interpretation of it. For us to have a piece of art and you can tell me why it’s art, and if you’ve gone and just explained it to me and that it’s sufficient enough, the art probably not that good.
Ben: Why didn’t you just write an essay?
Stuart: Yeah. Seriously. Just post it right next to it. Here’s what you’re supposed to think. Here’s what you’re supposed to feel. Here’s everything here. I think those kinds of motivator posters are exactly how a lot of people approach scripture especially when we approach it literally; It is what it says. All you do is read it.
Ben: I feel like if people think that we’re totally off-based with the biblical literalism, it’s really similar. I’m a Christian. I kind of live within the Christian worldview. I do believe there’s something deeper in scripture that when I go back to it and read it again and again, I just assume that there’s something that I haven’t gotten to yet. I think it’s the same thing with art. The best art, to me, is something that I can go back a year from now. I have a book of Basquiat’s paintings and it doesn’t matter how many times I open that book and go back to the paintings, they’re still beautiful to me. I still have to stop for a little while and really pay attention to it.
I think the same thing about scripture. What’s interesting, you’re describing laying out like an essay or a formulaic way of saying, “Okay, here’s the art. Here’s what it means.” Really, that’s a parallel to how many churches treat scripture. It’s, “Here’s a scripture. We’re going to read it, and here’s what it means.” That’s the one meaning. When you do take it literally at face value, you’re doing the same thing. You’re saying, “Well, there’s a bunch of words. This is what they mean. Maybe if we get through all of the passages of scripture, then we don’t have to open the book anymore.
Stuart: Well, it is. It bleeds out all of the life from scripture, the fact that these are people who had dirt under their nails. There’s a history behind this. There’s different experiences that are going through this. There’s different time periods that are crossing here, that we’re going through even the development of civilization, even in the development of how people perceive the world within all that, and those things completely change as you begin to navigate your way through scripture. We are crossing thousands of years when we’re looking at this.
I feel like what’s happening when you approach scripture in the way that you were describing it, Ben, where it’s simple and we’re just going to tell you what it says and there’s nothing else to think about, it makes me think about what you do with bodies when they’re dead. You drain the blood out and you put embalming fluid in it, so it looks like the same person. I think that when you end of taking the heart, the blood, the sweat, the skin, you steal all of the humanity out of scripture. Again, I guess we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but when we just say — okay. I’m going to pause myself. I’ve gotten ahead of myself and so have you in this.
How would you describe biblical literalism, Ben, in a simple way? I guess we’re talking about something that we both know about. It’s just hitting me — oh, wait.
Ben: We keep throwing out biblical —
Stuart: We’ve run beyond — what would be a basic definition? How would you define —
Ben: This was a happy accident. I don’t think we were talking about art to lead into this but I think it’s a great parallel. I just think of literalism as if you pull out the word literal that you believe that scripture has a literal meaning and that it’s obvious. You open up the book and it’s obvious when you read. Each word has a very specific meaning, and together, those words have a very specific message.
I think if we go back a few episodes ago when we were talking about the Left Behind series, the author, Tim LaHaye, had a similar approach to scripture that unless things just absolutely did not make sense, then you should just take them literally. For example, when it talks about a dragon coming out of the sea in scripture, that means that literally, in the future, a dragon is going to come up out of an ocean.
We’re going to get into how some of this stuff just doesn’t make sense but, I think that point we’re making right now is that by limiting scripture to just that meaning, you’re missing so much depth there. In my opinion, once you have that meaning, then, you don’t need to read it anymore unless you forget it. Then, you can open it back up and remember it again.
Stuart: Think of any good book that you love, that you’ve actually returned to, there’s a richness that happens again. The reason we’re talking about this — and we’ll get more into arches and our buddy, Ken Ham, in a little while. Again, we’re talking about folks that are coming from the fundamentalist camp, which is more than not out there in the landscape. I know that oftentimes it seems like it’s a total faction, but a lot of these folks are at Trump rallies.
Stuart: They believe that, one, you’re right; you don’t need to interpret scripture. You just read it. It’s just that basic. You just read it, and that’s all you need. Also, two, they would be in the camp — and I’m not even sure where you fall in all in this, Ben, and I’m probably going into heresy patrol right now with myself — where they believe that it is word for word what God said to people — we can break this down in a minute — that from the beginning in scripture, Genesis to Revelation, it was the exact same voice through the entire thing.
Ben: Right, which, I think, is getting into some of the other assumptions that surround literalism like inerrancy, for example, which is the idea —
Stuart: — they go together.
Ben: — Right, like every single word. So if it’s spoken by God, then that means that every single word is — you cannot dispute that all of the words flow together and don’t — it’s tricky because I don’t want to say “don’t contradict one another” because I think even that in itself is taking the other hard position on the far end where we need to be completely scientific with the Bible, which I also think it wasn’t written that way. When you were talking about there being history, there’s also genre and form that create a ton of depth in scripture, and those things need to be taken into account as well.
You have inerrancy, and then, you have this idea of — and this might be from my own upbringing in the Baptist church — this idea of chronology where you’re starting in the beginning in Genesis and that’s the literal starting point of the story, and Revelation is the end point of the story. It’s interesting because you do miss some stuff in the middle that it really makes no sense if you are trying to go chronologically. There is this implicit that the Bible was laid out as this chronology, and you’re just heading from the beginning to the end.
Stuart: The history of the world. Yes.
Ben: There weren’t, like you were getting at, different perspectives — and I’m going to get some of this wrong — like Jeremiah, and Nehemiah, maybe, and Ezra. Different people were writing at the same time from different places.
Ben: You have some people saying, “Let’s rebuild the temple,” that just got knocked down, the Jewish temple. Other people were saying, “God doesn’t want the temple rebuilt.” Like Isaiah, “God has transcended the temple, and now, God’s everywhere.” So if you’re doing it chronologically, it loses a lot of its meaning if that makes sense.
Stuart: Absolutely, or it ends up making it seem like — and we said spoilers earlier, so I’ll just use a Fight Club. It’s almost like God’s Tyler Durden. He’s arguing with himself or he’s the main character that’s not named —
Ben: — Right. Right.
Stuart: — where you have these competing voices about certain instances and situations. It doesn’t really do justice to the human experience. When I begin to look at scripture, I begin to see that these are stories of people experiencing God throughout different periods of history, different people that are writing these things down. It isn’t simply where you have someone like Isaiah and God saying, “Write this down,” and Isaiah’s like, “Okay, what’s next?” “No, no, you have to dot that “i” and cross that “t”. Your punctuation is off,” said God. [sarcasm]
Stuart: When you get into this literalism, it’s crazy if we look at it in the small sense, but then, you also have to see if you’re tipping your toes in these waters, there’s ripples that come out from it.
Stuart: Well, if this is what you believe, then, there’s implications.
Ben: Right. Isaiah would have to be 300 years old, or 200 years old, or something like that if Isaiah wrote every single word of Isaiah.
Ben: If you take just the historical references from the beginning, and then, later on, you have a completely different empire’s king that he’s responding to, then, you have to start doing some weird sort of — when we were talking about cognitive dissonance, you have to start doing these really weird jumps back and forth in time. So people, then, say, “Well, he was telling the future,” so then, it makes sense.
Stuart: Is Isaiah like Wolverine? He doesn’t age.
Ben: Yeah. He doesn’t die. He doesn’t age. [laughs] It changes meaning and then, you’re losing the form because, then, prophecy all has to be about telling the future. With literalism, you’re having to ignore a lot of stuff.
Stuart: There’s a lot of dancing you have to do. Much like we were saying earlier with Catfish, there’s a whole lot stuff that you have to blot out.
Stuart: You have to make sure that somehow — was it cognitive dissonance? Is that what you said earlier?
Stuart: — to where somehow, as long as you don’t make these connections, these logical connections, then, it all makes sense. Once you do, it really starts messing with the whole — the way that you read all of this.
I don’t know what it is at people’s core that — I think it’s a control structure too. It seems like old-time Catholic before the printing press and everything else like that where we interpret the Bible. We tell you what to believe. We tell you what to do. Do you know what I mean? There’s a control structure in that where there’s this whole idea of interpretation.Whoa, whoa, whoa. If we start interpreting things, if we start reading experience into it, if we start reading history into it, if start reading all sorts of other stuff into scriptures, then, we don’t know what people are going to do with this. Does that make sense?
Stuart: If you’ve ever been around people that are fundamentalists, especially like biblical literalist, they’re very controlling when they are talking about the Bible.
Ben: Oh, yeah.
Stuart: Maybe not all the time, but I’m saying — and we’ll get more into this with Ken Ham. There is a lot — these are control freaks because, again, if you begin to have cracks to form in the ice of their beliefs, eventually what will happen is that it will break and you’ll fall in the lake and die.
Ben: Yeah. I think, definitely, and we have grown up in the era of televangelists, I think it’s more overt there. I think some people actually believe themselves. I think, to some extent, there is a lot of planning. I can think of people who have built very strong — have built very wealthy, abundant structures around them and their interpretations of scripture. If something were to fail, then, they would lose some of that stuff. Especially with televangelists, it’s that way. Maybe on a more a more subtle level with megachurches and things like that. Also, there are some people who just really believe that they’re completely right. I don’t know if there’s much of a voluntary nature to all that.
Stuart: We all have that family member at Thanksgiving. You know what I mean?
Ben: [laughs] Yeah. Absolutely.
Stuart: You know what I mean? No matter what you say, you’re always wrong.
Ben: I’m thinking of Jim Jones or someone that just is — I don’t know if he grew up thinking, “I’m going to lead people down to South American one day and kill them all.” There’s this sort of dangerous hubris, I think, that when you start to tell yourself the same story about what this means over, and over, and over, and over again, there’s zero humility in it. It’s no longer about, “Oh, I have this grand scheme.” It’s that, “If I lose this, I lose myself.” It’s a dangerous thing.
I think that’s one of the good sides of what Professor Ehrman does at UNC. To some extent, you need to crack through the hubris that, “Well, this thing that’s been handed on to me and I’ve been given the meaning of it like I know it, and you’re telling me it means something different. So I’m going to come up with some sort of legal defense to fight you on this.”
Stuart: I’ll mention another name that will have the heretical or heretic police popping up. I remember reading this from Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis, this is years ago, the idea of describing faith as either being like a brick wall or like a trampoline where the springs that hold the trampoline together, there’s a flexibility.
There’s a communal way, also, of reading scripture. You’re doing it in and amongst community. You’re wrestling it out with other people. If you just do what it says, there’s really no wrestling it out. Do you know what I mean? Then, it’s just a list of things you have to do or it’s a list of rules that you are right or you are wrong, and it’s all like that. In all honesty, you really just don’t need God.
Stuart: You know what I mean? If God’s already spoken it, and it’s all literally true, and you just have to follow this stuff, and eventually, you’ll get to heaven, then, really, God has no point.
Ben: It might have been Karl Barth that talked about how evangelicals had put — or, I guess, I don’t know if it was evangelical at that point — a certain branch of the Christian church, which has morphed into evangelicalism, now, basically, puts the Word above God, so the Word is God now, which is, basically, saying what you were saying.
I remember hearing that and thinking that is so true in a lot of the churches I grew up in. It was enough to just have the Bible. You didn’t need God. There was no presence of God anywhere, just the Bible. So carry your Bible with you, you’ve got God.
Stuart: My wife always gets mad at me and says I’m being a snob when I say stuff like this even though she doesn’t disagree with me. She just doesn’t like the way I say it. A lot of folks in the fundamentalist camp, when you begin to look at it, the idea of getting education, further education — and I’m not saying that seminary is always the way to go, but you have people who are leading folks through a very complicated library — is how I will refer to the Bible as a very complicated library — who may or may even not have a high school education.
Stuart: You know what I mean? Again, you don’t really need a whole lot of knowledge because it just says it, and you just do it. [sarcasm]
Ben: Or, I think, another take on this in the fundamentalist branch of Christianity in the United States — and we’ve talked about this on the show before — but after the Scopes Trial, you have the fundamentalist sort of turn in on themselves and block themselves off from the world. So they create their own cultural structures, so they have their own schools, and radio broadcasts, and so they are getting schooling, technically.
There are so many doctors — and I’m making air quotes right now. You can’t see that, quote, unquote doctors — in fundamentalists’ churches, but, I mean, it’s a doctor of X school of Bob Jones or whatever fundamentalist school that you went to.
Stuart: That’s also true. Yeah.
Ben: I remember when I was looking at seminary — I’m not saying I made the best choice. Duke was very expensive. It was a very expensive way for me to spend three years and not really do a ton with it. There were some good things that came out of that, but I remember telling people that I was going to go to Duke and you get the cemetery jokes. It’s like, “Oh, you’re going to cemetery.” Also, this branch of people that thought that if I did not go to Southeastern, which is one of the Baptist seminaries in the area, that I was going to be lead down this sinful path.
It’s interesting because a lot of — they call Duke liberal, quote, unquote. I’m making air quotes, again — which is ironic because, really, Duke is postliberal, a lot of the scholars at Duke. Everywhere is going to have a couple of people who are into liberal theology. Even conservative schools have a liberal theologian every once in a while. Most of the theologians at — most of the professors at Duke are from the postliberal school which is a reaction again liberalism. So it’s ironic.
I think when you’re in these conservative or fundamentalists’ schools, it’s kind of doing what we’re talking about with biblical liberalism. It’s passing on this static interpretation of scripture. There are some people who kind of have stretched and toyed with it, but I think, for the most part, it’s the handing down of the same thing.
Stuart: Well, what you can do, you can actually Google this. I remember seeing this years ago when I was speaking at a Christian summer camp. I was fascinated by it for all the wrong reasons, but it was the timeline of the world. They made it look old. It was printed.
Ben: [laughs] They burned the edges.
Stuart: It was behind glass.
Ben: They poured coffee on that.
Stuart: It was, again, treating like the very beginning of the Bible was ground zero, or the starting place, or everything else. It was making it all fit in that. When I say this, I know a lot of folks may hear this when we’re talking about fundamentalists, just assume that it’s a small part of the population. When they did a Gallup Poll on this, 30% of the population read the Bible as literally true. They say three out of ten. I’m not just saying out of all Christians. I’m saying out of the population of the U.S, interpret the Bible literally. I feel like that’s not nobody.
Ben: Yeah. [inaudible – talkover]
Stuart: That was some great grammar there from me. [sarcasm] There is a good bit of the population that reads it that way which ends up fueling stuff like the Ken Ham craziness.
Ben: Mm-hmm, like Creation Museums.
Stuart: Creation Museums or just the ungodly amount of money that they are. This one article that we’re kind of going through — it was making me giddy because I like at these kinds of things in my own head. I find them amusing — but the whole Noah’s Ark experience where they have built this elaborate Ark. You go and visit it, and your whole world has changed. [sarcasm]
Stuart: Ken Ham is known for debating Bill Nye, the science guy.
Ben: Mm-hmm. He, also, kind of ticks me off.
Stuart: I don’t know either of the personally.
Ben: Sorry, I just want to get this out there. One of my pet peeves is when scientist think they’re philosophers. There’s some fantastic, fantastic scientists like Dawkins, for example. The guy is a genius in microbiology and evolution. He’s done some fantastic things, but then, thinks he can somehow crossover because he’s good in his field and totally, take on a new field. A lot of these guys are very not great at philosophy or theology. I mean, I don’t think they even — theology is a different thing, but philosophy and logic and those sorts of things. I don’t know. Sorry, this is just one of my pet peeves.
Stuart: No, you’re right. You get guys like this. I will just tell you —
Ben: — Ken Ham is like cannon fodder for guys like that because they think that they can debate them and it just makes Christians look stupid.
Stuart: Oh, gosh. They both love doing this.
Stuart: They are both — I think you’ll figure out where we fall on each side of these — I think they’re both just arrogant pricks in how they’re approaching all this stuff especially even approaching each other — you know what I mean? — that the whole idea that your whole goal in life is to debunk this other camp.
Ben: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. The thing that gets me is that they both play by the same rules. I don’t think they think they are, but they both are playing by the same rules. Biblical literalism is coming from the same assumptions of science and modernity that we have to experience things for ourselves, that we have to go down to a base of testing things for ourselves. I mean, yes, they are on very polar, opposite sides of the carpet, but they’re standing on the same carpet.
Stuart: Yeah. Well, like you were talking about Dawkins. He was paramount in this one field, and then, he kind of pivoted into this more popular area, also, because it probably makes a little more money.
Ben: Absolutely. Same thing for the fundamentalist Christians.
Stuart: That’s what I’m saying. Seriously, Ken Ham, did you really think you could build the Ark better than Noah? Come on. I’m sorry. That’s me being sarcastic.
Ben: Or do you really think that you understand evolution better than Dawkins or a professor?
Stuart: Yes. I know. Again, I think nothing good comes from the fact that they both — you’re pitting them in situations, and they love it where I am 100% right. [sarcasm] There’s nothing to learn from each other even though, actually, I don’t really know that you’re going to learn a whole lot, anyways, from them. They keep having these debates because once they unveiled the whole Ark thing that was going on, he invited Bill Nye out there and was trying to indoctrinate him the whole time. Bill Nye was trying to debunk him the whole time, and it ends up just being why are we doing this?
Ben: Right. Yeah, it’s really ridiculous.
Stuart: We’re wasting air.
Ben: Yeah, and what you end of learning when you go — we need an air quotes sound on our board. What you’re learning is — I mean, you’re basically being entrenched in your own views.
Stuart: Oh, yeah.
Ben: Again, it’s cognitive dissonance. It’s probably more so for the fundamentalist Christians, but you’re picking up on those little cues that it’s like, “Oh yeah. I’ve never thought of that, and I’m going to stick that in my little Bible in my bag so I can carry it around anytime anyone tries to talk science to me. I’ll throw my Bible at them.” [sarcasm]
I think it happens in an insidious way for the science side, as well, that you can’t think yourself outside of that worldview. For example, we were talking about art. Art is a worldview. It’s a way of seeing the world. It’s valid, but I think we get so entrenched in our own worldview that we won’t open ourselves up to see from another perspective. I’m speaking Nietzsche, now, just because that was Nietzsche. He’s like, “We keeping going back to science versus faith, and they’re both kind of wrong.” They’re both doing it wrong for the same reasons.
I think that what the death of God was all about. I think Christians hear death of God from Nietzsche and they’re horrified, this terrible man. He’s kind of poo-pooing science too. At the very least, fundamentalist Christians can get behind Nietzsche on that but they won’t.
Stuart: No, it doesn’t.
Ben: They take the death of God too literally.
Stuart: I think having to hear the Ken Ham stuff too much anyways, I think God is kind of like, “Eh, how many of these pills will it take?” See, that’s us being sarcastic. Sorry.
Stuart: That’s what gets me. I think to approach — and I think we’ve all done this, but I think we’ve just kind of walked bass ackwards into the whole thing with this. I think that, oftentimes, one, when we talk about reading the Bible, I think the dangers of this kind of fundamentalism that we’re talking about, I think it should have a similar approach to even how we view art and to how we drink it in when you approach it. I think it changes. If you look at how you viewed art when you were a 12-year-old or a 6-year-old. You know what I mean?
Stuart: Your collective experiences are going to inform how you look at art. It’s going to evoke memories, maybe good ones, maybe sad ones, maybe ecstatic ones, but it’s going to draw something deep from within yourself. I think that when we begin to boil scripture down to something that it doesn’t speak something deep within yourselves when we’re engaging in it. If it’s still something that’s almost just like the writing on the wall — we don’t sit and stare at exit signs and go, “I wonder.” You know? It’s not like that.
Ben: That’s deep. [sarcasm]
Stuart: “Yeah, it is. Look at that.” [sarcasm]
Ben: That motivational poster is deep. [sarcasm]
Stuart: [laughs] I think it actually cheapens God to be able to just stick to this very cardboard view of doing this. I think, A, it requires very little of us when we read scripture. When we read through the Psalms, I think that just assuming that somehow all of this wasn’t pouring out of David’s soul at times when he was suffering —
Ben: — Right.
Stuart: — instead of God just being like, “I know you’re suffering here, but please grab a pen.” [sarcasm]
Stuart: I think that, again, when we take humanity and history out of the Bible and make it something that somehow God just coughed up like a cat coughs up a hairball — you know what I mean? — like cosmically. Boom. Here it is. [sarcasm] When we steal the life, and the history, and people, and death, and we steal all of that out of it, I feel like it doesn’t inform the human experience anymore. It leads into — like how you mentioned, which I thought was a good connection when we were talking about the Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind stuff. Again, they’re theology also just points us to otherworldliness to meaning that the Earth is bad. Let’s just get out of here.
When we view the Bible that is completely otherworldly — I’m not going to say that God wasn’t a part of these people’s experiences. I think there is inspiration and people walking with God, and I think there is some truth to all of that. I think that this idea that somehow that it was a microwave dinner that God just popped in, and threw down, and we’re done with it, and that’s all that was ever needed to be said [sarcasm], I think that it steals everything out of creation. I think that steals everything out of humanity and all of this. We’re left off a lot worse for it.
Ben: I thought, maybe, one place where you were going with this at the beginning –like Christians entrenched in this worldview are shutting themselves out from being good X, Y, or Z, whereas, in history, there have been brilliant, very devout Christians that have made amazing scientific advances. I’m sure that in some cases the two really didn’t have a lot to do with each, but I’m thinking about people like Pascal, Leibniz. Granted, some people will say it was a hegemony, at that point. To say that you weren’t Christian meant that you were going to die, so maybe, someone like Galileo wasn’t necessarily a devout Christian. Leibniz was. The guy more or less invented calculus. These were brilliant people.
Also, artist throughout history have been very deep Christians and their faith opened them to being able to move people through art. Some people were both great artists, and great thinkers, and scientists, and things like that. I feel like closing ourselves off in these ways, like segmenting these things, is cheapening contributions to being able to see the world in a different way, like faith informing science or faith informing art. We went on a huge diatribe about Christian art now, but Christians in science can also — science needs inspiration just like art needs inspiration.
Stuart: I think ultimately by just ascribing to this whole thing that we diced through — and I know we’re pretty much out of time here — I think, also, like you’re talking about, Ben, it cuts out all these other things, but I think it really just cuts God out of the equation. You know what I mean? If there’s no need to read, or wrestle, or for any other interpretation, God might as well be dead. He left his work, and he was out of here. That’s all we need. [sarcasm]
Ben: Peace. Shalom. [sarcasm]
Stuart: Alright. That’s a good last word. I like ending on a good shalom. As we end this broadcast, just a reminder, that you can catch us on podcast at www.snarkyfaith.com. You can also find us out on Facebook and Twitter. We love to hear from you. You can email us with questions at www.snarkyfaith.com. That is all we’ve got this week, and we are out of here. We’ll catch you again. Thanks for listening. Good-bye.
Transcribed by Miriam Delony